Here's your guide to the WA music labels and collectives worth watching in 2021
Mark Neal of Blue Grey Pink - 2020's WAM Label of the Year winner - shines a light on other West Australian labels putting out gold this year.
Article written by Mark Neal, founder of West Australian label Blue Grey Pink (Label of the Year at the 2020 WAM Awards, thanks to a roster including Noah Dillon, Pat Chow and more).
My names Mark. I run a ‘music thing’ out of Perth called Blue Grey Pink.
What started out as a competition to see who could be a better manager, (seriously Michael Strong and I started the label with a wager on which of our selected acts would break through first) evolved into a brand that encompassed everything I do, and eventually grew into an incredible family of humans that I get to support through their creative outputs.
It’s a really nice thing, but it’s pretty hard to explain to my distant relatives when they ask “what do you actually do?” around the picnic table at Easter lunch. My response tends to change depending on how much I want them to engage, but it usually starts with “Well... I run a music label”.
So, what does that mean?
Well.. my little team and I do a bunch of things to pay the bills. We mainly book venues, run events, manage artists, and put out music from a select bunch of lovely humans. We help a handful of WA acts as they navigate the world of releasing music. We don’t make much money putting out music (actually, that part of the business has been running at a loss since day one), but the reward in getting great music into the world and being a part of that journey is everything.
We are not the only ones doing this. WA has an incredible scene with an overwhelming amount of musical talent supporting each other on a grassroots level. We don’t have any major or big indie label representation here, which is why labels like mine (Blue Grey Pink) were able to pick up the 2020 WAM Award for Label of the Year. It’s an honour to be recognised for the work we’ve done, and my office suddenly feels legit with an award hanging on the wall. But there is a large stack of beautiful places that deserve a shout out, so here are my top picks on communities/labels/brands/orgs that you should be following and engaging with in 2021:
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As I'm writing this, we are coming to the end of the 2021 Audible Edge festival. An event created by Tone List that brings together the community of experimental musicians and celebrates the weird and wonderful exploratory creatives of WA. They’ve put out some incredible works already this year, including the remarkable Of Cloven Hoof & Honey from Nika Mo, who always somehow seems to deliver the right blend of crowd-pleasing folk and boundary-pushing songwriting.
I have been massively inspired by Rockton records this year. One of those labels that feels like a great community right away. Working with acts like Gia Como, No Nomad, and Man Sandal, Rockton Records have 13 releases so far that perfectly display the indie landscape of WA. They’ve put together delightful promotional pieces featuring quick recommendations from WA artists, creative interviews on Instagram, and gone above and beyond to make the artists they represent shine brightly in the WA community.
Another big supporter of alternative sounds in WA is ALT. Quickly becoming leaders in goth, industrial, punk, and everything in-between, ALT have been part of some of the best left-of-centre events around town in the last few years. They’ve worked with acts like New Talk, HTRK, My Disco and recently put together a multi-stage festival-style event titled ALT//FEST. Their love of all alternative sounds in WA has seen the community grow in a big way.
A new management label started by Sinead O'Hara, who recently stepped into the role of the head programmer at The Rosemount, is an exciting brand to keep an eye on. Currently working with BEXX, Priscilla and Bad Weather, Base Mgmt is very new but already feels like a community to be part of. Formerly a songwriter in Flossy and a member of Bexx, Sinead is a big part of the growing scene in pop and alt-pop sounds in WA right now.
Protocode stormed into the WA bass scene in 2018, amplifying locals from the different sectors of the bass scene. Operating as a record label and event company, they’ve brought acts like V O E, State of Mind, and Zombie Cats to the City, with huge parties running well into the morning. And they’ve dropped releases from acts like ESYM, Intercept, and more.
When it comes to the beautiful dance scene of Perth, there are a big list of creatives taking things to the next level. Crab Claw have been supporting all worlds of house and art, growing into a more formidable crustacean with every event. Whether it’s the welcoming vibes at their event or the delightful programming on the mix series Shell Tape, the Crab Claw team have made a space for WA dance music to be loved by anyone (including this electronic music novice).
