We chat to Basick Records founder Nathan ‘Barley’ Phillips to celebrate!
Many of you reading this will likely be well aware of Basick Records. A cornerstone of the British underground metal scene and go-to guys for a wide variety of prog, tech and other metal tomfoolery, the label is fiercely independent and a benchmark for quality. Many a shelf across the world heaves with Basick releases; eager punters go back to them time and again, purchasing with the kind of fervent loyalty normally reserved for sports teams or bearded men with penchants for robes and Kool-Aid – and it’s not just the bands. We more often see people at shows wearing Basick-brand merch than many of the bigger labels, and it’s testament to the small but dedicated team that, in these times where people balk at actually paying for music, these fans are inspired to pay repeatedly for quality output.
It’s now been a decade since brothers Nathan and Jake Phillips began Basick Records out of a bedroom, and the former – better known as Barley – still heads the operation, as well as serving on the board of the Association of Independent Music and generally getting involved in the scene at a basic(k – sorry), grassroots level.
We think such a landmark anniversary is befitting celebration, and so I sat down with Barley to get the lowdown on the past ten years, the records they’ve released, who’s to blame, and what’s still to come!
Hey Barley, thanks for talking with us! The obvious question first: what prompted you to start the label?
Hey Chris, thanks for giving me the opportunity! Well, we started the label purely to get some local talent more recognition. There were a lot of great bands around our local area at the time that simply weren’t getting any attention, let alone record deals, so we decided to do something about it. We came from very humble beginnings but we like to think we had the right intentions. Two of the bands on our first release were Enter Shikari and Fellsilent.
Is there any particular thing you look for in a signing? What impressed you most about the first band you signed?
We just always, always look for talent, innovation and good songwriting. First and foremost, if you’re going to be in a band and play music, it has to mean something. You have to feel something when you play it. I’m sick to death of seeing bands that don’t have anything to say. There’s too many people in bands now because it’s the thing to do. So we’ll always look for that spark. And if they can combine that spark with creative songwriting, then i’m interested. You could be the best technical guitarist or drummer in the world, but if you can’t actually compose decent music, then i’ll struggle to get excited. Our first proper signing was FELLSILENT – see all of the above as to what impressed us and why we signed them!
You’re proudly independent and seen as a core part of the British prog scene, and we know you put a lot of time into scoping out bands before you start working with them – but you also have several international acts signed. How is the process different with them, in terms of watching them play etc?
Well, much like most labels, we have a network of people that we trust. So whilst it’s not practical for me to always go and personally see every band that we sign, i will always have someone that i trust go see them first and report back to me. That happens in the UK too if i’m not available to go to a particular show. I’ll also scope YouTube and other social networks to see if there are any live videos of the band, as it’s super important to me that every band we work with can cut it live. And then moving on from there, i’ll quite often have in depth discussions and go through a demoing process with a band to see what’s what also.
Basick’s international contingent is both strong and far ranging, with all corners of the globe scoured for a raft of great talent. Here are five of the best:
Circles – Australia
Certainly one of the furthest flung on the roster, some might want Aussies Circles flung a little further just for good measure…but nevertheless, the Melburnians have come far under Basick’s guiding hand, and what a find they were. Their debut EP/mini-album The Compass features one of the best single-chord rhythmic riffs I’ve ever heard on “Clouds Are Gathering“, whilst the full follow up Infinitas built handsomely on the promise of its predecessor. The only element of bittersweetness is that they reside so far away from so many of their fans, but thanks to Basick they’ll always have a captive European audience for their new releases.
Read The Monolith’s review of Infinitas
Skyharbor – India
The burgeoning Indian metal scene continues to impress the world, not only for its rampant enthusiasm (where bands who struggle to make any money touring here are treated like gods in front of massive crowds out there), but also the emerging talents. It’s a real goldmine for anyone with the brains to take a look, which Basick did, and came up with New Delhi’s Skyharbor.
Initially the project of guitarist Keshav Dhar, it became truly trans-international with the inclusion of UK singer Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) and American drummer Anup Sastry (ex-Intervals, Monuments) and they’ve gone from strength to strength in their short career to date, including the very well-received release of Guiding Lights last year.
Read The Monolith’s review of Guiding Lights
The Algorithm – France
A real gem of a find, Rémy Gallego - better known as The Algorithm – has shown that crossing genres can produce wonderful results; even when those worlds are tech metal and electronic dance music.
It might sound like a recipe for disaster, but both facets are handled with equal aplomb, and the mix is something truly unique. Watching it all performed live – especially now that Rémy has progressed to playing the guitar parts himself – is really something to see. Metalheads dancing? Is that a thing? It is now.
It’s highly likely that ‘Ze Algorizm’ may have struggled to gain traction without industry help, but the two have shown they’re a real match for one another, and progress on album three looks promising.
Alaya – United States of America
It may have taken a good while from announcement to eventual release – 18 months to be exact – but Chicago’s Alaya proved with Thrones that good things are absolutely worth waiting for.
Many of metal’s biggest names come from the States, and so it’s easy to forget that there’s still a wealth of niche-genre bands across the country. Basick dug away with their U.S. contacts and uncovered a technical three-piece equal parts Muse and Meshuggah.
