There’s good news for fans of psych and shoegaze. Northern Star Records, the UK’s best indie label specialising in all things hazy and underground, is back with an exciting new release.
After five Psychedelica releases, having seemingly perfected the art of putting together a killer compilation album, Northern Star have taken things to the next level: releasing their first ever live album. A compilation of live highlights, all tracks on Live Revolution were recorded live at the Northern Star Weekender at the Windmill in Brixton in March of last year.
Label co-founder Scott Causer explains, “I always wanted Northern Star to have its very own ‘Live at the Roxy,’ a legendary album from a time and place which captures the spirit of the event and transcends time. The kind of album that comes alive from the speakers and makes you wish you had been there…. and a reminder for those that were there of how brilliant life can be. At the 2013 Weekender, the opportunity presented itself.O ne of my favourite ever compilation albums is a Glastonbury ‘92 compilation with Spiritualized, The Orb and Dr Phibes and every time I listen to that album, I’m right back there. I wanted to achieve the same for this… so no pressure!”
With the help of Paul Hollingsworth, sound man for the festival (“definitely the man for the job”), the entire 2013 Northern Star Weekender was recorded live. 16 bands played the festival and each of their sets was recorded live, but only one track from eight different bands made the final cut, and there were challenges to be faced along the way.
“The process for putting together a live album was far more involved [than doing a compilation album],” Causer explains, “With a compilation I essentially select the best tracks and the running order and manage the project until completion. With the live album I was there for the event organising, recording, mixing, through to the selection, running order and mastering.”
“We listened to each band’s set several times to select the right track, then we’d listen to several mixes of the selected track to get the mix right. There was pressure for sure but only the pressure we gave to ourselves, to make it sound as great as possible and to get in ready in time for the next Northern Star Weekender.”
“Initially I was going to do a CD to accommodate everyone, however three bands were unable to take part for varying reasons. I wasn’t too happy with the idea of ‘Live Revolution’ being a ‘lost’ album especially after Paul and I put our hearts and souls into it and also because I believe it’s the best thing we’ve ever made. So this led me to the idea of a one off vinyl which I think makes it far more special.”
Despite the hiccups of uncertainty, Northern Star’s certainty and persistence has meant their gamble have paid off, as Live Revolution may just be the label’s best release yet. Mastered by Isaac Betesh (who mastered Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power Live: In the Hands of the Fans) and with cover design by Simon Minter (“our Peter Saville”), the album is a solid work of art in every respect.
“It’s exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Causer agrees. “Not mine or Paul’s, though – we knew it was something very special as soon as the initial mixes came through. The live recordings have a kind of magic to them.”
It’s this magic that the Live Revolution team worked had to get down on record. The album features a diverse mix of performances from eight very different band which all have one thing in common – an abundance of atmosphere and vitality in their live expression.
“I picked what I believed were the most exciting tracks and the bands which captured the spirit and the vibe of the whole Weekender,” Causer explains of the selection process.
“It would have been easier to include the more established acts, however the most exciting sets came from the bands who don’t normally have access to that level of exposure and as they played their hearts out and gave it their all, I felt they deserved it.”
“However, unfortunately vinyl can only accommodate 19 minutes per side and there are tracks equally as good as the ones on the album, which did not make the final cut due to the flow of the album. I’m hoping these will see the light of day at some point. Maybe a Live Revolution Part II – who knows, watch this space…”
For now, even without a sequel release, Live Revolution feels complete even in isolation of competition. From the The Electric Mainline’s all-in, all-out, fast-paced All Too Much, to Deep Cut’s more measured approach to fuzzy guitars, Something’s Gotta Give, to Air Cav’s Bunnymen-esque vocal narration and splendid musical storytelling on Kill Your Darlings, Live Revolution offers listeners a diverse experience of live psych, without a break in cohesion or a lack of clarity.
Indeed, the live aspect of the album is not only foundational, but critical to the album. Melodious and up-tempo, the Live Revolution rendition of The Carousels’ Mayflower blows its studio recording out of the water. With vocals perfectly spun among sunshower guitars and heady percussion, intricacy is intensified in the live arena yet made to sound effortless. Similarly, Soundwire’s Devil’s Key loses nothing played live and gains musical articulation of the rarest type – this rhythmic track is not just lead by an incredibly expressive guitars, but tells an entire story through their riffs and wails.
And the bands who made it onto the album agree.
“The Early Morning Satellites had recorded their track [What She Wants] in a studio and scrapped it once they heard this version,” Causer says, “And 93MillionMilesFromTheSun were going crazy for theirs. [Drinking Bleach is] the aural equivalent of a psychedelic juggernaut. Nick from 93MMFTS says it’s the best live album ever… and I absolutely 100% agree.”
Something else Causer 100% agrees with is The Greencoats’ impact on the festival and the album.
“The Greencoats were without doubt one of THE bands of the Weekender for many people,” he says.
“Theirs was one of the craziest rock ‘n’ roll sets I have ever witnessed. There were eight of them on stage all dressed in white. They look like a cult. It was chaotic, but they not only pulled it off, they were absolutely brilliant… Ramo had had quite a few beers before going on. The first night he ended the set by shaking hands and hugging people in the front row. The second night he launched into this speech about how he loved everyone and wanted to make love to everyone in the room.”
You can hear these drunken ramblings on The Greencoats contribution to Live Revolution, New Sensation. Entertaining in every sense of the word, the track also features a silent anecdote, as Causer reveals.
“What you don’t hear at the end of the set is me catching him just before he was about to fall backwards into all the equipment. It’s without doubt one of the funniest things ever committed to vinyl.”
Full of colour, character and confidence, Live Revolution is already creating waves, with a likely ripple effect to follow.
“The album’s already making an impact and its not even been released yet,” Causer says. “I’ve already heard of other labels putting together a live album after they’ve heard ours.”
Surely, then, the live aspect of psych music is a driving force behind the scene itself, as well as Northern Star’s philosophy of great music?
“Absolutely, ” Causer agrees. There’s only two reasons to be in a band – to make great records and play mind-blowing live shows.”
Live Revolution will be released on March 31st and can be pre-ordered from www.northernstarrecords.com
Tickets options and details of the 2014 Northern Star Weekender can be found at www.musicglue.com/northern-star/listings/