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Miscellaneous - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 19 / 4 / 2009

Miscellaneous - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Nathaniel Cramp, the owner of London-based record label and shoegazing club Sonic Cathedral, which has just released its first compilation CD and album, which features tracks from all its singles to date

The shoegazing movement (or the shoegaze movement, as it is also known) was a branch of alternative rock of the late 80s and early 90s. Dubbed derisively by Steve Sutherland of 'Melody Maker' as "the scene that celebrates itself" because of its acts' habit of going to each other's gigs and socialising together rather than become involved in inter-group politics and rivalries, it incorporated together a set of bands, largely from London and the Thames Valley, that combined ethereal, whirlpool vocals with block after block of distorted, hazy guitars. While relatively short-lived, first coming to prominence in 1989 and largely having died out by the end of 1993, its main groups-My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, Chapterhouse and Lush-have gone through a revival of renewed interest in recent years and hold a massive influence on acts of today such as Asobi Seksu, Maps, M83, My Vitriol and the Twilight Sad. Describing itself in tongue-in-cheek homage as "the night that celebrates itself", Sonic Cathedral was first established as a shoegaze club night by Nathaniel Cramp, a sub-editor at the 'NME' in 2004, when he presented at The Legion in London a live set from the Radio Dept and a DJ set from the Creation label band the Telescopes. Subsequent Sonic Cathedral bills have seen live appearances amongst many others from Ride's Mark Gardener, Slowdive's Neil Halstead, Can's Damon Suzuki, the Jesus and Mary Chain's Jim Reid, Howling Bells, Dean and Britta and the Warlocks and DJ sets as well from Ulrich Schnauss, Alan McGee, Maps' James Chapman and Cramp himself. In 2006 Cramp also started under the Sonic Cathedral banner a record label. It has now put out twelve seven inch singles. These releases have included recordings by the Tamborines, Mark Gardener, the School of Seven Bells, Dean and Britta, Maps and Japancakes. In April Sonic Cathedral released its first CD, 'Cathedral Classics : Volume One', a compilation featuring tracks from all of the singles. With its first album proper, 'Unknown Colors', the debut album of Swedish shoegazing group Sad Day for Puppets, due out in June, Sonic Cathedral has never been at a more exciting or busier phase in its history. Nathaniel Cramp spoke to Pennyblackmusic about his club night and label. PB : Sonic Cathedral began as a club night in 2004. It was originally supposed to be just a one off night, wasn’t it ? NC : Yeah, it was. I was in the pub one afternoon with a friend who had arranged a baggy night playing all the Madchester era stuff and just as a joke he said, "Why doesn’t anyone do ever a shoegaze one ?" The idea stuck with me and I thought, "That's not really that bad an idea.”. There were all these shoegazing-bands around at that time like the Radio Dept and the Engineers. I had also heard some of Ulrich Schnauss’ records and M83 had recently released their 'Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts' album. I thought that I could be onto something and arranged it. I had never put on a band before ever. PB : How quickly did you decide to a second one ? NC : As soon as literally the first one was underway because so many people turned up. It seemed like it should carry on. The venue was absolutely packed. All these people who seemed like they had not been out in fifteen years turned up with Slowdive and Chapterhouse T-shirts on. It was crazy. Immediately it seemed like this was a good thing to do. PB : Were you a big shoegazing fan ? NC : Yeah. All those bands came out when I was a teenager. I was totally into Ride and Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, all of those bands from that era. PB : Sonic Cathedral is often described as being a shoegazing club and record label, and you have described it that way as well. Yet you make it quite clear in the sleeve notes to ‘Cathedral Classics’, however, that you also see it as something more than that. NC : That is because none of the shoegazing bands from the original era have a massive body of work. My Bloody Valentine only released two proper albums, and most of the groups from that time only put out an album or two. There were at one level loads of things that I could play at the club nights, but at another level there was only a finite amount. Even at that first night, I realised that I would soon run out of Chapterhouse 12 inches to play or whatever, so I decided to play as well the bands that inspired the bands from the shoegazing era and in turn those bands that have in turn been inspired by them. It has opened up things a bit at the club night and also allowed me to explore things at the record label and to see how far I can push the boundaries of what is acceptable or not with shoegazing fans (Laughs). PB : Do you see the club and the record label as running synonymously with each other or as being separate entities of the same beast ? NC : They intertwine because a lot of the bands I have put on at the nights I have done records with. The two things are inextricably linked really. PB : How did the record label start ? NC : I first thought about doing it after I had done a few shows with Mark Gardener. We were talking and I told him that I would love to do a single off his solo album, 'These Beautiful Ghosts'. We decided to get Ulrich Schnauss to remix it. It stemmed from there. In the mean time I spoke to the Tamborines and their single ('Sally O' Gannon'/'Be Around'-Ed) ended up being the first one that eventually came out. That was