Transparent label profile: “They’re not the biggest songs in the world, but they should be.”

19.01.10, Words by: Ruth Saxelby

TRANSPARENT are an incredible record label and blog from London. They put out the most wonderful 7s, including very significant releases by people like Washed Out, Small Black and Active Child (download the B side on the right) and their blog is a brilliant source of photography and words and great music.

Sahil Varma and Jack Shankly started TRANSPARENT as a fanzine in 2005, and Dummy talked to them in Puregroove in Farringdon at the end of last year. Sahil said this: “A few years later we got bored of doing a magazine, it was too much work on top of everything. One of our friends actually set up the blog for us, because we were quite opposed to the idea at first.”

Jack: “Our idea of a blog then was this really quite geeky, naff thing – a few press shots and 20 pointless remixes. But we just didn’t really see how creative it could be – we use some great photographers, and it’s a great vehicle, though it can get a bit silly sometimes. A band can be “old news” in the blog world in three days – it can seem like a joke world sometimes. I always moan about this, but there is a strange thing that something feels old before you’ve even put it out – like Washed Out had been everywhere, and it’s ridiculous that something written six months ago can be old hat already. It takes five weeks to press something, and then you can’t change that. But I like that it’s so instantaneous – it allows you to be really enthusiastic, because the music is so new. And then there’s the community side of it.”

Last year, they started putting out 7 inches. Sahil: “We’ve always wanted to do it, but we weren’t that motivated for whatever reason, but eventually we just decided to go for it. It’s only been six months. There’s never been much debate with us – everything we’ve heard, it’s been like “Yeah, we really should do this” and we both agreed.”

Their releases are, in chronological order:

Emil & Friends Downed Economy
Cymbals Eat Guitars … And The Hazy Sea
Fergus & Geronimo Tell It (In My Ear)
The Smith Westerns Be My Girl / Girl In Love
Washed Out Feel It All Around
That Ghost Never Have Fun
Small Black Despicable Dogs
Active Child She Was A Vision

It’s a fairly disparate bunch – Emil & Friends are an electro band, Washed Out makes hazy disco music, Fergus & Geronimo’s songs are garage-surf and Active Child’s She Was A Vision is a soul record. Having said that, there is a certain thread that runs through much of the releases. Firstly, there’s a certain haziness to much of the production – though often exquisitely worked, many songs sound more recalled than recorded, something that is reflected in many of the titles. Leading on from the production, while none of the songs are futuristic in the usual sense, most are based on notably electronic, or, rather, fit the electronic medium, something that Kev Kharas picked up on in his essay on Glo-Fi music. The intimacy that many have is actually something true of the bunch – one feels with every release that one is eavesdropping rather than listening. However, that’s not to say that these tracks are short of ideas above their station – Washed Out in particular released soaring, untameable tracks, and Jack told me something about how The Smith Westerns wanted to be the biggest band in the world. Like Jack, I admire that ambition greatly. Then, of course, there’s the melody. The melody of these records!

Jack: “They’re all just great pop songs really. I’m a sucker for melody, that’s what I really like, and we haven’t put out anything wilfully obscure. To me they’re the biggest songs in the world. They’re not the biggest songs in the world, but they should be.”

Sahil drops a hint about the intimate, personal nature of the songs: “Mostly, it’s the product of one super creative person, whether that’s in a band with one definite spearhead, or an amazingly prolific solo project.”

One of the interesting things about the record label/blog is how they manage apparent differing interests – like Neon Gold, XXJFG/Hungry For Power and, well, Dummy, TRANSPARENT are concerned with making music free on the one hand and asking people to pay for it on the other. Happily, they don’t shift their morals when it comes to the releases: “We still put everything that we put out on the blog for download. It would be pretty duplicitous to otherwise. People still seem to buy the records anyway. There are still three hundred people in the world who are excited when it comes out physically. And that’s all we ask for.”

On the subject of 7 inches, Jack said something interesting – “I love 7s, because of the succinctness of it – it’s just like a pure statement – five minutes a side, two sides, done. And I like the idea of the B-side, something you just don’t have with downloads. You know, like in the 70s when disco or whatever songs would have a love song on the B-side? I like that. There’s just loads of traditions that I love, like changing the record when the song is done. We’ll probably go into 12s for the album or whatever, but I’m really happy with the 7 for now. It’s quite a romantic idea – this is the striving for perfection – the three minutes of the perfect song. Two sides, two songs. Perfect.”

Transparent’s next release will be Perfume Genius’ Mr Petersen on February 22nd.

Transparent’s blog

Read Adam’s review of Small Black’s album.

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