Glasgow independent record label Struggletown has been incredibly prolific for the relatively short time it’s been active, and with their releases regular being featured on ravechild it felt the right time to catch up with label founder and freelance graphic designer Steven Hill to discuss what they’re all about.
How did Struggletown start?
I was out one night with my friend and he text me hung-over the next morning with just “ooft Stuggletown” and I instantly thought ‘that’s such a cool thing’. It’s Australian slang for basically a crap town; so he overheard it, used it and I thought that’d be great name for a record label and me being me started making graphics for said record label with no idea of what I was going to do with it; over laying the name on burgers and writing “Stuggletown Records more burgers than records” stuff like that.
It was about six-months later (March 2011) when Wolves At Heart had recorded their EP, Write It Down, which ended up being out first release. It was such a great record that it would have been a shame for them to just put it out on CD-R and it fall on the way side, so it almost started as a front to make their EP look more legit and exciting to other people, and I thought if you were a label it’s look better if it was on a smaller label already.
I’d been helping Wolves At Heart out with graphics and I think they wanted me to be their manager, but I never wanted to be a band manager cos I don’t think I have the necessary skills, you have to be quite ruthless and pushy and I’m not really like that, so I turned them down, but I kind of ended up doing that for them by being their label boss.
So, it started like than and when I started laying out the CD artwork it got really exciting and I started think what else can I put out; it spiraled into putting out tapes for Offside and once you start a record label there’s no shortage of music people want you to put out.
Who else has been involved with Struggletown?
At the start I put up a Facebook post saying for some reason I’m now running a record label does anyone want to help, and a bunch of people that I was friends with on Facebook, that maybe I wasn’t super close with, said it was something that they want to get involved with.
Nick Ramsey, who has contributed to ravechild on several occasions, helped out with a lot contacts; he was really great, he knows great people, he’s the one that opened the door to work with Shook Ones and Run For Cover Records and he was the one that was gallus enough to email Into It. Over It. to suggest we do a record. He was involved for two-and-a-half years and then just with work and other things kind of backed out.
Now I have a group of people, that are sort of advisory background people, that if I wasn’t sure about something I’d talk to, Dean from Bear Arms and Keir who sings in Wolves At Heart are the sort of core of the Struggletown family, Colin that used to run Overlook Records is interested to help me out in the future, having lost Nick recently I think we might get him on board and see where he helps us steer.
It seemed Struggletown used to sepcialise in that hardcore aesthetic and sound, but a few recent releases have expanded the labels horizons, was this intentional?
I guess it’s kind of been blown wide open this year, but at first it was based on hardcore cos that’s what got me excited, I had a friend that was super stoked on hardcore punk from the States and he got me right into it, and when I learned about their DIY ethos and the little labels that did really well just releasing punk and hardcore bands that was what I wanted to emulate, but being from Glasgow the hardcore scene is pretty limited and small.
When we started it up there was a fair few bands going, but it’s been there and it’s gone, I’ve always been interested in all sorts of music so I thought I would apply that not for profit, out of the love of releasing music to different genres.
Our first release was pop punk, then we went for a couple of hardcore bands and then we went back and forward between pop punk and indie rock and the compilations are pretty varied; picking a band is tough.
So far most of the acts we’ve worked with is someone I know personally and that helps cos I know what they’re about and it’s easier for me to get an idea for their band, but we’ve worked with people remotely that I’ve never met, it’s hard to really judge; we get a lot of demo submissions and 99% of the time we don’t take them up, but there’s been a few that we’ve been really excited with, it’s nice to see a band live and really assess what you think of them before you put out their record, but ultimately it’s just something I would want to listen to and want to buy.
You have a monthly gig night in Bloc these days, how did that come about?
We put on a show at Bloc, the first Thursday of the month usually, that started out when Chris that runs Bloc’s bookings contacted Nick and asked him he was interested in doing a monthly night, cos he picked up on our not for profit ethos.
