Luke (Super Fan 99): Hey man, I’m doing a piece for United Cassettes and had this idea where one label interviews another. It’d actually be more of a conversation we can do over email whereby I ask a question, you answer it and then follow with a question for me. Game?
Theo (Sports Day Records): Hey Luke! This sounds great! I’m in.
Luke: Cool! Here goes…How did Sports Day Records come to be? Were there any particular labels that inspired you?
Theo: I’d joked about starting a label for about 2 years and my best friend’s band were looking to put something out this Spring. It seemed to me like good timing to actually start one and stop just saying that it was something I was going to do.
On a macro level, Captured Tracks, Domino, Merge, Chapter Music, Woodsist, Underwater Peoples and Transgressive have all been big influences and inspirations for Sports Day. I think closer to home, I wouldn’t have had the guts if it wasn’t for Merdurhaus Records and Beech Coma. Those two labels definitely showed me what killer work you can do out of your bedroom. Those two labels were big inspirations for sure.
Why did you choose to name the label Super Fan 99?
Luke: Some great labels there and some I need to investigate further too. I love Merge records and Beech Coma always seem to be putting out great compilations. I always keep an eye on their releases.
The label is named after a quote from a scene in my favourite movie ‘Swingers’ I’ve loved it since it came out in 1996. You can watch the scene it comes from here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjisfTIys2o
What is it about tapes that you love? Did you have them as a kid and can you remember your first tape?
Theo: Believe it or not, I’ve never seen it. I love the vibe and that is a great reason for naming your label “Super Fan 99”. The Hockey sticks make a lot of sense too. Love that old NHL game, so good. The clip is hilarious.
I think my first tape was Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’? I remember listening to that with my sister when I was super young. I also remember fumbling around with my Dad’s tapes when I was a child, stuff like ‘Sgt. Peppers’ and ‘No Jacket Required’. I still have those tapes today. I can remember my older brother pointing at the picture of Phil Collins in a QPR shirt that is on the inside insert.
I love tapes because unlike vinyl they were always made to be portable, compact and quirky. They weren’t made to sound great, they were made to sounds strange or as good as possible. When you listen to a tape (especially now) it’s a very strange and stilted experience. I love that. The rewinding and fast forwarding, it’s very confused. I like the hiss and how my older tapes have deteriorated with time. With compressed MP3s and streams now being the most portable way to listen to music, tapes appear obsolete but retain a physical beauty and original experience. They seem very out of this world but represent an artist in a unique way. I feel like tapes are sort of from another planet in a funny way. Totally their own thing. I think people, even today, want to get as close as they can to the music they like. Tapes do that in cheaper format and in a more unorthodox way when compared to CD and vinyl.
So far what’s the thing that has surprised you most whilst running Super Fan 99?
Luke: I too love how they are portable. You can pick one up at a merch desk on a Friday night, put it in your pocket and continue your night out unlike lumping a 12″ around. I was once talking to Evan Dando (name drop bomb!) and he was saying how when they are played they move the air unlike a CD or MP3, I thought that described the experience well.
I think the most surprising thing is the artists I’ve got to work with so far. I often send a speculative email to artists thinking there’s no real chance of working with them but nine times out of ten they have got back to me. Working with Cotillon was great as he was the first artist aside from myself I’d put out. For the record to sell out in 2 hours was a nice surprise, seeing people then sell them for profit on eBay not so much.
When looking for bands I spend a lot of my time with soundcloud on while I work. Every couple of hours something will make my ears prick up. I also go to loads of shows and make sure I check out all the supports. Word of mouth from friends I trust is good too. How do you discover the bands you’ve been working with?
Theo: Like the Evan Dando description that’s a very cool way of putting it.
I suppose similar, when finding bands. Support acts, soundcloud and word of mouth are all key. I have also got into the habit of checking out the “Recommendations” section of bandcamp. Bands often give shout outs to their favourite bands and so you can often follow the trail and find some cool stuff. I also tend to search cities on bandcamp. I found Arbes by searching Melbourne on bandcamp and a lot of my favourite bands are from Denton, TX which is great buzz town on bandcamp. All in all, I just try and look for something that I would want to listen to. I try and give it as much time as possible.
I’ve spoken with record labels in the past about how they receive so many demos but have never signed a band after receiving a demo. Have you received any demos from bands yet? If yes, did you listen to them/sign them?
