Label Love #69: Banoffee Pies
What is your initial thought when you hear about Banoffee Pies? Is it a dessert or a record label? How the hell did they come up with that name? It all starts to make a little more sense, however, when you learn that they are affiliated with (although not the same company as) Dr. Banana, the clothing brand. It seems that founders Ell Weston and Sandy Hagenbach are surrounded with banana themed fun, and it’s this humorous outlook that spills through into the label. It’s not one that takes itself too seriously, and they’re always up for a laugh.
Ell is marginally sheepish when I ask him about the name, admitting that they may have given numerous different answers to the question when starting out. The true answer, he tells me laughing, is that he was just "delving into the grass", but the whole concept of the label came together at that one point in time, and so he stuck with it.
As an imprint Banoffee Pies haven’t been afraid to combine different flavours of the music they love on the same release, their very first pressing featured a more techno leaning cut from Ruf Dug as well as the disco sounds of Mr Mendel. Ell is quite upfront about it, simply putting it down to the fact they they listen to so much different music. They have a variety of different series, from the Various Artists White Labels, which are more club influenced, to their Beats series, a Hip-Hop effort that they started last year.
The next venture sees the label move into Ambient territory, with two 20 minute tracks from an old friend of Weston’s. It’s this open arms approach to a variety of genres that really sets the label apart, they’re very keen not to pigeon hole themselves into one genre, and see the whole thing more as a representation of their own tastes. They even have a Black Label series on which they release Minimal Romanian Techno.
The pair are based in Bristol, which is fast becoming a byword for quality dance music. Ell speaks about the city with a fondness, it’s where he went to university, and after a brief spell back in London he returned. There are big clubs in the city no doubt, the likes of Motion being one of them, but Weston says that aside from that you have to “find a space and turn it into a club”. However the thing that he finds perhaps most appealing is the fact that he doesn't have to work unrelated, random jobs alongside running Banoffee Pies and working with other labels. He’s “free to grow”, and that is surely something to be envied.
He describes the city as having a “secret scene”, talking with eagerness about the plethora of people doing small, under the radar projects. In his eyes this is attributed to the lower living costs that the city offers as opposed to London, people are able to support themselves in focussing on their music. It seems that Bristol is a fantastic place to own a label, and Banoffee Pies have certainly got that down.
The duo are immensely proud of what he’s able to do with label when it comes to pushing unheard or smaller artists, they relish being able to put them “on the radar”. Banoffee Pies achieves this by putting out Various Artists releases, whereby they try and place music both from smaller artists as well as more established ones. The only criteria therefore is that the music simply has to be good, rather than it coming from artists that have had previous success on other releases. This commitment to opening people’s ears up to sounds they previously wouldn’t have come across is hugely admirable, and places the label amongst a select few that have a similar approach to the music that they release.
Most of the records on Banoffee Pies have been limited pressings, and have since been listed for eye-watering prices on discogs. However it was never their intention to keep it massively exclusive, and was a decision primarily dictated by the amount of money the pair had to put in to it. Up until the end of last summer they handled the distribution themselves out of a combination of Ell’s Bedroom and mate’s living rooms, this was naturally limiting of course, as he “can’t have 2000 records” in his bedroom.
They are now in the position to begin repressing their back catalogue, having built up a relationship with their distributor, “if it costs loads of money on discogs, we’re going to try and repress it”.
The next release from the label comes from The Ishmael Ensemble, it’s an Electronic Jazz EP that is yet another departure from their back catalogue. It is borne of a desire of Weston’s to release more live focused music rather than produced. He talks about some artists not being “suited to sitting in front of a laptop and having bits just repeat themselves”, saying that this approach doesn’t always represent the intricacies that they’re capable of within the different instruments that they may play. Ishmael himself has had a string of releases on Wolf Music and Church, however these, although incorporating strong Jazz elements, have been more club focused.
Having seen his live show, Weston spoke to him about composing longer pieces of music for the Banoffee Pies label. Ishmael subsequently reunited with some old bandmates and crafted the Songs For Knotty LP, a quite wonderful journey through various musical landscapes. Ell views the band as an ongoing project, one that can involve different instrumentalists at different times. It is almost crafted in the image of the label, with it being an open platform for Ishmael to create, write and collaborate with all manner of other artists. They’re playing their first full live set at this year’s Gottwood festival, where Banoffee Pies are also hosting a stage.
“It’s a collaboration between ourselves, whilst also putting other artists together to collaborate, it’s an open platform for us to express ourselves musically”
Ell and Sandy are both hugely passionate about the music they listen to, the label has big ambitions to bring artists together for collaborations and to be able to provide a platform for lesser known musicians to get on the map. It’s clear from talking to Ell that this is a cornerstone of what the label is about, the plan is to start bringing more artists and vocalists in to the fold, matching them up with producers and creating new collaborations. They want to build their releases “from the ground up”, having always worked on the basis that getting the artists for a record to communicate from the very beginning nurtures an environment where the relationship between them as well as with the label is really strong.
The future is bright for Banoffee Pies, with a wealth of different series to continue adding to, they have effectively created a representation of their own music tastes. As well as hosting a stage at Gottwood this year they want to push on with crafting collaborations and expanding their musical horizons. Ell and Sandy are seeing an increase in DJ bookings too after cutting their teeth over years on the festival and party circuits. It’s exciting to see where they’re going, and are definitely worth keeping tabs on.
Banoffee Pies and Ishmael are live instore at Sounds Of The Universe tonight, 10th of February. Find information HERE