"You learn as you go along..."

When surveying the landscape of British independent music, it’s difficult to look past established figures such as Rough Trade, 4AD XL and so forth. Which is why it’s been heartening to witness the growth of No Pain In Pop.

Initially a live music and blogging vehicle, the respect No Pain In Pop garnered quickly led to the desire to fold out into a record label. Staggering into music world three years ago, the expert taste demonstrated by the two Tom’s (O and K) alongside Kev Kharas on the blog side has led to the imprint housing important releases from Grimes, Echo Lake, Forest Swords, Nite Jewel and more. “I didn’t really know what to do when we started off, we just pressed a 7” up and went from there,” explains Tom K. “I guess that was about three years ago now. It sold out in about the first week or so (but) we didn’t really know what we were doing - like if we released a single now it would be completely different. You learn as you go along.”

Using the blog as an interface, No Pain In Pop quickly found themselves in the position of new artists coming to them – rather than the other way around. Searching for an example, Tom K reminisces about his first contact with Forest Swords. “I think I stumbled across him on Myspace, and we put a few tracks on the blog we hosted” he remembers. “I did two or three blog posts on him and no one cared; no one reposted or anything. It wasn’t till Olde English Spelling Bee in New York put out his EP that things started picking up for him and he made a few videos himself that went round the web pretty quickly” he says. “We didn’t have any money at the time to put that out, so it’s good to kind of get the foundations laid early if you do want to work with people. But it’s good opening dialogue with acts straight away and we always get music sent to our email address to browse through, so it’s good to know that we’re the first port of call for people as well.”

Having such a dedicated, influential online presence leads very naturally into running a web-based label along the lines of the mp3 imprints who dot across the dance world. Yet No Pain In Pop is marked by a diligence and commitment to the physical product, resulting in some beautiful objects. “I think you work with bands, if you’re prepared to release them, you need to kind of invest in them and give them a physical product” he explains. “It’s going to make it that much more important to them, like bands nowadays aren’t, for the most part, going to make decent money, in the same way that labels aren’t going to make decent money. They’re going to, at best, get by and have a career for five to ten years. The most important thing is just kind of being proud of what you’re doing and being happy and having fun and being able to give them a physical 12” or a 7” or a CD. It just adds to that, I’m not sure you would get the same feeling if someone just released a download.”

Placing total artistic control in the hands of their artists, No Pain In Pop have been responsible for some of the best looking records to grace our shelves over the past three years – an attitude that is carefully cultivated. “We’ve always said that the art is down to the bands we work with. Obviously, we do have ideas and I’m sure we could refuse to do stuff if it’s completely unsuitable, but to date every act has been able to do the art themselves or put a designer in place to handle it” he states. “We do have quite clear ideas of how we want stuff to look and if something didn’t fit in with the band image or what they’re trying to portray with their music we’d definitely speak out and try and sort it, but up to this point everyone has been great and sorting stuff their selves. I think that when you do work with people who have a clear creative vision, like Patten is one guy, Echo Lake is two people mainly. They have very clear ideas and act on them.”

Continually getting in early on potent new talent, No Pain In Pop have built up an admirable roster. Yet the nature of this means that as each artist gains more exposure, they are cherry picked by larger, most established labels with a far greater reach. “To date, it’s just been great having acts move on. We would like to work longterm with everyone, we just mentioned that’s not possible a hundred and one reasons, down to the acts who want to make a better career for themselves and us not having enough money and not having the time.”

In a curious way, though, the remote success of each former artist simply re-fuels No Pain In Pop. “We’re finding out now, a really good thing to do is keep stuffing your back catalogue, like the digital back catalogue for example” Tom K explains. “If you do a release with someone and a year and a half later they get a lot bigger and go off with a different label, although you’re not making money from the second release you’ve still got the first one in your back catalogue. I never really put two and two together and realised that was the case, but obviously you sell more of that one. So, it’s a huge benefit when acts go an work for other people and get bigger. Like Grimes for example, we just reissued her debut over here that was down to Arbitus records. Got their managers here as well and he’s responsible along with her being great. It was heartening actually when good acts do well, it’s not often the case.”

As for the future, it seems that while No Pain In Pop is driven by plenty of hunger and desire, the label is also keen to retain its roots. “We’re managing a few acts now, which is good, it’s a way to keep involvement beyond doing a release on the label” he explains. “I’d like to, in five years time, for the label to be going and doing more releases at a bigger level. But I’m overjoyed that we’re going as we are now, really. I don’t have any lofty expectations, I’m just enjoying being able to relax.”

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