Daniel Hagan (University of West London, UK)
UK label Cherry Red Records describes itself as the ‘unmistakeable sound of independence since 1978’. Such longevity, which spans the time from the emergence of Punk music through to the current day, has seen Cherry Red outlast its better known UK competitors, including Rough Trade, Mute and Factory, remaining under the continuous and unbroken ownership of its founder Iain McNay. Whilst many of the artists who have released original music on Cherry Red have gained commercial or cult recognition, from Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt through to Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys, the label’s continued survival is more easily understood as the ability to understand the independent marketplace, rather than as the discovery and delivery of a particular type of music. In this, Cherry Red can be seen to embody Negus’ (1992) characterisation of the record industry that dismisses any distinction of an ‘aesthetically or ideologically alternative form of music making’ (p.18) between the majors and indies, arguing instead that independent companies are just as engaged in the commercial exploitation of music as their major competitors.
This chapter then will undertake a case study of Cherry Red through the lens of a production of culture that relies less on Fonarow’s (2006) ‘set of principles’ (p.25) that underpin the values of independent music and more on the mechanistic definition of indie as ‘a distinctive mode of independent distribution’ (p.26). Through interviews with key members of Cherry Red, including long-time Managing Director Adam Velasco, the chapter will consider how the label has been able to navigate a path through the vicissitudes of a recording industry that has largely been shaped by a series acquisitions and business failures. It will examine how the skills of adaptation and the necessities of strategic planning – more closely associated with the workings of corporate hierarchies – have enabled the label to project an essential image of authenticity and credibility through the moral values of its business activities rather than through the continued production of symbols embodied in any particular styles of music. In this way, the road to independence of the UK independent record industry will be examined as an ongoing series of transitions as experienced and managed through the continued workings of a label that brings into question any simplistic and binary notions of major versus indie, commerce versus art.
Fonarow, W. (2006) Empire of dirt: The aesthetics and rituals of British indie music. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Negus, K. (1992) Producing pop: Culture and conflict in the popular music industry. London: Hodder.