It’s been amazing; they’re committed to making sure the bands get enough money and get fed and get a decent crowd, they’re free entry shows so people can walk in and out and they’re not having to pay a fiver or whatever and the bands are still getting paid and some of the money that goes into having one of those shows goes towards releases too.
You put on other shows outside of Bloc too, right?
Sometimes we’re lucky enough that we’ll be offered a show on a specific date and it falls on the first Thursday of the month and we just slot them in at Bloc, other times we’ll be chatting to someone and say next time you tour try to play Glasgow on the first Thursday cos we can try and put you on there, obviously this isn’t always possible, so if there’s a band we really want to see play or be involved with, we’ll still put it on in the 13th Note or Audio or somewhere.
I never really wanted to be a promoter either, but I seem to have fallen into that, but it’s been nothing but positive for me, everything that we’ve done and everyone we’ve met has been really awesome, there’s always show needing put on, there’s always bands that need a place to stay, there’s always things to do.
Sometime you’re putting on touring bands that Glasgow may not be familiar with, do you have instances where the crowd just doesn’t materialise?
I feel really fortunate that we’ve got a reasonably strong crowd that’s followed us for three years through the shows at Bloc, there’s always people there, there’s hardly been one that’s been completely empty. It varies of course, sometimes you’ll be expecting 75 people and you’ll get 30, but it’s about making people aware, even if it comes across as spammy, use your Instagram use you’re Facebook, be like this is what we’re doing I think you’ll enjoy it, check it out and the people that will lose interest would have lost interest anyway, so you may as well push it, cos you’d rather find the odd extra person that hadn’t found out about it at the last minute.
The first show I ever put on, I was in a sort of noise parody band that wore wrestling masks and I really wanted to do a show, I put on a guy who is now a really big underground DJ, but he was just messing about with circuit bend toys and my friend Steven, who does really beautiful guitar loops. I hired out Fury Murrays for about £300 and about 25 people turned up; still the bands were awesome and everyone had a really good time.
The venue manager pulled me into the office and was looking at the CCTV and was like “it’s not very busy… what did you do this for, you’re wasting your time”, so I just gave him £300, that’s what you do; fortunately my brother was like “stick at it wee man”, it was stupid, I was really naïve but you learn as you go along, that was about five-years ago. It’s the same as releasing records, there’s no guidebook and you make mistakes and that’s part of the fun.
Struggletown is a non-profit label, presumably it covers its own costs and doesn’t come out of your own pocket, but has there ever been cases where something has made a loss?
I keep saying we’re breaking even, but I’m just terrible at keeping the numbers, I’ve used my own money for a bunch of things, but I consider that to be investment cos most of the music we release is stuff that I would buy, and I know I’m spending more than I would spend but a lot of the cases I don’t know if it would be out if it wasn’t for us.
There’s been a few cases where we’ve put out a really great record and then the band have called it a day; the Thin Privilege record, if they’d have stuck around and toured for a few months I think it would have done amazingly, but at the same time that’s not the kind of band they were, I don’t regret it and as much as I have a lot of copies I’m sure they’ll sell eventually.
It’s very difficult to get somebody to buy a record, no matter how passionate they are about that kind of music if the band aren’t touring cos nobody’s going to see them and get excited about it.
A few months into putting on shows we started talking to Punk Rock Rammy, if ever there’s a model of how to put on shows and do it right in the DIY way it’s him. There are shows that don’t make as much money and you need to use money from other shows, but you’ve got to be relentless and make sure people know about it and attending the right shows, handing out flyers, talking to people in person and making sure the show runs really smoothly, making sure the band have got food and everything they need to play, it’s a case of treating each one as individual, you can’t get lazy about it.
Another thing about the DIY punk ethos is, if you get into it to make money then you’re going to have to work really really hard cos it’s not really there, if you want to put on the sort of bands I’m interested in you need to do it out of love, a lot of people assume that music is still quite big business, but certainly from our angle it all very low scale.
Struggletown has been quite prolific with its releases, doing releases over various formats; do you have a format preference?
