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A Magazine for Sheffield

DIY in Sheffield.

With perennial talk of falling record sales and the death of guitar music, you would be forgiven for thinking that the UK music scene is in a sorry state. But while big labels desperately search for a new Mumford and Sons to save music, there is one area which is positively flourishing. With the price and size of music production rapidly shrinking, an increasing number of individuals and collectives are setting up their own labels. Along with a plethora of articles in the music press about how to do so, there is a growing sense of kudos for artists releasing their music through DIY labels. MJ from the band Hookworms set up Suburban Home Studio in a Victorian mill in Leeds which has proved increasingly popular. Sheffield is blessed with having several highly respected DIY labels, with The Audacious Art Experiment (TAAE) and Tye Die Tapes (TDT) being the most prominent. Between them they have released records by Slowcoaches, Cowtown, Za!, Bos Angeles, Blood Sport, Fawn Spots, Sun Sister, Wooderson and Nope. Singing Knives Records and Common Thread Records are also well renowned, specialising in more niche areas of the market. The inaugural International Cassette Store Day took place in September in record shops around the world. Following hot on the heels of the resurgence of interest in vinyl, a new generation is beginning to experience the joy of owning a physical recording, rekindling a connection between artists and fans. It affords bands the opportunity to release their music without breaking the bank, and fans to collect releases that by their nature are exclusive and limited in number. As Ben from TAAE attests, “The prospect of bringing out a release is now a lot less intimidating. Being able to produce merch inexpensively is great news for bands whose goal is to be self-sustaining.” The cassette tape is a medium that many local bands are embracing, with L'Amour Des Rêves, Pjaro, Blood Sport, Che Ga Zebra and Toucans all releasing EPs on the format, the more personal nature of the medium allowing bands to give a little extra both in terms of artwork and customisation. The importance of DIY labels to the development of local bands is epitomised by Blood Sport, who released their debut LP Life in Units earlier this year. As Nick from the band says, “TAAE put out our first tape, let us use amps when we had none, and generally nurtured us. Tye Die Tapes gave us the second leg up a similar way, recording and releasing our second EP. Through the gigs and the long history of the labels we've made most of our contacts for tours and recording, and my friendship group is now 70% made up of people from Grimsby, TAAE or Tye Die Tapes. When you're involved in this sort of thing you realise what a small world it is.” The labels themselves play a key role in the Sheffield music scene, not only organising and collaborating on gig promotion, but also providing a rehearsal and live music space. TAAE, a not-for-profit organisation run by a collective, generally ask for donations on the door but no-one is turned away if they can’t afford it. They have built up a community of people who help to keep the venue running, with everyone mucking in. The one rule DIY spaces employ is that of respect – respect the venue, respect the bands and respect other people. Tireless work goes on behind the scenes. As James From TDT puts it, “Time is the biggest pitfall. Sometimes it feels like there aren't enough hours in the day to work a full-time job, run a label and put shows on. A real sense of community surrounds both spaces, with a multitude of bands and collaborations springing up from friendships made and nurtured there. Not only do they expose people to a vast range of music not present in traditional venues, but they also foster and inspire. With many major venues disinclined to take risks on less mainstream acts, it has fallen to independent promoters and smaller venues to put on the more interesting and promising bands. Along with TAAE, TDT, Common Thread and Singing Knives, there are a number of independent promoters working hard to bring exciting and innovative bands to Sheffield – the likes of Semi Detached, Small Ideas, Freaky Fuzz, Evil Hoodoo, Macho Music is Stupid and Get Rad. Sheffield’s DIY spaces play host to an eclectic mix of bands spanning genres including punk, hardcore, garage, indie pop, free jazz, avant-garde and experimental noise. A burgeoning subculture bubbles not far below the surface. As Nick of Blood Sport so eloquently states, “When you're involved in a 'DIY' scene, you're surrounded by bands and people doing the strangest stuff all the time, and everything is celebrated. You realise it's not just one trajectory upwards, and that there's a niche for everything. Experimentation and originality is so cherished as well.” With the recent Live Music Act allowing small venues to put on live music without a licence, there are new spaces opening up in Sheffield all the time. What epitomises these spaces is a sense of friendliness, community and acceptance. “The lack of bitterness and rivalry makes everything very easy,” says Ben. Sheffield has had a thriving warehouse scene for a while now, and in the same vein promoters are transforming spaces into live music venues. There’s never been a better time to get involved, whether it be by promoting, attending or supporting the local music scene. )

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