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By: Richard Collins

When our writer Richard Collins isn’t smashing out reviews for us, he spends some of his time putting on gigs with his mate Lins at a night called Cosmic Carnage. When he’s not doing that he can often be found talking complete bollocks, we have decided to capture some of this bollocks and call it the ‘Cosmic Roundup of 2015′. He’s caught up with shit loads of our favourite people from across the scene and we’ll be publishing one every day until we run out… like a brutal advent calendar! Behind today’s door is Andy Smith from one of our favourite labels, Riot Season Records.

We’re not sure where the scene would be without Andy from Riot Season. His legendary roster and list of releases is nothing short of jaw dropping and the label has gone up a level again in 2015, with incredible releases from Bad Guys, Henry Blacker, Tropical Trash, Shit and Shine, Early Mammal and Workin’ Man Noise Unit.

CC: Hi Andy, how are you?

AS: Not too bad Rich, thanks for asking.

CC: This has been the best year for Riot Season ever right?

AS: I wouldn’t go that far, especially in terms of sales anyway. I’ve been fortunate to release some GREAT albums this year though. I’m not the most prolific when it comes to putting lots out (I can’t afford to) and I think releasing six albums this year (Bad Guys, Henry Blacker, Tropical Trash, Shit And Shine, Early Mammal & Workin’ Man Noise Unit) may be a record yearly output for the label.

I love them all and can stand alongside them and say ‘no shit here’. Well, at least to my ears anyway … Ha.

CC: I’ve always thought of Riot Season that releases real brutal, maxed out stuff … but there’s some real variety now, you can even make out some of the lyrics. Are you pushing the horizons of the label?

AS: Laughing, it is a welcome change to have some sing-a-long tunes to be honest. There’s certainly been no conscious decision to push any new horizons though. From day one all I’ve set out to do, is put out music I love myself. That’s all. As the years have worn on I’ve also had to realise that I can’t put out everything that I hear and love. It’s just not doable in today’s climate. If I do put something out by a new band now, not only do I have to love it I also now need to be really sure that I can at least do it without losing money. And frankly that’s not always an easy task. Some labels have the luxury of having a big selling band that can help cover the outlays for lesser known stuff, or they have a dedicated customer base that will buy all their new releases regardless of who they’re by, I don’t have that, and never really have truth be told.

If anything, because the label doesn’t have a sort of set ‘style’ (by which I mean I don’t want to get stuck with releasing one kind of music or tagged as a set genre label) it makes it hard to get a settled audience for what I put out. BUT… I really couldn’t stick to putting out just one style of music, because I don’t like just one type of music. Like most folks, I like so much stuff of all genres that I want to keep my ears/mind open to it all. Some will look at the stuff I put out and think ‘it’s all a fucking racket’ perhaps, but the musical differences between some of the RS bands is HUGE really. I have toyed with the idea of doing different label offshoots to put things into neater genre boxes but it sounds like too much trouble in truth, and if there’s one thing I can’t deny, it’s that I’m a lazy fucker.

CC: I’d love to run a label but keep getting told it’s a ball ache. What’s it like really?

AS: Loaded question. Well I guess you could ask ten DIY label folks the same question and get ten different answers. In short, it’s no money maker, it can even be a money loser (even on the most surprising releases) and above all, in my experience it can be an incredibly frustrating existence at times. But if I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t have kept doing it this long that’s for sure. And I have come close to throwing in the towel out of frustration quite a few times truth be told.

The main ball ache is usually down to vinyl pressing and distribution woes. My most hated term is consignment / sale or return. The former is the real killer for me. Let’s say you press 500 records, and once the band have took their cut (usually 20%) you’re left with shifting the rest. I take a certain amount for my own direct mail order stuff. A bigger portion go to my distributor in the UK, who supply all the shops and also some overseas distributors on my behalf (who then do the same in their territories) and then there’s a handful left for promos and supplying a few shops direct. The consignment thing comes in when an overseas distributor will typically say ‘we’ll take 100 copies’ (for example) and then they want anything between 60-90 days to pay for them, but only if they’ve sold them. So you tend to get a small drip feed of payments which seem to go on forever but with never anything substantial enough each month to keep things running smoothly. And if they haven’t shifted them they just sit there on a warehouse shelf gathering dust it seems. Until a year or so down the line I get the unsold copies sent back to me, usually looking a bit shabby with little resale value. I guess this is because I tend to like doing new bands rather than sticking out established stuff though, and they don’t want to take the financial hit if they don’t sell them. So it’s my own fault in that regard.

BUT there are plenty of plus sides. You get to spend a lot of your time listening to and enjoying music, which in itself is enough reward. And I try to remind myself of that as often as possible especially when I’m about to throw my hands up and think ‘fuck it’. You get to know/meet a lot of great people that clearly love this kind of music, and it’s inspiring to see their efforts to support it. You also appreciate the bands that make this great music even more knowing how hard work it is behind the scenes. How those multi hour drives up and down motorways to make less than the cost of a tank of petrol at times just so they can get out there and play their music to new ears. And the thrill you get when someone sends you an email out of the blue telling you how much they love a record you’ve put out, is always a proud moment. So it’s all worth it in the end.