This year we’ve put out five LPs and a 7”, which is quite a lot, it’s pricey to press and not an easy thing to break even on, but it’s worth it for sure.
I think the digital age died, I remember being a avid downloader of music but I don’t think it’s age, it’s not as easy or as accessible now, as sad as it sounds I think MySpace was really huge and it really helped, when I first got into hardcore I’d just put the name of the band at the end of MySpace and we’d find them all and be able to listen to them at least, bandcamp has done a great job of taking over that but it doesn’t have the same status, it’s sharable on Facebook, but Facebook is clogged with so much constant information, it doesn’t have the same impact as putting a song as your profile song on MySpace.
How does this promotion relate to promoting shows then?
Sometimes you’ll post something everyone is going to be interested in and no one will see it; just now we hit over 3000 likes, which is incredible, but still you’ll post something and you only reach 200 people, but at the same time I understand why they have to do it
Sometimes you get frustrated when you’ve worked with so many bands that are from Glasgow, then you do a show and you think if one guy from each band turns up that’s like 100 people, but people are busy and have a lot of things going on so you can’t expect that. Some people are going to miss it that really wanted to go, some people are going to go and not enjoy it, people are variable so you have to take the rough with the smooth, but fortunately everything we’ve done has been a really great experience, rarely, since we started in Bloc, has there been something that has gone really badly and we’ve been like that was a waste of time.
So, what’s the best thing about running a label like Stuggletown?
The people that you meet and the opportunities you have, we’ve got friends in Toronto that we’ve helped out in a tiny way that are so happy that when you go over there you’ve got a place to stay and someone to hang out with, and they’re all really like minded and that’s a huge selling point. If you get into it for the right reasons and you do it in an honest and open way, there are other people on the other side of the world that want to do the same thing.
The best thing is you know you fucking over the general big industry that are all built on skimming these tiny profits and you know you’re not contributing to that.
It’s lovely that vinyl is back in fashion, but we have to realise that the reason for that is because people have been releasing it constantly on a DIY level when every one said it was pointless and you needed to give up cos that’s not what they were marketing at that point. They were saying don’t do that, do CDs, do digital and when they fell by the wayside they fell back on vinyl and you go to HMV and it’s full of reissues of AC/DC records, stuff that people have already made millions off and then they repress the record, fill up the pressing plants so that you can’t get your record pressed quickly and the demand goes up, so the prices go up. You’ve got people going ‘I bought this record today’ and you’re like they didn’t need that, there are bands that need that and they didn’t, but at the same time you can’t tell people what the can and shouldn’t buy.
So, what’s your process for ordering a vinyl release for Stuggletown?
Pretty much every record that labels of our level release gets pressed in the Czech Republic in the same pressing plant, so if they get flooded. With Record Store Day, for example, there’s no point trying to release a record in April cos it will be extremely late.
There used to be a turn around time where you would: record your record, get it mastered, send it to the pressing plant and a week later you would send it all to PR, that would take its four weeks or so to get ready and by the time it was ready the record would have arrived and you would have it ready to sell, but now you could be waiting 8-12 weeks before you get your record back, so you’re wondering whether you should book a tour, whether you should send it to PR, whether you’ll miss the boat, it’s frustrating.
At first records were being released and people didn’t know what Struggletown was so they weren’t mentioning it and now you read things like “Stuggletown Records who’re really hard working and do a good job,” so that’s good PR that’s something you can’t buy.
How have you personally found the reviews Struggletown release has received?
I personally don’t like reviews, it’s just not something I would never be influenced by; I know they need to exist and I appreciate the people do it, it’s something that is essential to the process because there’s so many people that won’t check something out until they’ve read a review. People like to get the ins and outs of a record before they even listen to it, but for me personally it’s opinion, it’s one persons opinion. Sometimes you get frustrated when someone reviews something and they don’t seem to get what it’s about; all the Rock Sound reviews we’ve ever had, I’m stoked to have a band we’ve put out in Rock Sound cos people will see that, but when you read the reviews it’s like they have no idea what it’s about, what kind of music it is or what place to put it in. For example, the last Rock Sound review said that Bear Arms sound like Quicksand, they don’t, but they should sound more like Mallory Knox and get rid of the heavy parts and be more safe, what a terrible piece of advice, fair enough Mallory Knox are huge, that’s great for them, but Bear Arms aren’t going the root of how can we be successful at all costs, it just seems like a shitty piece of advice to give someone, ditch that aspect of your music and go down the easy root.
