Pink Eyes, lead singer of Canadian hardcore band, Fucked Up, said during their recent Liverpool show that, “There’s some great music coming out of this city. Cold Ones, SSS, The Down and Outs … fuck it, all the best bands are from Liverpool.” He will soon be able to add a few more to his list as MUGSTAR, STEALING SHEEP and DOGSHOW fire their creative rockets beyond our stars, having been headhunted by influential booking agency Elastic Artists. Bido Lito! caught up with Jason from Mugstar, Becky from Stealing Sheep and Sam from Dogshow, over a cup of tea in Mello Mello and found three musicians clearly enjoying having some promotional muscle behind their respective bands.
“They’ve got us on tours and given us opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have,” says Sam. “They’re negotiators; that’s what they do.”
Elastic Artists’ roster reads like a who’s who of hip, innovative and original acts not specific to any particular genre. Animal Collective, The Black Lips, Coldcut, Deerhunter, Dum Dum Girls, The Fresh And Onlys, and No Age all reside on their eclectic books. In terms of what their latest additions are trying to achieve musically, they couldn’t be further apart.
“I don’t know too many other bands that really sound like us,” says Sam of his synth and drums electro-disco machine Dogshow. “We often find ourselves lumped in with DJs or weird mixes of bands and I quite like playing to audiences that aren’t really expecting us.” In case you’re unfamiliar with Mugstar, their creative bent is a guitar-driven exploration of the dynamic possibilities of repetition and volume, cacophonous at worst, spine-tingling at best and like Dogshow, they see vocals either as superfluous to music, or as Jason puts it, “just another instrument.” By contrast, Stealing Sheep reside on a cotton wool plain of melody, their floating, delicate vocals being one of their most prized assets (demonstrated neatly by Becky singing absently to herself throughout the interview). So, it is perhaps more the creative energy flowing through the three bands that has piqued the London-based agency’s interest, rather than a common theme within their music.
Firmly nestled under the wing of Elastic Artists, this is clearly a pivotal moment for the three bands, not least for Stealing Sheep, whose gig calendar will see them embark on a European tour this summer – not bad for a band that began plying its trade less than a year ago. At the other end of the spectrum, scene veterans and Peel-favourites Mugstar have shown themselves to be late bloomers.
“We’d been trying to hook up with a booking agency for a couple of years without success,” says Jason. “Then Mike [Mike Deane, Liverpool Music Week Director] just sent us an e-mail saying he had a proposal for us. We thought he was going to offer us a gig or something, but he asked us to come on the books with Elastic.”
In an unprecedented move, whilst continuing his work in Liverpool, Mike has joined the London agency as a booking agent, opening the doors for the hugely talented trio to be negotiated onto the books of one of the most respected talent agencies in the world.
The importance of this juncture is evident in the suggestion from all three musicians that they are now starting to weigh up the responsibilities to their bands against the other commitments in their lives. Becky left her job as a shop manager in October; Jason believes that all night road trips back from London will soon be a thing of the past (all three members of Mugstar currently have day jobs); and Sam hopes that his main venture, co-running the Kazimier, will soon become, “more autonomous”, so that he can devote more attention to Dogshow.
Record releases are high on the agenda for the trio. Mugstar’s back catalogue spans about seven years, while Dogshow are still on their first album. Stealing Sheep have two albums out this year, even though Becky confesses to hating recording. It’s also interesting to note that they do not see record sales as the route to financial success, the converse of which is perhaps a misconception amongst new bands. They’re all in agreement that ownership of music and the revenue it generates for bands is becoming an increasingly blurry concept. Jason still buys lots of vinyl, but is of the opinion that nobody really owns music in the original sense of the word.
“Somebody might ask me if I’ve got the new Clinic album and I’ll be like, ‘well I’ve got it. You’ve got it on shuffle in amongst 5000 other songs.’ I think Spotify makes music more disposable.”
“I’d push for our music to be on Spotify,” ventures Becky. “I don’t really buy albums, so I wouldn’t expect anyone else to. Sam, would you?”
“I haven’t bought an album since I was a teenager,” offers Sam.
Although the financial side of the music industry is in such a rapid state of flux, Becky doesn’t see depleted record sales as a bad thing. “I don’t care too much about people buying our albums. I think it’s much more interesting if you can get your music synced to adverts or films – that’s a better source of revenue.” Everyone nods their assent. It appears obvious to them that, as the dissemination of music relies ever more heavily on advertising subsidies, with consumers paying less, it seems natural for artists to become part of that cycle in as many ways as possible.
In terms of future prospects, the general feeling is that none of the bands have specific ambitions or a concrete idea of what would constitute success for them. Dogshow are hoping to break onto the European circuit, Mugstar are excited about their American releases along with their publishing deal, and Stealing Sheep seem content to enjoy the present. “It’s the lifestyle we’re after! Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll!” jokes Becky, with more than a touch of irony.
Mugstar, Dogshow, and Stealing Sheep’s collusion with Elastic Artists looks set to catapult them onwards and upwards and, with any luck, they’ll be in orbit for a very long stretch.