Vinyl Transmission

Love the smell of warm vinyl in the morning? Russ Parsons, co-founder of London's Uncharted Audio imprint, talks to Spannered about his fondness of the black stuff and of the label's current Signals project

By Ali Wade

Kone-R, aka Russ Parsons, will be a familiar name to frequenters of London's electronic music haunts, especially anyone who has tripped over to Ginglik in Shepherd's Bush of a weekend, where he has held down a residency for the past four or so years.
Back in 2002, he co-founded the small yet impeccably formed Uncharted Audio imprint — a label emitting a steady stream of exploratory sonic excursions during the noughties, serving up music from the likes of Cursor Miner, Langer, LJ Kruzer and John Callaghan, alongside a fair few tracks from Kone-R's own arsenal. The label's latest offering is part one of the Signals series — a highly limited, subscription-only set of works from heavywieght electronica artists, manufactured on six deliciously designed pieces of 7" vinyl and posted out to subscribers at the rate of one a month. The artists and tracks on each release are being kept secret until each instalment drops, but suffice to say, followers of the label's output won't be at all disappointed.
Signals stands as a two-fingered salute to the increasing numbers of the elite DJ set who are denouncing vinyl as a moribund format, and as such we decided to tap Russ up for a few words on the project, on running a small label, and on the current state of record sales. He's also put together a super-deep techno mix, exclusively for Spannered, which you can listen to here.

