4AD: 1980 forward, 2012 and beyond
June 1, 2012 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Mention the British record label 4AD, and some significant band names usually come to mind: Bauhaus, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Pixies, and The Birthday Party, to name a few. There is no singular "4AD sound," but there is an overall aesthetic, with some off-shoots into unusual territory (see: M|A|R|R|S - Pump Up The Volume). Recently, 4AD added another off-shoot to their roster: South Florida producer and MC, SpaceGhostPurrp. Purrp took a moment and talked with MtvHive about his decision to sign with 4AD, his current work, and growing up in Miami. More of 4AD and SPVCXGHXZTPVRRP inside.

Browse through the discography of 4AD, and you'll see a number of notable releases, the rise of Bauhaus, Nick Cave (in The Birthday Party), Cocteau Twins, and Dead Can Dance, and a few pop classics. There's a nice time capsule from 1987 in the compilation Lonely is an Eyesore, both in audio and in visuals. Each of the 9 tracks was accompanied by a music video, as found on VHS and Beta versions of the compilation. Those tracks can be heard and seen here: 4AD has recently started highlighting their new releases with a series of videos simply titled Sessions (previously linked for the Tune-Yards session), with copious notes and streaming in HD. You can also browse 4AD's larger collection of videos on YouTube, where you will find SpaceGhostPurrp's track No Evidence (edit), a cut from his forthcoming album, "Mysterious Phonk - The Chronicles Of SpaceGhostPurrp."

While this is the only Purrp track on 4AD's collection of videos, as with any young artist raised with the internet, he has his own collection of official videos (including other members of the mysterious Raider Klan). There's also his collection of mixtapes, also availble on Dat Piff. Purrp's first major recognition came with his work on A$AP Rocky's claimed LiveLoveA$AP mixtape (Dat Piff).
posted by filthy light thief (38 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
I've never heard of SpaceGhostPurrp, and since 4AD got bought by Beggar's Banquet, they've been a bit hit and miss for me, but I will absolutely give anything they put out a listen on the strength of 4AD's aesthetic and past record(s).
posted by immlass at 10:42 AM on June 1, 2012

A word of warning on Purrp's music - the lyrics, when you can discern what he's saying, are not safe for work.

Also, in the linkfest above, I tucked in a documentary on 23 Envelope, 4AD's in-house design firm in the 1980s behind the text "an overall aesthetic." It's an hour and 15 minutes of the 80s, recorded from VHS.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:45 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

My relationship with that label sounds like a particularly inside-baseball Onion article: "4AD was the soundtrack of my teenage years," says area man born in 1984.

I think finding out that so many of my favorite bands (many of whom did not share a sound outside of "appealing to a depressed, angry 19-year-old) were on that label was like finding out Steve Albini produced every other album I love. That label is, and continues to be a treasure trove of amazing music.

Also, back when I did the ordering at the punk-rock shop, one of our really small-scale distributors -- they had license to maybe like twelve designs, 3/4 of which were either Joy Division or Depeche Mode -- came out with a really plain 4AD t-shirt. I ordered enough for the store, and myself, and proudly displayed it in the window. You can actually see it in this coincidentally timely photo someone took to the right of the NIN shirt.
posted by griphus at 10:50 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Grimes Grimes Grimes
posted by Shepherd at 10:52 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, and you can totally tell I was working at the time the photo was taken because of the Kraftwerk and .45 Grave shirts in the window as well.
posted by griphus at 10:52 AM on June 1, 2012

I love 4AD, and I love SGP and Raider Klan. Most of all, I love SGP/Raider affiliate Lil Ugly Mane.

Awesome post!
posted by broadway bill at 10:53 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ahh cool, I'll try out the ones I'm unfamiliar with, thanks.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:53 AM on June 1, 2012

Hahaha oh man I saw Lil Ugly Mane (along with Shams, who you may remember for epically trolling Judge Judy) open for Salem a few months back. I had never been to a show before where I had felt like the Old Man; I think the amount of people there over the age of 25 was a handful.
posted by griphus at 10:58 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Also there was a fistfight.)
posted by griphus at 11:00 AM on June 1, 2012

Perfect Teeth by Unrest
posted by roboton666 at 11:00 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

St Vincent
posted by Grangousier at 11:05 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I love that Shams/Judge Judy bit...

Not surprised that the LUM/Salem show was a bit...off. The whole "witch house" or whatever scene definitely attracts some oddballs.

I do think it's cool, though, that Raider Klan/SGP/LUM and the rest of that set are really up front about the influence that old noise stuff had on them.
posted by broadway bill at 11:05 AM on June 1, 2012

Yeah, 4AD were the soundtrack of my 80s youth. One of the few labels whose records I would blindly buy, even if I had never heard of the band before. A lot of cash spent, but more hits than misses.

