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Gizeh Records is an English label that has the motto of “The Noise of Harmony and the Harmony of Noise”. This perfectly describes their music from the sublime in Chantal Acda through to the noisier tones of Nadja, the experimental electronica of Shield Patterns through to recent doom signings Hundred Year Old Man. Label boss Richard Knox (Shield Patterns, Glissando, A-Sun Amissa, etc…) kindly answered my questions.
Please introduce yourself and the origins of the label? Was it formed to release your own music and then others later on? How many people are involved?
The label started up in a very basic form in 2002. The first Glissando recordings were finished and we had booked a few shows so it made sense to put a label name on the CD to make it look more professional than it was. There was absolutely no long term plan or even a short term plan but we made friends with a band called 30 Day Hex around the same time and they had a bunch of songs recorded and we played some shows together. It seemed to make sense to do the same thing with those guys – simply having something to sell at shows.
I had no idea how to run a label or what it even involved but as we played more shows we got to know more bands and the ideas kept coming and it basically grew very, very slowly from that point. I felt like it was something I wanted to do and something that I could do so I taught myself how to do it. It’s always be a huge learning curve and kind of still is in a way. It’s always been a purely DIY endeavour, every step of the way.
For a long time I just worked on it on evenings whilst doing a full time job and then over the years reduced my ‘job’ hours and increased the label hours until the thing switched places and since 2013 I’ve been able to be fully self-employed. We’ve never had any funding, at all. It’s just grown organically and I would say now the label is in the best position it’s ever been in. It’s always mostly just been myself but I’ve had help down the years here and there. The problem, of course, is always finances and to be able to pay someone else to be involved is really difficult as the money just isn’t there, even if the workload is. The fact that it’s all self-sustaining and I can pay myself is, in my opinion, a success in itself. My wife Claire, who is also part of Shield Patterns and A-Sun Amissa is coming on board a bit more these days as the release schedule is pretty healthy and we’ve started branching out into selling stuff from other labels which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.
How important is identity (musical or visual) to the label ? Genre wise it’s difficult to pigeon hole the label. Was the intention not to be thought of as a ‘insert genre’ label?
I hate the idea of being a ‘genre-based’ label – I can’t think of anything more boring. The label is simply an extension of my personal musical tastes, which are pretty broad and the label reflects that. The only thing I’m concerned about is; are the people involved nice and is the music good? That’s it. No one is really making any significant money here so if you have to spend your time dealing with managers or artists that are dicks then it’s a complete waste of time and energy. I’m just not interested in that side of things. We’ve never done a contract and I don’t ever plan on doing that – operating on good faith is just fine. I want to work with artists who are making something interesting and have a real passion for what they are doing. I mean, it has to be a joint effort otherwise it becomes very hard.
Selling records these days isn’t easy so everyone has to do their bit in the process. It’s a team effort. For sure we’ve suffered in some ways because we don’t fit in a particular scene or whatever but that stuff is usually short-term or fashionable anyway so who cares? I don’t see another way to do this and the artists for the most part are very supportive in it, in fact I think it’s what attracts people to want to join the label as it’s an opportunity to reach a different audience or play with different types of bands and keep the whole thing a bit more interesting for everyone involved.
I mean, look at labels like Thrill Jockey or Sargent House or Ipecac – those guys release all sorts of stuff but you know for the most part it’s going to be of a high standard, even if you might not end up liking it or whatever. It keeps you on your toes. That to me is far more inventive and interesting than some ambient label where every release sounds the same. If that’s your thing then that’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with it at all, it’s just not for me.
The label has been around since 2004. A lot has changed in the last 13 years with the way music has been received and manufactured (eg: hand made, deluxe editions, surge in vinyl). How is this affected the label? Has there been times you’ve thought of stopping?
2004 was when the first ‘proper’ release came out which was Detwiije’s ‘Would You Rather Be Followed By Forty Ducks For The Rest Of Your Life?’. That was the first record that had any kind of distro and it was then when I started to take the label more seriously. A lot has changed for sure but you just have to stay on your toes and navigate around things as best you can. It’s obvious to everyone that there has been a steady decline in physical sales. At the end of the day you don’t have any say in how any of this works, you just have to be aware enough to adapt to how people want to buy or listen to the music and find the best way to present it.
If only 200 people want a vinyl of a specific release and everyone else is happy to stream it then that’s ok, I can’t do a single thing about that, I just need to make sure I don’t press 1000 vinyls. I think there’s definitely more pressure now on getting the numbers right in terms of pressing. It can be a tricky thing to call but the difference now is that if a record goes out of print it’s still possible for people to hear it either via download or stream which was never the case before.
There are a few releases that I’d love to repress on vinyl but while I know we could sell a bunch I don’t think we can shift 300 units – especially if the band isn’t touring or particularly active. Personally I like vinyl but shops are charging way too much now for it, £25? It’s crazy. Who can afford that? It’s simple economics though and everyone is just trying to survive but the very nature of pressing less copies means the unit price is more and that transfers all the way down the line which results in the products being too expensive.
In the end it will be the shops and distros that will suffer the most because if you sell direct to fans it means you cut out two parts of the chain and then it’s affordable to them and you make more money as an artist or label. For the record I am pro-distro and pro-shops, just to be clear. I’d like it if everyone could make a bit of money each and all survive but it’s clear that it’s becoming harder for that model to work.
Looking back over the years I don’t really think it’s affected us too badly, we never really sold loads of records anyway so nothing much has changed, it’s always been about managing each release and you just have to figure it out. It’s your job to do that and find a way to make it work. That’s not to say it isn’t a challenge but it’s not too different from any other job in that regard. I’ve never thought about stopping the label – for more than a few hours anyway!
I enjoy it and to be honest I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life, I wouldn’t change it. I get the opportunity to work with incredible artists every day and to keep learning and growing all the things I’m involved in – it’s great. It means I can manage my time as I need, whether that’s making music or working on the label or printing or whatever it might be.
How important is it to keeping the label’s works in house and be self sufficient? I am thinking of Smiling Paper Ghosts and Death Rattle Press. Do you offer these services to others and if so how do interested people get in contact?
It’s absolutely crucial to survival and I don’t see another way of doing it. My DIY attitude means that I’m sure I can learn how to do something if I’m interested in it and doing things like press and screen-printing is just an extension of the label and it means that things can happen without having to pay other people to do it. Not that there is anything wrong with that but when you are operating on a shoestring it’s important to seek out where you can save money. I’ve never been scared of working really hard at what I’m doing and I’d much rather live cheaply, work long days and earn not so much money than do a full-time job that I hate every day.
There are times when the workload is pretty severe but I’m fine with working 14 hour days if I need to, it’s not a problem. It just comes with the territory. Luckily I don’t really do down time so I’m almost constantly working, I find it very difficult to sit still for any length of time. We do offer both screen-printing and press services to others, a simple search will reveal all.
What releases on the catalog stand out especially to you? What is the hidden gem of the catalog that people should check out?
My favourite releases change all the time so it’s quite impossible to answer that. People can find their own gems in there – it’ll be different for everyone.
Please tell us plans for the future. How far ahead do you plan?
Right now we’re planned up into the middle of 2018. We have one more release to announce for this year and then there is a Hundred Year Old Man EP coming in January and an album in April. A new Tomorrow We Sail record, a new Shield Patterns record and a few new signings we are yet to announce. We are also working on the very first Gizehfest which is pretty exciting.