Since 2004, Transgressive Records has been putting out inspirational indie records by bands that have, frequently, gone on to release period-defining material. Graham Coxon, Mystery Jets, At The Drive-In, The Shins, Foals, Flume, Pulled Apart By Horses, The Subways, Dry The River, The Antlers and Iron & Wine are just some of the acts to have seen their records issued by the London indie imprint.
Founded by friends Tim Dellow and Toby L when they were but teenagers, Transgressive is now rightly celebrating its 10th anniversary – with festivities climaxing on September 30th at the Barbican, London, where Mystery Jets, Marika Hackman, Johnny Flynn, Dry The River and more will perform. (Get details on and tickets for that show, here.)
To mark the anniversary, Clash has been talking to three Transgressive-associated artists – one from the very beginning, one the label’s middle years, and their latest signings.
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London prog-popsters Mystery Jets released their debut single, ‘Zoo Time’, on Transgressive in early 2005 – the fourth disc the label had ever put out. Since then, the band has issued four studio LPs and seen singles chart success with tracks like ‘Young Love’ (with Laura Marling) and ‘Two Doors Down’. After a spell away from Transgressive, they released a live album, ‘Live At The Royal Festival Hall’, through the label for Record Store Day 2013. Vocalist, keyboard player and guitarist Blaine Harrison journeys back in time…
“We’re very pleased that the label’s done so well. There’s been a synergy between Transgressive and Mystery Jets. I should probably go back to how we met them.
“William (Rees, MJ’s guitarist and vocalist) and I went to an early Bloc Party show, I guess before they’d put anything out. It might have been the launch for their first EP, which Tim and Toby had something to do with putting out – but before they’d set up Transgressive. William and I were massive Bloc Party fan boys, and we went up to the merch desk to buy the 7”, but we didn’t have enough money for two copies, so we paid half each. We agreed to have a week with it, and then a week off, and so on. We had this whole conversation in front of Tim and he was like: ‘Who are you guys?’ I think he let us have a copy each in the end.
“It was there that we forged a friendship – we were an unknown band, hanging out seeing other bands play. We’d go to Rockfeedback shows, which were Toby’s little babies. They put on some amazing bands – I think he booked one of the early Strokes, or White Stripes shows. He was in very early doors on bands like that. You could go to his nights at The Buffalo Bar, in Highbury, and you knew you’d always see something really fresh. And we met Toby through that, and he’d be in the cloakroom with his dad. Again, we were fan boys and went up to him and asked if we could play one day, and he was just like, ‘Yeah, maybe. I’ll see what I can do. Give me a demo.’
“We were trying hard to impress this guy. And then we found out he was younger than us! He’s like Richard Branson. But yeah, the relationship began as friends, and that’s remained at the core.
“‘Zoo Time’ was made for no budget at all. Well, maybe £100. But for that money we managed to produce four or five songs, in Clapton, in a tiny little box studio. It felt like we were at the arse end of nowhere – it wasn’t like it is today. One of the recordings was ‘Zoo Time’. That wasn’t the song we wanted to put out – we had another, which was our calling card at the time, our own ‘Echoes’, a 12-minute, three-part opera thing with all this bizarre stuff on it. We were trying to convince Transgressive that should be the single, but they were trying to explain to us how we couldn’t put that on a 7”. We didn’t believe them! ‘What are you talking about? Go on, put it out!’ But it was all for the best, because they went with ‘Zoo Time’ and that all worked out really well.
“When the time came to do this live release, that we wanted to do, we didn’t know exactly what to do. Originally we wanted to do a film, but it was too hard to find the means to make it. Our relationship with Rough Trade was up, we’d fulfilled our contract, and we wondered how to move forward. We didn’t want to get into label negotiations – we didn’t want to go through that, at the time. But Transgressive came in and said they’d be up for putting a live record out, and said that we could do whatever we wanted with the vinyl, that we could have fun with it. So, we came back with a giant, pullout poster, and double gold vinyl… I think they got a bit of a shock. But, they completely smashed it, and I think it’s my favourite vinyl we’ve put out since ‘Zoo Time’.
“And I think that says a lot about Transgressive – at the core, Tim and Toby are real music fans. You never get the feeling, meeting with them, that you’re having an ‘industry’ conversation. They instil the confidence in you that anything is possible – and so far, anything has been. So I think they’re fantastic. As for us working with them more, in the future, I can’t say anything… But you never know. Let’s leave it at that.
“I think their mission statement is simply to put music out that they like, by people they like. Of course you’d have to ask them to be sure, but from the perspective of an artist looking at the music on their label, you always feel that there’s a real dialogue between everyone. It feels like a continuous process, which is a good reflection of how music should be at the moment – I don’t think that separately defined roles of A&R and management and so on can really exist, going forward. It’s all very merged. And in that respect they’ve always been a very modern label – and one that doesn’t just look at small, cool things. They’re a label for the times, and they were also on streaming gigs very early on, which has become a much bigger thing. Whatever you want to do, basically, they work really hard to make happen.
