FEATURE: Labelled with Love: Rough Trade Records




Labelled with Love


IMAGE CREDIT: Rough Trade Records

Rough Trade Records


MAYBE this will not flourish into a proper series...


 PHOTO CREDIT: Rough Trade Records/Getty Images

but it occurs that we listen to great music and celebrate the artists without recognising the labels behind them. There are lots of cogs in the music machine but the label itself is essential. Right around the world, there are so many great labels springing up. It is possible to set up your own one and create your own ethos and, with some planning and pragmatism, you can enter the market. I know a few people who want to set up a label because they perceive a gap in the market and are keen to have their own roster of artists. It is exciting that there are boutique labels and the giants working alongside one another. In other editions, I might include giants like Island Records but, in this opening part, I was keen to celebrate Rough Trade Records. I shall come to the new breed they represent and some more established acts with the label but, looking at how they started and how they have grown, it is clear that Rough Trade Records has made a huge impact to the music world. I shall let them tell the story:

Rough Trade Records is a legendary independent record label and a benchmark and inspiration to many in the field. Rough Trade was at the epicentre of the punk explosion right at the start and since then has gone on to release a catalogue that almost defines the genre of independent music itself. Seminal releases litter the back catalogue, from early punk classics to era defining releases by The Smiths and The Strokes. Over the years Rough Trade Records has released an undeniable stream of quality releases by some of the most talented, gifted and unique musicians of our generation.

The label grew out of the Rough Trade Record Shop which opened in February 1976 in Ladbroke Grove, which was inspired by the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, where visitors were encouraged to hang out in the store as much as buy books. Within a year the Rough Trade Shop had become a hub for the burgeoning DIY and punk culture and was the point of contact for a whole host of groups and labels. Releases by The Fall, Scritti Politti, Robert Wyatt, Aztec Camera, Augustus Pablo, early electronic music pioneers such as Cabaret Voltaire as well as The Raincoats, Swell Maps, Go Betweens and The Smiths, amongst many many more followed. In fact, the past 38 years has seen Rough Trade Records become synonymous with high quality, imaginative, musically diverse and innovative independent music.

In 1999, a few years after the collapse of an ambitious Rough Trade distribution arm, Geoff Travis resurrected the label in partnership with Jeannette Lee with whom he'd worked since 1987. Seminal releases by The Strokes, The Libertines, Sufjan Stevens, Antony & The Johnsons, The Hold Steady, Arcade Fire, The Decemberists and British Sea Power to name but a few quickly followed.

Still based in the Ladbroke Grove area of West London where it all started, Rough Trade Records now has offices in London and New York and Geoff and Jeannette continue to work towards helping the music they love get the exposure they think it deserves and to facilitate the artists' growth. With releases by Alabama Shakes, Anohni, Warpaint, Goat Girl, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Sleaford Mods, Parquet Courts, Emiliana Torrini, and Dean Blunt either out now or on the near horizon, the future continues to look exciting, and to push musical boundaries at Rough Trade”.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Scritti Politti/PHOTO CREDIT: Rough Trade Records/Getty Images

I definitely recommend you check out their online store because there are some great records and merchandise to be found. Through the years, artists on the Rough Trade Records roster have included The Fall, Arcade Fire and Mazzy Star. The label has such a huge reputation and it continues to grow and evolve. With the new blood including the likes of Honey Hahs and SOAK, it seems like the label is in very good hands. Rough Trade Records has always been diverse and not restricted when it comes to sounds and feel. Look at the long list of past artists who have passed through their doors and the contrast of now: Princess Nokia and Scritti Politti alongside Goat Girl and ANOHNI. It is an insane and quality-driven label that appeals to those who loves music’s variety and depth. Look at some of the bigger labels and they are full of chart acts and Pop artists but not here. Rough Trade Records has that quality and wonderful foundation that attracts the finest names. Based on 66 Goldborne Rd., W10, Rough Trade Records continues to thrive and inspire. I love artists such as Amyl and The Sniffers and you can catch where various Rough Trade Records acts are playing around the world. I love the fact that, despite Rough Trade Records being represented around the world, it still has a base in West London.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Honey Hahs/PHOTO CREDIT: Rough Trade Records/Getty Images

The survival and terrific music from the label means that this fact will not change and who knows where they can head in the coming years?! For over forty years, the label has been changing music as we know it. Back in 2006, The Independent, when celebrating Rough Trade’s thirtieth anniversary, showed how it grew from its humble beginnings:

Rough Trade, the record label, grew out of the retail and distribution operation, but it was quickly hived off. Under the management of (Geoff)Travis, it became a completely separate business entity, albeit trading rather confusingly under the same name.