CC: How many demos do you get sent? Do you manage to listen to them all?

AS: I do get a lot sent via email. I don’t really accept CDs or digital files anymore, so I encourage folks to just send me a stream or download link. I used to love getting CDRs in the post but in truth they just build into a dusty teetering pile after a while and it doesn’t seem fair for folks to waste their money making and posting them to me, especially when they can just wang over a download link. I now take maybe a couple of set days a month to go through what I can from the submission inbox. It’s getting harder to find the required time and I have in truth got a backlog right now (77 as of now). It can get dispiriting very quickly when you delve in and think to yourself ‘what have they sent me this for?’, when something is clearly nowhere near anything you’ve ever put your name to.

And I get way too much metal. I’m not even a great fan of most metal, and haven’t been since I was a teenager. In fact, Iron Maiden put me off it when I was about 16, to this day the only time I’ve actually gone off a band at one of their own gigs. Mind you, some people may think Bad Guys are metal, they may even think that themselves come to think of it. But to me they’re just a great rock band. A bit tongue in cheek but with enough edge to make them stand out rather than be just another metal band. Only IMHO of course.
But nothing beats finding that one demo in the queue that really kicks your backside off the chair. It’s rare that’s for sure, but it does happen, and hopefully it will continue to. Some labels don’t accept demos full stop, which to me seems to kind of defeat the point of running a label. How else are you going to hear that band from say Walsall other than via listening to their home recordings? Surely the whole point of running a label is to unearth new music and get it out to the world.

CC: What albums have you enjoyed in 2015?

AS: Some old friends have put out some great records this year. Props to Hey Colossus for not one great album but two. In fact their most recent, ‘Radio Static High’ would probably be my favourite record of the year all told. Absolutely killer album. Their transformation from noisy ear manglers to this new varied creation is something else. Shit And Shine, have knocked out about three more killer albums from memory too. Craig is another that just can’t stand still musically, he’s always out there making some amazing new noise. I’d say his ‘54 Synth-Brass, 30 Metal Guitar, 65 Cathedral’ is my favourite of the three i’ve heard from the shitters this year. Other great ones would be Low ‘Ones & Sixes’, Helm ‘Olympic Mess’, Jenny Hval ‘Apocalypse, Girl’, Luminous Bodies ‘S/T’, Spidergawd ‘2’, Voices From The Lake ‘Live At Maxxi’, Drunk In Hell ‘Pre-Cum’, The Soviet Space Programme ‘Space Is Hell’, M.E.S.H. ‘Piteous Gate’, Blown Out ‘Jet Black Hallucinations’, HAG ‘Fear Of Man’. Two old school surprises were the new Slayer & Motorhead albums which I’ve played to death when in need of a kick up the arse, which has been plenty this year. There’s been plenty more of course but my minds gone blank.

CC: What’s the best gig you attended in 2015?

AS: This year my leftover spending money has been mainly on travel so I’ve spent less this year on buying stuff and attending gigs than ever before in reality.

It may not fit in with this article, but I have seen my all time favourite band AC/DC three times this year, which were all wonderful experiences abroad with friends rather than just gigs. They were the first band I heard and fell in love with aged 8 and that i still love to this day. So when they tour (and it gets rarer and rarer these days) I push the boat out and travel around a bit. They’re also the only band where I have a bunch of friends that will come out to see em as well. A lot of my friends of a similar age to me seem to have given up on new music back in their twenties … daft fuckers.

Hey Colossus and Blown Out in Birmingham were GREAT. Torche, Sex Swing and Henry Blacker in Camden was another highlight. I saw Slayer last week for the first time in god knows how many years, and it was one of my favourite gigs of the year, they absolutely nailed it. Living in a cultural backwater as i do, not many bands tend to come this way. Even the ones that do only come to Birmingham, and that itself is a complete arse to get to via public transport from here. Maybe i’ll start a campaign to get Wolverhampton back on the gig toilet circuit.

CC: Best festival?

AS: The local beer festival as always. Not been too any music festivals for years. I can’t decide if it’s just feeling too old now or the fact I hate tents and camping. I almost get trench foot at Glastonbury in the 90’s, and that was enough to give me the fear, as well as having to sit through Jamiroquai with a stoned mate. That Supernormal Festival looks quite enticing though. As does Raw Power, especially with that one being indoors. It’s all about the £££ though … maybe next year. Comes to think of it, I am going to Oktoberfest in Munich next September … not sure that counts though.

CC: What are you up to next year?

AS: There are a few things in the pipeline that I’m excited about. I don’t really like to plan too far ahead or say too much too soon though as things often go tits up without warning. But let’s say there will be more new names, and a few known names that I haven’t worked with before also. I’m excited but cautious all the same. One thing I would love to hear is a new Mainliner album … no word on that happening yet though.

As that’s the end of the questions, I’d like to add a big thanks to the folks at Echoes and Dust for their continued support this year. It is massively appreciated. And you Rich, for putting all those great gigs on. I may not live down London way, but I do look at some of those Cosmic Carnage bills and think ‘WOW’. I’m sure all the RS bands that’ve played them appreciate your efforts too.

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