Designer Label: UNDERGROOVE
A look at the British rock label that's home to releases from Minus The Bear, The Ghost Of A Thousand, Twin Zero, and more
If there's one UK label that never fails in continually coming up with the goods it's Undergroove Records. Beginning life in the mid 1990's in the form of a print fanzine, by the turn of the century founder Darren Sadler had established the label's reputation as one of the most widely respected homes of forward thinking metal and hardcore in the land.
Evolving organically over the ensuing years and refusing to rest on its laurels, Undergroove has since put out a string of stunning and highly disparate releases from the likes of Aereogramme, The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg, Eden Maine and The Abominable Iron Sloth and is currently home to Brit titans Charger, Johnny Truant and Twin Zero as well as internationally lauded acts Minus the Bear and 27.
But for all the label's impressive track record, 2007 could well go down in the history books as its finest yet, with debut albums from The Ghost of a Thousand, *Shels and The Mirimar Disaster as well as Minus The Bear's Planet of Ice opus receiving widespread critical acclaim. In a moment of rare calm, Darren Sadler caught up with Dan Jones to discuss the label's past and present:
Can you tell us a little about the origins of Undergroove? Give us a brief history lesson, who was involved, when and how exactly did it start to form?
Undergroove started as a printed fanzine which I started after leaving university as I wanted to continue writing about bands, reviewing demos, live shows and CDs – like I had done at Uni. After I'd done education I had no outlet (This was pre-internet days really) in about 95/96. A few years down the line, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and decided to start a label. I was spending my time writing about bands I thought were ace, so I thought I'd save some wedge up and release a record by a band I was raving about.
It was literally the idea of "I'm going to start releasing CDs. How do I do this? Well I need some cash" – so I starved myself to save up some cash; got a band in the studio; found a pressing plant, got a friend to do some artwork and hey presto we had 500 CDs! That was back in 1999.
UG is just me - I had a friend help out for a year or two, and then another one more recently, but generally it's me and now an accountant!
What was the underlying urge behind it all?
I formed it cos I love music, was frustrated that bands I would hear and see at shows were not getting any love from record labels and I felt they deserved their music to be heard by people. The urge is and always will be about hearing amazing bands and wanting to help them get their music out to people.
It makes me smile sometimes to say I run a record label. Not that people are overly impressed! Ha ha
Were there any particular labels you looked up to when you formed or still do? Were their any models you followed?
I was inspired by Org Records and Fanzine – love those guys' enthusiasm and determination to kick against the music industry pricks and just get out there and do what they want! Sean Organ was from my hometown of Shrewsbury and then moved to London. I bought a copy of Organ once at Shrewsbury's only alternative night club and was impressed by that. It was a few years later that I decided to start my fanzine and while stylistically I am nothing like Organ, Sean was/ is doing stuff like no-one else. And that's the plan I had for UG – doing my own thing, regardless of anything/ anyone else. I never set out to be the next Earche Records or anything. There are no rules/ models really running an independent label.
Minus The Bear - 'Pachuca Sunrise'
If you could pick one present band to join your label, who would it be?
No-one. I can honestly say there are no bands I have heard and thought – damn, I wish they were on UG, for financial gain or creative reasons.
Are there any bands that you passed over in the past that you're now kicking yourself about?
No-one. I have passed on a few things that went on to sign to other labels and I am glad they found homes. I have to a 100% instinct in a band if I am going to work with them and if I don't end up working with someone, then there must be a reason why it didn't happen. Some bands just don't say 'Undergroove' to me.
What is your policy in recruiting bands to join your stable? What do you look for in an act? Why choose the bands you already have on your roster?
I tend to find bands through existing roster bands who say 'you have to check out so and so'. Best way really, cos I trust the judgement of most of my bands!
In terms of what I look for – generally – you need a band to want to work hard – so willingness and drive. It's easy to say, "yeah, we'll spend our lives in a Transit van" The reality is somewhat harder. A band needs to feel like a band – not a bunch of guys hoping to get famous. It's about creative sparks not the desire to get your face in a magazine.
I chose the bands on the roster primarily through the above reasons. Matter recommended Johnny Truant, JT told 27 to get in touch, 27 got Minus The Bear to contact me. Twin Zero – I'd known Roo (guitars) for years as he used to put shows on for our bands.
Musically though – the key to the bands I have released is that I've loved what the bands have done. Undergroove isn't genre specific, cos my tastes aren't limited to one genre, never have and never will. So I didn't want to run a label that just signs one style of rock. Anything is possible and that's the way I like it.
