Images by Mojojo of Famous at Wilderness Record Store for Independent Venue Week 2020

Words by Hannah Tinker

Fiercely artist-focused and not constrained by any particular genre, the independent record label untitled (recs) was founded by Alex Putman whilst working at a major label in 2017, an idea that morphed from the plan to host a series of live music nights in London. Three years on, the label is host to a collective of musicians whom all embrace their skillset, stand at the helm and passionately follow their endeavours, with untitled hoisting the sails.

The beginning of untitled (recs) was an organic one; Alex met the psych-pop, shoegaze quartet Palm Honey, who at the time were holding on to three singles that they'd yet to release. At first glance, Putman booked them for the launch event of the aforementioned series of nights but, having soon heard of the three singles and with his own intention of someday beginning an independent record label already in tow, the series was axed and the record label established. With fast hopes and promises, the initial concept and branding required a rapid turn: "I had to find a logo and a name pretty quick which might explain a lot."

But the simplistic blue and white branding and clean typeface now so eloquently matches equally with the theory behind untitled, which is, as Alex mentions: "to be the facilitator behind an artist's vision, enabling creatives to do things and build a structure around them." Their hallmark doesn't shroud their artists it provides them with a whole platform; it's uncomplicated and understated but present and robust. It's fitting, particularly with the type of artists currently counted amongst untitled (recs)' roster: Jerskin Fendrix, deathcrash, Famous, TAAHLIAH and soon, two more acts that are yet to be announced. These artists are by no means similar to one another, though perhaps in their nature and their image - each present unadulterated, distinct stand-alone identities, be it Jerskin's Hello Kitty fanfare or Famous' London-centric theme, each is distinct and striking against the trademark "we’re the shadow-men behind the creatives" untitled (recs) backdrop.

Since the Palm Honey days, each act since has followed a similar timeline, each quite an almost necessary move, the team behind untitled (recs) rarely find their artists through going along to a show on a whim or cold emailing agents, it's often that the act and untitled have been put in touch or begin speaking quite naturally. Jazz-focused crooner Brad Stank followed up Palm Honey, then Famous who were friends of the label and performed at the launch night of untitled. Jerskin Fendrix and Tiernan (frontman of deathcrash) were both members of Famous so it was a peaceful transition to then have these other projects signed to untitled (recs). A word of advice to those looking to get signed by any independent label or start their own? Keep it casual - "most of the time we chat with artists for a while before signing them... and make sure you keep yourself in-line by asking repeatedly: 'am I bringing something to the table?'"

As you can perhaps tell if you venture into the soundscapes of their past and present artists, untitled aren't ones to stick to any specific genre: "we've released anything from house music, electro, post-punk, indie pop and… Jerskin!" There is no agenda when it comes to untitled (recs), no hidden motives or profit-led deviousness but a drive to work with unique, ambitious artists. Alex states that he admires labels that follow a certain sound or theme "like the early days of Warp, Blue Note, Creation, R&S - you just see that prancing horse sleeve and if you're into that type of electronic music you just know it's gonna slap." But, although this is admirable - and has perhaps inspired the recent launch of the sub-label u(r)blue, a focus on electronic releases that is open to any artist and fits a more casual formula, similar to most dance labels: "master it, press it, put it out!" To be so specific is not the route for untitled's main roster: "We don't want to be an Experimental label or a Pop label or a Vapourwave label we just go with what clicks... the driving force behind it was always to take actual bets on our artists and just say 'we believe in you full stop' even if it doesn't make sense in the short-term."

Since inception, untitled (recs) have established themselves as a prevalent independent label in London and the rest of the UK, with their first release debuted at Glastonbury Festival by Palm Honey, numerous signings including the current and prior mentioned as well as Shcaa who is now signed to R&S/Apollo, a rooftop performance from Famous, a dabble in electronic releases with D.KO in Paris which transitioned into the launch of u(r)blue, a management roster "shh!" and only more is yet to come. We're left on a humble, bittersweet note from Alex when asking what the plans for the future of untitled (recs) are: "Fail in grace - that's the destiny of every label isn't it? However successful you are you'll always be failing somewhat and vice-versa." untitled (recs) will continue with their leaps of faith for as long as possible and keep going, although the current climate sees the music industry experiencing perhaps it's most turbulent time yet. "It's a strange time for a lot of people in the business so if you like the fragile ecosystem that is music, please support record stores like Wilderness, buy merch (from musicians and labels), use Bandcamp - while we re-adjust!"

You can find a selection of titles from untitled (recs) in our independent section including Jerskin Fendrix' debut album 'Winterreise' and Brad Stank's 'Eternal Slowdown' amongst others.

