TWENTY YEARS AGO, as the Cocteau Twins conceived the idea of self-releasing as an antidote to the sting of broken relationships with record labels, little could they have imagined the hugely successful and fashionable beast it would become.
Simon Raymonde, the band’s former bassist, has now been running Bella Union for over fifteen years, and can count Fleet Foxes, The Flaming Lips and Roy Harper among an eclectic increasingly impressive roster.
A scan down the line-up of many of today’s festivals makes the label’s growing influence in the modern music scene very clear. Last weekend, the fifth year of Sheffield’s Tramlines saw five Bella Union artists take the stage.
Friday night at the City Hall was a regular dance night for decades in the city, and once again the ballroom hosted a musical treat – the night bookended by Bella Union. Alessi’s Ark kicked off the weekend with an early slot before Lanterns on the Lake ended the night as only they can, drowning fans, the curious and the droppers-by in a sound somewhere between folk and shoegaze.
Alessi’s Ark – Tin Smithing
23-year-old Londoner Alessi Laurent-Marke and her band showcased new album The Still Life with her unique, bite-sized dreamy pop, including a cover of the National’s Afraid of Everyone. The album title may be ironic – Alessi’s life is anything but ‘still’. Speaking after her set, she expressed her delight at getting a new job at a restaurant she likes – a reminder of the reality of the musician’s graft: an artist with the talent Alessi undoubtedly possesses, enjoying the coverage she deserves through Bella Union, still faces sacrifices in pursuit of commercial success.
Lanterns on the Lake – Another Tale From Another English Town
Lanterns… have come a long way since their days as Greenspace, and have grown into a band of glorious contrast – ethereal and sparse, yet tangible and seismic, surging like a groundswell.
Money – Hold me Forever
Two exciting new Manchester prospects also represented the label over the weekend – the brooding, ambient timbre of Money (whose new video, Hold Me Forever, was directed by Cillian Murphy) making for an intriguing foil to the visceral punk of PINS.
The label’s contribution to a thrilling weekend was completed by Veronica Falls, whose delightful, foot-tappingly-infectious jangly pop thrilled the main stage.
All of which shows the diversity of the talent uncovered by Raymonde and his small family at the label, who maintain an arms-length approach. Stalwarts such as The Flaming Lips and Roy Harper have joined the likes of Fleet Foxes, Explosions in the Sky, John Grant and I Break Horses – bands who could barely be more stylistically different – to fuel a thriving East London set-up with an excellent ear for exciting new music and an ability to adapt to an industry in constant flux and turmoil. Flailing majors, take note.