Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jumping the shark

I came across a great media term recently which is called "Jumping the shark". The term derives from an episode of Happy Days where the Cunningham family and the Fonz travel to California and the Fonz is egged on to jump a cage containing a hungry shark on water skis and of course his leather jacket.

The term refers more specifically to the turning point in a TV series where more and more absurd plots and outrageous characters are developed and introduced to revive waning interest. One wonders if the same can be applied to record labels?

What is the term for when a label tries to radically change direction in order to remain relevant or at least to pull itself from the quicksands of sameness? In particular, there has been a trend for electronic music labels that are long in the teeth to take on board some more indie and/or rock associated acts to broaden their appeal or market. Warp being one of the oldest labels was probably one of the first to attempt this. Seefeel was apparently their first guitar group, but hardly “rock” in the more classical sense, arguably their first true foray was Maximo Park with their 2004 release “The coast is always changing”.

The Warp roster has gone on to include other groups like !!! (who technically predate Maximo Park, but their semi-electronic formation and dance floor intentions perhaps make them less notorious), Grizzly Bear and Battles.

Kompakt has arguably done the same recently. Walls was perhaps the first more guitar orientated group

but more recent signings includes the synth pop duo Rainbow Arabia and WhoMadeWho. This is not to say that the music is absurd or irrelevant, but it does suggest fundamental changes in its psychology and image.

Similarly, one of the most surprising releases of the year comes from Hamburg’s deep house imprint Dial who have just released an album-length 12” of guitar music by Dirk von Lowtzow entitled “Tod im Theben”, a follow up to his 2007 release “Septem Sermones Ad Mortuos” on the same label. Despite “Tod im Theben” sounding likeNeil Young’s soundtrack to the Jim Jarmusch film "Deadman", it turns out von Lowtzow is actually part of popular German techno group Tocotronic who have themselves released on Kompakt. These two tracks are not from the Dial release (which are not up ion Youtube), but go to make the point.

But its not all one way traffic. Indie labels are also getting in on the act, with 4AD recently signing left foield dub step artist Zomby.

Given all this, one wonders why artists would create their own new labels, especially given the economic climate? Shackleton is one such artist and also Scott Monteith aka Deadbeat has recently announced a new label. Monteith claims the closure of ~scape as a stimulus to create BLKRTZ, but whether these labels have been formed to release music only by the artists involved remains to be seen, . One assumes their existence is merely to form a vessel to better control releases and profits rather than necessarily to form a label with a particular image and/or sound policy who will one day be forced to jump the shark.

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