Label Love #42: Lo Recordings


This year marks Lo Recordings 20th anniversary – not too shabby for a label that has constantly carved out it's own path, releasing the odd, the arty, and the hard to place, eschewing genre traps, and discovering a fair few gems in the process. When a label can include Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert, Four Tet and Thurston Moore in it's alumni you know they've been doing something right. We spoke to Lo founder Jon Tye about two decades keeping it weird…    

How did Lo come into existence? What was the initial ethos behind the label?

I started Lo because at that time labels only seemed to release one type of music, electronic, rock, dance, jazz. I wanted to be able to release everything and also to combine different types of music and collaborate with people from all sorts of musical backgrounds. Hence the first releases Extreme Possibilities and United Mutations which featured musicians from the avant garde/jazz scene like Lol Coxhill, David Cunningham and David Toop alongside/working with younger electronic musicians like Luke Vibert, Aphex Twin and post rock groups like Tortoise and Ui.

Did you have the idea for the label before you had your first release, or vice versa?

I was in a group called MLO and we did a track with David Thomas from Pere Ubu and that led to the idea of a whole album full of interesting collaborations and rather than ask another label to release them I decided to start one myself.

Who or what was your biggest inspiration for taking things into your own hands?

I guess the acid house and subsequent 'ambient' and electronic scenes. I released quite a few 12's on labels such as Gee St, R & S, Rising High, Reflective, Ninja Tune and it gets to be a bug. Releasing vinyl. Making records.

I feel there have been two phases of the label, the first where it was more focused on experimentation and my own productions and the second when Gavin got involved and we focused more on other peoples releases and trying to be a 'proper' label. Each phase is equally valid and I’m really glad Gavin got involved or we wouldn't still be going.

How do you find most of the music for the label? Have you ever released anything that’s come at you unsolicited?

The majority comes from friends. musicians we've worked with but sometimes something just pops through the letterbox. Like Motohiro Nakashima.

What are your most and least favourite things about running your own label?

I think a good vinyl release where everything comes together just right. The cover, the sound, the feel. Also knowing you've released something that will 'stand the test of time’, it’s a rotten phrase but after a while you know when a release has a certain weight to it.

Losing money is always a bummer!

What have been the biggest changes from running the label in the 90s to now?

It's mostly digital now and that's devalued music as an art form, people no longer value music in the same way. It's too easy to hear music and there's too much available. It's better to have to work to find good music that really means something to you and when you find it to cherish it. I feel that's more how it used to be. 

I think it is still possible if you just buy vinyl but even then there are too many re-issues of poor quality material and it's easy to get distracted with endless internet mixes and promos.

The 90s were a period of restless musical innovation, with, seemingly, new genres born every week. Who do you think the current time compares? Do you think innovation in electronic music has slowed down, whilst the sheer volume of releases has ballooned?

Right now things seem a bit static. I really enjoyed the time a few years ago with groups like Emeralds, OPN, Stella Om Source, Laurel Halo. There seemed a real DIY ethic and a sense that people weren't buying the music they were expected to. I’m sure there will be another wave of innovation soon.

You’ve won awards with your sleeve design, how much input comes from the artists and how much from you guys when you work out a cover?

We always work with Non Format when possible, we've worked with them since the label started, since before they were Non Format in fact. We give them a pretty open brief but always send them the music and sometimes ideas from the artist but it usually works best when the have free reign.

How important are physical formats to you?

Essential… I find it hard to feel connected to digital files, having said that one of the few digital only albums we've done has been really successful (Astronauts) and that feels really good… That was their choice and it's worked really well.

After Aphex, Cylob and Orbital stepped up back in the day, if you were going to get someone to remix Mike Flowers Pops today, who would you chose?

I think Todd Terje could work.

There’s been a wide range of artists who’ve signed on the label – what are the qualities you think run through all of them?

A determination to do their own thing, I guess.

If you could sign one artist from throughout recorded musical history to the label, who would it be and why?

Wow that's a tough one… I guess it would have to be The Beatles. I’d have signed them to a really tight contract including publishing and then could have financed hundreds of amazing experimental albums… It would also have given me access to amazing art pieces via Groovy Bob (Robert Fraser) and I would have made films with Salvador Dali, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Kenneth Anger and Roman Polanski…

You’ve released music from all over the world – where do you think the most exciting stuff is being made at the moment?

In my head… I always read about places and imagine these incredible hybrid types of music but the reality is usually disappointing… Sometimes I try and make the music I imagine with Seahawks or Cherry Garcia…

What are your thoughts on the current state of independent records? Do you believe that there are enough opportunities available for people to be successful?

I think it depends on what you mean by successful, there are more opportunities to make music and to release it yourself, it's easier to get your music out there via the internet and people are very receptive to live music but it's harder than ever to make money from music.

How do you feel about the current trend for artists and labels to work with ‘brands’? A necessary evil? Not an evil at all?

I guess it has to be done and some brands are better than others.

Why are The Chap not super famous?

I think they are too arch to be really popular, a bit like Pere Ubu and as David Thomas said 'we're a pop band… Just not a very good pop band'.

Who has been the biggest lunatic you’ve worked with?

Oooh I’m not sure I can say in case I bump into them some time…. There was a certain person who threatened to kill me and another one who threw me across the room when I said he looked like Eddie Izzard!

Have you ever had to delay a release through bizarre and unforeseen circumstances?

The ROOT (Thurston Moore) project exhibition was delayed because we were waiting for David Bowie to deliver his art piece called D 'n' B.

What have you got coming up in 2015?

The Grasscut album is out now and coming up we have albums from Leo Abrahams and The Chap.

Then there are singles/EPs by Lilith Ai, nick nicely, Vuurwerk, Tom Furse and remixes from people like CFCF, Brian Eno and Abul Mogard.

How about in 2025?

David Bowie (all electronic… his last and possibly his best album)

Pablo Picasso (a compilation of previously unheard recordings made by PP produced by Jean Cocteau and featuring Edith Piaf and Jean Jacques Perrey, mostly instrumental, African inspired pieces with moog and theremin)

Neil Young & Todd Rundgren – Long Gone – superb collaborative album, mostly electronic r&b with a guest appearance from Prince and backing vocals by Kenny Loggins and Darryl Hall.

Aphex Twin/Philip Glass – classical pieces for strings and automated electronic band.

Susumu Yokota – his seminal Symbol album performed by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by John Zorn.

Which 5 records make the best intro to Lo?

Another tough question… These are 5 that come to mind but no doubt there are others equally worthy;

Susumu Yokota – My Energy
The Chap – We Work In Bars
Black Devil – H Friend
Derek Bailey/Thurston Moore – 001
Slack Dog – Ruff Dog

Find out more about Lo Recordings here.