Rock Action

Mention Mogwai to any discerning music fan and a slow smile will creep across their face. For over ten years the Bellshill boys have slain audiences across the world with their brand of post-rock, by turns visceral and beautiful they have remained critical darlings for over a decade. They also display immaculate taste via their Rock Action imprint: set up to release a Mogwai record it quickly grew out of control to become one of the most renowned small labels currently operating in the UK. Bands such as Errors, Part Chimp and the James Orr Complex have all plied their trade at this eclectic and exciting label, which in many ways echoes the musical free-thinking that occupies the parent band. itm? caught up with label head honcho Craig Hargrave to get the low-down.

Q – The label came about as a vehicle for Mogwai, is that right? Did you intend to release other bands from the start?

Yeah, the first record on Rock Action was the Tuner/Lower 7″. That was all before my time with the label but by all accounts Rock Action started out pretty much like any other D.I.Y label, getting some money together to get the 7″s pressed in the Czech Republic, folding up inlay sleeves in your front room. Harassing John Peel to play it on his show…Stuff like that.

However, the fact that the label had managed to get distribution made a big difference as it was (and still is) something that’s difficult to come by. So to that end Mogwai had a label with distribution and it was just something that happened kind of naturally, if you’ve got a label you may as well put some records out.

Q – Rock Action has (so far) released material form such diverse acts as Errors, Part Chimp and Trout. Is there any label mentality when signing bands? What, if anything, would define a Rock Action group?

Nah, I don’t think we have a particular mentality when it comes to working with bands. We don’t sit going we’re looking for “this” or “this” and tick boxes. Most of the bands we’ve put out we’ve kind of stumbled across, seen them live, thought they were great and ended up speaking to them for a bit and eventually said “do you want to do a record then?”. Obviously, there’s a lot of factors we consider and it’s not some arbitrary decision. There has to be some sort of consensus from everyone at the label, there have been a lot of bands that we like but we haven’t done records with them!

The difference, I suppose is when you find yourself at the point going from saying “Yeah, I like them, they’re good” and maybe buying their 7″ or whatever to wanting to actively phone people up saying “Have you HEARD this band!”, or where you just naturally start thinking “Hmmm, we could do something good with this”, it’s something that’s largely instinctive and ultimately it’s difficult to quantify in any rational sense. I guess that’s what makes it so awkward when people or bands ask, “What do you look for in a band?”. Invariably it’s not specific stuff we go out looking for but rather certain things that we end up noticing and get excited by. I don’t know if that really makes sense. I’d make a really rubbish judge on The X Factor.

As individuals we all have different tastes and I think the fact we can put out a Part Chimp record followed by Errors and then work with the likes of Desalvo and rememberremember or Growing is really healthy for the label. If we were to just put out a particular brand of music, generic indie-rock or house say, things could stagnate really quickly or become predictable. I don’t find the idea of having a “type” of band particularly appealing and the idea of us having a roster of acts that could be easily pigeon-holed isn’t something that I think we’d encourage. It’s just not as interesting is it? If you want to do a drone record or a gabba record that you like then why not just do it.

Q – Mogwai had experience with other labels from the beginning. Were there any record companies in particular that Rock Action modelled themselves on, in aesthetics or even the way you treat people?

Domino are a pretty good benchmark from our perspective I guess. Historically, they’ve put out a lot of fantastic bands from home and abroad, you look at their back catalogue and it’s incredible. Yet they’ve still managed to continue pick up really interesting bands and give them fantastic support. They also cover a pretty broad spectrum when it comes to genres. I wouldn’t go as far as to say Rock Action has modeled itself on anyone in particular. We’ve all pretty much learned as we went along, we’ve definitely taken on a lot of advice from people but largely we’re still doing things the way we feel comfortable that they should be done.

When it comes to working with bands then I think the fact that Rock Action is run by a band does certainly affect the relationship we have with the bands we work with on the label. We’re a lot more, erm, “forgiving” I suppose and definitely a lot more flexible when it comes to working with bands. We try and just leave the bands to get on with things as much as we can I guess. That’s not to say we don’t need to give some of them a proper boot up the arse now and again though.