Among the label's early releases were landmark records by the likes of Scritti Politti, Robert Wyatt, The Fall, Pere Ubu, The Raincoats and Stiff Little Fingers. Travis discovered and nurtured The Smiths, whom he signed for the princely sum of £4,000, and the label has continued to break the musical mould and achieve commercial success in the 21st century with left-field acts such as The Libertines, The Strokes, and Antony and the Johnsons, who won the Nationwide Mercury Prize in 2005.

In an extraordinary closing of the circle, the new album by Scritti Politti, White Bread Black Beer, finds the group led by Green Gartside and back in the Rough Trade fold after an absence of some 23 years. Not only that, but the album was shortlisted for this year's Mercury Prize, and Travis was at the Mercury reception earlier this week with his business partner, Jeannette Lee, who has shared the running of the Rough Trade label with Travis since 1987.


IN THIS PHOTO: Rough Trade Records founder Geoff Travis/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Sitting on the floor in a VIP reception area, drinking champagne, the pair reflected on a career that has combined unpredictable highs with some daunting lows.

"It's hard to be a maverick independent and to survive, let alone to do so for this long," Travis says. "We didn't have any professional knowledge of the business, and that was the beauty of it. We just wanted to do things our own way. We won an award in 1984/85 for the best marketing campaign of the year for The Smiths. But we didn't even know what the word 'marketing' meant. So obviously we were doing something right”.

Not only has Rough Trade Records grown and continues to reflect the best of modern music, it has stores around the world. Back in 2013, The Guardian reflected on the growth and how one can see the Rough Trade name around the globe:              

Rough Trade operated a second branch in Covent Garden for almost 20 years but branches in Tokyo, San Francisco and Paris all closed. The failure of the Paris outlet a decade ago brought the whole company within days of collapse before new backers saved the business and funded the second store's move to a converted brewery on Brick Lane.

Rough Trade East's launch six years ago sounded a rare note of optimism at a time when rising rents, declining demand for most physical formats and competition from online retailers had left many British towns without a single independent record shop. HMV, which survived by the skin of its teeth this year, is the last of the high street chains.

Rough Trade accepted it couldn't compete with online retailers on price and chose to emphasise the social aspect of record-shopping, from in-store performances to expert recommendations. Unlike the big chains, each branch is free to experiment and take risks. "There are people who would rather go to Rough Trade on a Saturday and spend £10.99 instead of £8.99 on Amazon," says Nigel House. "It's fun going shopping. I just want a record shop I'd be happy in."

Pundits have been predicting the death of the record shop for years, yet many of the best endure and, in the case of Rough Trade, even expand, helped by the resurgence in vinyl sales and international events such as the annual Record Store Day, which celebrates the independent sector. Even though the internet means music fans no longer need to visit a shop, it seems many still want to.

Thirty years after cutting his ties with the shop, Geoff Travis has rejoined the business as a shareholder in the Brooklyn branch. "I'm convinced people don't want to spend all their lives in front of the computer," he says. "It's important to walk in off the street and take the plunge and discover a new world. Record-buying people can be very antisocial so I think it's good for them to find themselves in a social space sometimes".


IN THIS PHOTO: Benjamin Booker/PHOTO CREDIT: Rough Trade Records/Getty Images

I will end with a playlist that collates and unites all the artists currently on Rough Trade Records. I predict that, in decades from now, we will still be celebrating this musical giant: a label with a great ethos and a brilliant reputation. I find a lot of the biggest labels so soulless and vast that it is hard to see whether the artists are seen as numbers of individuals. You know, despite its growth, there is this familial aspect to Rough Trade Records that continues to attract the best artists around. They have been through some ups and downs but it seems like everything is on the rise for Rough Trade Records. Let’s all cross out fingers and hope that this...

CONTINUES for a very long time to come.


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