Wednesday, 6 August 2014

#331: Catching Up With...Scruff of the Neck Records (U&I Music Magazine - August Issue)

Having started life as a modest club night in a ramshackle pub on the outskirts of Manchester, Scruff of the Neck have spent the last five years expanding themselves, building on their knowledge and experiences, eventually arriving at the point they're at now; a self-sufficient creative collective whose sticky fingers are lodged firmly in myriad musical pies.

Whilst their many services may well echo those also at the disposal of major labels, Scruff of the Neck ply their trade with a love befitting of their independent nature; what they do is for the love of the music, not the love of the money. As such they've made it their personal mission to “rejuvenate Manchester's music scene” (Emma Wilkinson, Vita Magazine) through offering local bands multiple platforms from which to promote themselves, regardless of the size or popularity of the band in question.

From club nights to record releases, equipment hire to website building, there's not many industry avenues that still remain unexplored, and it's this devotion to their cause that will make Scruff of the Neck the cultural force they're inevitably becoming. With a host of acts already included in their ever-expanding roster of artists, it's easy to see why people are getting excited about the label. One reason they should be excited, is Scruff's ability to see the bigger picture, resulting in numerous partnerships that benefit all involved. Most recently of which, saw the label join forces with another local label MUK Records. Whilst this is a move which will undoubtedly bring exposure to all parties involved, predominantly it will provide a bigger platform for the artists under both names, harking back once again to the unwritten ethos of “Music First”.

Scruff of the Neck certainly aren't alone in their venture; there are other labels working tirelessly in Manchester to provide a bigger platform for those bands overshadowed by the city's history and the stereotypes the history in turn perpetuates. What sets Scruff apart from the likes of SWAYS however (a collective based just outside of Manchester in Salford) is their approachability. There aren't any airs and graces about them that can ultimately end up feeling pretentious. They're down-to-earth and grounded in the fact that music matters more than anything else they're doing, something ultimately intrinsic to their work, the mounting momentum behind it, and their popularity.

We caught up with Mark Lippman to look at the ethos behind his company, and the direction in which it's heading next.

U&I: Hi Mark, Thanks for taking the time out to have a chat and answer some of our questions. First of all, can you outline the ethos behind Scruff of the Neck and tell us what it is you set out to do?

Mark Lippman: The ethos behind SOTN can sometimes come across as a bit too good to be true for artists, but as a record label, promoter or manager the number one rule has to be ‘if the band makes it, we make it.”. We acknowledge artists can do a HELL of a lot on their own these days, so I suppose what we can offer is another set of eyes and to pass on our experience so that the artists can share best practice.

In the way we conduct ourselves, I’d say it’s a little more corporate and geeky; we are always trying to utilise obsessive compulsive organisational skills and modern technology to mean we can do more than your average person in what really is limited time! It’s all about playing to strengths and then trying to connect people who can help bridge your skills & network gaps.

U&I: Has that plan changed much as you've expanded? Or has it just become more ambitious?

ML: It’s evolved a lot really. It’s a bit of a clichĂ© but you genuinely ‘can’t stand still’ in the music industry. The minute you come up with a ground breaking concept, someone is immediately there to jump all over it, something we have been guilty of to! I believe the main thing that’s driven us is my desire to think outside the box. I always want to ‘do’ as well, I NEVER sit back and wait!

U&I: What do you look for when signing a band to the label? Are there any similarities between your artists, or is it more a certain attitude and approach to songcraft that you look for?

ML: I’m going to use that word ‘corporate’ again here to articulate my answer...
Our ethos has always been pretty simple at entry level for artists, we focus on three main criteria:

  1. Music – of course this is the foundation of our existence in this industry, so the music has to have something about it!

  1. Fan Base – some artists get a bee in their bonnet suggesting ‘it’s the promoters / labels job to fill the venue / sell the music’, but that’s pure bollocks! You could pay millions for an advertising campaign for a band, but if they haven’t built that core fanbase to start the proverbial snowball, then there is nothing to build momentum. An act with a current fan base that THEY built is impressive, as it demonstrates work ethic, popularity and that people must like their music!

  1. Professionalism – we only ever want to commit to acts that are committed and serious, but they also have to be nice people. In music, your passion and hobby crosses with your drive and ambition and therefore it’s not all ‘strictly business’. Some of my best friends have come from working with artists, we are all young music and beer lovers at the end of the day!

U&I: As well as your label, you put on a number of gigs in and around Manchester almost every month. Are there any artists that you've yet to book but would love to see playing a SOTN show?

ML: Well I imagine we are referring to ‘emerging’ artists in this instance as it’d be too easy to say Arctic Monkeys! We are big fans of The Darlingtons, although we did have them on once in Chorlton. I’d love to bag them again for a city centre show as they are generally electric.