Catch Jerskin Fendrix at Fair Play Festival in Manchester, Saturday 3rd April 2021 - tickets available in-store.

Words by Sebastian Frame - @sebastianframe

Yes, you have read the title correctly, I have used the title to Paula Cole’s big hit as the title to this article. My apologies to the Cole Estate. But the question posed by Ms Cole is still pertinent in these times of "cancel culture", as we watch our heroes fall from grace under accusations of sexual misconduct and unsavoury opinions espoused into the Twitter-sphere; what happened to our heroes?

The latest victim thrown into the bellowing flames of Cancel Hell was Chris D’elia, American comedian and now exposed creep who is guilty of soliciting the very type of underage fans his humour is geared towards. Don’t get me wrong, the point of this article isn’t to lament his possible career demise or highlight the disappointment we feel when yet another of our heroes fall from grace, quite the opposite, I’ve come to argue that we need to stop putting these people on a pedestal and immediately brandish the famous class with the impossible task of being the moral compasses for the rest of us.

On March 27th 1973, Marlon Brando was awarded Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his performance in The Godfather. Brando, however, was not in attendance. Instead, he sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to read a speech on his behalf in criticism of the depiction of Native Americans in the film industry. In addition to the onslaught of boos and heckles that rang out during her speech, Littlefeather told the press afterwards that the angriest response she received for her speech was from none other than the quintessential cowboy John Wayne, who was apparently being held back by six security guards as he tried to drag her off the stage. Sometimes art really does imitate life.

The prophet Bill Murray once said, ‘I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first’’. Psychological literature across the board and photos of celebrity meltdowns point towards the self-evident truth that fame does not necessarily lead to one living a balanced; happy life. In a culture of ‘get-rich-quick’ and the chase for public admiration, it is ingrained in our collective psyche that money and fame will fulfil us entirely. But yet the rich and famous seem to be plagued by loneliness and insecurity. With social media now a platform available to everyone, we are left with a culture that craves attention and thrives off of tedious virtue-signalling; and celebrities are the biggest perpetrators of this tedious virtue signalling. More importantly, everyone seems to accept their roles as cowboys sitting on their high horse watching over them with little concern for the high price that is paid for the lip service rendered.

A prime example of this is the embarrassing rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ by Gal Gadot and all her famous friends in response to the global pandemic. Instead of dipping into their accumulative vast wealth to donate to a worthwhile cause that would actually help the situation, Gadot and all her dim accomplices decided to record a version of the hit ‘Imagine’, a song that provokes the idea of a world without material possessions or religion. Can you imagine it? A world without nutritionists and personal trainers? No gated mansions and tax havens? If Gal really is trying to change the world, she might have simply shot from the hip and banished a chequebook.

Following the death of George Floyd and the ongoing protests happening across the globe against police brutality and institutionalized racism, I notice amongst the worthwhile conversations celebrities jumping in trying to hog the limelight once again. Why do we view these people as brave when they hop onto a cause only when it becomes popular to do so? Were there these many celebrities coming out in support of black lives after the Rodney King beating? I don’t see them as a lot of brave activists seeking to circle the wagons to combat the problem but as shameless opportunists simply along for the ride.

It is a perfectly natural instinct to admire greatness in others. Now, we could go into how it all boils down to the hunter/gatherer thing and how we look to the alpha of the group to guide us and that has evolved in modern times to people in positions of power, but that point has been rustled up in other articles. Perhaps curiously, it is this human trait of admiration that we all hold to some degree that allows us to be inspired and develop those traits in ourselves, I mean, Yves Saint-Laurent wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Christian Dior, right? And how would the cowboys in the white hats be inspired to righteousness without their black cladded counterparts?

We have always viewed the celebrity class as royalty in the western world. Scratch that, they are royalty now, there’s a retired reality TV host in the White House. Just as the concept of royalty is archaic and immoral, so is the impermeable and sacrosanct status we have given to the celebrity class. This is the status that allowed Bill Cosby to drug and rape hundreds of women and Kevin Spacey to assault any young man that came his way without ever appearing on any wanted poster.

Not only are these people royalty, in some rare cases they achieve god-like status. It’s somehow grotesque to be quoting Bible verses in an article geared towards my secularly minded peers, but in the Ten Commandments, one of the commandments that God imparted to Moses was to ‘You shall have no other gods before me’. In this culture, we have replaced celebrities for any God, not religion per se but the idea of a personal moral compass or faith.

