In 2018, when it’s never been easier to get your music out there but simultaneously never more difficult to get your music heard, music consumers are spoilt for choice in a wash of streaming services and an overload of blogs, it’s more crucial than ever for independent labels to execute their roster. So make way for YALA! Records, the product of a solid friendship and an overriding passion for music, the label is the brainchild of ex-Maccabee Felix White and music publicist Morad Khokar.
Sitting down with Felix and Morad near Kensington High Street, the pair’s infatuation with music is obvious from the get-go, no label bosses with pound signs in their eyes here it’s clear to see how much they care about the bands and artists they’re pressing. “We kind of agree on 99% of stuff, we both kind of have a similar reaction to things I think which has been good,” Morad says of the joint decisions they make.
Founded in 2016 the label sits hand in hand with a carefully crafted club night taking place at the Bermondsey Social Club, which has seen the likes of IDLES and Happyness play as well as YALA! alumni FEET and The Homesick. Felix explains that, “Morad used to work on The Maccabees doing press, we’ve known him for a long time, he’s a really close friend of the band and we talked about doing something for a while and shared similar tastes and all that kind of thing. Morad was one of the people who knew first that The Maccabees was going to come to an end and we’d always wanted to do something together basically, we didn’t know exactly what that was but we kind of struck up the idea eventually that all the independent labels, 7” culture, the nights, all the things that informed the things that we really love and propped up all that great music ten years ago doesn’t exist anymore, so we felt like with The Maccabees having a studio and Morad knowing all the people he does with his work and having a guy that runs a club who is a good friend why couldn’t we just do that?”
“We’ve got this pretty interesting production line if you want to call it that,” Morad begins, “We find an artist we really love and that can be through network of mates or something that we’ve clicked onto and then we’ll invite them to play the night, we’ll put them in the studio, so we’ll record with them, we’ll film really fantastic high quality content, so we’ll film them doing a session then they have something to use to push them out to people and we’ve got something that sits on our platform and looks great with an artist we love and then all things going well whatever we’ve recorded we press it up on limited edition 7”s, put it into Rough Trade who have been a fantastic supporter of everything we have done and then they just sell out - that’s kind of the format.”
It’s a process that seems to be very organic from an outsider’s perspective. “There’s no plan,” Morad states with Felix continuing, “We’re totally making it up as we go along but that’s how the best things happen isn’t it? There shouldn’t be a plan because things change really quickly and what we’ve discovered as we’ve gotten more and more into it is that there’s so much great music and that music needs to find people. We were in a situation a couple of years ago where maybe there wasn’t that much incentive for people to join the dots so I feel really glad that we put in that effort to see and do it because there’s so much music that we can bring to people that would otherwise wouldn’t find you.”
Their staple club nights have been gathering just as much attention as their limited edition releases too. “With the nights the initial idea was definitely to do a label, that was the genesis and the first discussion we had, lets start a label where we can work with an artist that we feel really passionate about and that maybe don't have that platform in any other sort of lane I guess and the night was born out of the fact that we made a big song and dance about the fact that we were launching a label but we didn’t have any artists, so when people were saying, ‘oh great you’re a label, who are you working with?’ it doesn’t matter who, we have a label [laughs]… so the night was born out of this necessity to keep things current and in people's minds and for us to feel like we were forced into action. What started off as a necessity for something to happen because we didn’t have that much of a plan with the label has now become a pillar stone that we do,” Morad explains ahead of a twelfth sold out night with Catholic Action gracing the line-up.
And with the nights being such a success it’s something that they’re both looking to regionalise in the future. “After the summer it will be across the country and then that obviously runs alongside putting out the records and then also we’ve been doing live sessions from The Maccabees studio where we made our last couple of albums. The rest of The Maccabees are all doing various things and they bring in the bands that might play the night, put a record out or that we just like and they come in and do a live session that we put up on YouTube,” Felix elaborates.
With both Felix and Morad having worked in the music industry for such a long time, did the pair realise the intricacies of running a record label from the outset and did the process bring on any challenges? “You would be amazed that you could be in a band for 15 years and not really understand the most fundamental things about the music industry, so from starting it we didn’t know how to press a record, we didn’t know how to get a record onto radio, how to get records onto playlists all that logistics and stuff that we’ve had to learn. Morad had a little bit more knowledge based on his work but that was all a steep learning curve for us.”
“When it’s like 11 o’clock at night and you’re filling in tax forms on the PPL site and trying to get your head around all of these elements to putting music out into the world that you have no prior clue about…” Morad begins, “and that’s the thing, it’s just been us two doing it so now we’re getting to a point where it’s starting to become a proper record label, serious bands are coming and wanting to put records out and we’re trying to hold it all together just us two, that’s the point now, trying to facilitate all of that is the tricky thing,” explains Felix.