Signals is available via subscription only from the Uncharted Audio site.
So, what’s the deal with the Signals series?
It’s a straightforward concept — six 7” singles only available via subscription. None of them will be available separately or in any shops and they’ll be posted out on a monthly basis. Musically it’s all about the finest in UK electronic music, across a spectrum of styles. And that’s it!
How did the concept come about?
I have to admit it’s nothing new, I can’t take the credit for inventing it. There’s been quite a few labels done subscription series down the years, but from a personal point of view the inspiration came from two sources, firstly the Twisted Nerve Jukebox 45’s series from a couple of years back, which was great as it covered loads of musical ground. There were 12 of them and it took quite a while for them to get through it all — the other one was the Slut Smalls series, which was done by the ill-fated Jockey Slut magazine (RIP); I think they basically ran out of money after 9, which was a great shame as there were some amazing tracks on those. I think the lesson I learned from these was not to bite off more than I could chew, hence why I opted to just do six volumes for the first one. It’s still been a logistical nightmare to be honest, but everything should be delivered on time!
You’re not giving much away about the contributors… Care to drop any hints?
Well the first volume features On/Off, which is a Posthuman side project. I heard this particular Digitonal remix and wanted to release it straight away. Josh from Posthuman has been an invaluable help in putting the whole series together; I really can’t thank him enough for his support on this, and Andy Digitonal is another good mate and all round top bloke, so it was lovely to get them both on board with some music. The other track is by Abstrakt Knights, and Sam and Mike are another pair of diamonds. I met them through our residencies that we’ve held at Ginglik in Shepherds Bush for several years now.
I don’t want to say too much about the guests on the other ones just yet as it’s nice to keep it a surprise for the subscribers — they won’t know what to expect until it falls through the letterbox! But suffice to say there are a couple of names who’ll be familiar to anyone who’s followed Uncharted Audio down the years, and a few names that are guaranteed to turn heads. Personally I’m very proud to be associated with this line-up, and I’m over the moon about some of the people who’ve contributed. Naturally there were a few people turned us down because we don’t have a massive budget but maybe if we do another series in the future, they can be persuaded.
Uncharted Audio releases are often presented with a ‘special touch’ — coloured vinyl, bonus CDs, postcards, pin badges… Why is aesthetic value so important to you? Any plans for freebies/includes with the series?
I’m surprised because I’ve never felt like aesthetic value was that important, all those things sort of happened by accident; you stumble upon a gimmick and think “hmmm” so you give it a go. Oddly, the ones I think appeal in that way always seem to sell less than the others! The music has always been the most important aspect of any Uncharted release, with stuff like design often coming as an afterthought but through working with some great designers down the years, I’m quite pleased with how the catalogue looks, retrospectively. It’s funny you mention the postcards — they always divided opinion in a love-it-or-hate it way; some people hated those flimsy bag sleeves. Our first releases always came like that because it was cheaper to do it that way than do proper sleeves! But I think they look fantastic, and in some ways I do wish we’d kept that look down the years.
Signals has a very distinctive look, and I have to thank Wil Russell for doing all the design work on them, he’s done a fantastic job. As for freebies, yes there are some planned but to be honest I haven’t settled on what they’ll be yet. There will definitely be some written pieces, food for thought.
You’re very fond of the 7” format. You’ve said it’s becoming difficult to get non-rock 7”’s distributed properly — but surely it’s tricky getting any physical format properly distributed these days? Are 7”s particularly problematic?
I think I may just be bitter in that respect, because whilst the 7” as a format is stronger in sales terms than it’s been for years, the majority are major label and rock singles, and as the indie stores continue to get squeezed out of business, you have to look to get your 7” into the likes of HMV, which is not easy, particularly if you’re talking about a style of music which some people now consider unfashionable. But yes I love the 7” and will continue to support it as long as I can.
What do you think will happen to physical music distribution? More cottage industry ventures being run out of peoples’ kitchens? An increase in specialist distros combined with online shops, such as Hardwax and Boomkat?
I do think it will endure, but it’s taking a spanking right now and it will probably decline further. It’s a situation I personally find very sad. Yes, there are good things about mp3, massive portable music players, P2P and so on, but I’m certain they are having a negative effect in a lot of ways. Albums being leaked months in advance of release is probably the major one — but there’s no way of stopping it unless you go to ridiculous measures. It annoys me that some people feel the need to increase their internet kudos in this way. Try and get some actual kudos in the real world instead, folks!
Although I admit I do use them a lot, internet record shops are a bit of a weird one for me as well. I recently saw a leading UK one referred to as ‘the Tesco of record shops’ and it really struck a chord. You could trawl the net and check out every release on vinyl each week now, it makes it easier to source your records, but it takes away the thrill of the chase, which I always loved. Christ, I get nostalgic for the record buying process of the mid-nineties, that’s a bit pathetic really isn’t it?!!!
Dave Clarke recently said that vinyl has “no future on a sustainable commercial level”. Labels like Uncharted Audio — that often press up just 200 or 300 copies — are clearly creatively rather than commercially driven, but would you say his comment holds much weight?
I’m not really sure — there’s still plenty of vinyl about, and whilst there’s a demand for it that won’t change. Sure, there’s competition from digital formats, and the likes of Clarke and Hawtin have been quick to buy into them now that the technology is progressing, but people still have that same old love for the vinyl. People have been using the ‘vinyl is dead’ statement ever since the first CD was manufactured but it has endured. I could see a situation where CD dies off before vinyl does. I’m a little disappointed in the likes of Clarke and the way they’ve been so quick to announce the death of vinyl – after all, I think they’d have to admit they owe their career to the format. Also they seem to think they are trendsetters and that everyone will soon make the switchover, but what they overlook is that your average DJ doesn’t have the resources to digitise their entire vinyl collection, and I know this is a big stumbling block for most people.
You’re a big fan of vinyl. As Peter Chambers says in this article, it’s difficult to make a rational case for choosing vinyl over digital — but, like many others, you’re hooked on the format. What’s the allure for you? Is it the sense of connectedness he mentions?
Yes, when it comes back from the plant there’s a sense of having placed something in time and space that isn’t there when you render a digital file. This in turn gives you a big sense of achievement. These objects could outlast me or the artists, but we’ve left a mark on the world, if only in a tiny way. It’s amazing how many people who publish their tunes on the internet still go all gooey over the idea of ever having a track committed to wax, and I think that’s telling. People still find the format special in itself, I just hope that plenty of them continue to do so. Maybe Signals will help turn a few more people on to the joy of vinyl — I would consider that a major triumph. 
 The Signals series is available via subscription only, from the Uncharted Audio site.
 You can listen to Kone-R's exclusive mix for Spannered here.
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