London independent label Speedy Wunderground has rapidly become an institution in British music, a bastion of assured quality. Their singles series have become legendary, often selling out multiple pressings of early recordings from acts that have gone on to become Mercury Prize nominees, magazine cover stars and even household names.
Their regular compilation series have collected up their singles for those of us not quick enough on the trigger to snag one of the prized 7″s. Year 1 featured the likes of Kae Tempest and TOY, and subsequent releases have housed now-legendary singles from the likes of Black Country, New Road, black midi and Squid, to name a few.
Each and every track has been discovered and produced by the label’s three masterminds, Dan Carey, Pierre Hall, Alexis Smith – but you’d be hard pressed to say that they have any single style or comfort zone. Vol. 5 might be the best proof yet of this, with eight diverse tracks from rising UK acts – and some from overseas.
They’ve switched the nomenclature from Year 1/2/3/4 to Vol. 5 as the label has just passed its 10th anniversary, and these tracks were released over the last few years – encompassing either side of the pandemic. This is the perfect time to remind yourself of their greatness, though, as the likes of PVA, The Lounge Society and Joyeria are releasing debut albums and EPs in the coming months, and it’s a delight to discover how their earliest steps were formed.
The label’s Pierre Hall reminisces about the discovery and development of each of the eight tracks below.
01. Lazarus Kane – “Narcissus”
It’s definitely one of my favourites of the ‘long’ ones we’ve done. The bassline is epic and it just builds and builds. I’d seen them play really late at night at the VISIONS Festival Aftershow Party at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney a few weeks before recording. Dan couldn’t make it – and I called him and just said I knew he was gonna love it – like that scene in Back To The Future. I went down to the studio after the session and the buzz was palpable. Also – Katy (J Pearson) is obviously a star in her own right now – but I remember thinking at the time, wow, that’s some voice. It’s weird when band’s have split up by the time the comp comes out but at the same time I hope it gives the track a new lease of life. It’s the perfect opener.
02. Pynch – “Disco Lights”
I think Dan was staying somewhere in Berlin or somewhere at the time – and he had a free morning and was going through some of the many demo emails we get. He forwarded it to me and said he thought there was something there. It was really scrappy, and lo-fi but had a real charm and it had a really long spindly guitar solo which I loved. After I heard the proper version I was so surprised. It was like that scene in the Wizard Of Oz when it switches from black and white to technicolour. It was quite different to a lot of stuff we’d done before. It was summery, poppy, kinda MGMT-ish in parts, and catchy as hell.
03. PVA – “Divine Intervention”
I mean, it’s a stone cold classic and one of my favourite single releases we’ve ever put out. It’s weird when it’s the band’s debut single as I write all the PRs and you’re kinda the first person to ever write about the band or describe their sound. I described it as ‘Patti Smith fronting Factory Floor’ (I was working with FF at the time) and I still stand by that. What a band. What a song. It still gives me goosebumps now. We released it around Xmas (hence the sleigh bells in the beginning) and played it for the first time at our Xmas Party at The Heavenly Social and it just kicked OFF. The loveliest people too.
04. The Lounge Society – “Generation Game”
This band mean so much to us and it feels weird writing about this when we’re on the cusp of releasing their debut album (Tired of Liberty is out 26th August). We’ve come so far with them, and this is how it all started. A very complimentary email from one of their mums in our inbox with a rough version of this attached that they’d recorded when they were all barely 15 years old. And what a song. The lyrics, the nuances, the control, the power, the intelligence. Talk about wise before their years. I love the new album version, but this will always mean the most to me. The thing I like most about working with bands and doing the label – it’s capturing that moment when a band has it – but they have no idea they have it – or even what ‘it’ is. Life affirming.
05. Brodka & Scottibrains – “Wrong Party”
I’d known of Brodka’s work for a while as Speedy is part of [PIAS], whom she is signed to. She is a (literal) superstar in Poland – a proper pop star, but we knew she wanted to do something a bit more ‘indie’ and our best friend Oli (Bayston, Boxed In) was producing – who also plays bass in Scottibrains alongside Dan and Liam Hutton (drums).
Putting them together seemed an exciting prospect and the outcome was mind-blowing – one of our most popular singles to date. Total distilled chaos and it just gets bigger and bigger. Her voice is ice-cool and it’s so held back until, well – it’s not – and then it just explodes, erupting in chaos and ecstacy. For me it harks back to those very first Speedy collaborations; Natasha Khan, TOY, Steve Mason. I love ‘the night was bright..’ pre-chorus bit – it’s massive. I think sometimes it’s nice to know we can still surprise people – including ourselves – which I think we did here.
06. moa moa – “Coltan Candy”
They’d sent us a playlist of loads of demos during lockdown – many of which were fully formed songs. Obviously the one Dan went for was just a 20-second snippet of an idea that they included at the end. But that’s why he’s so amazing. His mind works in that way – he just has this knack of being able to identify potential and know what he can bring to it and how. It turned out to be one of the longest recording sessions in the whole single series (13 hours!) as I think there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of ideas, a mammoth day – but we were over the moon with the results. It’s pure sunshine-pop and for me has shades of modern cool lo-fi psych in it – like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. It sold out crazy fast and was even used on Love Island. You can’t ask for more than that.
07. Joyeria – “Here Comes Trouble”
It’s a crazy story which I don’t think has been told yet, but we had this guy called Joyeria get in touch with us via our demos submission e-mail. We reached out as we loved what we heard. It had a kinda Bill Callahan, Silver Jews thing happening – impeccable lyrics and a real maturity in the song-writing. He was a bit older and so it sounded weathered, real.
Anyway, following this, Dan started to receive these other demos but all by cassette in the post under the same name with incredible hand-written artwork – all completely individual. We arranged to meet up – but I couldn’t make it, so Dan got him to come to the studio. Suddenly I got a photo message from Dan – followed by a phone call.
‘You’re not gonna believe it! It’s Arthur!’. It was a friend of ours we’d met/hung out with over the last couple of years – yet we’d never seen or heard him perform any music. He’d orchestrated the whole thing and wanted to make sure he got through to us on his own credit and not just down to nepotism. When we asked him why he didn’t just tell us and what would he have done if we didn’t like it, he just said he didn’t care, ‘he wanted it to be real.’
It blew our minds. We’ll be releasing his debut EP in the Autumn – but this is where it all began.
08. deep tan – “tamu’s yiffing refuge”
I used to work with Celeste (bassist) and we became firm friends. It’s funny if you sit opposite someone for long enough at a job you hate – the things that pull you through days are those constant in-jokes, those worlds you create yourselves– which in a way is what they’ve done with this track here. The premise is nuts- but it’s inviting you to come into their little world for a bit, dip your toe in. Who knows – you might like it. Musically – it’s one of the most stripped back tracks we’ve ever put out, taut, seductive. It reminded me of The Slits or Young Marble Giants. Everything sounds like it’s in the wrong place, but in a good way.
Speedy Wunderground’s Vol. 5 compilation is out now – buy it here.