Split Singles Club is changing the Australian indie rock narrative

Written by Joseph Earp on 7th June, 2018
Split Singles Club is changing the Australian indie rock narrative

Last year, Melbourne labels Milk! and Bedroom Suck Records came together to launch the inaugural edition of the Split Singles Club. The concept was fairly simple – each label picked six artists from their roster and beyond, pairing two acts per 7” split single. The project was initially conceived by Bedroom Suck’s Joe Alexander as something of a solution to music industry competitiveness.

“I feel like so often in the music industry, particularly in a smaller community like Australia, there is a hyper-jealousy going on,” explains Alexander. “There is a bit of a misguided idea of what success is, and that someone else’s success means your failure. We wanted to start a project that was about working together, celebrating the incredible music and community we have here.”

Alexander approached Milk! Records, a label started by Courtney Barnett in 2012, now run by Barnett and partner Jen Cloher. “Courtney and I had been talking about the idea of a series of split 7” with different artists, so it immediately appealed to us,” Cloher explans.

“I also liked the idea that the artists weren’t necessarily on either label. Just bands we loved, and perhaps didn’t have the time or money to release.”

This initial series featured a number of artists across the Milk! and Bedroom Suck rosters, such as Barnett herself, Jade Imagine, Blank Realm, Treehouse and Dag. It also included several artists not on either bands’ rosters – including Cable Ties, Primo! and Lehmann Smith.

“Each label had a long list of artist we love and wanted to work with,” says Alexander. “One of the great things about this project was we finally got to call them up and ask if they wanted to work together.”

Stella Donnelly, who features on the new Split Singles Club

Now, the baton has been passed on to two other labels, Melbourne punk institution Poison City Records as well as the newer Our Golden Friend, helmed by Lorrae McKenna and Skube Burnell. This time around, artists featured include RVG, Harmony, Mere Women, Mon Con, Stella Donnelly and more – again, a selection of Poison City and Our Golden Friend artists along with newer acts not signed to either.

For Cloher and Alexander, approaching Poison City about carrying on the series was a natural fit. “I love Andy and Thommo at Poison City and I think they’re releasing some of the best rock albums in Australia,” says Cloher. “Their whole approach and ethic is very similar to Milk.”

“Poison City are another super inspired, friendly and hard-working label,” agrees Alexander. “They’re committed to building their local music community and creating a safe, fun space for people to make music. They seemed the perfect choice.”

Poison City Records was started by Andy Hayden back in 2003, originally run out of a small house in the Melbourne suburb of Preston. “We did a little bit of mail order, and imported stuff from the States so we did some distribution as well,” says Hayden. “The label initially started to release friends’ bands and a couple bands I was playing in at the time. Things just grew and evolved from there, and here we are still chipping away,” he laughs.

In 2007, Poison City opened a brick-and-mortar record store in Fitzroy, which continues to trade six days a week. The label has released a plethora of beloved Australian indie and punk records, from Camp Cope to Infinite Void, and it also runs an annual festival in Melbourne, Poison City Weekender, a highlight on the calendar of this country’s underground music community.

Conversely, McKenna and her partner Burnell began Our Golden Friend relatively recently, back in December 2015. McKenna was working at Remote Control at the time, envisioning Our Golden Friend as a way of putting out 7” releases by bands the pair loved that weren’t quite right for Remote Control.

“I spoke to Steve [Cross] and Harvey [Saward] from Remote Control and asked if I could start up a label and they were like, sure, go for it.”

McKenna would go on to quit Remote Control a year later to focus on Our Golden Friend. “I’d been there about four and a half years and decided I wanted to go back into artist management, and that Our Golden Friend would be a catalyst for that. It turned into a label as well as a management company, so it’s grown bigger than I thought it was going to when we started it.”

Our Golden Friend’s artist roster currently boasts the likes of RVG, FERLA and 808s and Greatest Hits, while also managing the likes of Totally Mild, Jade Imagine, and Jess Ribeiro.

Even before being approached about curating the next Split Singles Club series, Hayden was familiar with the folks behind its first volume. “The Milk Records and Bedroom Suck people are good friends of ours, and we’ve worked together on projects. We have bands of ours that play with their bands,” he says.

Mod Con

He was also already familiar with the Split Singles series, having signed up during its first run. “The Split Singles volume one really impressed me. I remember telling Jen and Joe what a great idea it was. It reminded me of the old Sub Pop 7” club they used to do in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I liked that it brings together a few of the bands you’re working with but also exposes newer bands who aren’t on the label but we like.”