Do you feel bands can be hugely successful commercially and nit deviate fro m their roots somewhat?
There are 100% bands out there that are huge and deserve to be huge because they set out to write a certain type of music and stuck with it, and also bands that went out to write a certain type of music and changed it, I don’t have any sour grapes for bands that are successful. Modest Mouse are incredible, they’re big in a certain way but they’re definitely huge, there are people that don’t really like the kind of music Modest Mouse are, but like Modest Mouse; they started out a weird folky act with odd sounds recorded on telephones and stuff and stuck to their guns with being sort of odd. Jimmy Eat World as well, they started out as an emo band, in the heyday of emo and make it a commercial success and made commercial records, but I think they deserve every success. Their latest record has almost country influences, they made a career out of being a band while being the band they set out to be, the band they wanted to be the whole time.
If you get lucky enough to release a record that catches on, the next record is going to be a different challenge, you’re going to be in a different place; you write your first record either at home or on the road and that’s all quite youthful, exciting and new, and the next couple if you do well you end up writing in the studio with money behind you and less real experience and it’s hard to stick to that mentality you initially had and why you started playing music. If you’re going to succeed you’re already on slippery slope to sucking, but if you can stick at it and do well that’s even harder.
With free entry shows obviously what pays the bands comes from money made on the bar, how does that work in Bloc on a quiet night?
Bloc have the whole ethos down, apparently when you tour in Europe it’s all the same attitude. The bands are going to do their job, which is to play, and they deserve the respect of a good venue, food, money, everything you get when you do your job well, and Bloc is kind of the same, not to say other venues here aren’t the same attitude, but it’s very much you have to work for it cos you have to make sure people show up. We’re fortunate enough that the shows we put on there are usually quite busy, so they let you away with the odd quiet one and the more you do the more attractive it becomes.
We’ve put on shows where I’ve had to go to the bank and take my own money out and give it to the band cos the show hasn’t gone very well, but that’s usually when there’s a lot of other things on that are similar, or the World Cup final. We put on a French band called Wank For Peace, I told them it was gonna be dead and they were like we’ll play it anyway and whatever you can give us is cool, it wasn’t dead it was 20-25 people, which is great considering the amount of things that were on that day. We tried to book a certain and band, they were like there is no way our bass player will play that show because he’ll want to watch the World Cup final, you’re got to respect that because people are into it; you can’t drop everything for punk all the time, sometimes I do, at my own detriment, but that’s the path I’ve chosen.
You put on Strugglefest, your first all dayer recently, how did that go?
It was amazing and everyone had a really good time, it went really well; when we consider the line up was all local or relatively unknown touring bands we got 75 people in, broke even on paying the venue, we paid all the bands, gave the touring bands their guarantee of food and beers and everyone had a really nice time. It was successful, something we’ll want to do again next year.
What’s you’re most memorable moment with Stuggletown then?
One of the three would when we were in Toronto meeting !ATTENTION!, who were one of the first bands we started chatting to, we’d met Glenn who’d been over in Scotland, but we went over there we met all the other guys, but genuinely being stoked they were happy to meet us was because of the label, that’s a great feeling, realising there’s like minded people all over the world.
The second was when we said to Ewan (Algernon Doll) that we would be interested in helping with his next record cos the last one was so great, and he said amazing I want to be involved with Stuggletown, lets’ put this record out however it’ll work, so his enthusiasm and drive is great and I guess the first time we pressed out own 7” and it came and arrived and it was ours and had our logo on it, that’s a big moment.
