Meet: Steve Kirby of North East Cassette Label Industrial Coast

Steve Kirby

With the resurgence of vinyl in recent times, it might come as no surprise that the humble cassette tape is also making a comeback, with many a merch stand at gig these days stocking the smallest physical format. Here at Backseat Mafia we have put some questions to one of the leading lights in tape, Industrial Coast, a Cassette label based in the North East.

Give us a potted history of Industrial Coast

The label started in December 2018 as a cassette label.  I’d been looking for something outside of my corporate role & was encouraged by Joachim Nordwall (of Ideal Recordings, Gothenburg) to set up a label.  It started as a hobby, spiralled, and I left the Corporate job in the summer of 2022 to go ‘full time’.

I live in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, but we have a base at The Auxiliary Project Space in Middlesbrough (30 miles north).  I’m originally from Stockton, & spent most of my youth in Peterlee & Easington (the East Durham Coalfields).  The moniker Industrial Coast is inspired by the North Eastern industrial heritage of coal mining, steelworks and shipbuilding…and, of course, amongst many other genres, we have been known to release industrial music!

The label is solely operated by myself (although all cassettes and pro dubbed & artwork pro-printed).  Coming up to 5 years of operation, we have released circa 250 tapes – we are prolific!  Its multi genre – if I like it, I’ll look to put it out, & we’ve released Noise, Techno, Free Jazz, Drone, Ambient, Drum & Bass, Spoken Word…and a bit of Black Metal.

In 2023, our 1st vinyl releases have appeared, and we have been running a series of events in Boro – A Monday Night in Middlesbrough – with the support of Arts Council England.  Artists we’ve hosted include John Wiese, Angelo Harmsworth, Samuel Kerridge, Nick Klein & Russell Haswell.

What was the main aim of the label 

The original aim was to put out a physical product for artists I myself liked, but who were only currently available digitally.  Although I discover music via digital platforms, I almost exclusively actually listen to physical products (cassettes, vinyl, CD).  I guess I’m a luddite.  Things developed quickly from that and in our 1st year of operation, I’ld released the likes of Black Leather Jesus, Autoerotichrist, The Idealist and other established artists.  I’ve maintained that original ethos however & continue to be the 1st label to give certain artists that 1st break into a physical release.

How has running/managing the label changed over the years

I’ve trained to maintain the ethos of the label as we’ve gone along.  We still only release stuff I like myself, I still do pretty much everything, from reaching out to artists, operating social media, running the webstore & packing the tapes we’ve sold!  For our distro, I stock almost exclusively US labels, and continue to focus on independents that are difficult to source in the UK & EU.  For many, we are sole Euro stockists.

The distro follows the same thinking as our own output – I stock labels I like & people I like working with.  Then support those labels fully – if we distro a label, we take ALL titles.  No cherry picking!  The label roster is as eclectic as our own releases – harsh noise from Deathbed, ambient electronics via Enmossed, and some regular gore noise courtesy of Breathing Problem Productions.

We’ve faced various challenges over the 5 years (Covid and Brexit are a couple that spring to mind) but the current cost of living crisis has proved to be the most difficult time.  Understandably, sales have reduced as people, across the board, have significantly less cash in their pockets.  I’ve just had to flex our plans accordingly – we continue to support our core distro labels but are unable to take on new labels simply because the sales aren’t there, & we’ve had to apply that thinking to our own output too.  We continue to release, but I’ve said no to many artists this year who in years 1 – 4 we would have released.  So, a bit of reigning in during 2023, but hopefully we see an uptick in 2024 & we can kickstart certain things again.

It’s a tough time for all independents – & I think you just have to batten down the hatches, ride it out & hopefully come back stronger.

Who would you like to have/had on the label

I’m surprised who we’ve had so far!  Starting up, if you had said I would have released The Idealist, God is War, Crazy Doberman, Andrew Nolan, Scott King and others I would have thought you were taking the piss!

