OPINION: Speedy Wunderground: the indie label with a cult-like status 

OPINION: Speedy Wunderground: the indie label with a cult-like status 

A cult following. It’s a phrase thats easy to overuse and it’s treasured by journalists too – a silver bullet in their repertoire of go-to phrases. 

It’s also a term that’s randomly applied to aspects of the music industry as well, slapped onto various labels and artists as though an over-excited toddler has been let loose with a pack of stickers in a record shop. Nevertheless, it immediately springs to mind when attempting to describe fans and followers of the ground-breaking independent label Speedy Wunderground

Not only does the London-based label have a rapidly growing fanbase and a unique production process, but it is also at the beating heart of an emerging London music scene. So, at the risk of belly-flopping into clichéshere is why you need to join the cult of Speedy Wunderground.

First things first; it’s run by producing giantSpeedy Wunderground was formed in 2013 and is the brainchild of producer Dan Carey.

Carey currently runs the label along with Alexis Smith and Pierre Hall. His career before founding the label and falling into the role of its cult leader was also varied and successful, initially played the guitar in a band in the ‘90s before turning his hand to production. One of the first successful artist-producer relationships that Carey had was with Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini. The two of them also wrote and produced Kylie Minogue’s 2003 number one single ‘Slow’ together.

After this Carey u-turned to avoid making those overly commercial pop hits that they might play on daytime Radio One to appease the 12-year-olds that listen; instead he focused on producing music that meant something and that he found interesting, a move that has earned him a position as one of the key leaders of the British underground music scene.  

Dan Carey has worked with a wide range of some of Britain’s best-loved artists including Squid, Kate Tempest, Fontaines D.C., Nick Mulvey and Black Midi. Carey’s distinguished career has also been crowned by four Mercury Music Prize nominations. Two in 2014 for the albums ‘Everybody Down’ by Kate Tempest and ‘First Mind’ by Nick Mulvey, and another two in 2019 for Black Midi’s ‘Schlagenheim’ and Fontaines DC’s ‘Dogrel’. 

With Speedy Wunderground boasting a leader with a CV as impressive as his, the label’s success shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  

Another stand-out aspect of Speedy Wunderground is its recording process. All the records for the label are made underneath Dan Carey’s family home in a studio in Streatham in South London where there is an unusual recording process. And I mean unusual.  The label’s website proudly states that the core live take of each song will be, “recorded in the dark with smoke and lazers and somewhere on each record the Swarmatron will make an appearance.” Although this may sound like a cross between a lacklustre April Fool’s joke and a particularly edgy laserquest, it’s actually a key aspect of Speedy Wundergrounds recording process

This cult ritual is part of what sets the label apart. It also features on the website’s ‘ten-point plan’, which is a list of rules that reads like an infinitely cooler version of the Ten Commandments. The tenth rule acts as a mantra that sums it all up; “Speedy Wunderground Records will not be slow”. 

As the dedicated disciples of Speedy Wunderground will know, the one-day-only recording process can infamously go on until midnight. Without a lunch break. This is due to the label’s unshakeable dedication to quick production and release that stems from Carey’s belief that the time-pressured recording process is actually liberating. It allows artists to experiment with their sounds without worrying too much about the end result; it prevents meticulous and obsessive scrutiny and re-editing of the music.  

This focus on a quick release of the music and an aim to have records on shelves “as soon as humanly possible” feels like a welcome antidote to the endless gap between recording and release that has become the norm in most music production. Speedy Wunderground have declared war on delayed gratification and given record sales, they’re amassing an army. 

All of the singles that the label produces fly off the shelves with a blink-and-you-miss-it level of speed. Its not helped by the fact that the 7” singles are released in runs of just 250. This rarity means that vinyl fans transform into Americans on Black Friday when trying to pick up the latest release, shoving fellow shoppers out of the way in the hope of getting their hands on one of those hallowed discs before immediately becoming poor imitations of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, cradling their ‘precious’ and refusing to let go. 

With this bold and unconventional music production Speedy Wunderground buck the trend in true cult fashionThe vinyl rebels have put two fingers up to orthodox music production and, like a growing army of Jarvis Cockers, music fanatics are following suit. You should be one of them.