Q – The label has a significant on-line presence. How do you feel the internet has helped the growth of small labels, like yourself?

Like most things there are pros and cons. I could rattle on about the cons all day, I think there’s a bit of a misconception from a lot of indie types that the internet has made everything in the garden rosy or “leveled the playing field” for small labels, in many ways though that’s not the case. However I’d be lying if I said that the internet didn’t help in some areas. The very fundamental notion that you can provide a massive number of people with information about what you do immediately with one single mail-out is an obvious benefit. It’s really made things so much more accessible to a huge cross-section of people. There’s definitely been cultural and social changes too. One of the most pleasing aspects of the internet is that there is a growing number underage shows happening and kids getting into stuff that previously they might not have heard were it not for the likes of Myspace or whatever.

Q – The indie scene right now is awash with quite generic lad-rock bands. Given that you are a left-field label, in what is still a provincial part of the UK, how do you define yourself against this? Do you feel you struggle to be heard, or is there a healthy underground section of listeners willing to search you out?

I’m not sure we really look to define ourselves against anything. I mean, five and ten years ago there were just as many lad-rock bands doing the rounds, if not more, what with the hey-day of Britpop and everything. I think if you start becoming *aware* of trends and try to consciously tap into that then you’ll end up in trouble. As I said before, we put out bands because we like them and their music. We’re not the sort of label who would sign a band on the basis of their music being “so hot right now”. Which is not to say we overlook fashionable stuff, more I think that we’re aware that by their nature things that are in fashion right now will pretty soon be out of fashion. It doesn’t really lend to developing longevity.

As far as struggling to be heard goes, we’re lucky enough to have some sort of profile and to that extent we seem to have a basis of listeners and people seem to be interested in Rock Action and want to find out what’s going on with the label and the bands we put out. So we have a pretty solid foundation to build from. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they’re an particularly of an “underground” mentality though. We’ve also been fortunate that people like Vic Galloway, Huw Stephens, Rob da Bank and Zane Lowe have all been really supportive, especially when it’s come to bands like Errors and Part Chimp, the people at MTV2 and Vice magazine have been great to work with as well.

Q – The label has already become well-known for producing left-field – yet popular – acts. Do you have any further ambitions for Rock Action? Errors for number one, perhaps?

An Errors number one would be nice! I’d be totally up for that. I’m pretty certain they would be too. They’ve already been on TRL alongside the Destiny’s Child videos and stuff so I dunno, maybe that’s the next step for them! Realistically though I suppose we’re just looking to build on what we’ve achieved so far and that means letting as many people as possible hear our bands. It would be great to get the bands on the label a lot more active when it comes to touring and see them gathering a bit of momentum. Especially people like Part Chimp and Desalvo who are phenomenal live bands.

2008 is shaping up to be really exciting for us as we’ve got a lot of releases coming up from more home-grown bands, we’ve got James Orr Complex’s second album coming out which was recorded in Sao Paulo in Brazil, Errors’ as yet untitled debut record is due to be finished this month, they’re mixing it just now plus we’ve got Desalvo going into the studio in early January to do an album, rememberremember has also signed up and is going to be doing an album for us too which is tremendously exciting as Graeme really is one of most innovative and talented artists around at the moment. I think Part Chimp are planning on doing some recording around December as well.

Q – Finally, any defining moments thus far? That tingling moment when you heard the Kling Klang record, for example?

Heh, it’s difficult to say. I’m not sure that personally there’s been a glowing moment of epiphany or anything like that.

From a personal point of view the defining aspect of Rock Action is to see how the label has developed, to know that you’ve been a part of something that has managed to grow from starting out literally as Stuart and the Mogwai guys folding sleeves of their own records in their front room to Rock Action taking bands from Camberwell or Clarkston and getting them played on Radio 1, having their videos played on MTV and touring with huge bands like Underworld. Even the label itself curating a room at Fabric, hearing John Peel doing a show from ATP featuring 3 different live sets from a bunch of our bands and putting on a label night in Tokyo these are all things that I’m massively proud to have been involved with.