It isn’t an unfair criticism of the music industry to say that it’s too London-centric. In fact, few labels or magazines would dare to dispute it. After all, how many major British outlets have their HQ’s outside of London? There are obvious reasons for this: status, scene, accessibility, but grassroots music from uncharted areas will no doubt suffer as a result. Enter Art is Hard, a DIY label from the South West of England, championing local music through innovation and resourcefulness that is starting to get attention. Last month saw them put out their first release, 'Brink of the Clouds', a compilation of their favourite South West bands, which came with a zine, put together by the featured artists; a download code and a limited edition screen print t-shirt. Interestingly they decided against sending out any physical music. The question of whether it will work seems redundant: the fact that there are labels doing this kind of thing speaks volumes for the DIY music culture that needs to be healthy in order to sustain British music. We met co-founder, Dave West, to see why he started the label, why the South West receives such little attention and if he thinks physical music releases are dead.
Dazed Digital: What inspired you to start your own label?
Dave West: Me and Rich had talked about starting a label for ages whilst putting on gigs in Weymouth; then earlier this year it just felt like if we didn't do it when we were this young and naive, we never would.
DD: Why ‘Art is Hard’?
Dave West: I've been dreading this question ever since the name kind of stuck. It comes from The Cursive song, pretty boring really. I think it's just an "ok" name, but art is pretty easy really.
DD: What music are you interested in signing?
Dave West: Although Rich and I have slightly different tastes we're both interested in working with bands from the South/South West. I think our first release is a pretty good blueprint for the type of music we hope to be releasing in the future.
DD: Why do you think the South West is so poorly represented by the major labels?
Dave West: I think the main factor is probably the lack of any major cities. You've got Exeter but that's really about it (musically anyway). Even Southampton which I still count as South West (but is definitely a lot more south) doesn't seem to have as much going for it as it did a couple of years ago. I think one of the main problems is a lot of creative, artistic and musical people tend to move to 'cooler' places such as Brighton, Bristol & London because there's so few outlets for these types of outputs.
DD: Where did you get the idea to bring the T-Shirt out with your release? Who designed it?
Dave West: I think the idea just came from a frustration with the staleness of CD releases and the whole thing that it's pretty redundant charging people £10 for something that'll only actually ever get used once or twice. I actually designed the T-shirt myself. In Weymouth there is a real strong DIY T-shirt culture. People are always coming up with rad little designs and just getting a dozen or so printed to sell amongst their friends.
DD: Will this be a regular fixture to your releases?
Dave West: I'm not sure we'll be doing a T-shirt release again for a while as I'd hate to think of ourselves as one trick ponies, but I'd like the ideology of this release to be consistent in future releases. We've talked about lots of ideas including a home-brewed cider but I'm not sure how legal it would be to sell that!
DD: Do you believe that physically releasing music is now dead?
Dave West: No not at all! We'd hate people to think that was what we stood for. We just believe there are more interesting ways to release music than on a 5" optical disc. Saying this though nothing will ever replace the actual owning of a record collection and rediscovering neglected purchases. Not even iTunes.
DD: What’s next for Art is Hard?
Dave West: We're going to tell people about our next release a month after our first release (October 13th) and then beyond that we're not really too sure. Hopefully buying some suits and taking some bands out for lobster and then getting them to sign on the dotted line.