Brownswood are celebrating 10 years with two compilations and a series of one-off anniversary events.
Winding back to the beginning, it’s a reminder of the peculiar time in which Brownswood Recordings emerged. In 2006, record sales continued to plummet to new, dispiriting lows, while the veterans of the music industry grappled to comprehend the new, depressing reality facing them. It was a time which, in a strange way, was perfectly primed for independent record labels. With such little money to be made, it was a moment primed for only the most dedicated. That is, only those driven by sincere passion, ill-thought-out optimism — and, frankly, a plain disregard for economic reality — would have chosen to start a record label.
For Gilles Peterson, it followed his departure from iconic label Talkin’ Loud, a subsidiary of major label Mercury, which championed artists ranging from Roni Size and 4hero to Omar. By 2006, however, Gilles felt increasingly stifled, seeking a new outlet where he could freely support the varied, divergent musical currents which continued to pique his interest.
Starting with little fanfare, the label grew slowly. The first signings were as eclectic as you’d expect: Ben Westbeech’s bass-weighted soul music, Soil & “Pimp” Sessions’ third album of (in their words) “death jazz”, the sombre meditations of Elan Mehler’s quartet and a debut which would kickstart the incredible career of jazz vocalist José James.
Since then, the label’s sonic trajectory has remained just as tough to pin down. There’s been Ghostpoet, who released his Mercury-nominated debut of magical, morning-after reflections, and Mala, whose re-alignment of dubstep within Cuban soundsystem culture marked a new direction for his musical approach. More recently, Shabaka and the Ancestors have united astral-gazing, Sun Ra spiritualism with diaspora-wide traces of musical influence. And Yussef Kamaal, meanwhile, released a debut channeling jazz-funk in the spirit of London’s bass-saturated club culture. Above all else, it’s become a platform for artists to find their voice or do something different.
Going back to those early days, Peterson recalls, “It started as a wish to return to the recorded world by releasing piano records, and anything that took my fancy. Since then, it’s become an ongoing passion and continued addiction. From my early days setting up and running labels like Hardback, BGP, Acid Jazz and Talkin’ Loud, Brownswood has become the most fulfilling story.”
Big thanks to everyone involved and to those that contributed footage for the video.
Edited by Marina Garvey Birch // Brownswood Recordings.