Declaring Independence | K-Creative
Once part of Talkin Loud's capuccino-flavoured jazz/rap fraternity, K-Creative now find themselves out on their own. But, after meeting Simon Trask, they admit that things are still OK and getting ever more Creative
Getting dropped by a major label needn't be the end of the world. Jim C of jazz/rap collective K-Creative explains how they've turned their departure from a major to their own advantage...
This time last year, K-Creative were signed to a major label (Phonogram via independent Talkin Loud), full of youthful enthusiasm and hard at work on their debut album. Yet at the tail end of the year, scarcely two months after the album, Q.E.D., had been released, they were unceremoniously dropped from the label. Today the group are still full of youthful enthusiasm, still hard at work on material - but also still without a deal...
"To be honest, it doesn't really worry us," says Jim C of the group's newfound status, speaking on the phone from their communal north London home. "In fact, we were looking to terminate our contract anyway, because we weren't being particularly well treated. Even though we had four singles and an album out in the space of nine or ten months, and were playing plenty of gigs, the extent of promotion and tour support from the company was minimal. We did a university tour last October and had some Levi's sponsorship, which was actually the only injection of cash and promotion that we had."
K-Creative weren't the only Talkin Loud act to exit stage left - Omar, for one, followed soon after them. At the heart of the situation which led to their departure, it seems, were a clash of personalities between the A&R heads of Talkin Loud and Phonogram and a clash between two very different cultures, one fast-moving and entrepreneurial, operating at street level, and the other slow-moving and corporate, operating out of the boardroom.
"Phonogram have no real experience in the dance ethic," Jim explains, "because they're so used to the rock market, with Tears For Fears, Dire Straits and Elton John. That's where all the money was going, and that's where they'd had all their experience, so they didn't really know what was going on with Talkin Loud, they couldn't understand the real nitty-gritty of what they had to do to succeed in the dance market. They didn't know about having to put out a lot of promos. In fact, they were very tight with their product; the promotions manager had a terrible time getting records to send out to DJs."
There were also some ironic aspects to K-Creative's relationship with their record company, again perhaps down to the latter's misconceptions about the longevity and appeal of 'dance music'.
"The way we were looking at our deal," says Jim, "was like the Stereo MC's on Island, where it came to their third album and that was where they finally matured into a sound which was hugely marketable. Unfortunately, Phonogram decided we weren't worth it - even before our album came out. We know that now."
K-Creative were also prepared to take time building up a fan base in the traditional manner ie. by going out and gigging. In fact, in a little over 14 months they've played 120 gigs in the UK, Europe and Japan. Live playing has always been important to the members of the group, who, inspired by the likes of Trouble Funk and Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers, formed their own go-go band while still at school so that they could put on live jams for their friends.
Looking on the positive side of K-Creative's departure from Phonogram, Jim says the band were relieved to have been able to make a clean break: "The company could actually have strung our contract out for at least another six months, we could still be signed to them now and not have any records out."
Instead, K-Creative are free to move in whatever direction they want. Far from being dispirited by their experience, the group see their enforced 'layoff' as an opportunity for reassessing their direction.
Trumpeter, keyboard player and bassist Zen B is going his own way on amicable terms, leaving Jim C, Rhodes/synth player Dominic - aka The Botanist - and rapper/guitarist V-Love to carry on as the nucleus of the group. To this nucleus will be added a bassist and a singer, as soon as auditions turn up the right people; the new line-up will be completed by saxophonist Chris Bowden, who has worked with the group for some while.
Like their line-up, the group's musical direction from now on will be a mixture of old and new... "What we're looking at now is a more song-based approach on the one hand," Jim explains. "While on the other, we'll still be pursuing the rap angle. Because we've got such a good unit as a band, we can put our strengths into two different approaches.
"The important thing is that it won't be anything wishy-washy - not this sort of soul stuff with a nice-sounding band, because we're not really into that. We will be doing songs, but they'll have the K-Creative edge to them. I guess the song direction will be based more on the live aspect of having a band playing quite a hard funk track, and then having a sweet, but powerful soul vocal on top of that - probably bordering on garage-type house music."
Perhaps the most fundamental decision the group have to make in the coming months is whether to sign with a major again or opt for an independent... "Because we've learnt the ins and outs of the politics that go on in a major company, we could quite easily say that we wouldn't touch the majors with a barge pole," comments Jim. "Our management would prefer it if we could get a nice big deal with a major, but our tip really is that it would be very nice to get licensed through a major but have our own record label, or at least put out some white labels in the next few months.
"There are a couple of labels in Germany which are prepared to get us out there for four weeks and do a six-track EP or something, any time we want. But we just want to keep the plot simple for the time being, get a good couple of albums' worth of demos together, then go round and see what the majors have to offer. The problem with our contract with Phonogram was that we didn't have any management when we signed, and we also didn't have any experience with the legal side. This time around if we go for a major we'll have a lot more demands - clauses for promotion, for tour support, things like that."
On the other hand... "The independents have often got far more interesting ideas for marketing and promotion. I think the majors really need to watch out at the moment, because there is so much dance coming out and being successful that isn't on a major label. These smaller labels are much more sussed in knowing what the market wants, and because there are so many DJs and clubs that are involved at an independent level, they know the score right from the dancefloor. Whereas the majors haven't really got much of an idea, they're still stuck with their big acts."
Jim also identifies another reason why the independents could be mounting a strong challenge... "Once recordable CD gets to a level where the independents can really exploit it, I'm sure that you'll be able to buy independent CDs for at least half the price of what they're going out at right now. If an independent can whack out a load of CDs cheaply, all they need to do is spend a bit of money on an inlay, then they can put a load of boxes in the back of a van, go round the country, and there's your distribution.
"Another problem with Phonogram is that they're the most expensive major label for anything - CDs are £13.49. As far as I'm aware, CDs are not expensive to manufacture, it's all the other costs that are incurred which make the price so high. The production costs of a CD on Phonogram, there's so many different departments and costs that it has to go through, whereas if you're talking on a smaller scale, with an independent doing it all in-house, the costs for making a CD would be just so much cheaper. There could be a real storm brewing there."
In many respects, now is a good time for K-Creative - indeed, any unsigned band - to be considering their options. Are we perhaps approaching a time when nimble-footed independents will be able to undercut and undermine the majors?
"It's certainly food for thought for any band that's looking for a deal," Jim replies, "because if they do sign a long-term deal with a major, you never know, they may be shooting themselves in the foot in the future. They may find themselves tied to a deal with a major which is putting out CDs at £13 a shot, whereas another band that's been persevering with an independent can get their albums out for a fiver or six quid, thus selling that much more and making just as much money." Food for thought indeed.
Although K-Creative have no plans to play any gigs at the moment, if you live in or around London it's worth keeping an eye and an ear open for information on the sporadic all-night North London Cosmic Jams, at which K-Creative often form the core band. Any musicians can get up and jam at these events - so who knows, go along and you could end up jamming with Jim and Dominic.
Interview by Simon Trask
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