What do you feel is the biggest thing to happen for the label in term of building a reputation?
The biggest things that happened to the label have been really recently, stepping up from 7” to 12”, the Algernon Doll record did really well and propelled them to a much more appropriate level and the Bear Arms EP has done really well, it’s hard to tell if that kind of band is going to sell and it has, so it seems we have a bit of a snowball thing going.
Personally when I got into various labels I would check out their entire back catalogue and make sure I wasn’t missing anything awesome, there were definitely bands that benefit from that. We want to stick to that traditional record label model of having most of the things we’ve ever release available, even if it’s just digital, it’s as much about the records we’ve already put out as it is the ones we plan to put out.
So, what does the future hold for Struggletown?
We could go ‘lets find the commercial success’, I think we’ve got a decent name for ourselves and there are band that clearly want to release their records on our label, but that’s not what made me start a record label and what has fuelled it so far and made it successful. Some people might get this far and compromise a bit to see if they can get something that’ll sell 500 copies really fast, I don’t have a problem with that if it’s the kind of band I’m interested in, but at the moment it hasn’t been. I have to work within the boundaries I’ve set myself, the promotion of the bands and the music is the most important thing, we use the money to get merchandise and records, and profit margin is so unattainable that you’d have to jump through so many hoops and work so hard that it would take all the fun out of it.
I want to keep it exactly the same, but I want more people to buy the records, I want to keep supporting bands that deserve it, that I’m interested in on a personal level and I want to be a facilitator of releasing records. I’d like to be a stepping-stone for bands to get bigger, more interesting things. Bands like Bear Arms are great on our label because they’re our friends they make great music, but at the end of the day they deserve to be much more of a commercial success and that doesn’t need to define the ethos we have, we can do it our way and the next people that come along can elevate them to do what they do next.
I think there are people who are friends who wouldn’t have met if they hadn’t hung out at Stuggletown shows or been in various bands we’ve released. Just stick to that and hopefully it’ll catch on more and it’ll be easier to sell more records. It’s not something I’m relying on to make me any money, so I can do it in as obstinate and weird a way want to.
Struggletown releases reviewed on ravechild:
What the band’s said:
Downloading and streaming music opens up a lot of doors for young bands. We can literally put music out to the whole world at the touch of a few buttons and for not much money. It’s really convenient and serves a purpose, but nothing can replace the feeling of going out to a show and falling in love with a new band, buying their records and sharing that experience with other people. Struggletown encompasses that romance and community experience, which brings people together through music. At Struggle nights I feel like a kid again! They are really vibrant and sometimes pretty random, which makes me feel excited about music. Steven Hill and everyone involved with Struggle really encourage and inspire us. We have met some great people and truly awesome bands through the label.
Steven is a cool cat who puts out some truly sick wax and has helped mould the sound of a cool city to be in.
Chris McGlynn (formerly of No Island)
Steve and Struggletown are, to me, some of the most passionate people putting out music in the UK. Whatever your tastes you should respect people like these guys who stick to their guns, work (incredibly) hard, and only put out music they genuinely love.
Iain Bethel (Great Cop/Get Well/Chartered Trips)
Steven is a pillar of Glasgow’s creative community. Linking independent music on these shores with like minded passionate individuals and movements across the UK, America and beyond. Struggletown showcases all kind of talent in punk/hardcore and DIY music in general.
Struggle Steve is a true punk. From putting up touring bands to designing art and releasing records. He takes bands through each step from their creation ‘til they have their own crowds. He’s helped us out to no end with shows, art and putting out our record. He’s also a good friend!
Wolves At Heart
Put plainly Steven and Struggletown are a pillar of the punk rock and live music scene in Glasgow.
There’s always been good bands in Glasgow but for a long while they were disconnected from each other. Struggletown, the Struggle shows, and the community as a whole has really rallied behind the idea that Glasgow should have a punk scene again, and off the back of that momentum more bands are being formed, more music is getting put out, and everyone benefits.