What started as a hobby for two men with a love of noisy rock bands is now one of the UK's hippest labels, as Mark Casci found out.
IN the past 12 months Tom Bellhouse and Simon Glacken have overseen the release of four albums on their record label, embarked with their bands on tours both nationally and internationally and helped bring some of the world's most interesting and acclaimed bands to Leeds.
Their label Brew Records was named as one of the most exciting in the country by NME magazine and their bands' releases have received near universal praise.
However, far from operating from an ivory tower with an army of minions to do their bidding, the pair run the label from their bedrooms in the Hyde Park area of Leeds, doing virtually all the work by themselves.
Brew Records, named after the pair's love of Yorkshire tea and beer, is home to five acts, all of whom play completely different music but are united by one common factor; the will to be different.
Among their charges are Castrovalva, a three-piece who somehow bridge the gap between punk rock and gangster rap, These Monsters who perform largely instrumental psychedelic saxophone-driven soundscapes and Kong, whose primary aim seems to be to terrify listeners with harrowing yet alluring punk rock drama.
Arguably the two best known acts however are Leeds-based Chickenhawk and Humanfly, who can best be described as how John Coltrane would have sounded if he was into heavy metal. The music is unlikely to appeal to the casual listener but has found itself a sizeable cult following.
"It tends to be noisy rock we release, as that is the kind of music we listen to," says Simon. "But none of the bands sound the same. All of them have strong identities"
The label's first release was a single by Leeds shoegazing band I Concur before they released a 16-track compilation called Brew Records Volume One in 2008. Featuring three of the bands who would eventually release full-length albums with the label, it set a template for the pair's vision.
"I started getting into the music production side of things when I was at university," says Tom. "I hated it there and felt it was holding me back from what I wanted to do – which ultimately was this. I knew Simon wanted to do something similar. We got a little bit of money together and did the compilation. Since then we have been slowly adding bands."
Rather than looking for bands with commercial appeal, Simon and Tom preferred to work with bands they liked and admired. Bar Mancunians Kong, all of the label's acts are from Leeds and were all known to the label before signing, although neither men like the word.
"It is not so much signing a band, it is more of a gentlemen's agreement," says Tom, wincing. "It is based on friendship and trust. We are mates with the bands before anything else."
Simon, a musician himself who played in Leeds bands Johnny Poindexter and International Trust, agrees, saying: "The bands come first. If we do make money from a gig, we are more likely to use it to help the bands buy food and drink."
Taking their lead from Leeds music scene's strong Do It Yourself work ethic the artwork, distribution, bookings, legal work and publicity is all handled in house. From their homes, online orders have been shipped all over the world and the label's bands have established enough of a following to tour around Europe. The pair hope next year to open an office somewhere in Leeds but as Simon says "anywhere I have WiFi I can work", pointing to his phone.
The advent of the internet and downloading music has presented the music industry with arguably the biggest challenge in its history. However Brew see the web more as an opportunity than a hindrance.
The label routinely give tracks from their bands away for free as downloads as a means of enticing people to buy the full album.
"Some of the stuff we release has been leaked," says Simon. "But when These Monsters played in Serbia at a festival there were people shouting out for songs that had
not been released. It has as many good points as bad ones."
The niche nature of the material of the bands Brew produces means that the label itself has attracted interest from music fans. Tom recounts a story of when he was on tour in Germany with one of the bands and a beaming fan came over to announce he had travelled across the country to watch.
"Fans tend to be a little obsessive. If they buy one record from us, they tend to buy all of them," he says.
As well as being a record label, Brew also acts as a concert promoter, bringing acts as diverse as Japanese classical band Mono and former Can frontman Damo Suzuki to Leeds. Tom works full-time at Leeds University whereas Simon, who was recently made redundant from the civil service, now works full-time for the label.
"Hopefully next year I will be able to afford to buy clothes," he jokes. "I work harder now than I ever have before – I am up till 2am most nights."
I leave the pair as they discuss an upcoming trip to the BBC's Maida Vale studios in London for a live session for Humanfly. As we part, Simon sums up the label's approach to their art well.
"We don't expect to make a lot of money. I do dream of one of the bands becoming massive and people having to seek out their first album on our label. But if you had said when we started this that I would be working with some of my favourite bands on a day-to-day basis, putting out records for them and touring Europe, I'd have snapped your hand off."
What the critics say about brew
Castrovalva: "You can imagine their live shows to be a tangle of noise and righteous poses" – Rock a Rolla Magazine
Chickenhawk: "Crazed guitar rock from Leeds….featuring the 'Becher's Brook' of guitar solos" – Steve Lamacq on I Hate This Do You Like It.
KONG: One of the best live bands in the UK right now" – Dan Carter BBC Radio 1
THESE Monsters: "These Monsters are simply amazing. The four-piece make blunderbusses of songs that would give Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Mogwai nightmares." – Sandman Magazine