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Label Feature: Finders Keepers

Click here to listen to the Finders Keepers radio show.

Since 2005 UK-based label Finders Keepers has entertained fans of psychedelic, jazz, folk, funk, avant-garde and strange movie muzak with rare vinyl artefacts from the annals of alternative pop history. The men behind the label are musician, DJ, producer and designer Andy Votel, and obscure vintage record collector, LP compiler and DJ, Doug Shipton. Together they liberate unreleased and long-forgotten music. Their multifaceted artist roster includes legendary figures such as Atari music composer Suzanne Ciani, Chilean-French film director and composer Alejandro Jodorowsky, Swiss electronic music pioneer Bruno Spoerri as well as contemporary acts like Mancunian duo Demdike Stare.

Shipton and Votel also run several sub-labels ("Sounds Of Wonder!", Anatolian Invasion, B-Music, Cache Cache, Cacophonic, Disposable Music and Hypocrite?) that deliver a specific point of view on certain genres, shining a light on unheard new wave, disco, punk, avant-jazz, and noise, as well as underrated soundtracks and misunderstood European pop music.

For Carhartt WIP Radio, Finders Keepers co-founder Doug Shipton has prepared a mix that mirrors the colorful history of his label. Featuring Dutch-born Australian jazz saxophonist Billy Green, obscure German band Lied Des Teufels and the seductive French pop act Valérie Lagrange, it swings from pop to jazz, rock, funk, soul, and bewildered electronics. As usual we sat down with this month’s host for a chat, discussing the identity of his labels, the history behind them, the business of global reissue business and awkward haircuts.

Hi Doug, can you tell us why you and Andy Votel started Finders Keepers in 2005?

Doug Shipton: I've known Andy since he headed up the Manchester label Twisted Nerve with Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy) in the early 2000s. I was doing some work with the guys whilst studying at university up north but ended up moving back down to London when I graduated.  From there I worked for various PR companies and ended up at Cherry Red Records (one of the oldest UK independent labels) but had stayed in touch with Andy, who had since gone on to dropped a compilation on Fat City called Finders Keepers. With a shared love of vintage vinyl and an eclectic palette together we went on to work on Andy's Folk Is Not A Four Letter Word and Prog Is Not A Four Letter compilations before Andy, Dom and I decided to put our heads’ together and launch Finders Keepers with the release of the L'enfant assassin des mouches – a bold move looking back but also a real statement of intent that I think still sums up the heart of the label to this day.

How would you describe Finders Keepers to someone who is not familiar with the concept of re-issuing?

Doug Shipton: When we first started out we would often refer to Finders Keepers as 'an accidental world music label' which was a mindset that went hand in hand with the B-Music crew – a collective of DJs, musicians, artists and writers dedicated to the pursuit of second class sound. Back then you still had world music sections in record shops but we were lucky to hit the ground running with our first few releases that we worked hard on in order to help bridge the gap between mainstream and the maligned. However, the plates have shifted quite considerably since then and the whole notion of reissues and the nature of genres have been blown wide open.

What process do you follow for getting titles to reissue?

Doug Shipton: Each release is unique really. Apart from normal legal and production motions that we need to go through; discovering, locating rights holders and negotiating releases is always different. Late night overseas phone calls, hopeful faxes and telegraphed messages through friends of friends of friends used to be useful tools of the trade but life is a bit easier with the rise of social media and so forth. Not all the time though. Obviously, as fans of the music, we love to work with the artists involved as much as possible so we always try to seek them out first to say hello, get the story of it all and see if we can take it from there and how to do it.

What is so fascinating to you about obscure and rare records of the past?

Doug Shipton: I just see it as something new and fresh - regardless of when it was made.  There's a galaxy of music out there to discover if you're willing to put a bit of time in. Obviously my understanding and appreciation is informed by a certain perspective but I'm pretty much open to anything. Looking back I have invested a lot of time piling through Eastern European rock and jazz, but then again I'm just as interested in the music coming out of Turkey, Indonesia and Mongolia. As I'm sure any music lover can attest to, every now and then something comes along that tips everything upside down and it starts you off down a new path.

Does the market influencing your judgement on what to reissue?

Doug Shipton: Absolutely not. The guiding principle of a Finders Keepers release has always been if it's something we love and think other people would enjoy we will release it.

How important are the non-musical components of your releases – packaging, album art and liner-notes?

Doug Shipton: They're incredibly important. To me this question is at the heart of the battle line that has been drawn in the "format war" that keeps rearing its head from time to time. I grew up listening to my parents' record collection before amassing my own, so that tangible element has always played a big part in my love of music. Andy is an incredible graphic designer and his work has been hugely influenced by record sleeve artwork. He has been pivotal in establishing the aesthetic of the label and help continue that tradition. Liner notes also play their part in telling stories that need to be told. Don't get me wrong, anyone should be allowed to enjoy music is whatever way they want, on any format they want. For us, as a label, we wouldn't have it any other way.

Since vinyl is booming again, printing qualities are often low. You excavate long forgotten music and reissue it in the best way in terms of sound quality. Is it hard to maintain the quality?

Doug Shipton: It has proved challenging in recent years as  pressing plants groan under the strain of ever-growing demand but we work hard to maintain standards with the guys we work with.  We've always worked with local printers and craftsmen/women as much as we can with the various elements that go into our records - limited sleeves, inserts etc. - so we are able to have a bit more input when it comes to how the record will turn out rather than shipping it all out to be manufactured by the plants.

