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Behind The Rhythm

Chris Tipton, the man behind London's ultra-cool Upset The Rhythm talks about how it all began...

Upset the Rhythm is undoubtedly one of the most influential and innovative music promoters – and record labels – in London today. Uncompromisingly DIY in their approach, over the last four years they've managed to rejuvenate the London live scene by putting on some of the most exciting underground acts around, from all over the world. Dazed Digital caught up with UTR's head boy, 26-year-old Chris Tipton, to talk Darwin, inter-band fights and the state of the UK scene.

DazedDigital: Where are you from originally and what was the music scene like growing up?
Chris Tipton:
 I've lived in London for about 10 years, but I'm originally from this town called Shrewsbury, which is a kind of small, boring market town that is Darwin's birthplace. The live scene was pretty non-existent, so we used to have to go Birmingham or Manchester to see anything good.

DD: What brought you to London?
Chris Tipton: Well, two reasons – I came to study biology at Imperial, specialising in evolution and neuroscience. I also wanted to come down to London as I was just drawn by the wealth of culture.

DD: So the live scene was a big draw?
Chris Tipton: Yeah, definitely

DD: Was there an overlap with UTR and your studies?
Chris Tipton:
 Not really, it kind of came immediately after studying. I was in music societies at the college and used to help put on DJ nights, and we used to met up regularly just to talk about music. The UTR nights started immediately after I got a job at Southern records packing mail orders, and it seemed a good fun thing to do after all the intensity of studying.

DD: Do you ever think you'll go back to neuroscience or academia?
Chris Tipton:
 I think I will at some point, but I'm enjoying UTR too much at the moment.

DD: Were you frustrated at the lack of underground, experimental bands being put on in London?
Chris Tipton:
 Yeah, I moved down to London expecting there to be this kind of amazing scene, but there were no DIY shows outside of squats – there was nothing going on that was even vaguely exciting. After the summer, I finished university and went to the states where I saw a lot of shows, and I got a real feel for how fun and spontaneous shows could be. It inspired me to try and actually do something, so I just got together a group of my friends and we decided to do a show for Deerhoof who, like a lot of US bands, would often just skip the UK as it was just too expensive.

DD: What year was this?
 The Deerhoof show was December 2005 at Needles, a wine bar near Great Portland St – and I remember there was 
a bit of pressure as it was Christmas parties week and the owner had kind of sacrificed a sure thing for us and was adamant that we had to get more than 100 people in or there'd be trouble.

DD: So you were only 22 years old? You weren't nervous that they'd say no?
 Well, I think with UTR it's always been a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained! There's always a reason not to do something but we just try and find the reason to still do it anyway.

DD: You put on a lot of bands from the US – is this due to being disappointed by the state of the UK scene?
 No not at all, I think it's more that the US is so much bigger, there just happens to be a lot more bands – and I think it helps that they've got a much more supportive DIY scene that's been hatched out of a lot of stuff like hardcore  and grunge... but you know, for every American band we put on we put on about three UK bands.

DD: That's actually a question I wanted to ask – what do you think UTR's part in this now visible regeneration  and vibrant UK scene is?
 It would be big-headed to say that, you know, it's all down to us, but you know everything we do, we do for sincere reasons, keeping ticket prices as low as possible, stuff like that.  I guess we've tried to encourage people, and a lot have bands tell us that they've actually formed to try and get a show with us. That's an amazing honour!

DD: So who are your favourite new UK bands that you've seen come up through the ranks from when they started playing for you?
Chris Tipton:
 I think it's still quite early days with a lot of my favourite UK bands, but right now I really like Gentle Friendly, Trash Kit from London – we're actually working with them and going into the studio and helping them with that. Gay Against You from Glasgow are brilliant, and again we're doing a record with them – Cleckhuddersfax from London we really like as well.

DD: Can you tell me about the record label.
Chris Tipton:
 It was exactly the same as with the first show – I think after the fourth or fifth show we put on Crack: We Are Rock with Xiu Xiu, who ended up staying with us, and they gave us  a demo of another one of their bands which was Death Sentence: Panda! We were completely blown away by it and asked when it was coming out properly – and they said well, it's not, and we thought, 'Why don't we just put it out and see if anyone likes it?'

DD: What's your approach to running the label?
Chris Tipton: I
t's kind of a classic kind of DIY punk split, so after any promotional and manufacturing costs we just split it 50/50. We usually advance bands a proportion of profits in free records to sell at shows as well, just as an immediate way for them to get money, rather than having to wait for ages for royalties to come through.

DD: You seem to have a knack for putting on bands early that go on to wider success – No Age, Dirty Projectors, Telepathe to name a few. How do yo seek out these bands?
Chris Tipton:
Well, it's really just a reflection of music that I like so… I guess seeking out new bands is the key. Because a lot of bands stay with us when they come over and play, we're consequently always hearing of new bands, as they'll say, “Oh, you've got to check out our friend's band!" Or it might just be searching around online; or sometimes people just email us and send us demo requests – we've got a good reputation for treating bands really well so people often seek us out.

DD: If it's not too personal a question, do you make a living out of this?
Chris Tipton:
Yeah, well it's like a three-pronged attack which works quite well – the shows, the record label and booking tours; and sometimes I might drive tours or tour manage as well. So, spread over all of those it's enough to support me doing it full-time, which allows me to do more shows and more records.

DD: And who else works for UTR?
Chris Tipton: 
Well, I'm the only one who does this full-time – but it's always been a collective of about ten of us who are friends and just do it for kicks, and so the fact that I can do it full time only makes it easier on them

DD: So you've gradually started to put stuff on at larger venues such as the Scala and are  putting Deerhunter on at Koko in August – where do you see UTR going? Are you tempted to put on an ATP-style festival?
Chris Tipton:
 Possibly, we haven't ruled out doing a festival. Yes Way (an event UTR put on in conjunction with the Auto Italia arts collective in their studios in March) was kind of like a two-day festival and was testing the water just to see if it was an idea that could work out, and it all went really and exceeded my expectations. But we're not consciously trying to do bigger and bigger shows – it's just that some of the bands we continue to work with are getting more popular, and we don't want to be really exclusive about it and only have a limited amount of people able to go and see them. It's great that No Age have gotten so big, for example, and so for bands like that we want to put them on at a space they deserve. But we're definitely committed to new music and will always keep doing the small shows.

DD: Best moment so far?
Chris Tipton:
Probably Yes Way off the top of my head actually – there was just such an amount of good will that we got back from people that it kind of blew my mind.

DD: And the worst?
Chris Tipton:
 (Laughs) Well, you always think it will be bad when you lose money off shows, but it's not because you're still supporting  a band who's come from the west coast or Glasgow to play... but I guess the worst  was a show with Jackie-O-Motherfucker where the whole band had a massive fight and two people quit, which was quite stressful.

DD: How long can you see yourself doing this?
Chris Tipton:
 I don't know, I'm not gonna say I'll do it forever but I'll say I'm just gonna do it as long as I enjoy it I think. At the moment, I just wan to to continue supporting music I like, and as long as people keep coming …