Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London riots hit local labels too

Posted By on 08.09.11 at 02:56 PM

Round-the-clock news coverage notwithstanding, to Americans the rioting in England over the past few days can seem pretty remote. Unless you've got friends or relatives caught up in the destruction, it might seem like nothing more than a Clash song come to life (and I've seen a lot of commentary on the Internet today, especially Twitter, that doesn't rise above that level). This morning, however, a piece of news went out that made it a little easier to feel the effects of the violence here in Chicago: several local record labels have suffered disastrous losses in a London fire.

Thrill Jockey, Drag City, and Touch and Go (which is a catalog-only imprint these days) were among the independent labels whose stock was destroyed in a warehouse fire in north London last night. The building is owned by Sony DADC, but the multinational does order fulfillment for PIAS, the UK's largest independent distribution company. While the Chicago labels were still awaiting details about what they'd lost before deciding where to go from here, it's clear that the pain is going to be serious. Thrill Jockey owner Bettina Richards estimates wholesale losses of £189,000 (more than $300,000), with anywhere from ten to a hundred copies of each of the label's 280 back-catalog titles destroyed. PIAS carries insurance that will cover replacement costs of the actual product, but that doesn't cover shipping, processing, and administrative costs (or lost business in the meantime). Vinyl releases are a special case too: most pressing plants offer lower prices for larger quantities, which means that, say, replacing 100 of the 750 copies of Thrill Jockey's forthcoming vinyl-only album by Matthew Friedberger will cost more per unit than the original pressing (and the difference probably won't be covered by insurance). West, a new TJ album by Wooden Shjips, was supposed to be shipped today for a release date next Monday—now, with 2,000 copies destroyed in the fire, the label is expediting copies to London, but it's unlikely it will be able to hit August 15.

Brett Sova of Drag City declined to get into details about losses until the label has more information, but he called them catastrophic. Copies of the August 22 slate of new releases, including albums by PG Six and Sun Araw, were already at the warehouse and thus lost; Sova isn't sure if they'll miss their announced release date.

Luckily for both of these Chicago companies, the UK territory is only one of several that where they have stock in warehouses; some smaller English labels probably lost their entire stock overnight. Suffice to say that all of the 150-plus indie labels that used the warehouse took serious hits. If you care about independent music, I'd say this is a much better time than something like Record Store Day to show support with your wallet. Buying music directly from the affected labels is one way to help; online retailer Boomkat has made a Web page collecting its PIAS releases, and this Guardian article has a full list of labels distributed by PIAS.

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