Luke: That’s interesting to make it city specific when searching for music. Maybe I should be seeing what’s hot in Timbuktu?
I have been receiving a few demos here and there and personally love listening to people’s music. So far I’ve not signed anyone this way but there have been a couple I’m keeping an eye on and one that was brilliant but just not where I want to take the label right now in terms of sound. I think it’s important to build an identity for your label early on so people know to a degree what to expect. My current favourites like Burger and Lolipop I trust and know I will like pretty much anything they put out, I’d like people to feel the same about Super Fan.
I find since I’ve been doing this I learn something small that’s new every day. Some things work great while other times there have been holes in how I do things like with the Big Cartel store. What’s been the most challenging part of running the label so far for you?
Theo: What holes have been in the Big Cartel store? You’re right about learning small things every day. I feel like I’m getting better and better at handling stuff, knowing how it all works.
I think the most challenging thing has been keeping up. It’s basically a full-time job and often one that has me staying up extremely late to talk the United States and getting up early to talk to Australia. It’s been a massive challenge to keep up and feel like I’m doing the best for the artists. I often feel frustrated that good things are slipping through my fingers.
Whether it’s keeping up with emails or social media buzz, I just want to be active all the time and continually pushing all the bands and releases as far as I can. I know this is impossible. But I’ll take this time now to apologise to anyone whose email I didn’t get back to. Balancing actual work and the label work is a real existential crisis.
How far do you envisage Super Fan 99 going? Both in a sense of time scale (i.e. like 20 years) and in a sense of credentials (e.g. a top 10 album/world tour)
Luke: I found that you cannot set a limit on how many copies are available or how many each customer can buy which means eBayers are buying multiple copies which is not in the spirit of Super Fan. With one release a vinyl tip site had written about my release and overnight lots of orders had come in which I could not fore fill, I then had to refund lots of people who were understandably pissed off. I’ve fixed it now but it was a learning curve.
I agree the time zones can make it a 24hr job. I work with lots of US bands and sometimes I’m working out release details with them at 3am, still I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. It’s really exciting when you get as far as working on the art for the sleeves.
I guess in terms of growth I’m not setting myself too many goals. I like how quickly it’s grown organically in just a year but expect it to be a long road. I hope to start upping my runs soon and have the records more readily available in shops. I’d really like to have a small shop in Brixton selling new and second hand vinyl alongside Super Fan release and host in stores, that’s the much bigger aim. One day… *sigh.
I think a cool way to finish this chat would be to ask you the same question and also were you any good on Sports Day? Any particular event you nailed? I used to pretty much avoid it but if pushed liked the shot put.
Theo: Don’t think any of my releases have been ebay worthy yet, but that is good to know. I can see that is quite annoying. When I interned at Transgressive records they were always watching addresses and banks details to avoid mass buys from record hoarders.
When it comes to Sports Day I remember it was one of my favourite days of the year. I was extremely hyped when it came around. There were no classes and you got a free packed lunch supplied by the school. It was usually just a wet cheese sandwich and a capri-sun but it was so much better than being in actual school. I remember loving having an attempt at the long jump and triple jump. They’re genuinely very fun to have a go at, but I was truly terrible. Maybe I finished 4th once….but probably not. I was OK at long distance running, but I only ever won medals for the team events. Like tug of war and relay racing. I think I’m not particularly skilled when on my own. I like Sports Day cause everyone was put through it, we were all there.
Where do I see Sports Day records going? Well, I think I just want Sports Day to be remembered, to mean something. I want someone out there somewhere to say “I love that release”. For them to have it on their shelf and appreciate the artwork choice, the design, the list of tracks, the sounds, the band and the whole curated piece. Even in the short amount of time I’ve been doing this, the bands and I have put so much time and thought into the releases that for someone (especially some stranger) to take them seriously is the only goal. I plan to take Sports Day to the US in 2016 have a trans-Atlantic relationship. Working with bands in the US and UK. I’m very into the idea of a global music family. Strangers who know each other.
Beyond releases, the real goal is to have an actual Sports Day where bands come and compete against each other and then play a gig afterwards. Like a very strange and very active music festival. I’m very into the idea of your little Super Fan record shop hang out in Brixton though. Sounds sweet.
Luke: Sports Day Records does Sports Day?! That is awesome. Good speaking to you man! We should do a split release sometime.
Follow Super Fan 99 on Twitter – @supfan99
Follow Sports Day Records on Twitter – @sportsdayrec