Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Underdog's Last Stand

After a decade in operation, Trevor Jackson called time on his excellent Output Recordings label earlier on this month. In an exclusive interview with the Pitchfork website Jackson revealed that financial issues, “friends turning into monsters” and the general nightmare of running a label had caused the untimely demise of the imprint.

“I never wanted to have all my passion and enthusiasm knocked out of me," he said, "But somehow it’s happened. I simply wanted to showcase exciting, experimental, and forward-thinking music with individuality and personality.”

It’s a massive shame that the industry keeps chewing up and spitting out the real innovators, yet allowing turgid lowest common denominator dross to thrive, but that just seems to be the way it goes.

I first came across Output through the Fridge album, ‘Ceefax’, in 1997, and for a four year period after that, Output became one of those rare labels where I would buy anything that it released, knowing that there was every chance that I would love it. This blind label love is often risky, but I was rarely disappointed as releases from Four Tet, Sonovac, Gramme, Skull and The Boy Lucas became welded to my turntable. My obsession with the label tailed off a bit after this, though releases from LCD Soundsystem, Colder and the Rapture found their way into my collection.

It’s been hard to pick out a few tracks from the catalogue but these three should give you a flavour of the label.

Four Tet - Calamine (Radio Mix)

First up is Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden’s drum heavy homage to the nascent speed garage scene, ‘Calamine (Radio Mix)’, released in 1999 and still sounding progressive and unlike anything else today. Halfway through the layering of sounds becomes almost overwhelming, broken only by a skip through the radio frequencies of speed garage pirate stations (hence the title) and ending with Four Tet’s own interpretation of the genre.

LB - Superbad (Soul Substitute)

LB was one of the 65 aliases adopted by the German producer Uwe Schmidt (perhaps best known as Señor Coconut or Atom Heart). There’s a comprehensive list of his mind-boggling array of alter ego’s here. ‘Superbad (Soul Subsitiute)’ is a glitchy, acidic, body poppin’ funk cover of the James Brown classic, taken from the album ‘Pop Artificielle’, released on Output in 2000. Schmidt actually developed the software that creates the unique vocal effect heard on the album. According to the liner notes, “Raw™ does vocal simulation based on vocal resynthesis generated from original vocal raw material.” Indeed. Other tracks to get the bonkers cover treatment included the Rolling Stone’s ‘Angie’, John Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ by David Bowie.

Colder - Where

Finally, you get ‘Where’ from the debut album ‘Again’ by the French producer Marc Nguyen Tan aka Colder. ‘Again’ was hailed as a fashionistas dream, fusing glacial synth pop with stark dub textures. Kind of Depeche Mode meets Joy Division – a dream combination in my book. ‘Where’ is all about the Stephen Morris-inspired drums, dubbed-out guitars and a heavily accented vocal. I absolutely fell for this album when it was released in 2003 and listened to it until I was sick of it! After a few years without, it’s been a revelation to me all over again.

As a last hurrah, Output will be making their final releases (including their 100th!) available as free mp3 downloads from the website, for one month only starting on the 1st October 2006 – keep checking the website.

Trevor Jackson’s full statement to Pitchfork here
Buy Output Recordings mp3’s from
Output Recordings discography
Search Norman Records for Output Recordings catalogue
Trevor Jackson website
Four Tet website
Uwe Schmidt information page at Wikipedia
Page with information on Colder here