Colin Newman interview
Graeme Rowland [GR] interviewed Colin Newman [CN] about the new website www.posteverything.com, which handles Internet mail order sales of Pinkflag and Swim releases amongst others.
GR: Why did you set up the posteverything.com site, how did you become involved and who else is involved apart from you and Tony Morley of Leaf?
CN: This story goes back more or less five years or you could even argue philosophically back to the late '70s.
There was a situation that developed in independent music distribution in the mid '90s, most specifically the demise of RTM who had been set up by the main independent labels (Mute, 4AD, Beggars Banquet, etc) after the collapse of Rough Trade. Although RTM wasn't really founded on the idealism of Rough Trade there was still some residual idea that small labels could be nurtured and independent distribution was something more than just a way to get major label 'indie' imprints into the indie charts.
Although we didn't know it at the time, a large number of small labels were about to be dropped by RTM as it got absorbed into it's bigger and less philosophically founded former rival Vital. However the writing seemed pretty much on the wall and I started to feel that the whole idea of independent distribution needed to be re-invented at very much the level that Rough Trade had started. By that I meant that if those small labels could somehow stand together things could be accomplished that could never have been accomplished individually.
At that point I started telling these ideas to anyone who would listen. One person who immediately grasped what I was trying to say was Tony Morley from the Leaf label and No.9 publicity. Perhaps it was his background at 4AD that gave him the context, whatever he was in from day one. We decided to call a meeting of all the small and cool labels we thought might like to debate with us about that. The meeting took place in the Internet cafŽ on Golden Square in Soho. I can't remember exactly who was there but it soon became very clear that most labels were really only interested in their own future and even those that were interested weren't really prepared to do anything about it. However Tony and I just couldn't let the idea drop. We knew that it made sense but needed to work out how to do it. Very soon it became obvious that the Internet was the tool but we needed to work out how to do it. So we started talking to various web dudes. Again, most people we spoke to were only interested in their own agendas but we had one mutual friend who wasn't. To describe Dorian Moore as a web designer is a bit like calling Alan Greenspan an accountant. Part of the same Edinburgh scene that spawned Lobe, Dorian had designed the original Swim site and was at that point actively involved in setting up sites for Warp, Ninja Tune and even Kylie amongst others. And so Posteverything was born.
Getting from the germ of the idea to being online has taken much longer than anyone could have imagined. However we have had the advantage of seeing the dot.com bubble burst and various attempts to do what we are doing come to grief (or running at costs which far outweigh their profitability). There was the possibility in the early days of taking a partner from a larger indie label however we felt that even though this would have speeded up things it would not be in the Posteverything spirit. In fact it was Dorian's involvement in writing Warp's new website/shopping system that held up things for a good deal of time, although the runaway success of this has been a spur to us the endless rewrites took all of Dorian's time for two years.
Wire's label Pinkflag became involved in the story as the first distributed label in 2000. Posteverything were able to provide a mail order outlet for Wire and a means by which the Pinkflag items could be obtained outside of Wire's live shows. In the last month we have added Fridge's label Text and soon we will add Memphis Industries. We are in discussion with many other labels and will gradually add more over time. There is also the possibility that Posteverything itself may become a label. Users can definitely help guide posteverything's direction. Post to the forum, let your voice be heard. Is there a brilliant label we might not have heard of? What do you think of what's there? Do you use the real audio 'radio'? Would you like to see more 'channels'?
GR: When you say the idea goes back philosophically to the late '70s, are you refering to Wire's attitude at that time?
CN: Not really , I've really only become interested in these ideas since I have been running a label. Obviously I was aware of the history of independent labels & distribution in this country but it only really becomes relevant when your livelihood depends on it!
GR: When I interviewed you in 1997, you said that you thought distribution was incredibly corrupt. Obviously Posteverything is a way around that problem, but can you describe how experiences you've had dealing with distributors for Swim has helped you avoid pitfalls in setting up PE? (urgh! That sounds like a job interview question!)
