Happy Anniversary, Creeping Bent: Interview With Douglas MacIntyre
by anna battista
If you'd ask me where I was in December 1994, I would probably close my eyes and silently try to locate myself in the folds of time. After a while, though, I would reopen my eyes and tell you that I can't remember either where I was or what I was doing, but I can remember what I was listening to. It was A Sea With Three Stars by the Nectarine No.9, released a year before, in 1993, on the legendary Glasgow-based label Postcard Records. Occasionally, when I wanted to alternate something else to this album, I would listen to Sun Ra's Space Is The Place or to a bad quality tape a friend had done for me of Vic Godard and the Subway Sect: though the former had originally been released in the early '70s and the latter was a mish-mash of late '70s/early '80s stuff, I thought they were extremely contemporary. I wasn't bored at all by keeping on listening to this stuff, but I was keen on listening to new and groovy tracks, by, possibly, new and exciting bands. Fortunately for me, in that same year, a new record label based in Glasgow was founded and launched in that same December at the local Tramway Theatre. The name of the label was Creeping Bent.
A few years later, in 1998, I was in Glasgow when, by a strange coincidence, the Nectarine No.9 released their new album, Fried For Blue Material on Creeping Bent. The label had expanded at that time and released stuff by Adventures in Stereo, The Leopards, The Secret Goldfish, Alan Vega & Revolutionary Corps of Teenage Jesus among the others. A few gigs followed the release and I always tried not to miss any of them. Often I would position myself next to the stage totally lost in music as if the angry guitars of the band were angelic voices. There is a gig I particularly remember: the Nectarine No. 9 were playing, supported by Scottish poet Jock Scot, at a venue called the 13th Note. It would have been an ordinary gig, but it wasn't because Celtic had won the Scottish League Championship. The basement of the venue where the gig was taking place was practically deserted, yet it was great fun.
Ten years after that fatidic December and six years after that gig, I'm still in Glasgow. For a strange coincidence the Nectarine No. 9 have released a new album a few months ago, while Creeping Bent is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a special gig, part of the Triptych Music Festival, at the local Tron Theatre. Though all the Creeping Bent bands might not here tonight, there are The Leopards, The Nectarine No. 9, Gareth Sager, Future Pilot AKA and Colditz. I must admit that being here tonight is a personal matter: I feel like being together with old friends to celebrate a special anniversary.
There's actually somebody else who seems to feel like me tonight and that's Douglas MacIntyre, Creeping Bent label director and ex-member of the band Article 58 (often remembered in association with Postcard Records band Josef K, with whom they used to tour). Douglas is behind the line-up for tonight, which also includes a few artists from Fence Records and a showcase by Glasgow's Stow College electronica label Gdansk, which Douglas helped getting together. "We thought this was a good way to celebrate our ten years since the Triptych event is really good," Douglas says, sitting in the bar/restaurant section of the theatre while Fence Records' Onthefly is DJing. "The festival has a really developed programme and I just felt natural to do it. I wanted to do an evening that reflected the things I'm interested in, which is obviously Creeping Bent, but also Fence Records and Gdansk. I'm a massive fan of Fence and of King Creosote in particular, I actually think Kenny is a genius, I can't praise them highly enough, so I definitely wanted them to be involved and I was really pleased they accepted to do it. It is also a pleasure to introduce people to the Gdansk label, I think they are a fantastic bunch of students."
After briefly chatting about tonight's line-up and yesterday's gig in Aberdeen (a reduced Creeping Bent night featuring the Nectarine No. 9, Gareth Sager and Future Pilot AKA which Douglas assures me was good fun), I ask Douglas what changed for Creeping Bent throughout these years. "I think what changed is that now it is harder to sell records," he states, "The first record we released when we started off was a 7" single. We used to release lots of 7" singles and we sold a lot of them by most of the bands, from Adventures in Stereo to The Secret Goldfish. I remember it would be a disappointment if we sold a thousand 7" singles. Nowadays, we could never hope to sell one thousand records, it would be amazing even to sell only a hundred. So we have decided not to do 7" singles anymore because there is less of a market. I think one of the difficulties we had was that we never had a cash cow and I think we've been a bit unlucky just in terms of timing: we've never had a Mogwai or a Belle & Sebastian to kind of act as a cash cow, yet we sold a lot of records by many Creeping Bent bands, but, nowadays, you can't do CDs that sell less than one thousand, it's too much hassle. I think Fence Records have the right idea to just burn CDs through order because if you take manufacturing out of the whole equation, you've taken out the big slice of the financial pie. So, if there was a massive demand for downloading tracks or burning CDs, with an order of a few thousands, you would make a lot of money."
There is a major change that Douglas announces me for Creeping Bent: after ten years, the label is going digital. "One of the first things we'll release will be a Fire Engines live, the first ever gig they did," Douglas reveals, "This is a really lo-fi thing in terms of recording, but it's a great gig and I thought that the roughest, rawest sounding band was the perfect way to launch Bent Digital. I think we might occasionally still do CDs, though I doubt it. I hope we'll be able to release more things once we go digital. The digital choice is not an idea to make money, as I've got no interest in trying to be a big successful record company, it is more about getting stuff out. One of the difficulties we had at Creeping Bent was that there was a lot of great stuff I'd have liked to release but never had a chance to do it, because you have to weight up the economic side of the things before going ahead with a project and it was often very difficult to cover costs. So we'll see if things get better by going digital."
