Label Profile: Italian Beach Babes
We post quite a lot about the acts that have been released by Italian Beach Babes. From old favourites like Fair Ohs, to newer bands on the scene like Old Forest. We had a chat with Conan, who started the label (around time playing in Graffiti Island and Mazes), about what’s what in his world.
I’ve read that you pretty much started the label because you managed to get your hands on a box of tapes for free, is that really the case? Was starting a label already something that you’d been planning to do at that point or more something that came about when the opportunity presented itself?
Yeah totally true; the first release wasn’t even called ‘Italian Beach Babes’, it didn’t have a name or any label then. Just a means to cheaply get our music out to people. 2008 was only 4 years ago but there were hardly any small DIY labels in London releasing stuff from the kinda bands that were starting at the time, so it was a case of us just doing it ourselves and it seemed to work. Male Bonding are now on Sub Pop and Pens and Graffiti Island had pretty good runs too, toured the USA and released some great records eventually.
How easy did you find progressing from that point to being a fully fledged entity? Were there many hiccups other than the, hopefully amusing in hindsight, dilemma of managing to dub a batch of tapes backwards? Did you ever hear what any of those sounded like?
Yeah one of my fave radio shows ‘Art for spastics’ actually played one of the Graffiti Island tracks backwards on their show, sounded awesome! It’s kinda grown pretty organically, starting by saving some cash to do the first 7″ selling it out then re-investing the little I made into the next one and so on until it’s become what it is now. Which is still tiny and solely based out of my bedroom but still, kinda feels a bit more serious nowadays. I made loads of mistakes along the way, but I’ve had no help or guidance really and kinda self taught myself everything so that’s bound to happen and as long as you learn from those mistakes then it’s fine.
You’ve carried on working with tapes as well as releasing vinyl, what is it that has kept you working within these mediums?
It’s just so quick and cheap to get stuff out there. You can get them dubbed and out into peoples’ hands in a week rather than waiting for 4-5 weeks for a vinyl release. Plus it’s a great way for really new bands to do something physical to get people excited about without the financial burden of investing in vinyl.
Alongside realising your own stuff you’ve acted as a UK distributor for hard to get hold of releases. It’s a shame that this sort of thing isn’t more widespread, you’d think the internet would have lessened the debilitating costs of imports but it doesn’t seem to have happened, a lot of stuff is still so hard to get hold of, why do you think this is?
Yeah, that was something I did a lot more of earlier on, nowadays I’ve got so busy releasing my own stuff it’s kinda taken a back seat. Nightschool records is doing a great job at a similar thing right now though and you should check them out. It’s insane how much some stuff costs to buy in places like Rough Trade, for example, I love Rough Trade and realise it isn’t their fault stuff is so expensive but it makes it hard to get certain records over here and I think pushes people to just download it from MediaFire or wherever. The UK has a pretty lacklustre culture of DIY music distribution; I know of just a couple of small distros but they mainly deal with more Hardcore and Punk stuff. The US has a much better grasp of this.
As somebody who values the importance of releasing things physically, what do you feel the future is for it? Despite living in London and having access to record stores I still think that most of the things that you’ve put out that I own I have picked up either at shows or online, would I be right in thinking that’s true of most people?
Hmm, it’s hard to say. When I look at the amount of records I sell through my own store compared to what I ship out to stores it suggests people still like to buy from record stores. Personally, I’ll always try and buy stuff directly from the band or label as then I know my money is going straight into the pockets of the people who really put the hard work in to getting that record out.
Part of the beauty of physical releases is having things like the artwork, it seems like a lot of time and love has gone into making sure that IBB releases look great. How closely are you as a label involved with that side of it or do you leave it up to the bands?
I’ll always give bands 100% creative control on what they wanna do. I’ll suggest things sometimes or if they are having trouble with it I’ll help out but at the end of the day it’s their release, I’m just facilitating it so I want them to be totally happy and in control of what gets produced.
I’ve noticed recently that with some of your releases once the tapes have sold out, you put the tracks up online to be available to download for free. It’s refreshing to see when we’re in the midst of yet another wave of industry paranoia about downloads that there are people still focusing on the music. Is there a particular motivation behind you doing this or are you just a super generous guy?
