Australian Record Labels Focus On First Independent Music Exchange

26 October 2023 | 11:18 am | Christie Eliezer

Over two days this weekend, the focus of the indie scene will be at the inaugural Independent Music Exchange (IME) in Melbourne.

The Independent Music Exchange

The Independent Music Exchange (Supplied)

Over two days this weekend, the focus of the indie scene will be at the inaugural Independent Music Exchange (IME) in Melbourne.

About 60 labels will be represented at their stalls, while thousands of their customers hang out with them while picking up vinyl, cassettes, merch, zines, test pressings and posters. Co-founder Michael Kucyk says it “celebrates the inspiring record labels that have established themselves from grassroots, operating on their own terms while disregarding any rule books, the mainstream and the industry at large.”

Kucyk’s passion for music saw him set up his own label Efficient Space, host radio shows on Triple R (Noise In My Head) and London’s NTS Radio Live and work as A&R at Mushroom Music Publishing and Modular Recordings. Also involved in setting up IME were Maryos Syawish and Corey Kikos of ambient techno, deep house, and electro duo Sleep D. They’ve also run the electro label Butter Sessions for the past 12 years, with a roster including Sleep D, Jennifer Loveless, Polito and Unsolicited Joints.

Syawish, who’s also run Research Records with Alessandra Peach for six years, is only concerned about the positives of being indie. “It’s nice to be operating autonomously and just doing what were passionate about, not really paying attention to what’s the latest trend, and decisions aren’t driven by financial pursuit,” he says. “It feels more free and the community that is involved around that reflects that. It feels like everyone that we work with has these ideas. It’s genuine and their interests are genuine.”

Syawish, Kucyk and Kikos did small label markets in their studio. But attending design and book fairs which drew diverse audiences and were catalysts for adventurous thinking, made the three realise they needed to scale up. The opportunity came when indie legend Woody McDonald co-founded the inaugural The Eighty-Six festival (October 23 to 31), celebrating the #86 tram route that travels from the Melbourne CBD north on High Street covering Preston, Northcote, Darebin, Reservoir and Thornbury.

Courtney Barnett sang about meeting a beau on the line, and the bedroom philosopher released an album called Songs From The 86 Tram.

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The idea of The Eighty-Six to showcase acts not just in its legendary venues as Northcote Social Club, the Croxton Bandroom and the Thornbury Theatre but also record stores, bars, restaurants and bowls clubs, was a perfect fit for IME. It runs at Masaya Reception on Stott St, Thornbury from 10am to 5pm on Saturday October 28 (sorry, ticket allocation exhausted) and Sunday October 29 (when no tickets are required).

The labels showcased include Dot Dash, Hopestreet, Altered States Tapes, UNFD, Chapter Music, Bedroom Suck, Dinosaur City, Our Golden Friend, Rice Is Nice, Anti Fade, Cooking Vinyl Australia, Cool Death, Feral Media, Lost and Lonesome, KGLW [King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard] and Poison City.

There is a great deal of anticipation as labels gather to share their products and ideas and possibly plan projects and catch-ups. Says Sweetie Zamora of Dot Dash, Remote Control and Pointer Recordings: “I’m so excited that we were invited to come and be part of IME! I’ve watched our label partners be involved at the Indie Label Market in the UK and had hoped that one day something similar would be set up.”

Their stall has new releases and catalogue across all their labels including Dot Dash, Pointer Recordings, XL Recordings, Matador, Rough Trade, 4AD and Young.  Zamora adds: “It’s going to be an amazing chance to catch up with labels that are already friends of ours and also hopefully make new connections and friends with labels we admire but don’t know yet! I’m also looking forward to burning a gigantic hole in my wallet and buying lots of vinyl!”

Lachlan Stuckey of Surprise Chef and the label College Of Knowledge says IME’s timing is perfect, given that in the post-COVID period, music fans are enthusiastically hunting down new music. Indie labels are benefitting big time. “There’s been a greater enthusiasm from the music audience towards independent music and their record labels than major labels at this stage,” Stuckey recounts. “Labels like ours have seen a greater level of goodwill from the consumer. They’re recognising the struggles of operating indie labels and there’s greater support for us than larger operations with more resources and money.”

Part of the support comes, he suggests, from the fact that indie executive have been forthcoming about how difficult it has been through COVID and then inflation. In fact College Of Knowledge music has grown in recent years. “Funnily enough our audience grew over COVID because people had more time for music in their lives, spending more time at home. The feedback that we got was that a lot of the people who listen our music appreciated it because all the music on our label is instrumental. People have told us that our kind of music was just what they needed at that time when they were at home and life was slower.”

Stuckey and label partner Jethro Curtin work out of a rambling run-down brick mansion in Coburg built in 1917. They called it College Of Knowledge as it was “the epicentre of our operation. We recorded there, we worked from there, keeping all our stock and shipping all our orders there. It was where we and people could learn about making music.”

The label exists in its own universe with the acts with the same influences and stipulations, with many of the acts Karate Boogaloo and the Pro-Teens sharing members. “What I’m looking forward most to about the Exchange is connecting with other people who run independent label operations like ours. Often what we do can be a solitary task. Usually it’s Jethro and I working on our laptops. So the integral part of this Exchange is that people doing similar things come together to connect and reinforce our sense of community and share notes.”

Syawish is hoping for an outcome where “people will recognise what a record labels role is, especially in independent circles, and it brings awareness to tat work, the curating and passion all these labels bring. It’s in the name, it’s about exchanging ideas, and we want to make it an annual thing for the foreseeable future.”