Another thing that has changed at Creeping Bent is that Nectarine No.9 moved to another record label, Beggars Banquet. "I realised that Creeping Bent wasn't in the position of making records for the band, because they are quite an expensive band for various reasons, such as recording or making things happen," Douglas says, "so I let a few labels know that they were looking for a deal and three labels wanted to sign them. We decided to sign them with Beggars Banquet, which I think is a great label, and the decision was quite successful. Their records with Beggars Banquet actually look like the ones they did with Creeping Bent and they have artistic freedom, so I mustn't grumble!"
During the last few years, Douglas has been working at Glasgow's Stow College, teaching during the Music Industry Management course and helping the students with the in-house label Gdansk, sister of another in-house label, Electric Honey. The latter, started by Alan Rankine and now under the direction of David Rogers, helped launching the careers of Belle & Sebastian, Biffy Clyro and Snow Patrol, among the other bands. "I started working part-time at Stow College maybe two and a half years ago," Douglas remembers, "but little by little I ended up doing more and more work at the college. During the course students learn about publishing, A&R, copyright and stuff like that, so they learn a lot of the business side of things. Some of the students might end up in the class, but might not be interested in electronic music, though most of them are. With some of them I try and make it quite wide and I usually play them some extreme tracks by Aphex Twin and then some of his more Erik Satie-kind of pieces and show them how wide electronic music can be even with one artist."
Gdansk released a first compilation which also included Alan Vega/Revolutionary Corps of Teenage Jesus' "Motox" (originally released by Creeping Bent in Alan Vega & Revolutionary Corps of Teenage Jesus' "A Brooklyn Nightmare") and Future Pilot AKA vs Two Lone Swordsmen's "The Gates To Film City" (originally part of Future Pilot's first album, Future Pilot AKA Vs A Galaxy of Sound). A Gdansk compilation, Outcome 2, is just about to come out, "I thought that for the first Gdansk CD it would have been good to licence an Alan Vega track and a remix of a Future Pilot AKA's track by Andy Weatherall's Two Lone Swordsmen. I think that the artists who were on it stood up well with Weatherall and this is a testimony to how good they were. Outcome 2 is an excellent compilation and I think it will go quite well, we've already been getting some radio playing, like on John Peel's programme. For the students to be able to say 'I was part of this' is great. I do feel really proud of them. In a class you might have only 60% of students who are motivated, but those 60% have done a brilliant job and the new CD is a proof of their hard work." Apart from teaching at Stow Collage, Douglas also lectures about copyright matters at Paisley University. "I really enjoy that," he claims, "Such a topic might sound dull, but it is quite interesting. Because of digital downloading, copyright is the single biggest issue at the moment in terms of the music industry."
The Tron Theatre is getting more crowded as minutes pass: by now there are quite a few Creeping Bent aficionados around. "I think tonight's gig will be great," Douglas nods. "I'm really looking forward to see the Fence Collective playing, but also the other acts. I'm actually looking forward to playing," he announces, since he will be playing bass with Future Pilot AKA and with Nectarine No.9. "It is usually a bit crazy to play as well when I'm organising stuff, but I feel remarkably relaxed. Most of the Triptych events were sold out, it is mostly like-minded people who come to see them. I think that if this kind of music or this kind of events got more support on the radio, more people would know about these things. For example, James Yorkston is totally accessible and, if people had a chance to hear his stuff, they would like him, in the same way as, if people would get a chance to hear Nectarine No. 9 or Future Pilot AKA, they would like them," he concludes. Since we're talking about gigs, I remind Douglas about the 1998 gig at the 13th Note, he seems to remember the peculiar atmosphere of that night. "We've done Creeping Bent events before with hardly anybody in the audience, but we still enjoyed it," Douglas smiles, nodding in recollection.
In a few minutes' time Colditz will be on in the foyer, but before we move there, we go back to talking about Creeping Bent. "There was a time in which it was more and more difficult to keep the business going because we were selling fewer records. It was really hard to do it, but I managed to do it and I feel like I've left the label before I really started hating it," Douglas states, "I've always conceived Creeping Bent as an art project and not like a record label or a successful business. I think we've got a worldwide reputation by now and I can easily say that in another ten or twenty years' time we'll be viewed in the same way the Velvet Underground used to be viewed and I'm very happy about that. I'm incredibly proud of the label, to me Creeping Bent is the best thing I have ever done and if that'd be the only thing I'd be known for I'd be very proud, because it would be great to be associated with some of the bands on the label and it has been great for me to put the whole thing together. So what can I say? It's been a gas."
There's no more time for words tonight, but there will be plenty of time for music. While Colditz are playing, I remember what Sun Ra used to say about his Arkestra: no, his band didn't belong to him, but to some mysterious forces which wanted to reach people. I suppose it's just like Creeping Bent, it doesn't belong to anybody in particular, it's just an art project guided by a mysterious force, reaching people with its bands and music. Creeping Bent might be going digital, but I think in ten years' time it will still be there, reaching people all around the world. And, most important, we'll still be here, totally lost in music.