Cloher and Alexander didn’t have another curator in mind yet when broaching the idea with Hayden and Poison City, letting the label choose a counterpart instead. Eventually, Hayden and co. approached McKenna and Our Golden Friend.

“The good thing about the two-label way of doing Split Singles is that introducing another label means you get a whole other taste and dynamic,” says Hayden. “We wanted to work with a newer label rather than one we’d worked with a lot over the years, we thought it was a cool pairing.”

“I think Andy and I kind of come from different backgrounds musically. The labels are quite different,” McKenna says. “It’s kind of a meeting of two minds and I’m really happy with the selection of artists that all ended up on the series together, it’s really cool.”

The logistics of putting together the Split Singles is where Hayden says things got a little tricky. “It sounded like an easy thing to get together six bands per label,” he says. “But a lot of the bands we worked with in this series are very active; they’re touring and releasing albums. We had to work around quite a few logistics to make sure everyone has happy with a trick being released at a certain time and whatnot.”

Deciding which artists to pair together per split 7” was another considerable task.

“With volume one, the way Joe and Jen approached bands they wanted to work with, the bands didn’t necessarily get a say in who they would be paired up with. It was kind of a blind dating scenario. We’ve released other split 7” singles, we did a recent one with Mod Con and Fair Maiden. Those bands have a bit of history and have played shows together, and often that’s how a split comes about.

“With our series, we did a little bit of both. Some of the pairings were suggested; Michael Beach and Bitch Diesel we suggested to both bands and they were happy with that. The RVG and Mod Con pairing, I know Romy and Erica had already talked about doing a split together so that was a natural pairing. A few of them happened organically, and when suggesting other pair-ups, we just tried to make it an interesting match up and hope everyone was happy. When we spoke to all the bands about it, there seemed to be some common thread through most of the bands; they’d had some interactions with each other.”

Michael Beach

One of the artists featured in the series is Melbourne post-punk act RVG, who are currently signed to Our Golden Friend. Centered around the songwriting of frontperson Romy Vager, the four-piece has had a huge year since they self-released their debut album A Quality of Mercy in 2017. “RVG I’ve been a huge fan of for a long time,” says McKenna. “They’re one of the best live bands I’ve seen in a really long time. When I first saw them play at the Tote I thought ‘Oh shit, this is really good’ and it’s been a year since I started working with them. They’ve had a huge year in that time.”

Elsewhere on the split you can find the likes of idiosyncratic Poison City artists like Mere Women and Harmony. According to Hayden, bands that are unique are what draw his attention.

“I guess sometimes people’s perception of an independent label is that it has a common sound. I’ve really tried hard over the years to not have that. I like lots of different music and the bands that stick out for me are the ones that are doing their own thing. They stand alone as that particular sound. Mere Women, Harmony, Mod Con… if you post those records on, or go see them live, they all have a very distinct sound to them.”

The labels behind both Split Singles Club series, along with a significant portion of the artists featured, are Melbourne-based. Naturally, one wonders what the series says about the city’s sense of collaboration and shared community.

“Melbourne has an incredible sense of connection and support,” comments Cloher. “It takes some time to establish yourself but once you’ve found your comrades it’s one of the best places to be making music. There is always something on the local scene that will inspire you.”

However, those involved with this year’s iteration are quick to note that there’s no reason further editions should be as Melbourne-centric.

“I actually tried really hard to get bands who weren’t from Melbourne in my selection,” says McKenna. “I asked other bands but they had other things going on or didn’t have a song ready. We have such a plethora of amazing bands here at the moment, so I think we’re a bit spoiled for choice. And we’re always just drawn back to what we know, because Andy and I are both from here we see everything all the time”

Hayden agrees. “Maybe next time around it becomes a Sydney label and a Brisbane label. I don’t think there’s any reason that it has to be a Melbourne thing or even an Australian thing. Music’s such a global thing these days, if there were bands that made sense to fit in from the other side of the world, then why not?”

Ultimately, the motivations behind the Split Singles Club series are fairly straightforward – Hayden and McKenna want people to discover new music.

808s and Greatest Hits

“There’s obviously some higher-profile artists in there,” points out McKenna. “They’re kind of what we hope will draw people in, and then they’ll listen to the whole collection. There’s some really beautiful musicians on there who are quite unknown. Way Dynamic is an artist from Melbourne who’ll have an album out later this year, but it’s a nice introduction to him musically.

“It’s quite a good way of profiling bands who are doing quite well, but also introducing an audience to bands they might not have heard of before.”

Hayden echoes McKenna’s sentiments; “We just want people to find out about good new music.”

Split Singles Club Volume Two is available now. Click here for more info.

The article was originally published on Brag Magazine