Away from the production side of things, Speedy Wunderground are also closely linked to a new London music scene evolving around the Brixton Windmill. The scene has sometimes been nicknamed ‘the speedy scene’, a well-earned nod to the label that has been responsible for catapulting lots of the UK’s best-loved alternative bands to success Squid, Black Midi and Black Country, New Road to name but a few. If you’re detecting a theme with these names, it’s because they’re all bands that would confuse your parents who would frown if they heard themand inevitably mumble the immortal and classic line of how music was better in their day. 

A frequently overlooked fact is that all these bands have completely different sounds. Wildly different styles. I’m talking about chalk and cheese-style differencesThe only truly ubiquitous factor is the look of bemusement that they’ll etch onto your dad’s face as he mutters something about all music sounding the same.  

The reality is that these bands are frequently clumped together simply because they all sound a bit odd. You can never be sure what you’re going to hear when you hit play. Take Black Midi for example, a Mercury-nominated London band that is frequently hailed as the weirdest band in the UK

They’re a band where placing their music on shuffle is the musical equivalent of randomly selecting from the pick and mix, but with the added chance of selecting an Ed Sheeran diss track or even the writings of Ernest Hemingway set to music. The uniting factor that all of these Speedy sects share is this same ability to bewilder

OddStriking. Confusing. 

Describe them how you want; it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that they are all undeniably talented with rapidly evolving, indescribable and dramatically different sounds. Not to mention a chain-like link to Speedy Wunderground in the form of a 7” released with the label.  

It’s Carey’s  ability to pinpoint this sort of undiscovered talent that is particularly impressive. All the artists that the label collaborates with seem to go on to great thingsIf you want a heads-up on bands about to get big, scour the latest Speedy releases With a startlingly accurate soothsayer-like ability to identify the future hit-makers, the label have transformed themselves into a modern Mother Shipton. And, like the Oracles and Nostradamuses that came before them, they’ve got an audience hanging on their every word

If the success of Squid, Black Midi and Black Country, New Road are anything to go by, one of next artists to come out of Speedy Wunderground is set to be PVA.  Their single ‘Divine Intervention’ was released by the label last December and sold out faster than Johnny Rotten when presented with the opportunity to advertise butter. Sinead O Brien, The Lounge Society and Lazarus Kane are also likely become household names in the next few years as Speedy Wunderground continues to do for musicians what Scientology does for actors. But probably not as dubiously. And I’m pretty sure Tom Cruise isn’t involved. 

Another rising star is Pynch whose track ‘Disco Lights’ was released at the end of last year by Speedy Wunderground. In true Speedy style, Pynch are already rapidly rising; their most recent release Somebody Else’ has been met with much acclaim.  

Yet another group to look out for is Tiña, a psychedelic pop group whose album Positive Mental Health’ is set to be the first album that Speedy Wunderground release It is due out in November of this year. In the meantime, Speedy Wunderground have gone digital during lockdown, adapting to this new situation with the ease and inexplicable style of a pig in the Bahamas discovering it can swim. 

The label’s Quarantine Series features Dan Carey producing music with other artists. He does this under the moniker of Savage Gary, which admittedly sounds like something your brother went through a phase of calling himself to impress his mates in year ten.  Nevertheless, the Quarantine Series kicked off with an incredible collaboration about the pandemic with Kae Tempest called ‘I was looking forward to the summer’ which captured the worries of so many. The series is varied with collaborations from a range of artists including Heartworms, Guilty Simpson and Bunnybrains, all of which are available on Soundcloud.   

Speedy Wunderground and the artists that they work with are likely to go from strength to strength as the Brixton guitar scene prospers Despite uncertain post-pandemic futures for some music venues, including that of The Windmill in Brixton, Speedy Wunderground continues to thrive. It really is the holy grail of modern vinyl production, forming an essential pillar of Britain’s alternative music scene with its quick production and unusual style. As a result, those runs of 250 records will inevitably feel far from enough as the cult of Speedy Wunderground continues to grow.

Consider yourself its newest member.  

 

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