in October 2006. The Mark Gardener one ('The Story of the Eye') was the second one. PB : Download culture has made music more accessible, but also more throwaway. Each one of your singles has come out on vinyl, and often different coloured vinyl at that, while the posters for your club nights are basically art pieces. Do you see Sonic Cathedral in some ways hearkening back to old-fashioned values ? NC : Oh yeah, totally. I grew up in an era when all the records that I originally liked were made like that. I guess I am stuck in that mind set and the indie way of doings things. I like to make sure there is a package rather than just bunging out a record for the sake of doing it. I want each release to be special and something that people won’t want to get rid of. I have still got all the seven inches that I bought when I was younger. I really like the thought that someone might feel the same way about something that I have put out now. PB : Has there been one release in particular with the record label that you are particularly proud of ? NC : Oh crikey ! I am proud of each one really for different reasons. I am especially proud though of the Japancakes single of My Bloody Valentine covers ('Soon'/'Touched'-Ed) that I did because the resulting mixes that I got back were as weird and wonderful as the original My Bloody Valentine record, 'Loveless', from which they came. They, however, didn’t sound anything like them and I really liked the fact that they just didn't copy the originals. They did a cover of the whole album, but turned it into something quite original, which I thought was a fitting tribute. PB : You have now started to organise Sonic Cathedral nights outside Britain and in cities such as Leeds, Nottingham and Manchester. Is that just a means of putting the word out about Sonic Cathedral and do you see yourself doing that more often ? NC : I haven’t actually ventured outside London so far this year. It just tends to happen as it happens. I arranged a tour of Sonic Cathedral nights for Ulrich Schnauss last year. It is great going to other places, but as it is just me doing it is a case of time and trying to fit it in along with everything else. I get a lot of e-mails from people asking when I am going to come and play their city and I would like to do something in Edinburgh, for example, but it has just never happened as of yet. I don't tend to think about it any great terms, just that it would be good to do it somewhere else and to spread the word, spread the gospel (Laughs). PB : You have developed a reputation for quality. Does it get more difficult as a result running the club nights and the label longer you do it ? NC : My expectations are of myself too high I think (Laughs). I am a perfectionist. I am not saying they are perfect, but I would hate to think that I did something just for the sake of doing it. I always try and make things to the best that I can. It is not always that easy. There are always usually things to thwart you (Laughs), but I have tried and will continue to try. I won’t release a record because someone tells me too. I will only do it because I 100% want to and I believe in it. Hopefully that comes across even if I am doing something like writing a press release on it. PB : You must spend a vast amount of time each week running the club and label. NC : Once I finish my day job then I start the other job. I seem to be doing it more in the mornings before work rather than after work now. It is never ending, but it is all rewarding and worthwhile. PB : 'Cathedral Classics : Volume One' consists of all the singles released so far on the label. Why did you decide to package them all together ? Was it just a way of summing things up for fans of the label and club night who perhaps haven’t been there since the beginning ? NC : Yeah, exactly. As they all only came out on seven inch in the first place, it seemed like the obvious thing to do. It is a calling card in a way. It is like saying, "This is what we have been doing". It is not like an overnight thing. It has taken three years to get to that point and of course the School of Seven Bells and people like that have gone on to much greater success. It is quite a nice way of looking back. PB : Do you think this compilation album represents some kind of closure as well ? You have got Sad Days for Puppets' debut album, 'Unknown Colors', coming out in June. NC : I guess that is the end of the first chapter. PB : Are you going to be releasing less seven inch singles then and focusing more on long players as a result ? NC : Not necessarily. I want to do both. It is all progression. Sonic Cathedral has moved on in other ways as well. Until the last single which was by Sad Day for Puppets also ('Marble Gods'/'Big Waves'-Ed) we used generic artwork .It was quite a difficult decision to give up on it, but it seemed like a good way of drawing a line under it with that and the compilation and just seeing what happens next. You can’t use yellow and black and white forever. It gets quite limiting. That whole design was born out of not having any money, but trying to make the best of it with a minimalist look. It became the uniform look. It worked quite well I think. PB : You have got the Sad Day for Puppets album coming out. What else have you got planned after that ? NC : Well, hopefully I am going to be releasing an album by a French band who I won’t name at the moment because we haven’t signed them properly yet. I am also hoping to do a single with them as well as the album in the late summer and autumn. I am also trying to get a few bands to do some 13th Floor Elevators covers and to do a special EP or maybe a double pack seven inch depending on what comes out of it. I haven’t any recordings for that yet, but that is the plan though anyway. PB : Thank you.

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