Its time now to stop worshipping celebrities and start admiring people who are worthwhile. Scientists, activists, educators, workers, these people make a difference, not children’s authors who tweet blatantly transphobic comments or shallow celebrities singing out-of-tune anthems of peace into their iPhones. These people should not be seen as heroes, because they’re not, they’re entertainers. We must remember that though we can be awestruck by the talent of artists, musicians, comedians and filmmakers, these people are fallible, complicated human beings; just like the rest of us. Where have all the cowboys gone? The answer is they were never there, they were just people wearing cowboy outfits.

Words by Morgan Kenning

As a musician, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what people like and what they don’t. Judging by the number of downloads I usually get, I’m doing a pretty dismal job of it; but would surveying people on what they like and don’t like about music help me? Well, in 1996, artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid did just that. Komar and Melamid had a project called The People’s Choice, where they polled people from various countries about what elements of paintings they like and dislike and from that, created what should, in theory, be the most popular and least popular paintings in those countries. The US' Most Wanted was a landscape of a lake, featuring George Washington, children playing and some deer. The Most Unwanted, as with the majority of the world, was an abstract geometric pattern. 2 years after the first paintings, they decided to adapt their methodology to the world of music. I talked to composer Dave Soldier to find out a bit more.

“I met Komar and Melamid through another artist named Mark Kostabi who was a friend of theirs. They gave me the cover for my album Smut in 1992, and we started planning out projects, including the opera Naked Revolution, which we finally released after 20 years”. Soldier drew up a poll, asking about elements such as genre, duration, instruments and lyrical content. I asked who wrote the questions and why they chose what they did, to which he replied: “I wrote them, and look at them carefully, some were kind of written to get particular answers that I would like”. If you read the survey, you can see that almost every element of music you’d expect a non-musician to have an opinion on. They didn’t ask about any technical things like chords, but other questions about emotion managed to get the same information across.

So, what were the results? 2 songs: one, an R&B/Rock song of exactly 5 minutes in duration, featuring one singer/songwriter that sounds like Bruce Springsteen and another that sounds like Whitney Houston. It’s a love song, and if someone presented it to me and told me it was #1 for 6 weeks in the summer of 1996, I wouldn’t question it. According to the creators, this would be unavoidably liked by 72% (plus or minus 12%) of listeners. It’s an utterly inoffensive song and would have no problem getting played on the radio at the time. But it’s just that- inoffensive. But how about a song that would be genuinely liked by less than 200 people out of the world’s population? For that, you need the logical opposite of the Most Wanted song. The Most Unwanted Music is 22 minutes of terror, featuring a large orchestra with a harmonica, a harp, a banjo, a tuba, a soprano rapper, a children’s choir, bagpipes, a flute and some non-musical drilling noises amongst other things. It opens with a country theme, and cycles through genres such as hip hop, experimental atonal music, a political protest rant, elevator music and advertising jingles. It basically serves as the world’s longest and most painful advert for Walmart. Seriously, listen to it. It’s indescribable. Every single section feels like the worst thing imaginable until the next one starts. It also has the accolade of being the only score I’ve ever read with the word 'PAINFUL' on it.

This song is like a 22-minute concerto of nails on a blackboard- and for some reason, I love it. Anyone could put together a cacophonous mess and call it the worst song ever, but this is a more refined approach. 22 minutes of atonal nonsense is relatively easy to listen to because you tune it out after a while unless it’s your kind of thing- but with The Most Unwanted Music, it makes sure you can never tune it out. You will listen to the first cowboy theme, and think 'well this isn’t so bad', until the rap starts. Then the rap ends, and the children come in. Then the bagpipes. Every section twists the knife in a little bit more. Just when you start getting used to it and accepting your fate, the cowboy theme returns at half the speed. There’s no way to escape this if it’s present in the same room as you. But then a couple of days later, after your friends have all listened to it and you’ve grown weary of their grimacing faces as they re-evaluate why they hang around with you in the first place, you put it back on again. The same in a few days more. So that’s what I’m trying to find out- why do I like this song?

One reason is its uniqueness. I’ve never listened to a song quite as bizarre as this, it’s in a league of its own amongst all the songs ever written. It breaks through the realms of genre and style to bring a totally new flavour. Even if that flavour is horrendous, it’s new. This song blends instruments which have absolutely no business being anywhere near each other, there’s no other song in the world as far as I’m aware that has a tuba as a bassline to a hip-hop beat, or a soprano singer with drills in the background, or slams that ‘interfere with the soloist’. This does point to the obvious fact that it is fundamentally a novelty song, which generates a lot more interest. If any of these elements were incorporated into a standard, non-novelty song, it wouldn’t get popular and it wouldn’t be appreciated, but because it’s all these elements in one song it stands out from the crowd.

