A brief history to the heavy ‘n’ heady sounds of one of the UK's most prolific underground labels
“Rightly or wrongly, we’re generally thought of as a psych label”, Rocket Recordings co-captain Chris Reeder tells me over Skype from his London flat. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot of friends involved in those scenes, but it just seemed like a fairly narrow conception of what Rocket is about”.
Rocket are, and always have been, more than harbingers of heavy ‘n’ heady grooves – that’s only a part of their prolific output as one of the UK’s busiest underground labels. Since their humble inception in 1998, Rocket have been responsible for some of the most forward-thinking British (and international) records of recent years, committing to wax the wonderment of astral rejecters Gnod, the ephemeral adjacent post-rock of Teeth of the Sea and the ecstatic trance of Goat. This is to mention nothing of the one-off collaborations, and the extra-curricular jams of “supergroups” like Temple of BBV. Rocket are a whole eco-system of cooperation, always ready to champion inter-label envelope-pushing. Through the commercialisation and reduction of UK indie music to a donkey ride seaside attraction (thanks The Libertines) Rocket have maintained a steadfast constitution in the mould of properly independent US imprints like early Sub Pop, Wax Trax! and SST.
To get this far is a huge achievement. To mark two decades, in March the label is hosting a series of birthday gigs in London featuring an impressive line-up of Rocket all-stars past and present. “It’s going to be very special,” Chris enthuses, “we’re overjoyed to have gotten so many people involved. It’s like a reunion of sorts.” Together with Simon Healey, and later John O’Carroll, who today co-runs the label from their Bristol office, the humble beginnings of the label started with Chris putting out the records of friends and fellow scenesters. “We certainly didn’t expect to be here 20 years later,” he says.
These days Rocket are now considered forerunners of what’s recently been coined New Weird Britain, the genre-bending philosophy of mind-expanding music on these isles, compliant with headbanging regulations one moment, insistent on freely shoegazing the next. “We were always interested in things that sounded different, but we also love repetition in music – in the early days, John and I would package our records like a factory line to the beat of Krautrock,” Chris says. “Obviously, like any label nowadays, we take into account what sells, but we’ve never shied away from putting out the stranger things we’ve come across. If Gnod want to put out a more experimental album than the last, we’ll be there. It’s great that that sort of thing now gets a bigger audience today too”.