Kenneth Thomas takes a look at three indie record labels in Blood, Sweat and Vinyl: DIY in the 21st Century
Kenneth Thomas’ Blood, Sweat and Vinyl: DIY in the 21st Century is a captivating behind-the-scenes look at three independent record labels that bucked the trend of the evil empire majors and other indies, setting their own course via their unique sounds, visuals, aesthetics and business principles. Hydrahead Records, Neurot Recordings and Constellation are the focus, as Thomas – who put the exhaustive doc together over a five-year span – brings in the label heads, bands and associated artists to spill the beans on the ins and outs.
Hour: I’m curious. Why this subject?
Kenneth Thomas: In the early 2000s, there were several music documentaries espousing the "good ol’ days of punk," Punk: Attitude and Ramones: End of the Century being two examples. These films featured interviews with guys like Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra, and I never heard anybody acknowledge that this movement they fostered was in full-force today. Everybody was talking about those "good ol’ days," but nobody was saying, "Hey, we inspired a lot of bands to do what we did, and they’ve taken this idea and run with it." Looking at my personal record collection, I noticed that Hydra Head, Neurot Recordings and Constellation were heavily represented. Studying the album artwork, and remembering recent shows, I clearly saw the evolution of the DIY aesthetic from "those good ol’ days," but with different genres of music, different styles of artwork, specialized packaging and an overall vibe that can’t be denied or easily defined. So I felt it was necessary to document the current state of DIY. These labels were started by musicians, and communities have formed around them – as a fairly obsessive documentarian and fan of this music, I pretty much had to make this.
Hour: What was the most inspirational aspect of this doc for you?
Thomas: The fact that most of these bands are still going at it – since I started filming, so much evolution has happened with these bands and labels, but everybody is still making music and art, if not in the featured bands, then in some other way.
Hour: Ultimately, what can these small labels teach the majors in terms of running a business?
Thomas: That art and sustainability can actually be bedfellows. These bands don’t "need" half-a-million dollars and six months of recording time, so they don’t need to sell a million albums to turn a profit. If money is their driving force, then the major labels should bring in some smaller bands, who operate on a smaller budget anyway, and maybe they’ll be surprised when they see that they don’t have to sell tons of records to get into the black.
Blood, Sweat + Vinyl: DIY in the 21st Century (screening)
At La Sala Rossa