I also really regret passing up the opportunity to book Catfish and the Bottlemen when I had the chance...they are really breaking through right now.

U&I: Similarly, it's also a city filled with a huge array of characteristic venues, and though we ask this question to most bands you'll be coming at it from a sightly different perspective, what's your favourite venue to host a show at and why?

ML: It’s a toss up between Manchester Academy and Night & Day CafĂ©. The reason being is that they are run by great people with great staff. We get treated with upmost respect and professionalism at all times and you can tell both venues really believe in what we are doing, which is incredibly rewarding to know! It’s not city centre, but I’ve also got to mention The Royal Oak in Chorlton who have been so supportive of us since day one, letting us commandeer a large space on floor one for our recording studio!

U&I: Manchester is obviously a city with a massive amount of music happening within it. What do you think it is that makes the city the culturally rich place it is?

ML: I absolutely love the people. You rarely meet a selfish Manc, no matter what walk of life they come from. It’s again a bit of a cheesey answer but I would be lost without the people of this city, they make our lives so much better! I’m marrying one in October and have a baby Manc now (Alfie Lippmann!)

U&I: You recently signed Delamere (a band we've championed here at U&I before now) and they're currently looking forward to releasing their second single 'Headstrong'. Care to give our readers a bit of information on that?

ML: After our affiliation was announced with MUK Records, I think it really grabbed attention. ‘Headstrong’ is the first release since that affiliation was formalised and it hopefully means we are going to gain a lot more notoriety for what is effectively a potential hit. These guys will really blow up in the next 12 months so get them young as they say!

U&I: Any other releases forthcoming on the label you'd like to shamelessly self-promote?

ML: No shame in promotion! We’ve recently put out a few great tracks that are worth a mention: ‘Stay’ by Jolanga and ‘Wilde’ by The Fevers are excellent and we’ve got a really exciting new band coming to the fore in November....but that’s TOP SECRET.

U&I: What does the future hold in store for the label side of things? Is there anyone you've got your eye on signing or bands you've been in talks with? Or is it all a bit hush-hush at the moment?

ML: Let’s just say we’ve got a few groundbreaking acts and projects in the pipeline!

U&I: On a similar note, what are your plans for the company as a whole? More expansions and eventual world domination or are you taking things as they come?

ML: We will always evolve and look for new opportunities, as I said earlier that’s our USP and why people love us. That said, we are now really focussing on making sure the label is of a great standard so we are putting a bit more focus on further consolidating and improving current ventures.

The main thing for me is that I want to meet more people. There are so many doing great things for Music in Manchester alone! My philosophy is again a bit romantic, but let’s all get to know each other and see how we can help each other out. Few beers to be had in that ethos to!

U&I: You've got your finger on the pulse of Manchester's unsigned scene somewhat. Who should our readers be listening to that they might otherwise not be aware of?

ML: I’ve got to say, you don’t need to go much further than the SOTN roster (Delamere, YOUNG, The Fevers, Jolanga & David Liversidge and all the ‘Mix Tape 1 & 2’ acts), the MUK roster is brilliant as they are really on the pop/electronic scene (check MDNGHT, Berlin Berlin, YOU, Animal Music, Red Sky Noise).

Aside from the above, I like the look of The Slow Readers Club, The Tapestry, Puppet Rebellion, The Nankeens, The Lottery Winners, Skinny Roller (soon to be ‘Tremors’), Feed The Kid, Hey Sholay, The High Nines, Lucky T. Jackson...I’ve written this off the cuff so if I’ve missed anyone I hope they understand, they know who they are if we love them!

U&I: You hold a yearly all-dayer in Sale which promotes some of the best bands from the city. Do you have any plans to turn this in to a full weekend festival? A Scruff of the Nextival if you will?

ML: Nice, can I have that one? The Pop-Up Festival we hold in Sale is in its baby stages but it’s been a massive success two years running. Let’s just say we’re laying dormant on the festival scene and will be back sooner than you think! Don’t forget we ran Beached 2 years ago with the Futureheads and The Whip amongst others so we have some experience!

U&I: What advice would you give to smaller bands who are interested in getting involved in some of the Scruff of the Neck Action?

ML: I know artists HATE this, but fill in the contact us form on and leave a personal message about yourselves, I personally read every single one even if it takes a while! Don’t hesitate!

U&I: Finally, any parting words of wisdom or exclusives you want to leave our readers with?

ML: I’d just say don’t be scared to go and have a beer with other people in music, you’ll find we are more friendly than you think. Keep the fun element to what you do whilst remaining focussed, organised and committed. Also don’t hesitate to ask for help off people, you’d be surprised how willing people are to help.