The internet has caused an exponential increase in the the velocity of modern music.
At times, it can be difficult to keep up. That's why gatekeepers, tastemakers, curators, and specialists are all desperately needed - to cut out the noise, and let the good stuff through.
Killing Moon have certainly focussed on the good stuff. The label has earned a hard fought reputation for supporting new talent, for providing assistance at a vital stage in a new artist's career.
Set to toast their fifth birthday this week, Clash sat down with co-founder Achal Dhillon to talk about Killing Moon's past, present, and future.
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What led to the birth of Killing Moon?
I suppose Killing Moon started entering my contemplation when I was on the verge of losing my last proper music job (which are the ones that give you a monthly pay packet) at a clouty artist management company in mid 2010, at which point I had spent so many years trying to be something that I am simply not, and working on things that just didn't interest me. I wasn't learning anything about how the music industry works and how to go about doing things like releasing records, short of just having money to throw at such things or being in with the "right" sort of people, and I was slowly starting to actively dislike music due to awareness of how certain careers were developed. I just didn't really feel like I fit in anywhere.
So I got made redundant, moved back in with mum and dad in Ealing in West London, sat on my ass for three months moaning about things and thinking about life. I couldn't get another job in music, which I credit to having pissed too many people off and not being liked by those in a position to give me one, and my mum gave me a job as an administrator at her family doctor's surgery which later taught me to appreciate the NHS.
I realised more than anything else I wanted to be a fan of music - like back in school when me and my in-betweener group of friends would almost compete with one another to be the first person that "discovered" our new collectively favourite band, which may have had something to do with living back at home again. So coupling my ongoing desire to whinge about things with the near obsession to soundtrack these whinges with something new and appropriate led to the blog, which I wrote on nearly every day with a band that I hadn't heard of or listened to before - free from that music industry influence that I found so very adulterating.
Killing Moon was never actually intended or indeed designed to be a business, more a hobby for my own personal enrichment whilst scanning medical correspondence and registering new patients at the surgery. It was an escape; it made music fun and creative for me again. Everything else - the label, managing artists, and the numerous shows put on under the Killing Moon banner - just followed from there mainly because those things also just made me feel happy, and in the modern context quite necessary so that we don't have to inherently depend on anyone else to do those things for us. So to sum up, what led to the birth of Killing Moon was mainly a desire to do something that I considered worth doing and another desire to just learn as much about the music industry as possible, whilst trying really really hard to not care about what other people, particularly in the music industry, thought of me for doing so. It was entirely necessary.
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What led to the birth of Killing Moon was mainly a desire to do something that I considered...
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You’ve always focussed on breaking new music, was this decision a conscious one?
I'm actually not sure. Whilst I will happily admit that like a lot of music bloggers I had this idea of creating an ostensible portfolio of new artists to show how fantastic a talent scout I wanted people to think I was, I had absolutely no idea how to "break" or develop an artist. I mean, shit, at the time of creating Killing Moon I couldn't even sort my own life out. Although what was inherent in what now seems to be a company lineage unfolding was this need to find out how certain processes worked, particularly in music marketing.
I wanted to learn how to PR a band; how to plug a track to radio; how to put on a gig; how to put a record into a record shop and specifically wanted to learn to do it myself. In that context, I suppose with development of the company, the individuals working within it, and the artists who allow us to interfere with their lives since, at least the general focus on new music was always in the Killing Moon mindset.
Who was your first signing?
A band called Strangers. I put out a 7" vinyl AA side called It Was A Sin/If I Found Love. Sometime between 2010-2011 I had blogged about another track of theirs and just got real chummy with the singer David Maddox-Jones, who I later discovered used to front a band called The Departure who were a big deal back in the proverbial day. The easiest part of releasing the record was drafting the contract myself, and having a law degree/completing the LPC really helped here. The fun part was doing the release itself and finally sussing out how to secure press for the release, achieve radio play, organise the single launch and seeing my very first release on the shelves of Rough Trade.
The shit part was realising that I had zero money and asking my mum to loan me £800 to press 500 7" vinyls (a chap at Disc Manufacturing Services called Sam Reynolds was very nice to me), which she was more than happy to do despite that I didn't really know what I was doing because she has always spoiled me rotten since the day I was born, although she did seem impressed that I was attempting to do something that she would consider useful. The best part was being able to pay her back that £800 some years later, aside than feeling rather accomplished in doing a lot of things that I hadn't done before.
Did you envisage the label lasting five years? What’s the secret of your longevity?