I’ve always got a wish list, but would love to put out work by Lutkie and Havadine Stone, 2 US artists who have appeared on our Girls/Women Invented Noise compilations, and also Rusty from Breathing Problem Productions – anyone of his various monikers!

Can you tell us about any new releases/shows

We have vinyl imminent from Stonecirclesampler & Evil Roger (a lathe that one)…both due mid-September.  There will be a handful of cassettes between now and the end of the year but that’s it.  Back in 2024 with a bang, fingers crossed.

A lot of focus this year has been on the live events.  Next up is Glyn Maier, Night Foundation & Death Disco, plus Laura Alise Lydon.  A stacked bill!  That’s at the Auxiliary on Monday 25 September.  There will be a show the following week as part of Middlesbrough Arts Work (Thursday 5 October…Acts to be announced soon), then we have Mopcut (Audrey Chen) late October & Joke Lanz (Sudden Infant) in mid November.

We will be taking December off…but are submitting our funding request to ACE for A Monday Night in Middlesbrough 2024 very soon.  All the artists are agreed in principle & it’s a very, very exciting line up!

Where can we get hold of your records

We mainly use Big Cartel (as we distro alongside our own releases) but IC releases are also found on our Bandcamp page

What makes you pick a certain artist

Originally, I was doing all the asking!  Not many folks want to place their trust in an unknown label with little to no prior output.  That’s changed somewhat now & I get inundated with submissions, all of which I listen to – & I try to respond to all artists too.

My ethos is as it was from day one.  I release material I myself like.  If the artist & I get on & everyone is happy (thankfully, nearly always the case) I would certainly look to work with them again.  Running the label is supposed to be enjoyable – so I avoid working with people who, through their fault or mine, make it less so!

Do you have any advice for beginning Artists/record labels

Ha – I’m certainly no expert!  Some thoughts though:

Stay true to your beliefs & own taste – running a small label is hard work.  Don’t make it harder by putting stuff out you don’t actually like just because you think it might make a few quid.  It probably won’t, & you’ll get no satisfaction from it.

Don’t be afraid to ask artists about releases – you might be surprised who says yes!  It’s obvious but – be polite when asking!

Deliver professionally – to artists, other labels & customers.  Never fuck people about.

For Artists – don’t write generic submissions to multiple labels, telling them you love the imprint etc etc…when you’ve never bought anything, don’t follow on socials etc.  It’s obvious – & a very good way to ensure that your submission is the one that will get the delete button very quickly.

(bit of a pet hate that one)

What can we expect from you in the near future

It’s been a tough year with the cost of living crisis, so I’ve had to cut our cloth regards both releases & distro.  Hopefully, we can fire things up again in 2024 having weathered the storm!  It will be more of the same – great US labels in our distro, a body of releases, multi genre, on cassette on our own imprint, with hopefully 4 or 5 vinyl – but level of output is dependent on economic conditions.

We are submitting for ACE funding again, & if approved it will enable us to deliver an expanded A Monday Night in Middlesbrough programme in 2024.  Something I’m very excited about – everything is already provisionally in place regards artists we will be bringing to town.  I now just need that funding approval!

Tell us your favourite records that are currently rocking your headphones/stereo

As I only distro labels I like myself, I have a tendency to keep one copy of a lot of stock I bring in – so, there’s always Enmossed, Breathing Problem Productions, Psychic Liberation, No Rent Records, Phage Tapes etc being played or about to be played!

Outside of that, Oracular Patterns by S.English, on Ideal, is great, and I love the Pavel Milyakov cassette, Live at Lafayette Anticipations (Firecamp).  Finally, Black Rain, Obliteration Bliss (Downwards).  All are cassettes – I tend to play more tapes than I do vinyl.

Check out the track Ahonahainyohan’s track ‘Cortez the Killer’ taken from the cassette ‘Mike IX – Deconstructed Reconstructed’, below:

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