CN: I think this must have been pretty much in the early PE days. Certainly Swim's experiences of the downside of the fag end of the UK independent distribution boom of the '80s left a very bad taste. The situation now in many ways is much worse as the mainstream occupies so much of the centre ground that much is pushed to the margins. We don't really work with anyone we don't feel comfortable with anymore but the main problem is that because everything without that financial push behind it gets shoved to the margins it's like being denied cultural access. I guess PE is part of a process where I try to put my own, albeit limited, 'notoriety' to draw attention to an ignored section of the music industry.
GR: Is Posteverything a collective in the business sense?
CN: Well in legal terms it's a limited company. Under rules from Companies house there has to be an MD, a secretary etc. But to be quite honest we decide the titles in two minutes in the pub. We take all decisions together. We have regular meetings and an almost continuous email discussion.
GR: Would the Posteverything label be a collective endeavour? What kind of releases would it put out?
CN: To be quite honest I think there will be a long time before there is a stand alone Posteverything label. It will be a useful imprint for doing PE samplers but we decided to take down the PE as label link from the site as we can't really cope with actual 'signings' right now. There will also be a 'demo FAQ' going up which I think contains pretty good advice to anyone wanting to send a submission to any label.
GR: Which other labels would you like to distribute via Posteverything?
CN: Obviously there are people we have been in contact with for a while who we will gradually add. The ones we start with realistically have to be London based because of stock issues. We don't have a warehouse to store stuff so we need to be able to pick up small quantities pretty easily. In terms of which labels; I think all three of us have a pretty clear idea what sort of stuff qualifies as posteverything. We then take decisions based on majority opinion.
GR: Should labels approach Posteverything now?
CN: Why not? In general we expect to be the ones doing the approaching however our 'intelligence' may not be perfect!! Realistically anyone approaching us should be familiar with what kind of material we work with and what might appeal to us. Posteverything is quite specific and we definitely aren't trying to be all things to all men so we sure as hell aren't suitable for ninety percent of labels anyhow.
GR: Would you consider working with CD-R labels?
CN: It's all about content! If it's good for sure! Of course good is subjective. I think we'd approach every instance on its (subjective) merits.
GR: Would you like to expand it beyond an online resource, into shop distribution for instance?
CN: It's certainly something we have spoken about but perhaps not yet and certainly not in major territories. However there is great power in the concept and I can see small distributors in obscure territories being interested in the fact that we did a lot of curation for them already. A kind of 'One stop cool stuff pre-distributor' or whatever.
GR: Some questions about Pinkflag specifically, as this is for Wireviews... Is Pinkflag owned entirely by the four members of Wire and manager Paul Smith?
CN: Pinkflag isn't really a record company per se. Wire Merchandising is a semi-legal entity and is theoreticaly owned by the Wire members. Paul helps the band operate in a more businesslike way. It's a process. Wire hasn't traditionally thought about itself as a business but my personal opinion is that it is something we need to get used to, at least to an extent. It all helps with the idea that Wire should be self-financing as through this it can be free of outside pressure in making its artistic decisions.
GR: You've hinted that if enough people ask for them via the PE forums, Wire might well consider 'fan' releases such as the 'Albini sessions' you recorded in Chicago in May 2000. How many people would have to ask for a release like that to make it viable? And do you have any plans to release your Crazy About Love and Another the Letter remixes?
CN: This idea has been slightly knocked on the head by the rest of the band. I think the idea now is to really concentrate on new material. Over a period of time there will be an accumulated resource of live mixes and various bits & bobs. This will all come out in some form but not yet.
GR: Is the next Wire album likely to get a vinyl release?
CN: Depends what it is and how it comes out!
GR: Are there going to be any more 7" singles? The 12 Times You single seemed to sell quickly.
CN: As I said, concentration now is on creation. Formats, etc, can be assigned once enough material is there.