Liquid Library is the UK based tape label founded by Charlie Miles and Owen Chambers. They’ve released music with an uncompromising commitment to the artist and the art. They have an almost aloof attitude to popularity and consumerism. To me, they represent the misfits and outsider musicians making music for the sheer love of it, and the joy that it can bring. Charlie has said, “…being honest and joyous about your flaws and limitations and having fun with it. Liquid Library means inclusivity and accessibility, it means cooperation and community.” To say the least, they’ve been an incredible inspiration to me. I wanted to learn more about them – so I asked them some questions.
Please introduce yourself. What does Liquid Library mean to you?
Hello! My name is Owen Chambers and I am ½ of a DIY cassette label called Liquid Library. We put out music we love that perhaps isn’t getting the attention we think it should be getting in a fashion that hopefully suits the ingenuity and passion of the music itself.
I understand that there are a lot of DIY cassette labels around right now but I’d like to think that the amount of love me and Charlie put into our releases makes people want to give ours a whirl.
Hi there, I’m Charlie.
To me, Liquid Library is, I guess, a way to be the change you want to see in the world, in a small way. We started it almost as a joke, we thought it would be funny to invent a label to legitimize an album that me and Owen had been working on together, like we could claim to be signed to this label and it would make it sounds as though our band was going places. Then we thought ‘well, shit, we’ve got a tape deck…’ and we realized that that’s genuinely all we needed to start the scissors and glue kind of operation that we’re still running, that there was nothing stopping us from producing the types of tapes we wanted to buy.
It’s about being able to put some really fucking cool music, in a physical sense, into the world – music that might otherwise not get that but that absolutely deserves it. Even though we might only sell 5 copies of a tape, that doesn’t matter, it’s like, once it’s released, it’s out there, it’s been done and you can’t take that away. The scale of it when compared to a label that sells hundreds of thousands of copies of an album is irrelevant – We changed the world, man! That tape exists because a few people believed that it should and then made it happen. And it gets to be whatever we want it to be, you know? Like, if you want it to look like it was assembled at 3am in someone’s living room by a couple of retrobates who don’t know what they’re doing and are half-cut on red wine then more power to you. Since we can’t afford to make everything look professionally done and industry standard, there’s no reason not to embrace how amateurish we are. And that gives us the freedom to try fun things and, when they go wrong, it ends up being a part of the aesthetic – we can get away with sticking our liner notes in a pot of tea to make them look old-timey, or trimming the edges with nail-clippers because Owen couldn’t find any scissors in the house.That’s something Liquid Library means – being honest and joyous about your flaws and limitations and having fun with it. People respond to that shit because it’s an equalizer, because it removes any kind of status that an artist or producer has that elevates them above an audience or a consumer. It’s like, if you buy a Liquid Library tape you can’t help but look at it and think ‘pssh, I could have made that.’ EXACTLY. It turns out any fucker can. All the greatest artists were amateurs. If we managed to put out a tape then, seriously, a monkey could do it. Liquid Library means inclusivity and accessibility, it means cooperation and community. We do everything as cheap as possible; we share the work equally; we never pay for something we can either do ourselves or trade out for; we involve our friends wherever possible; we give as much or as little involvement to the bands as they want and we never, EVER make any money. It’s like staking out a little tiny socialist-anarchist utopia in our record collection.
It’s not hyperbole to say that I’ve discovered some of my favourite bands through Liquid Library and through the whole internet cassette community at large. That’s something else it means, Liquid Library allows us to be part of a ‘scene’, for lack of a better term, although maybe community is better. Like, it’s still pretty niche, but it’s allowed us to connect with other people who want to hear the same weird shit we want to hear and to make some friends and share some experiences that, pre-internet, we would never have had. Bands like Happy Front, Tapes and Tubes (sorry, Austin), Kill The Intellectuals, Nevhar Anhar, Wonder Terminal, Smiling Strange, Pasty Cline… I could go on, all of them kick ass as musicians and happen to be really, really wicked-cool people who I wouldn’t have got to hear or meet (at least, meet online) if it weren’t for this weird little rag-tag gang of people seeking out and sharing the projects they’re involved in.
For all the waxing lyrical I can do about what Liquid Library is, at the end of the day, it’s a really fun thing to do with a mate, over a pot of tea and a Sleater-Kinney album to get out the glitter-glue and pritt-stick and try to collage together a half-decent release. Or to sit around after a few too many beers trying to come up with hilarious new ways to make the next release unique (I’m adamant that 2016 will be the year that we finally release an album as a Power-Point presentation). Or to get a bunch of random musicians together and force them to cover each other’s songs. We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t good, old fashioned fun, when it comes down to it. So while I’d like to be able to claim that we’re helping to bring about the revolution and staking claim to a vision of how we’d like the music industry to work and desperately trying to give exposure to struggling artists who deserve it, and maybe some of that is true to a degree, basically it’s really all just for the shits and giggles.
What is your creative and working relationship with each other?
I’ve known Charlie a while now. We’ve been housemates, bandmates and friends across different cities and times so we’ve done a lot of different artistic projects together. He never ceases to amaze me with his constant stream of creative ideas for releases. He does pretty much all the artwork and the clever side of releases whilst I do the boring stuff….
We also share a lot of the same taste in music so we know what people who like DIY releases value.
Step 1: Get drunk.
Step 2: Give it a go.