Read The Monolith’s review of Thrones
Bear – Belgium
Proof that Basick aren’t all about widdly guitars and the like, Antwerp’s Bear are something else. The label dropped their album Noumenon a couple of years ago; a wall of sound that proved that tightness and technicality don’t have to come under the cosh of a click track.
Wall-bouncingly ferocious, Bear bare teeth and grab hold of your hand, taking you on a whirlwhind tour of the inside of your own head. The sound is full, the grooves satisfying and the attitude full-on. Would we have thought to look to Belgium for this without Basick? Probably not.
Read The Monolith’s review of Noumenon
How positively do you feel the past ten years have unfolded? What have been some of the highs and lows?
Honestly, I think the biggest high would be actually reaching 10 years! There’s no way when we started this thing, that we ever thought we’d still be going and at the level we’re at now.
For me personally, the ultimate high and low points actually come from the same thing. Around 6 years ago I was working a full time job as an Operations Manager for a global Aerospace company. I’d been in that job for 8 years and was running the label in my spare time, throwing every spare penny and hour I could into the bands. There wasn’t a day that went by in those first few years where I didn’t wish that I could jack my job and take the label full time, but I just couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. I actually went through a horrible depression over it.
So my ultimate high came when I managed to secure a loan to get the label off the ground once and for all, and once I got my family’s blessing, I finally handed my notice in. I’ve never looked back, but there’s not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for the position i’m in now.
Is there anything you know now you wish you knew when you started?
Of course. I could have saved myself at least 6 years of ballache if I knew then what I know now!
In all seriousness though, I now serve on the board of directors at AIM and I only wish I’d signed up and got involved with that a lot sooner as a label. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone that owns or controls their own copyrights (not just labels), with tons of information on what you should and shouldn’t be doing, along with access to most of the key players in the music industry. I’d advise everyone to make sure they check it out.
We all know you as the face of the label, but who else is and has been involved?
Well, I guess the first person I should mention is my brother Jake. He co-founded the label with me back in 2005 and without him being stuck for work when he left school, I guess we’d never have started the label!
After that my buddy Mikee helped us out with a lot of our initial A&R. We started getting a lot of demos through and I couldn’t keep up with them all, so Mike handled a lot of that and went out to a lot of shows too. I’m pretty sure he actually scouted Bury Tomorrow for us.
Mikee and Barely. On a mountain. As you do.
Then came Sean McEmerson, who is still with us today. Sean impressed me when he built all of the early Enter Shikari forums and websites, so I asked him to jump on board and take control of our online presence and new media.
And then came Lisa Coverdale, who is a big part of why Basick has the profile and reputation it has today. She quite literally hassled me on Twitter relentlessly until I gave her a job, and I’m so glad she did.
And then James Monteith joined…and that’s when it all started going downhill…. Ha, no I’m kidding! He was working in consumer PR but had a real passion for music, so we decided to set up Hold Tight! PR together in 2010, so that he could jack his job and work for himself. Lisa officially joined the company about six months later and the two of them still run that company today. We’ve had tons of other great people work behind the scenes on Basick’s behalf and I’m grateful to all of them for helping make Basick what it is.
Team Basick circa 2011: James, Sean, Lisa & Barley
Five landmark Basick releases
Ten years is a long time, and a lot of records. Here are five that, according to Barley, were landmarks in the development of Basick Records.
Just to be clear – these aren’t my favourite releases. You asked for landmark releases, and as a parent, you have to quickly learn to do away with favouritism
Fellsilent – The Hidden Words
“A landmark because it was the first record that really got us going. Not to mention that its members all went on to become pillars of our musical community with their next projects.”
Chimp Spanner – At The Dream’s Edge
“The first fully instrumental record and artist we’d ever released. As soon as i heard this record i just knew that we had to release it, regardless of whether it had no vocals or whether it was recorded by a (at the time) bedroom musician or not. A timeless classic.”
Uneven Structure – Februus
“Creativity and innovation. There’s no one else quite like them and this record made exactly the kind of statement that the label likes to make.”
Bury Tomorrow – Portraits
“Portraits was because it was probably the first record that we were able to go fully international with. I’m very proud to have played an early part in this band’s continued success.”
Skyharbor – Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos
“Another bedroom musician (at the time) that I just knew we needed to help find a wider audience. Ridiculous talent for songwriting.”
What’s brewing next for Basick? What’s the long-term vision?
Next we have our 10th birthday party coming up this week, which I’m really excited about. We’re also releasing a special commemorative compilation album which will feature a different track list across digital, CD and vinyl formats, so stay tuned for that. Plus we also have new records coming up from Napoleon, The Colour Line, Uneven Structure, Chimp Spanner, Alaya, plus one or two other surprises and new signings to announce over the next few months.
The long term vision is to just keep on trucking in the way that we have been. To continue to grow in a sustainable and organic way and to keep unearthing interesting music for people to listen to. Even though our releases over the years have been largely quite eclectic, I do think that I may have been too strict sometimes on the kind of records that we release. So that’s one thing that’s going to change in the future. I’ve realised that actually, a good record is a good record, regardless of genre or how many strings you’ve got on your guitar. So expect some curveballs as we continue to develop the label over the coming years!
Thanks a lot Barley, and see you at the Barfly!
Thanks so much again for the opportunity here mate – see you at the bar!