I don’t really see cassettes as any way of making money for the label so I don’t mind giving away the songs for free as long as the band are down with that too. I see them as kind of a promotional tool to help the bands get shows and a bit more attention from people. If people wanna buy a cassette even if they can get the mp3s for free they will. A good example is the Keel Her tape I just did; all the songs on that you could have downloaded on her SoundCloud for free for weeks before the tape came out but that cassette still sold out in 2 days ’cause it looked cool and people were really into Keel Her.
IBB02 was a GG Allin covers split, did you get any negative reactions for releasing it? I’ve found him to be a figure that seems to manage to conjure such vitriol within people that they can’t understand why people would listen to his music. They’re unable to separate their perception of his personality from the art that he actually made.
Ha, nah, not really. It all went pretty smooth. I did notice though that out of all the orders I did through the site not one was to a girl. Dunno if that says something. I’m happy to disconnect who GG is as a person from his music and I think it’s important that people can do that. I’m also a big fan of Charles Manson’s music but don’t particularly agree with his lifestyle choices. Same thing in my eyes.
Somewhere I’ve got a copy of Graffitti Islands ‘Demonic Cat” 7″, which came with one side covered in snake skin, do you have a favourite record in your collection with a similar unique feature? Has there ever been a temptation to do something like that with an IBB Release?
Yeah that record’s amazing, dude who put that out must have spent SOOO long making them, he mounted and cut each one by hand! My favourite record is the Castleface group flex book which came out last year. It’s kind of a spiral hardback kids book with flexi discs as pages and then you can also play the back cover as a record; it’s insanely cool. I’d love to do something equally unique, it’s just finding the right release and the time and money to do it too. I think you need to be confident it’s gonna sell REALLY well if you’re gonna invest that much time and effort.
A few years ago you were at the centre of a sort of scene which you ended up documenting to an extent with the split with Paradise Vendors. Obviously, it’s great that everyone’s moved forward but do you miss those days? It was a lot of fun and seemed really interesting but it just seemed to peter out as people became busy with other things. How beneficial do you feel that that collaborative mentality was to the things that people were producing?
A lot of the bands on that comp are still playing shows, Male Bonding, Mazes, Fair Ohs, Spectrals, Cold Pumas. They have all stepped it up a notch though and are doing awesome albums on some great labels. I’d say most people in those bands on that comp or ‘scene’ as you describe, all knew each other and were in various bands together before the bands you see there. It was more a wide network of friends and people who had kinda known each other for ages finally being in bands that somehow fitted together even though they all still sounded very unique. What I miss more is the warehouse parties that used to go on and those bands played. The Manor House shows around 2009 were by far some of the funnest and craziest shows/parties I’ve been to in London. But things go in cycles and I’m sure something similar will emerge at some point soon.
You seem to be working with a lot of younger bands at the moment, does it seem like passing it on to the next generation?
I think its great that you have a newer generation of bands such as Sealings, Boneyards, Fear of Men, Keel Her, Old Forest etc that again all sound totally different but in some way kinda fit together and can share bills without it being really odd. There are so many shitty bands in London with an awful attitude towards being in a band that it’s nice to see bands just excited about making music and recording and doing shows, not clambering to be seen in NME or play Camden Crawl.
You’ve put out a couple of live cassettes, is this something you’d like to do more of? I’ve always had a fondness for them but they seem to be something people do less and less of. In a way bad YouTube footage seems to have replaced that almost bootleg mentality but it doesn’t feel the same to me.
Yeah, they came about by my love of bootleg CDs as a kid. I’d travel to Birmingham or Manchester and go buy bootleg Deftones or NOFX cds from the markets. No one was doing it that much so I did a couple. I’d like to do more but it’s getting good live recordings. I wanna do it with the bands consent and being in a band myself I know that live recordings are generally not the greatest and can sound super shitty. So it’s a case of getting a decent recording and the band being happy with it to release.
To wrap things up, where would you like to see IBB progress to? What releases have you got coming up? Where will the future take us and all that…
It’s hard to say where I want it to go. In a way I’d love to make it a full time thing and make a living from releasing records but realistically I know the kinda stuff I wanna be releasing is never gonna be selling thousands so that’s kinda impossible, especially in this day and age. I’m pretty happy with how the label is right now to be honest. I have total control over it and it ticks over nicely, people seem really into it and enthusiastic about the releases and it appears to be growing pretty organically. I guess I’d just like it to be known as a label you can trust. Much like Flying Nun or Dischord, where you could garuntee a certain standard of release even if you’d never heard the band you trusted the label and knew it’d be pretty good.
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