More about: Speedy Wunderground
There's a smoke machine underneath producer Dan Carey’s family home in Streatham. And lasers too. “Sometimes”, Speedy Wunderground co-manager Pierre Hall (pictured centre) tells me breathlessly over the phone, “they record in the dark.” Upstairs live Carey, his wife and kids, and their new dog Feta. Downstairs, a recording studio poised to enter musical history books.
Speedy Wunderground, the cult indie label that lives at this address with its brainchild Dan Carey, is producing some of recent year's most exciting releases. Carey, a producer of industry renown, produced two Mercury-nominated albums in 2019 alone: Fontaines D.C.’s Dogrel and black midi’s Schlagenheim. He’s also the producer behind this year's The Book of Traps and Lessons by Kate Tempest and Squid’s Town Centre EP. In 2018, he recorded Goat Girl’s excellent, eponymous debut to tape, directing them to play the album like a live set. Before that, he worked with The Kills, Franz Ferdinand, Bat For Lashes and Django Django, to name but a few.
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Prolific and particular, Carey has worked with the best, and with his label (affectionately referred to as “Speedy” throughout my chat with Hall), he is raising new genius from the grassroots. Preparing to release its fourth annual compilation of singles, Speedy continues to attract the best in avant-garde to its doorstep, and to push the envelope with the music it records and releases once they arrive.
A unique venture, artistes come flocking to Speedy for its growing reputation, for Carey's skill, and, crucially, for the way that things are run. Everything at this label is an experience, a key element of which is evident in its name. The process of recording a speedy 7 inch is swift: that part "gets done in one day.” Mixing and pressing is undertaken and completed on the second. "And that" Hall smiles, "is how it works.”
The urgency of Carey’s output is a direct antidote to the impossibly long wait times artists, producers and engineers endure before seeing the fruit of their labour on the shelves as comments and amendments are endlessly added. Instead, "everything is done in one room" and in one day, with recording tending to "start at nine in the morning and either end at six or go on until very late."
When things kicked off six years ago, there was a rulebook to keep things urgent and concise. Its stipulations follows like a true, old school studio manifesto; rule number four insists that "there will be no lunch break during recording and mixing days.” Though not unusual for a team of people imprisoned by the studio, and a tactic to use every precious minute of the day, Carey came to realise, Hall notes drily, that “people get quite hungry.” Now, Hall laughs, bands will sometimes "go to the pub" or hang out with the rest of the building's occupants before resuming their session. Soon, all of the rules were out of the window. They never suited Speedy anyway.
In the beginning, Carey decided to resurrect the idea of the in-house studio band. He invited collaborators TOY to play on everything he tracked, encouraging other artists he already knew to collaborate. TOY can be heard playing with Natasha Khan on early 7” 'The Bride', while Kate Tempest and Loyle Carner collaborated on ‘Guts’ in 2014. Soon, even that ruling was abandoned. Speedy moved on. It wanted less to do with big artists, and more with “smaller and more immediate” releases. Instead, Speedy began taking on promising new bands and artists eager for the experience, putting out inventive vinyl releases limited to a small run each time - many of them selling out. As Hall puts it, “more and more, it’s become a label that’s focused on newer, cutting edge bands."
Coming into 2020, and his assessment could not be truer. Speedy is now a label for bright and brand new talent on the avant-garde scenes. It was responsible, in part, for the black midi phenomenon of 2019, after Carey produced early single ‘bmbmbm’ and released it on Speedy. The label was also responsible for the high brow excellence of Brighton krautrock sensations Squid’s EP Town Centre, plus the meandering experiment of Black Country, New Road digital release ‘Sunglasses.’
Besides the lasers and the smoke machine (“Dan likes to set the mood”), plus the talent of the man in the chair, the label attracts buzzy young bands thanks to a studio that boasts the kind of gear that would make any engineer drool. And some of them do, queueing up to meet their hero at vinyl fairs around Europe. Also in the queue are vinyl collectors...Carey and Hall were at the Indie Label Market at London’s Coal Drops Yard this summer, where a minor altercation took place over a final print of the rare ‘bmbmbm’ 7” - “we had one left and two people with their hand on it!” Hall tells me, exhilarated but amused.
Limited runs of 250 discs per release are likely to seem smaller and smaller as Speedy grows in notoriety amongst music lovers and vinyl heads, though on the heels of the Squid EP, a Speedy album (with an unlimited run) is looking more and more likely. Hall muses on the possibility: “we’d be really interested in doing an album with Black Country, New Road, [and] we’d like to do an album with Tiña: we just recorded another single with them which is very different but also good. Those two bands would be the first two albums!”
Though there are only singles, EPs and compilations out on Speedy Wunderground to date, Carey has of course worked on plenty of full-lengths for other labels - many with artists who also play ball with the Speedy concept, and some who enjoy the speedy experience despite their LPs coming out on other imprints. “The Warmdusher album was recorded in four days” Hall says of the Carey-produced Tainted Lunch, which came out on Leaf in July of this year, “some bands we work with we could do an album like that [for Speedy.] For example, with Tiña we could just rehearse and then go into a room and record it in a week.”
Others artists, like Squid, would need a longer, more considered approach, Hall concedes. Most though, fit into the Speedy model just fine - even Squid did on early (and still best) single ‘The Dial’. And endless more young bands are vying for the chance to try it, with shed loads of artists sending demos in for consideration (“Dan tries to listen to every single thing we get sent”). It’s in the Speedy inbox that the label discovered new release ‘Disco Lights’, due 13 December with new collaborators Pynch. Following that, the label will record and release a single with buzzy guitar-dance band PVA.
But first, the Year 4 Compilation will arrive: a traditional wrap-up of the label’s year in seven inches, enclosed in a cover collaged with Carey's black and white film photographs. For those who prefer the physical format, it’s the perfect opportunity to “own all the singles”, whether they’re sold out or not. The likelihood, however, is that this run of 250 will run out too: the track list features Sinead O’Brien’s ‘Taking On Time’, Black Midi’s ‘bmbmbm’ and Squid’s ‘The Dial’. Its release will see a party hosted at The Social, a tiny independent venue close to Oxford Circus.
"This one feels more definiteive" muses Hall, "the bands on it are doing great things: Squid, black midi, Black Country, New Road, Tińa, Sinead..." he lists. The monochrome design, at odds with the uniform, Factory-inspired artwork of their singles, was chosen for its visual potency: "it feels quite appropriate in these stark times, but also it seems classic and definitive" Hall says, adding that compilation four is likely to be a momentous one for Speedy, and perhaps not needing to mention that its release coincides with the final week of of the UK General Election campaigns.
What he does pinpoint though, is that Speedy Wunderground will continue its rise, his excitement hardly contained as he says: "I hope that even if we go on to do a lot more collaborations, when people look back at this one they might think this is when things really started kicking off."
SWY4, Speedy Wunderground Year 4 Compilation will arrive 6 December 2019. An album launch party will follow on 7 December at The Social in London.
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More about: Speedy Wunderground