What exciting stuff do you have in the pipeline currently?

Doug Shipton: Loads! We're currently working with Nurse With Wound on a series of compilations based on their infamous list. Andy and myself have just compiled the next compilation in our Plastic Dance series. We have previously unreleased music from Jean-Claude Vannier, Suzanne Ciani, Gökçen Kaynatan and Durul Gence all lined up for release later in 2019.

What do you want to accomplish with the music you reissue?

Doug Shipton: I would love for it to find a good home – for it to touch someone the same way it reaches us. To help expand someone's knowledge and perhaps provide the catalyst for discovery. Also, give the artist another stab at some recognition that might have perhaps eluded them first time round or help introduce them to a new generation of listeners who might otherwise not come across their music.

Do you have a wish-list of records you'd like to see on Finders Keepers? If so. can you name a name?

Doug Shipton: That would be telling. However, I would say I am more interested in discovering and sharing something I don't yet know – although there are one or two that hopefully will become part of the Finders Keepers family down the road.

What about the quantity of copies you release? Are you doing represses or are you watching Discogs, to see how much your releases grow in terms of selling prizes?

Doug Shipton: As a label it is more important to us to reach more ears than fewer by producing pricier limited runs so we tend to not cap our releases. We're very much a cottage industry so we're quite hands-on in all aspects of the label. One of the highlights is we get to work directly with a lot of shops around the world from which we get a lot of feedback and support. We're only as good as the shops that carry our records at the end of the day, and without their support over the years Finders Keepers would be a slightly different beast. Besides, being a part of that chain is amazing. The next best thing to working in a record shop is working with one!

You probably introduce a lot of people to new music via your platform, did you notice increasing value on some of the original pressings you re-issued or if anything, does the repress prevent prices from climbing higher? What’s your impression?

Doug Shipton: This isn't something I necessarily concern myself with and I think it's quite subjective as interest peaks and levels off after people get all hot and heavy for certain scenes.  Not only that, collecting rare records isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea and people are quite happy to have a good quality reissue over a potentially poorly pressed rare as hens teeth original in beat up condition.

Are there records you keep for yourselves, records you don’t want anybody else to have? Things you don’t want to rerelease?

Doug Shipton: I would say the opposite. There are lots of records I would love to share with people that we can't necessarily do for a number of reasons. Working with your heroes is the best part of running a label.

Why do you have several sub-labels. Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind them and what future releases are planned for them for 2019?

Doug Shipton: As Finders Keepers is essentially an extension of our respective tastes and record collections our releases tend to cover a huge spectrum of music that we felt would stretch the main catalogue of the label meaning a lot of the sounds and design would end up getting lost in the mix. In any given month we could release a record from Anatolian Rock royalty record alongside a vampiric Czech New Wave soundtrack. By setting up the sub-labels we were able to our change our approach slightly in the sense that we could help give the releases a better platform and identity. Cache Cache set up to release electronic cosmic pop from the late 70s, 80s and 90s. Cacophonic is an experimental and avant-grade imprint. Dead Cert is a label we co-run with Sean Canty of Demdike Stare in conjunction with Boomkat that releases mostly left-field and outsider music. Disposable Music began life as a subscription library label of sorts.

Can you name three records to start a party? And three to finish one?

Doug Shipton: On the way in Ponta de Lanca Africano by Jorge Ben, Freda Payne's Unhooked Generation and practically anything by Bappi Lahiri. On the way out Can's Mother Sky, Brown Rain by Victor Brady and Alla Beni Pulla Beni by Barış Manço.

What is your musical medium of choice? And why?

Doug Shipton: Personally, vinyl is my format of choice. However, it isn't always practical in everyday life and as music plays a big part of my day I'm more than happy to listen to CDs in the car, an MP3 player when I'm traveling or the radio if I'm cooking.

Can you name us one of your favourite Finders Keepers releases ever?

Doug Shipton: That's a really tough question. We're 14 years-old this year and each release is a milestone in the trajectory of the label – good times and hard. It has soundtracked nearly a third of my life. Recently I've spent time living with Jean-Claude Vannier's “L'enfant…”, Selda, Pomegranates, Googoosh, Voice Of The Seven Woods, Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders and Samandtheplants (amongst others) but when I'm out DJing I've always got at least half a dozen Finders Keepers releases in there.

What do you find most challenging about the work you do?

Doug Shipton: Smuggling more records into a groaning house under the nose of my long-suffering girlfriend without her being any the wiser. No mean feat!

What are three albums that you'll absolutely never get tired of listening to?

Doug Shipton:

Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador)

Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire De Melody Nelson (Philips)

A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Marauders (Jive)

Ever had any regrettable haircuts?

Doug Shipton: Haha. I guess nobody can honestly say they haven't. I'm not sure ginger high top fades will have their time anytime soon.

How does your environment influence your work? Can you tell us some places in London, that lift your spirits for a better tomorrow?

Doug Shipton: Personally (and the same goes for the label) I thrive on the community that we work within. As the label is an extension of us and we grew up and matured as record collectors, music lovers and DJs in those circles we've carried that with us into the label. There's a constant exchange of information, not just what we put out there. Finders Keepers has a huge extended family all over the world. There are loads of passionate and knowledgeable people all over the place - go to any of the record shops in town and chat to the people behind the counter, diggers and DJs putting on amazing nights in cafes, bars and clubs. Local promoters putting their livelihoods on the line.  Just like anything else, if you scratch that surface and dig a little deeper you might find yourself on a different path.

Finders Keepers discography