Twin Zero - 'Outstayed'
If you could give one piece of advice to bands looking to get signed to Undergroove, what would it be?
Get to know another UG band so they can recommend them to me! Ha ha Don't email me asking for the A&R dept – UG is just me!
What would you say has been your biggest challenge to date? Looking back, are there any particularly challenging moments that stand out?
The challenge is always, unfortunately, about juggling cash. It gets harder to sell records when people expect it for free off download sites, and yet costs of promoting a band are still there. I have no major financial backer – so just running on empty all the time is a fucker!
Everything is a challenge really – but it's all fun! Getting a 18 date tour in 19 days for Charger, Matter and Minus (from Iceland) back in 2002 seemed like a challenge, but it happened. Getting booking agents to see our bands is a challenge – but we manage (sometimes) to prick up their ears! Life is full of challenges – but it's all there for the taking. You only live once!
On the other side of the spectrum, is their any release that you're particularly the happiest with or attached to?
I love the Aereogramme CD. Chuffed they got in touch to ask me in the first instance. The fact Aaron Turner came on board to do the art was cool, and the fact the band created a dark, immense masterpiece was cool as fuck! I love that band even though they split up, so always proud of that one.
Releasing a CD with a 5" vinyl too – for 27 – was very cool.
The Murder Of Rosa Luxemburg's debut album too – that's something truly special. We will get around to re-pressing soon!
How does an indie stay afloat in the digital age? Obviously there's many pluses and negatives on both sides of the coin, but would you say the move has harmed or helped you overall?
See above – re cash. I remember getting the Lazarus Blackstar CD back from the pressing plant and within a week it was on a file share system. It's nice that people want to hear UG's music, but at the same time, if more people expect stuff for free, UG isn't a charity and once it stops making money, it will close. Simple as that really.
Have you any advice for people wanting to start up their own label?
I think we're already living in a world where everyone starts up their own label. Do it for the love, do it for the right reasons. Not for fame and fortune. And don't expect overnight success – unless you're bloody lucky! ha ha
Johnny Truant - 'The Bloodening'
What are you most excited about in the near future of Undergroove?
The Ghost of a Thousand on tour with Alexisonfire.
The Mirimar Disaster on tour with Will Haven.
Minus The Bear and 27 touring the UK and Europe
Pilgrim Fathers going to the studio and recording their debut album for us – out in 08
And I'm working on two super exciting projects – one US and one UK – all tentative right now, so can't tempt fate!
What are your long-term ambitions for the label? Where does the label go in the next five years?
I'd like to keep going. If I could make a decade I'd be happy. One day I'll earn some wedge from it – that'd be nice. And a thank you from a band wouldn't go amiss occasionally!
Thanks for reading and caring about Undergroove!
10 of Undergroove's Best:
Featuring ex-members of Eden Maine, Fireapple Red and Mahumodo, *Shells' middle eastern tinged progressive metal has pulled in plaudits by the bucket loads following the release of their debut full-length earlier in the year.
Photo: Tom Barnes
Stoke on Trent's bruisers Charger have gained near legendary status on the UK underground scene following years of gruelling touring. A band you do not want to meet down a dark alley.
Down I Go
Photo: Nigel Crane
London-based four-piece Down I Go's disaster-themed masterpiece This Is Disastercore has catipulted them to the top of the country's flourishing grind scene.
Photo: Mark Latham
Or Genito-Urinary Medicine for the laymen amongst us, GU Medicine's dirty ass rock 'n' roll will be swinging around the country with Skid Row this winter.
Five years down the line from their stunning debut offering, Johnny Truant's pulsating metalcore can still proudly go toe to toe with anything the US has to offer.
Minus the Bear
Technically astounding indie-pop from Seattle, Minus The Bear's recent Planet of Ice record has seen them reach their biggest audience yet.
Currently one of the country's best kept secrets, Sika Redem's Entheogen opus was regarded by many as one of 2006's very finest.
The Ghost of a Thousand
Photo: Gemma Shaw
Alongside kindred spirits Gallows, young Brighton-based upstarts The Ghost of a Thousand sit proudly at the forefront of the UK hardcore renaissance.
The Mirimar Disaster
Photo: Gary Wolstenholme
Ferocious Sheffield-based titans that deal in hulking slabs of thinking man's metal. Think Russian Circles squaring up to Mastodon at sundown. Read our new interview with the band HERE
With two astonishing albums of atmospheric metal in their locker, Twin Zero's next step will be keenly watched by many in the UK scene.