In July last year, Midnight Elevator dropped their first compilation of West Australian artists featuring 11 tracks that meld ambient and subversive electro sounds. They’ve returned in 2021 with 7 artists pushing the envelope of sound for issue 2—another must-have release for WA electronic enthusiasts.
A socially conscious collective of humans who bring punk into backyards. Quite literally, formed from the possibly illegal ‘Yardstock’ event festival that has been a staple of backyard DIY parties across various locations each year, and eventually leading to a label that has churned out brilliant releases from punk activists like Last Quokka, Grunge Barbie, Selfless Orchestra and more.
Maybe the newest name on this list but a label and management agency that is already selling out rooms across the country. SideQuest is the hustle of Sly Withers and Flossy manager Skinny O’Leary, a major part of Hyper/HyperFest, the biggest U18 festival in WA for several years. On the management arm, Sly Wither gear up to release their debut album in 2021, and the label has already dropped a couple of killer singles from shoegaze heroes Ursula.
Afrotropik records is a WA based management team and label working with Afro and Island sounds from WA and beyond. Started by Grace and Jamie of Grace Barbe, Afrotropik is celebrating sounds from culturally important voices in WA. Some of the finest musicians in the state will make you want to dance while educating and inspiring you. There is a lot to love about Afrotropik records right now, with Soukouss Internationalle, Grace Barbe, and Crucial Rockers all gearing up for new releases and playing a stack of events across the state.
A boutique Cassette duplication collective right here in Perth. Thanks to Space Cassette, you can get physical copies of sounds from a huge stack of WA artists, and their compilation releases are essential listening for tape heads.
This is a WAM one. WAM are the organisation that represents the WA music community in a lot of different ways. It’s the not-for-profit org behind the WAM Awards and WAMFest. But they have a not-so-secret back-office occupied by some unbelievable human beings who have been giving regional musicians an opportunity to record and release their music.
This might be the most important project in the long list of WAM projects. A small team head out to remote parts of WA, find and record a selection of songwriters. Often in places that have no recording facilities, no live performance opportunities, and no support network for an artist to grow. Most acts are recording their work for the first time, and often it’s the first chance these artists have even been able to hear what they sound like. These songwriters get to work with some of the best engineers and producers in WA. The results are always at the highest standards of recording going on to get song of the year nominations and national radio play with the ABC.
Soul Alphabet is a platform run by Afrikan women that empowers and supports the WA African community through art, music, and events. At the end of 2020, the Soul Markets and No Border parties in the Bird brought together the community and celebrated all that Soul Alphabet represents. Recently they’ve run workshops empowering and nourishing their community even more. Keep an eye out for the next run of events hopefully coming our way soon.
A small team that are quickly becoming the backbone of the WA live music community, working across many events and mediums, giving opportunities to so many sectors of the community. As a management and booking organisation, 360 Logistics have helped deliver sold-out events from acts like Your Girl Pho, Michael Dunstan, Demon Days, and The Floors. Recently as part of the team for Grace Sanders, 360 Logistics have helped Sanders get on the best stage in WA. If you’ve seen live music in WA in the last 12 months, then there is a high chance you’ve crossed paths with 360 Logistics and maybe didn’t know it. Inspiring people in the WA community, I always keep an eye out for what they’ve got next.
And up and coming star in the WA scene, Heaps Cool Music have positioned themselves as a go-to for U18 events and WA pop-punk. The team work closely with YMCA HQ in Leederville, an important hub for U18 musicians and music lovers. And can also be spotted working Merch for touring and local bands around town. More recently, they’ve worked with growing talent like Mixed Netball, Lakeside, and Nic Rollo.
We’ve had some nice wins over the last year, with music releases from Pat Chow, Gap Year, Big Orange, Odlaw and Dolce Blue all getting some nice attention. And on the management side, Noah Dillon has been selling out (covid safe capacity) rooms across the country. Give us a follow and sign up to our mailing list.
There are definitely a big stack of collectives and labels that I’ve missed. It’s no secret that WA is full of great artists breaking out and doing big things. Often that’s due to the smaller community that helped them grow. So maybe next time you are at an event with that perfect vibe, or when you hear a new WA artist you love, take a look at the connections they have and the community they are a part of. Chances are, you’ll stumble across more great WA sounds and events to fall in love with.