Noel Gallagher often remarked that great musical scenes, and great bands, are often characterised as much by their prominent record labels as they are by their sound.
As an example, those of us old enough to remember two distinctive genres from the mid-90s, Gangster Rap and Brit Pop, may have strong memories of two of the main labels associated to those scenes (Death Row and Creation) but how many of us can remember all of the artists on each label (Johnny J, The Jazz Butcher anyone?). Not to take anything away from those artists, but perhaps such a quiz proves that sometimes a record label becomes so identifiable, and so of the moment, that it transcends a musical genre. The label becomes the beacon which attracts us towards new music.
All of which asks interesting questions about the North East musical scene and our local labels; what beacons are helping attract us towards new music? What labels are prominently showcasing the North East?
I’m asking rhetorical questions because there’s a number of labels we can be really proud of in the North East, but let’s just focus on one for now; Durham’s very own Sapien Records label, a label which celebrates it’s ten year anniversary this year.
Founded in 2010, and initially rooted in metalcore, perhaps what Sapien has come to represent most is how it mirrors some of the best values of the North East; it’s inclusive and it’s diverse.
“In some ways we started off as a metal label” confirms head Sapien honcho David Smith “but to be fair what I enjoy most about us now is that we’re so diverse as a collection. Not only do we have a diverse sounding collection of bands, Dennis for example are a nine-piece folkrock and colliery band who play amazing live shows, but we also include non-North Eastern bands like Rider from Pennsylvania and Steve Strong from Plymouth. If a band sounds good, regardless of their genre or birthplace, then they’re welcome on Sapien’.
Pressed into revealing some of his favourite moments of the past decade proves difficult for Smith, ‘To be honest, I can’t believe what we’ve become but if I had to give you an answer I’d say working with Steve Albini with We are Knuckle Dragger’s or Ross Robinson on the follow up. These people were legends to me growing up and to think that they’ve done some work on a label I work for is unreal sometimes”.
Growing in strength (“we’ve made some really interesting releases in the past year or so with bands like Dunes or Scott Michael Cavagan”) the next phase for Sapien is looking forward; “2020 was going to be a year for a lot of releases on Sapien, and a lot of second albums, but we’ve delayed them until next year. The main thing is we’re all fit and healthy and the music can wait”, before agreeing the wait will be worth it, “it’s been an amazing ten years and I’m maybe even more excited now than ever before when you listen to some of the pieces coming soon. That’s sometimes enough”.
It’s too early to know if Sapien defines a scene or not, but it may well define a region.