Words by Hannah Tinker
An iconic reissue label that caters to the treasure-seeker - minus the gold doubloon price tag - Be With Records was formally established by Rob Butler in 2014. For more than twenty years, records have stepped up from a hobby to an all-encapsulating passion for Butler, which came hand-in-hand with learning to walk, being lead by two older brothers who introduced him to music from the age of 4. Be With is now the ‘X’ on the map for many collectors of any genre; a site where you can get your hands on rarities that were believed to have been lost.
From there on in the attachment continued and as you do, Rob’s experience and knowledge of vinyl grew, as a teen DJ and record store worker. “So, I’m one of those boring vinyl geeks, I guess.” His working life took him to Piccadilly Records where he spent the prime of his twenties, working whilst studying, in Manchester. That tickle in the back of the ear to start a record label was always present “– that’s just one of those things that I’ve had in my head since the late 90s and being obsessed with the output of Stones Throw (Records) and Rawkus (Records) at the time.”
But it wasn’t until 2012 when the idea became far more concrete and he began planning in the background of his day job in arts & culture marketing “– the ‘marketing’ side of which I really didn’t like, the subject matter and long lunches I did like.” For his own happiness, a change was needed. Evidently, Rob was fiercely keen about the record industry and culturally-aware enough to want to approach it in a creative, independent manner. “I suppose the label was borne out of twin frustrations; on a personal level but also the ongoing annoyance that my want-list was so full of rare, prohibitively expensive records and my favourite reissue labels weren’t addressing this.”
Reissue labels tend to have a particular focus, be it genre or artist selection and more; look to the likes of Awesome Tapes of Africa, PPU and Cultures of Soul. This is where Be With sets itself apart: there’s no focus on any particular genre “– we are free of those often self-imposed shackles.” It’s a curious selection ranging from anything and everything and reflects the founder’s broad taste and knowledge that he’s amassed over the years. Essentially when looking at the selection that Be With brings to the table, you’re casting your eyes over Rob’s own collection. Perhaps the only link between each release is that, in his own words, to Rob, each release they’ve put out, is exceptional and personal to him.
Although there were many reissue labels already in production, none hit the nail on the head and thus, he founded Be With Records with the idea that there could be one reissue label that could provide all. “– chances are there’ll be another 500-1000 people around the world who’ll also want those records” was his thought, so he looked into record licensing, spoke to notable contacts in the industry and, seeing as his list of records that he considers “ripe” is forever in the thousands, he thought they’d perhaps push out a few.
Now six years later, the Be With repertoire is a heavy one. As aforementioned, the criteria to be approached for a Be With reissue is to have a release that sets Rob’s heart aflutter and can be categorised as “ripe” enough for a re-release. Over the years they’ve re-pressed releases from the likes of Leon Ware, Ned Doheny, The Streets, Autumn Defense, Letta Mbulu, Cassie, Nohelani Cypriano, Hatchback and Kylie, to name but a few. However, Rob notes that reissue labels are “not for the faint-hearted” as, unlike a normal producing record label, the diligence involved with reissue labels lies not in production and audio creation but instead, within obtaining the content and legally being able to put out a release. Identifying what to release is the first step but seeking permission, following the legal steps, negotiating and settling any artwork and audio issues is a whole other kettle of fish. But, to get to where they are, it’s clear that Rob and his friend Chris Stevenson (who is at time of print, his only employee) are somewhat connoisseurs of this art form.
Moving forward for Be With Records, there are aspirations to grow their team, therefore expanding what they can do in terms of distribution, whilst remaining DIY, as ever. At present the pair both work out of Rob’s home office which they’re hoping to change in the future, as well as more artist-collaborations and release parties around the world. The only thing that stands in their way at the moment is what 2020 has brought us: an uncertain time for any independent business. For now, Rob is still active on his monthly NTS show, which is keeping I’m sure not only him but his listeners sane during this period of lockdown. Their release mill is still churning and it’s sure to never slow, recently Be With have released a set of Caiphus Semenya reissues as well as February Montaine's ‘Mount Nod’ 12" amongst their plethora of records available of which Rob mentions: “It can seem a bit daunting to dip one's toe into, but, trust me, we only put out the good stuff.”