Label Love #5: Idle hands
The Idle Hands label and shop is a focal point of the Bristol scene, but with a reputation that reaches far beyond the confines of the city. At the end of a year that's seen them release a slew of great 12"s, their first LP as well as taking the Idle Hands DJs to Croatia, Germany and elsewhere, we caught up with head honcho Chris Farrell to talk about the label's beginnings, the 'weird narrative' that runs through their output, and being shaken out of the Bristol mind set…
Hi Chris. First up, can you tell us when you set up Idle Hands and what the ethos behind the label is?
yes of course, I set up Idle Hands as a label whilst working at Rooted Records in 2009. When that shop closed down I was encouraged by friends to take the plunge and so I opened my own shop in Stokes Croft at the start of 2011.
The ethos of the shop and label has always been to stock and put out what I consider to be good dance music on vinyl, with a particular focus on Bristol. I guess we lurk round the edges of the house, techno and bass music scenes. I try to keep things moving and not stick to one particular sound, instead I aim for an over arching feeling or vibe for the label.
Idle Hands is, of course, a record shop as well as a label – what are the biggest benefits of running the label alongside the shop?
They feed into each other. I think it helps being able to see what everyone else is doing and gives me a sense of where we fit in, what is relevant to put out and so forth.
I see the shop as my contribution to a culture that has given so much to me over the years. I think running the shop shows that we are serious about music and I guess to an extent it legitimises the label. It certainly isnt easy doing either – dont believe the hype about the vinyl renaissance. Lables are pressing very low quantities these days.
I see the latest Idle Hands release is from Portland based Strategy. Does this denote a move towards releasing music from further afield (and a less Bristol focused release schedule) or is it a one off?
Well from the start we have not been tied to releasing music solely from Bristol artists. Kevin Mcphee is from Toronto. AnD, Szare and Alex Coulton are all Manchester based.
When we do work with people from further afield it tends to happen quite naturally. With the Manchester releases I was lucky in that a lot of people were sending Kowton music at the time and he was passing it to me. Joe (Kowton) has been a real help in eveything I have done in the last few years.
With the Strategy release he had been in contact with a friend of mine for a number of years about posibbly playing a club gig in Bristol – it still hasnt happend unfortunately – but in the process my friend suggested he sent me some stuff and we went from there. I am really happy with the release.
I do like putting out stuff by Bristol artists, we can chat about things over a pint rather than by email. It is important that I represent what is happening in this city, but I am always open to hearing things from further a field.
You ran another shop before Idle Hands, is that right?
Well I used to work alongside Pev at Rooted Records, prior to that I worked at a number of other Bristol record shops – Imperial, Replay and a few others. Ive been working in record shops for over ten years now. Its been an emotional journey seeing vinyl industry take a hammering. Nothing is ever completely stable and there have been many hard times as well as good but I keep doing it because I stubbornly believe in the vinyl format and the belief that record shops are important as a focal point for local scenes.
What about the BRSTL off shoot (if I can call it that)? How does that differ to the Idle Hands releases?
Well BRSTL isnt an offshoot but a seprate project. It was really the idea of my mate Adam, he suggested we start a label for house and techno being produced in Bristol. Our latest release is by my friend Shanti Celeste who works alongside me at Idle Hands. She has also come on board helping with the label, so it is now the 3 of us. I think we are looking to step things up a little bit with it next year, pushing forward with unknown west country based artists, plus a few releases by people who have released on the label already.
The Idle Hands output is quite personal to me, and has a weird narrative running through it in my head. I know when something sounds like it should be released on the label.
Often ill be sent good tunes but I know they wont work on the label – so it nice having another outlet. Im actually in the process of setting up a new label with another friend but ill keep that under wraps for now suffice to say it will have a different output to both the other labels.
I know you DJ regularly, have you got any plans to dip your toe into the world of production?
DJing is important to me and something I have been particularly enjoying this year. Ive been playing out for over a decade now and it is nice having a chance to play further a field more regularly.
Playing for my friends at Dont Be Afraid in London has been good fun, and gigs at places like the Golden Pudel and closing the Mungos stage at Dimensions has left me feeling inspired and wanting to get out there more.
In terms of music Im working on some stuff with a pal of mine at the moment, but it isnt like we are working towards a Chris Farrell release. It is a proper collaboration, still in its infant stages. In fact when we get round to putting some stuff out well probably keep it incognito anyway.
You recently put out the Outboxx LP, a first full length for Idle Hands I believe. Are there any more LPs in the pipeline and are albums generally a harder sell than 12s these days?
As a small label with near enough zero budget and with just me running the label it isnt an easy thing to do. I did know though that Outboxx would be best represented by that format. The energy they have as a production unit and the hours they put in meant we narrowed the LP down from a lot of tracks. Im glad they put their faith in me to release debut. I think the next LP they do has the potetntial to be massive, but they always have one foot in the underground.
I have just put out a double pack from Andy Mac which I guess is an EP/LP. It is an interesting way to present an artist, that doesnt always work but I am very pleased with my results.
Ive noticed the Idle Hands DJs are getting about a fair bit, with recent nights in Germany and a boat party at Dimensions. Was the model of having an agency as well as the label and shop planned out from the start?
hahah, no im not that organised. When we started the agency it was really part of the same energy that got the shop started in the first place, all credit is really down to another friend of mine, Kim Oakley. She is a very hard working individual with a clear view of where to take things, and how to get the best positioning for her artists. She certainly steered us all in the right direction.
We can sometimes get stuck in a Bristol mind state of not really giving a shit about what is going on in other places, she shook us out of that and got us exposure on a wider scale.
As a collective, DJIng is really important to us, being surrounded by people like Shanti and the Kelly Twins amongst others is inispring. These are people who take the art and selection process very seriously. We all bounce off each other and try to source tunes the others wont have heard before and that type of thing. Nearly all my close friends are DJs, I think for outsiders it is a bit weird how obssessed we are by it all.
If you could have put out one record from the history of recorded music, what would you choose and why?
Wow that is a tricky one. Ive never really thought in terms like that. In fact im going to pass on that question.
Lastly, what have you got coming up release-wise on the label for the rest of the year and beyond?
Release wise we put out the Strategy 12 with a Pev mix about a month ago. Our current release is the 2×12 from Andy Mac. I tried to get a lot of records out this year but only managed 7 on Idle Hands. Next year I hav a few things lined up with some new artists plus the return of some old favourites, and maybe another LP. Ill leave it at that.
For more info and to keep up with what's going on at Idle Hands, check their website.