Another reason is contrary to what almost every article on this song says- it wasn’t designed to be the ‘worst song ever’. Nothing about the construction of melodies, chords or anything like that is bad, it’s designed to be unwanted, and it fits that profile exactly. The thing that makes it unwanted is aesthetics. Apart from what can be written down on sheet music, how it actually sounds. The instruments used, the vocalists and lyrical content, the sudden, jarring stylistic shifts all make it unwanted. Anyone could create 20 minutes of cacophonous noise with a nonsensical vocal line sung over the top and call it the worst song ever, but the approach The Most Unwanted Music took was a lot more subtle than that. Making a bad song is easy, we both know you don’t have to go too deep into the internet to find one. But making a song that has nothing objectively wrong with it still create such a reaction is a real skill. This shows something deeper about how we develop musical taste, though. Aesthetics are key to us liking or not liking a song. If the Beatles wrote and performed the same songs with John being a soprano, Paul on tuba, George on banjo and Ringo on tambourine, I don’t think they would have the same place in music history they currently have. Just look at the anthem of every group of drunk students in the UK at least, Mr. Brightside. The melody is one-note, almost all the way through. The thing people like about it is how it sounds, the production, the instrumentation, all that extra-musical flavouring goes a long way.

Of course, the internet is pretty much the one and only reason it’s had a recent spike in popularity. For some reason, the Youtube algorithm selected it for prominence which is why this article is in front of you today. General trends in internet memes recently lean more towards absurd surrealism rather than constructing any traditional jokes. This song fits in with this culture and becomes very shareable and funny as a result, in the same way, I get a message from a friend at 2 am with a totally nonsensical video they’ve been crying laughing at for the past 3 hours. Other gems of surreal weird novelty music Youtube decided is perfect for me include ‘I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones’ and ‘I’m My Own Grandpa’. They know me so well. It’s funny not only as a surreal thing that seems to exist for no reason but on a meta-level where people will share these things to laugh at the algorithm itself.

The Most Wanted music, on the other hand, doesn’t feature any uniqueness, novelty, or surreal humour value. I noticed that more people liked the Most Unwanted music from its sheer hilarity than the Most Wanted music. Dave Soldier puts this down to ‘lack of an intensive sense of humour, they are both pretty cool’, and to an extent, I agree, but they’re funny for different reasons. The Most Wanted music is a reflection of popular music at the time, but it’s a parody that’s so close to the thing it’s parodying as to be indistinguishable from the real thing if you don’t know any better. In a way, this is the most effective parody, like when you see a post online spouting a bizarre political opinion or conspiracy theory only to find people unironically believing it in the comments, but it also lacks the direct 'punch in the face' that the Most Wanted music has.

So what does this say about our tastes? For one, it shows differences in how we respond to visual art and music. The musical version definitely gets a more visceral reaction than the visual version. I asked the composer about this, he disagreed with the sentiment, saying ‘Not sure that’s true, I think people like both and react to both’. For me, it comes down to differences in how we consume these art forms. Visual art is less intrusive, it’s possible to look away and look at something else, whereas audio fills a room. Without headphones or earplugs, the only way to not hear something is to move away from it. There’s also the fact that our ears are quicker to be offended than our eyes, and as far as consuming information goes, they are our primary sensory organ. Radio was popular because it’s easy to digest information by hearing it, whereas silent TVs never existed and would not have caught on. Silent movies worked because of the pianist helping to bring the scenes to life in the same way incidental music does today. Similarly, the advice to new Youtubers, especially in the days before 1080p and 4k phone cameras, was to invest in the microphone first. People can deal with 144p video as long as there’s a vague idea of what’s happening, and the audio is clear.

Secondly, it shows that we don’t know what we want. The way we find new music is not by listening to things that are exactly like all the other stuff we listen to, in fact, today it’s primarily through Spotify playlists and the like. My favourite artists today are ones I discovered through recommendations either by an algorithm or by friends. Nobody is interested in songs that don’t rock the boat at all, that’s why pop music tends to change so quickly. The early 2010s were all about R&B and EDM, then Funk became quite a big influence around 2016 and Latin music seems to be a big factor nowadays. We know what we like, but what we want is usually totally unexpected.

As humans, we’re good at sticking to habits and getting ourselves in a rut. We crave something new always, and it’s clear to see how different our tastes are now compared to 24 years ago. In 1996, rap was an unwanted vocal style and cowboys were an unwanted lyrical theme, so they made it into the Most Unwanted Music. As of 2020, a hip-hop song about being a cowboy is the longest-running #1 in Billboard’s history. We have certainly come a long way. Whether that’s for better or for worse is in the eye of the beholder.