A small label with a large roster of great bands, FatCat Records is a by-word for indie cool and creativity. Moving down to Brighton in 2000, the label now operates out of an office on Old Steine, with another office in America. As new sounds and new ideas sit at the core of everything FatCat Records stands for as a company, they have to listen to a lot of music. “When you sit down and listen to demos, the ones that resonate with you really do stand out,” says FatCat co-founder and director, Dave Cawley. “Anyone that’s passionate about music can hear the new creativity out there and be a good judge of it.” He still encourages artists to send in physical demos or, for the more tech-savvy, upload music to their Soundcloud page. It means there’s always plenty of music getting heard in their office. The first Frightened Rabbit demo was even sent in on an old cassette tape. Despite the lo-fi media, their song’s quality shone. “They were so brilliant. You could hear what good writers they were. There’s no way Atlantic (the band’s current label) would have picked them up on the strength of that demo.”
Many bands aren’t formed yet, trying too hard or simply copying someone else. But once in a while a band will come along which captures Cawley’s attention. It’s all down to the refined taste any credible music fan acquires. “As soon as you start digging deeper, you start moving towards the edges. That’s where the exciting stuff goes on. When you find yourself out there, that’s when you’ve got a developed set of ears.” It’s all about hearing beyond the sometimes ramshackle attempts being sent in and identifying true potential.
As we speak he and his team have just got back from the Mercury Award ceremony, C Duncan’s 2015 debut album ‘Architect’ bringing FatCat their first nomination for the prestigious award. “It was good to watch Chris have that experience. I’ve never been before with an artist before to something like that. I was really pleased for him.” A former student of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Chris Duncan recorded the album in his home studio in Glasgow. A collection of immaculate dreamlike compositions, it perfectly shows the standard the label expects from an artist. “We’re just the facilitators. He’s the one that’s done all the work.”
The original incarnation of FatCat began in 1990 as a small Crawley record store. Born of circumstance, a shared love for techno and the can-do attitude of acid house, three friends opened a local alternative to cliquey London-based stores. “I just wanted to be able to sell the music we were very passionate about.” A growing reputation as tastemakers prompted a move up to London’s Covent Garden. Here they counted some of the biggest names in techno amongst their customers, people like Juan Atkins, Richie Hawtin, Andy Weatherall, Jeff Mills and Aphex Twin. With the customer experience placed firmly at the middle of their vision, they became one of the best places to source electronic music in the UK.
Although helping shape the British electronic music scene, the shop shut in 1997, allowing them to further explore releasing records of their own. It became a collective effort, each member of the team bringing their own tastes and direction. “When we started the label I didn’t want to do what we’d done with the shop.” Since then they’ve given us records from bands as diverse as Animal Collective, HIM, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Sigur Rós and The Twilight Sad. Whilst a musical connection might not be instantly obvious amongst these bands, they all benefit from being on a label that understands and embraces what they do. It’s not a particular genre they’re promoting; it’s an artistic attitude. “I didn’t just love club music or electronic music or funk or whatever else, I loved everything. So the objective was to sign bands and develop artists.” Often an artist won’t fall into any clear genre. It’s these acts arousing discussion that prove to be the most compelling for Cawley and his colleagues. It helps keep focus on the music instead of the label itself.
Obviously tastes in music always develop, everyone goes through different phases. “I still like listening to extreme music, but I go through binges of music. I’m listening to loads of grime at the moment, but it’s not something we’re likely to put out on FatCat. We’ll be working on C Duncan’s music, and then I’ll go home and put on Stormzy. There’re hasn’t been many guitars in my life recently, but it will change again.” Everyone in his office has different tastes in music, different people bringing different projects at different times, to produce one of the UK’s most vibrant and forward thinking record labels. There’s plenty put into the FatCat melting pot.
FatCat artists like C Duncan, Honeyblood, Dmitry Evgrafov and Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch have all been receiving plenty of praise and attention. Yet acts like these might struggle on a major label. There’s seemingly a big gap between the indies and the majors in terms of risks taken: the former embracing diversity, the latter often settling for proven ideas. Cawley is adamant that risk doesn’t play a part in the label’s artistic decision-making, although the label isn’t as wildly experimental as it has been. “We set our stall out quite early, we’ve done Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Dead Sea Souls and Janek Schaefer records. I think we’ve done our bit,” he laughs, “but if a great record came in, I’d still do it.”
C Duncan’s 2015 debut album ‘Architect’ is out now FatCat Records.