I didn't even think we'd become an actual business, let alone lasting this long! We have had our highs and lows, and it has been far from a smooth ride. I have lost relationships, friends, sleep, money, time and nearly my mind at several instances over the last five years - 2015 was a particularly difficult year for us and in fact we were a hair's breadth away from losing everything. But we didn't. We survived, and now it feels so good to be back on the offensive particularly with Killing Moon Records.
What's the secret? I really don't know. I don't think we've attempted to do things with the label super differently to a lot of other labels I admire, but mainly just try to do things really well. I also think as we're free from this desire to be accepted by our peers in the music business - in fact, in the past perhaps we've had this tendency to pick fights with organisations much bigger than us to prove some kind of point, which probably wasn't the best move in each instance - we are able to make a move on working with artists that I believe other labels just wouldn't in the same circumstances.
The development of Killing Moon Management and Killing Moon Live, as well as the blog, has also been of huge benefit to the label and the artists released through it, as well as the continued drive to train and retrain ourselves in marketing records. Also - accounts. I keep very fucking thorough accounts.
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We survived, and now it feels so good to be back on the offensive...
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What achievements are you most proud of over the years?
In terms of specific achievements, I am proud of every record release we have done, so it's a little hard to single one out for special props. However I will say that our first curated label takeover of Club NME in September 2014 - which I went to all the time as a student, with Koko itself being one of my very favourite venues - was honestly a dream come true. We had Fickle Friends and a band called Strong Asian Mothers, who are now both doing very well for themselves. I still can't believe they're letting us do shows there and the venue staff, particularly the booker Mark Johnson, have always been so kind to us.
Generally, I think I'm most proud of how we've conducted ourselves as a business now we actually are one. It has been tempting to sign numerous bands or work with certain artists based on how well we think they will do, rather than whether we actually like them or not. We've stood up to bullies - some even within our own camp - and we've backed up our friends whenever we can. We've made our accomplishments and our fuck-ups very much part of who we are as a company and individuals. I love that we are able to interact with so many new artists in so many respects without really succumbing to the politics that seem to rule this line of work - I find that there are a lot of people who get very territorial and we've tried very hard to knock this idea on the head of "stop anyone else from signing them first, figure out what to do with them later".
I guess most of all, I'm proudest of how Killing Moon is now actually a "we" rather than the "me" it started off as. I sometimes hear us referred to as "the Killing Moon family", in reference to the staff, our friends and family and our business partners, the label roster, the management artists, the line ups on our live billings, the artists featured on the blog and I guess now the regulars in our ostensible community. I'm proud of creating something people enjoy and care about, and that we can share it with them.
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I'm proud of creating something people enjoy and care about...
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The birthday party will be a big one, with PRIDES performing. What’s been like to watch that band progress? Will there be a few surprises on the night?
I wrote about a Prides track called 'Out Of The Blue' some time ago, and soon after my (now extremely close) friend Ally McCrae started managing them. Although we have never released a record for them - which I get is ironic, seeing as they're headlining the label's 5th birthday (!) - I feel as if the label has almost grown up alongside Prides. We would see them at pretty much every festival the artists we work with would appear at, and most recently Stuart from the band has featured on an amazing track called 'Break Over You' by an artist we manage called Draper. So it's a been amazing seeing them go from strength to strength over the recent years; their new single 'Rome' is quite frankly their best work to date so I think the best is very much yet to come for them. I'm so pleased they're coming to play our party.
We've also got some artists that we manage, Remi Miles and Annabel Allum who we also put out records for, performing as well, and our friend Abbie McCarthy from BBC Introducing plus that sexy little man Phil Taggart from some station called Radio 1 DJing for us. We'll be doing some cool giveaways on the night but I can't really say more than that, otherwise it would ruin the surprise. Although I will be immensely surprised personally if I make it to my friends stag party the very next/same morning as the Killing Moon party...
What next for Killing Moon?
We've recently announced a new joint venture with our friends at Livenation called New Moons - named after our compilation series which we've done formative releases for a bunch of people like Slaves, Fickle Friends, Laurel and loads more - to help develop the next generation of live headliners for the long term. With the label, we'll be continuing with single and EP releases but we're now forming more long-term relationships with certain artists rather than performing one-off releases. We even have plans to launch a completely brand new label before the end of the year.
On the management front, a bunch of the artists we work with have recently signed deals with other labels and publishers which we can announce soon - one artist in particular has recently signed to one of my very favourite labels in the whole world so I'm personally incredibly excited about that. There is also a lot of talk about launching Killing Moon Publishing which has been in the pipeline for about a year now. But I'm now trying to get things right rather than get it done fast as I feel I may have done in the past. What's the rush when we're really starting to enjoy ourselves?
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Killing Moon's fifth birthday party takes place at KOKO, London on June 17th.