[sic] Magazine

Label Focus : Highpoint Lowlife

I first came across Highpoint Lowlife, a London based imprint, in late 2007 via a spellbinding, limited edition vinyl compilation entitled ‘Magnetism, That Electricity…’ (pictured below). Such an apt name for such a dynamic compilation. Its eclectic quality perfectly encapsulating the ethos of the label, where the instrumental granduer of Mandelbrot Set stands side by side with the grimy dubstep of Fisk Industries and the sprightly electronica of Marcia Blaine School For Girls .

Subsequent investigation of HPLL led me to find a bona fide treasure trove of undiscovered records, (as the video samples below will atest), some issued via their fantastic Creative Commons Archive. Stray Ghost’s monumental ‘Losthilde’ remains as favourite, as does Erstlaub’s equally daunting, wind-sculpted ‘I Am The Line Drawn In The Sand Between The Living And The Dead’.

The fact that HPLL recently shifted towards an exclusive digital-only format may be a sign of the times, but they still have big plans as co-owner Thorsten Sideboard explains.

[Sic] Mag: What influenced you to start your own label and how have your values differed from your original aim?

Thorsten Sideboard: By the late nineties, myself and a good friend,
Joey Hurt who shared a similar music taste to my own, were running a
weekly club night in this dive bar. The club was a slow mover to start with, but over a couple of months became steadily more busy as more people heard about it. We were asking a lot of our friends from bands to come down and spin their favorite records with absolutely no restrictions on what they could play.

Our musical policy was to play pretty much anything and everything we were interested in or would listen to at home, so it was very open, usually made up of a combination of more experimental electronic music and lo-fi guitar stuff. Over the years we had spoken idly about starting a label, but by the summer of 2001, all the elements just seemed to come together, both of us with a bit more money and time, and with a bit of momentum behind us due to the club.

We decided to start with a double disc compilation reflecting the taste of the club, with one disc of more guitar driven shoegaze and noise, and the second disc comprised of stranger electronic leaning music, mostly all made by friends of ours who would we knew from doing the club. Our original aim was to promote our friend’s music, to release music that we would want to buy ourselves. The label still runs on exactly the same principle of working with people we know and whose music we love, so no, our values have stayed the same!

[Sic] Mag: How difficult was it to get your label established and what does it take to survive and prosper?

Thorsten Sideboard: That’s quite tough to answer! I don’t know if I would actually say we were established – there are a good number of people who know about and are fans of the label, but we’ve never had much mainstream success, and still sit very much on the outskirts of public attention. It’s definitely quite a challenge to prosper and actually make money at the moment, as there is a very real and strong move away from people paying for music. Even a load of my own friends who are real music geeks never actually pay for music now, so we are facing this very new challenge of how to support and pay labels and artists when direct music sales don’t account for much money. I’m completely about the music, so I am reluctant to try and move into other potential business models such as freemium and product tie-ins which all seem just too contrived and marketing driven. We’ve been focusing much more on digital only releases this year, as the main thing to sustain the label is just to keep your costs manageable.

My music buying habits have moved to buying almost exclusively digital downloads over the past few years, and with falling physical sales, it makes more sense to reflect my own habits and focus on digital releases. That move has been going really well so far, we’ve been receiving just as many reviews and radio airplay as before, but with a big economic difference – now instead of taking a £700 gamble to press up 300 vinyl 12”s, hoping to sell enough to break even and only putting out one release every couple of months, we can now release almost monthly, have much less overhead for each release (just the mastering costs), easily sell direct from our site and can have it available in all digital stores within weeks. Even if we sell less copies of each release, it’s much easier to be profitable and be able to split that with the artist as we don’t have to recoup expensive pressing costs.

[Sic] Mag: What do you consider to be your label’s proudest achievement and why?

Thorsten Sideboard: I think the support we’ve had from Mary-Anne Hobbs at Radio One and Rob Booth over at Electronic Explorations have been some of our proudest moments, it’s quite uplifting and affirming to hear our label profile and mix played out over national radio. We’ve had excellent fan feedback from some of the shows, and getting a positive email from someone into the music is definitely one of the most rewarding things, just making that personal connection with someone.

[Sic] Mag: When signing new acts, are there any particular attributes or factors that you look for?

Thorsten Sideboard: Not so much something definable, it’s a mixture of the music and the artists personality, getting on well together, and just the feeling of listening to something new and exciting, rather than an imitation of someone else’s style.

[Sic] Mag: If money was no object, which artist or band would you most like to work and why?

Thorsten Sideboard: Nah, if I had a load more money, I’d actually rather use that to do more releases with our existing friends and artists, using the money to be able to mount larger press campaigns and be able to put out silly loss-making elaborately designed physical vinyl releases!

[Sic] Mag: With so many formats now available, from digital through to various physical products, which one do you see thriving in the future?

Thorsten Sideboard: Digital without a doubt will be the dominant force for future musical sales, although I believe there will always be a small burgeoning vinyl scene too. However, one possible outcome is that people won’t buy or need any formats – Now with almost ubiquitous internet access there isn’t so much need to actually own the files or to keep them on a local hard drive when you can listen to almost anything via online services like Last.fm and Spotify. Personally though, I use (and work at) Last.fm, and while I love having access to my music library when I’m away from my own computer, I still want to own my own copies of music.

[Sic] Mag: Illegal file-sharing is obviously the burning issue in the music industry. Should labels embrace or distance themselves from it?

Thorsten Sideboard: You can’t distance yourself from it – it’s just a simple fact of life now, so you have to compete with file-sharing by making it easier and more convenient for people to buy legally than it is for them to be able to find a copy to download. I think it’s frustrating when labels’ release only physical copies before the digital, (although I can understand the logic in it, attempting to drive more people to buy physical before they offer the digital – it does work) – however, if I read about something, I want to be able to buy it and hear it straight away. If they only offer physical copies, then I’m likely to try and download it from rapidshare or any of the other sharity blogs, when I would have gladly paid for the download. It’s a tough question, and one which I don’t have the answer for, just my own opinions.

[Sic] Mag: What advice would you give to budding label owners?

Thorsten Sideboard: Do your own thing, do something new, have good music you’re totally excited about, and don’t look back! Even in the cloudy waters of musical sales at the moment, I really believe it’s one of the best and most exciting times to be doing a label – everything is changing and the rules are being made up as we go along; musically, I think things are just going wild now, with so many new and amazing producers, and virulent strains of musical cross-pollination. Oh, but don’t expect to make any money!!

[Sic] Mag: Finally, in five years time, where do you see your label?

Thorsten Sideboard: Phew! That’s a long time away, and I don’t want to jinx anything by making bold claims, but I’m confident we’ll be around and still putting out amazing “records”!

[Sic] Mag would like to thank Thorsten for taking part

Highpoint Lowlife Website