When Earache Records founder, Digby Pearson, put out Anglican Scrape Attic – a compilation of hardcore and thrash metal – in 1985, even he would have failed to predict the impact the DIY flexi disc would have on the British metal scene over the next three decades. Pearson followed it up in 1986 with a split 7” between Heresy and Concrete Sox, and then shortly after, in 1987, an album by The Accused became the first release to officially carry the Earache name.
For thirty years, from its home town of Nottingham, Earache Records has been a constant champion of the best in metal, extreme and sometimes genuinely disturbingly heavy rock music. Some of the bands that’ve passed through the label’s roster are legendary, and read like a who’s who of heavy music: Napalm Death, Carcass, and Fudge Tunnel, to name a few. More recently, they’ve worked with Bring Me the Horizon and Kagoule, as well as bothering the album charts with Rival Sons.
It makes perfect sense to mark thirty years as a label by joining forces with another fiercely independent musical force, Glastonbury Festival. You heard. This year, Earache will be curating their own stage, The Earache Express, down in Pilton. We got the lowdown from Assistant Label Manager, Tom Hadfield…
Can you tell me how discussions for having a stage at Glastonbury started?
Like most things at Earache, it started with Dig [Digby Pearson]. He had a mad idea and we ran with it. I guess you could say that we invited Glastonbury to invite us.
Was it difficult to persuade Glastonbury? It’s never been much of a metal festival in the past…
Surprisingly, no. It took a while, but they understood what we could bring to the table and were open-minded enough to listen to us. Glastonbury prides itself on being diverse and eclectic, but we felt punk and extreme bands were being underrepresented and offered to put it right. A lot of credit has to go to Shangri La [the area of Glastonbury where the stage will be] for accepting us and making us feel welcome.
You’ve booked a fairly broad range of bands…
It’s been mad really. When I was in my teens, I used to draw up my own fantasy festival lineups just for fun, so to be doing it in real life seems a bit surreal, to be honest. Stress levels have been high as most stages at Glastonbury have a year to plan their lineup, but we had just a few months and were under pressure to impress. There’ve been a lot of sleepless nights and an increased alcohol intake.
Our aim was to provide bands that actually mean something; bands with a purpose, bands that are fighting for change. Every artist on our stage is extreme in some sense or another and they all have a political undercurrent. We’ve gone for a range of genres, but I guess you could say they all fall under punk, rock or metal; the sort of underground music that’s so important to so many people but often ignored or dismissed by the mainstream.
To be able to invite punk legends from bands such as the Dead Kennedys, Crass and the Sex Pistols, and put them alongside Nottingham heroes like Heck, and Earache icons like Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror, is a dream come true. The ultimate goal is to influence people. I would love nothing more than for all those kids turning up for Diplo to stumble across our stage and be sent down a new path of heavy music exploration.
The Earache stage won’t be any ordinary stage either...
Our stage is a London tube carriage, so I guess you could say it’s going to be intimate. I’m a big fan of bad puns too. What better place to celebrate underground music than in a London Underground carriage?
How will the stage fit into the Shangri La area of the festival?
The theme of Shangri La this year is “Recycle / Reuse / Resist”, so using a tube carriage as a sweaty punk-rock venue is recycling at its best. We’ve also enlisted the help of Turner Prize nominee Mark Titchner to decorate our carriage. It’s going to look scary as, and have hard-hitting messages designed to wake people up. We want all the gap-yah kids tripping on acid for the first time to get a bit of a rude awakening.
Are there plans to do anything else around the thirtieth anniversary of Earache?
We’re releasing a book telling the story of Earache Records over the past thirty years called Earache “Adapt or Die: 30 Shades of Noise” which will be out in October. It’s got loads of unseen photos from over the years and brilliant new interviews shedding light on the madness that goes on behind the scenes. We’ve never done a book or curated a festival stage before, so 2017 has been a year of new challenges, but it’s been great fun and a pleasure to be involved with.
I’m sure there is no such thing as an “ordinary day” at Earache, but can you give me an insight into the typical things that go on in the office day to day?
If you’ve ever seen the BBC sitcom The Thick of It, you get a general idea.
What does the future hold for the label?
The music industry is a constantly changing landscape, so the secret behind Earache’s longevity is the ability to adapt and evolve. Hopefully we can do another interview in 2047 celebrating sixty years of Earache.
Carcass - Reek of Putrefaction
Honestly, that record meant a lot of things to me and was highly significant. Mostly, it was a true glimpse of the future, more so than Scum [Napalm Death’s debut album], because the Reek... record was truly brutal, more extreme and had more metallised riffs than Scum, which was mostly born from the hardcore punk scene. Reek... was a signpost to the gore grind scene to come. – Digby Pearson, Label Founder and Managing Director
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
This record is part of my personal and professional life and something I’m proud to be associated with. It was the first band I signed to Earache and the record has developed a huge reputation since its release in ‘95. It was one of those situations where everything came together and you felt you were part of a group all in tune with each other. When I think back to that period, I always do so with the best memories. – Dan Tobin, Label Manager
Napalm Death – Scum
An obvious choice. Although this came out in ‘87 – four years before I was born – I owe a lot to Napalm Death. The third official release from Earache Records put Earache on the map and still sells strong thirty years later. It is an honour to be able to get them on for Glastonbury this year as they deserve this kind of mainstream recognition. The political message behind the music is as appropriate now as it was back in 1987. – Tom Hadfield, Assistant Label Manager
Earache “Adapt or Die: 30 Shades of Noise” a 4-CD / 92-page book will be published later this year.