“We’ve been discussing what to do at the Barbican show, at the end of the evening – maybe all the artists can come together to play one Transgressive-released song. But it’s hard to pick. I’d quite like to do an At The Drive-In song, as a big fan of theirs as a teenager, and the label’s subsequently picked up a part of their back catalogue. A big-band ‘One Armed Scissor’, would that work? It might be really good.”
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Pulled Apart By Horses signed to Transgressive for their debut, eponymous album of 2010, and also put their second LP, ‘Tough Love’, out through the label in 2012. The Leeds-formed foursome has just released ‘Blood’, their third album and first top 40 hit. Drummer Lee Vincent answers our over-email questions…
You guys gave the label a bit of a boot up the arse in terms of volume, as it had its share of more indie releases up til your ‘Back To The F*ck Yeah’ single, and debut album. So what was it that made you side with the label?
It just seemed like a good fit. We were kind of misunderstood anyway – the NME liked us but we were too heavy for the indie kids, and rock kids disliked us because they thought we were hipsters, haha. So to join the roster of a label that had no ‘rock’ acts just worked perfectly in our heads. They’re great people too, super enthusiastic and genuine fans of music. They’ll put out whatever they're feeling!
You’ve been on a rising trajectory with the band – top 40 with ‘Blood’ of course, bravo. How much input did the label have early doors, and what advice from them, or working practices, have you adopted?
They were honest about the music we were making. We’d always go to them because we knew we’d get a genuine opinion about if they thought our songs were shit or not! But aside from that, they were committed to us – they’d let us put out whatever we want. That kind of freedom allows you to write honest music.
Do you think that releasing your album through Transgressive changed some perceptions of the label? They’ve since reissued At The Drive-In LPs – are they punks underneath it all?
Haha, they are TOTALLY punks – just really eloquent, well-educated punks.
It’s a rare occasion when a band member gets the face of one of their label guys tattooed – how’s that working out for you? Does it still look a bit like Toby?
It still bears a resemblance, let’s say. I get asked why I have a tattoo of David Walliams on my leg quite a lot, though. I dig it that Toby is on my leg – tattoos are about good memories, and it reminds me of a really exciting time for the band.
What’s your favourite release on the label, other than one of your own?
Probably Foals’ ‘Antidotes’.
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The latest signings to Transgressive, indie-rock outfit Gengahr will release their debut single, ‘Powder’, on October 27th. The north London-based four-piece have previously featured on Clash, where we compared them to Modest Mouse and The Cure. Not bad lads, not bad. Singer Felix Bushe speaks to us over the phone from a van ride to Germany…
“Transgressive has always been a label we’ve been fans of, and they started around the time that we began listening to alternative music, when bands like Bloc Party were coming through, and Mystery Jets. From then, we’ve always been aware of them, so when it came to attracting label interest, we met them and got on really well straight away, which made them a natural choice for us.
“The guys there, Tim and Toby, they’re just music enthusiasts, really, and that’s really refreshing. They don’t have any of that corporate feel to them – they’re approachable, and good guys. Their ambition is simply to get good music out there, with no creepy undertones to it. It’s a very honest label, and it feels very rewarding to be a part of it. It’s a great place for us to be right now.
“We met Tim, first, when he saw us at Liverpool Sound City. He said that he’d like to chat more with us, so we sat down with a beer and took it from there, really. It’s nice to be able to call the head of your label and talk to him on a very human basis – I don’t think that’s normal in this business, but it’s great. I’m sure that’s not how it works at most labels, but we just talk about normal things. It’s a nice vibe.
“The label’s put out a lot of cool stuff between starting and now. I think Flume’s awesome, and Pulled Apart By Horses are sick. There’s loads of good stuff going on. They’ve a really strong roster, and it’s great to be a part of it. I don’t think they’re bound by genres – they pick the best of everything, which leads to this exotic zoo of music. Each release is different, and they don’t put out the same thing twice. There’s a lot of depth there.
“For us, beyond ‘Powder’, we’re in meetings about what comes next. There’s a rough plan, but it’s not concrete yet. We have targets we want to achieve, but the tracks aren’t decided, as for what might go onto an album. Which is actually a nice position to be in, because we can see what’s appropriate when the time’s right. We might throw a curveball or two out there, to keep people guessing.
“And I think that Transgressive would be up for those curveballs, which we can only take confidence from. I think they’re influence and input will rub off on us in more ways than one.”
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All interviews by Mike Diver