But all the hard work seems to be paying off and with an ever expanding roster, featuring releases from Gigwise favourites The Homesick and Whenyoung, as well as the label’s exciting aforementioned plans, the sky is the limit for YALA!
And here’s how some of YALA!’s most essential releases have come about…
Felix: I first met Yak when they ended up touring with The Maccabees in America and they really lodged in my brain because they were very intimidating to go on afterwards because they’d smashed the whole stage up and be in the middle of the crowd and it really set a different tone from what we were expecting to go on and play to. They were so unpredictable and an incredibly captivating live band and a really difficult band for The Maccabees to follow and then they ended up putting their first record out but they were between labels. Someone that worked for them knew what we were doing and came to us and said, ‘maybe this could be,’ and I couldn’t believe that they’d want to put a 7” out with us because we were just starting, but they did and they did a session they played the night, they recorded that single with Jay Watson from Tame Impala in Tame Impala’s studio in Perth.
Morad: And the B-side was recorded with Alexis [Taylor] from Hot Chip which we don’t always mention.
F: It was endemic in the way that things have worked up until now in that we had a little period of time where it was fun doing all that stuff together, they enjoyed putting the single out and then they’re free to do what they want, they’re not tied to anything same with us. Yak are one of the best live bands in the country without any doubt. Yannis from Foals puts on a night in Peckham every month where bands improvise, just different people from different bands essentially but no one knows what the cast is going to be so you just turn up. I played with Oli [Burslem, Yak] and Yannis was in the band and the drummer from Alt-J and the bass player in Jagwar Ma and Oli was spitting lyrics for half an hour just talking about the magnolia colour of the walls and it was really brilliant.
M: It’s like indie Who’s Line Is It Anyway. He’s just a star, and it was one of those things where you have an opportunity to do something with those guys and we just jumped at it really, such an incredible experience, they are one of the best live bands in this country and for them to have played the night and Yannis got up on stage at the end, it was amazing and it did really well I think.
The Magic Gang
F: I’d seen The Magic Gang a couple of times and just totally fell in love with them because of the way they behaved with each other on stage, it was really contagious. When we decided what would be our best case scenario, what band could we maybe work with, it was maybe The Magic Gang but again similar to the Yak thing we felt like they might be too far along to maybe want to do anything with us.
M: The whole thing with them was they were the band that propelled us to start a label, that’s the truth of it, we thought, ‘wow if there’s music that is this good that nobody seems to be picking up on at a major label kind of level,' because this is a solid year before Warner decided to get involved, we just thought, 'this is exactly the kind of band we should be starting a label for,’ and so we did that. Obviously not in the mind that they would ever be keen or open to the idea of doing anything with us and then to our amazement they were.
F: Too keen if anything [laughs]
M: They played the first night then we put an EP out and then Warner became involved but our involvement was still very much key and a part of it all, and then the album came. It’s really the professional high point for me being involved with that record, it’s such a statement and such an incredible debut and it’s really set the tone for everything that will come after it.
F: What I really love about The Magic Gang and that record is that you can take those songs and you could have dropped them off 50 years ago or in 50 years time and they will still sound as brilliant - it’s independent of any trend or fashion it’s just exceptional songwriting and it always will be and that’s quite a rare skill in young people to have and The Magic Gang really do have it. They all write independently and together, its an amazing coincidence that those boys found each other I think.
F: I’ve known Florence [Welch]’s ex-manager Mairead for a long time and the singer [Aoife Power] from Whenyoung was her gardener and she was like, ‘I’m in a band’ and after her insisting that she listened to it enough times Mairead listened to it and was like, ‘Wow this is a really good band.’ They’re a three piece from Limmerick and they’d all come down to London a year or so previous, anyway Mariead was compelled enough when she heard the music to be like, ‘I just want to work on this, this is the most exciting thing to do,’ and she knew what we were doing at an early stage and said this should be a YALA! thing and it fitted everything we wanted to do.
M: We heard it and loved it and if you meet the band and Aoife, again it’s one of those things, it’s probably really unhelpful because it’s a very difficult thing to descirbe but they’ve just got it, they’ve got that energy and that presence where you want to be around it and you want to be involved with it and it was a no brainer. Their songs are fantastic and it’s just the tip of the iceberg for them, there’s so much more to come.
F: I saw them at The Forum last night supporting Declan McKenna and the room was full, probably more because people are obsessed with Declan McKenna at the moment all these sixteen year old kids, but The Forum was full. It sounded so big, it sounded like they belonged on stages like that and they really filled the stage just the three of them, I think they’re going to be capable of big things.