There’s not really any process. We just kind of have a chat about any ideas we might have for a release and then start thinking about how to go about it – sometimes it’s as simple as getting some stuff printed and then sometimes we might have to have a brainstorming session about how to, say, make alien space-MDMA or can we package a tape in Corduroy or is it legal to post cigarettes to Israel and is this actually a good idea or just a strange one? Usually one of us kind of naturally takes the lead a little on something, but basically whoever is more suited to a given task takes care of it. We had a joke when we first started that I was ‘means of production’ and Owen was ‘minister of propaganda’ because I did more of the arts-and-crafts and assembling of tapes and Owen did more like promotion and social media but, over time, we’ve actually just got to a point where we both kind of do everything a little bit.
What is it about cassettes that interest you?
Pretty much everything if I’m going to be honest. Even down to the shape of them. It just seems like you can do so much with that particular size and shape. You can have a blank tape with a simple pencil drawing on it that can look amazing in a way that won’t work with a CD or a record.
I also love the perceived disposability of them. They seem so fragile and duplicable but the music released on them is so special.
Then there’s simply the case that I think certain genres lend themselves better to certain formats. I think Hip-Hop, Black Metal and lo-fi/punk stuff generally sounds better on tape. I could be talking nonsense but they just seem to fit the format for me…
A lot of things. Part of it is nostalgia, I guess. Part of it is, similarly to vinyl, the way something is gained by a certain relinquishing of control over the media – how it’s really difficult to just skip tracks on a tape so you’re more inclined to listen to a whole side or album all in one go and how that makes you absorb music differently to if you have ability to skip or shuffle your tracks at the push of a button. Not saying it’s necessarily better than, say an mp3 player, but it’s different. I also love the way a tape develops it’s crackles and warps and pops, again similarly to vinyl. You might own the same album as me, but my copy is unique to me, because of the wear it has suffered in it’s lifetime, just as yours is unique to you. Each tape tells a story in the way it degrades over time and I love that mystery, that ‘organic-ness.’ It’s so human.
What I like most is that they are cheap to produce. Realistically, it’s probably never going to be cost effective for me to try and sell a run of vinyl for my own music, but I can get a few tapes, in big or small batches, for next to nothing, dub them at home and then sell them at shows or over the internet. Again, this means that small, independent artists have the power to take their physical presence in their own hands, which is important.
How do you feel about cassettes becoming “popular” again?
I think it’s great. I have no real worries about major labels or mainstream culture trying to hijack the re-newfound popularity of cassettes. There’s whole galaxy of DIY labels, bands and individuals doing wonderful things with cassettes and the more people who have the ability to hear those tapes then the better.
You can tell the lack of care that major labels put into the format though which is sad. I bought a Flaming Lips album on cassette store day and it was just a photocopied print out of the album cover and a red cassette. No booklet, no side labels, no effort and no care…
I don’t know if they’ll ever be truly popular again but they’re definitely a bit more hip than they were a couple of years ago and no-one could have predicted the way that vinyl has come back in such a big way so you never know.
I feel conflicted I guess. One part of me thinks it’s great because it means that more and more people will start to share in this thing that I love. Another part of me is worried because, as has happened a lot with the vinyl resurgence, once major labels and retailers start to get in on cassettes, we’re going to see prices rise and small independent labels (who, I might add, are the ones who have kept cassettes alive while they were unpopular) will get shafted when they can’t compete, or when the duplication services are booked up for months by another Foo-Fighters b-sides collection to get sold for a tenner on Record Store Day. I don’t want to sound like a cultural snob (but I kind of am one so I probably will) but when I saw that Urban Outfitters was selling tape-decks I was pissed off, because, yeah, some douche-bag is going to make a mint selling rushed out reissues of 30-year-old albums for ten quid each while the guys barely breaking even putting out really interesting and innovative tapes are struggling to sell an embodiment of their love and sweat and pain and art for a third of that. That’s how it works, though, right? Anything emerging from a counter-culture is eventually absorbed by the mainstream and monetized as ruthlessly as possible, but the people on the fringes will still keep doing what they’re doing no matter what, so I guess I don’t have to worry.
When thinking about a putting out a new release, what’s most important?
It will always be the music on it. We only exist to promote the talents of people more interesting than ourselves.
Aside from that it’s defiantly the artwork and the cost. Owning something special that’s made with care should always be within everyone’s price range.
More than anything, it’s are the band we’re working with happy? Since we can’t afford to pay the musicians (which isn’t an issue at all in 99% of cases because musicians are a cool group of people) we work really hard to put out something that we and the artists think is way cool. Either it looks really nice or it has something unique about it or whatever. I’m a sucker for weird and gimmicky releases – Art is Hard put out a compilation where the bands were all shown on a map of the West country, for instance – so I always try to think, if I saw this album on bandcamp or in a shop, would I be able to resist buying it for a few quid?
Other than that, the only other really important thing is, what do we think of the music? It sounds obvious, but we’d never put out a tape of music that we didn’t like ourselves and wouldn’t want to have in our record collection. Like, I said, basically that’s why we started this whole thing – to make the type of tapes that we wanted in our collection. We’re super lucky now in the sense that we sometimes have bands approaching us to put out a tape, which is something that we never really expected and usually they’re cool as fuck. I guess something about our label seems to attract a people with an element of ‘outsider-ness’, which means we very rarely turn people down when they approach us. The only reason we would is because we genuinely don’t have the time and resources to get to them or if we just genuinely feel like they would be better off with a different label.