Oh, and that Dif Juz track is just about the most perfect piece of music ever written.
posted by googly at 11:06 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

googly: "Oh, and that Dif Juz track is just about the most perfect piece of music ever written."

"No Motion" is my single favorite song ever. Nice to see it linked to.
posted by jiawen at 11:18 AM on June 1, 2012

There was another 4AD compilation, along the lines of Lonely is an Eyesore, but larger: Lilliput, from 1992. Apparently very hard to get, though.
posted by jiawen at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2012

More recent 4AD goodness: Mark Lanegan Band and tUnE-yArDs.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 11:30 AM on June 1, 2012

tUnE-yArDs are on 4AD? Holy crap! That's a live show everyone should see at least once. I first saw them co-headline with Xiu Xiu. The opening acts were Twin Sister and Zola Jesus. I still have a feeling whoever managed that tour just took two unrelated tours (t-y and TS/XX and ZJ) and had them play the same show to save money or something. t-y played first, and about half the audience left about half a song into Xiu Xiu's set that followed.
posted by griphus at 11:33 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was 13, I thought 4AD was just the name of the Bauhaus EP I stole from my sister's boyfriend. Crowds so perfectly captured my naive and heartfelt angst. I still listen to many of the 4AD bands and, as said above, consider their brand to be a signal of quality.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:36 AM on June 1, 2012

I had no idea tUnE-yArDs was a 4AD act either, and I absolutely love the TY album. Just more proof that 4AD is a trustworthy outfit across genres.
posted by broadway bill at 11:37 AM on June 1, 2012

Since 2008, when Beggar's Banquet rolled their roster into the 4AD imprint, 4AD doesn't really have the curation people still associate with it. I don't think it makes sense to reference the 80s 4AD when discussing it in 2012. They're different animals. Up until about 1995, I would buy any 4AD release sight unseen. I would never do that now. They have some excellent artists, but there's not the aesthetic that Ivo Watts-Russell brought to signings during the first era.

There was another 4AD compilation, along the lines of Lonely is an Eyesore

There's quite a few 4AD compilations, but a good series of label snapshots would be as follows:

1981 - Natures Mortes/Still Lives
1987 - Lonely Is An Eyesore
1993 - Mai Pen Rai
1997 - Shoe Pie

Liliput is a nice package, but as a retrospective of the label's history isn't a good snapshot of that era's 4AD roster in 1992.

2009's Dark Was The Night features a fair number of 4AD artists, and was released on 4AD, but is symbolic of the label's new non-identity.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 11:38 AM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

And of course Scott Walker is now on 4AD. The proper Scott Walker, that is, not the total arse.
posted by Grangousier at 11:51 AM on June 1, 2012

There's a reason for the price discrepancy between Lilliput and Mai Pen Rai or Shoe Pie. Lilliput was limited to 3,000 copies and came with a 10" book. Some copies include a video compilation and T-shirt. Mai Pen Rai was a retail sampler, and Shoe Pie was a promo given out when buying a pair of Doc Martens.

And because this fit nowhere else: Air Miami - "I Hate Milk", a video for their 1995 single. Oh, the early days of music videos. So many visual non-sequiturs! Awkward breakdancing? Check. Band members looking bored while playing their instruments? Check. Guy in a ski mask and jacket, who later removes the mask and jacket to reveal a guy in a suit and tie, who sits down to drink wine and spill it on his shirt? Check!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:53 AM on June 1, 2012

One of my favorite 4AD bands was The Glee Club, and "Need" was my favorite song of theirs- and my dog's. I used to think it was some noise in the recording that would make her howl (in tune, no less), but one day I was singing the song to myself in the car, no music, and she sang along. A lovely, pretty, primal song, enjoyed by man and beast.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:54 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Brothers Quay did a number of videos for (Dirt Eaters-era) His Name Is Alive!
posted by griphus at 11:57 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I quite enjoy the Mountain Goats albums they released on 4AD, particularly The Sunset Tree. This Year is especially good.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 12:59 PM on June 1, 2012

I was abot to get all up in arms about the lack of The Wolfgang Press in the above the fold. I clicked inside and not only got rewarded with them, but also Dif Juz!

Crisis averted, I can now listen in sheer happiness.
posted by arcticseal at 12:59 PM on June 1, 2012

best label ever. changed my life.

also, this mortal coil is the awesomest house band ever.

here's a brilliant vaughan oliver book, covering his 23 envelope / v23 work with the label, and other associated greatness.

enough reminiscence. fantastic post.
posted by soi-disant at 1:11 PM on June 1, 2012

there's also a comprehensive collection of information, including obsessive scans of all the album artwork here.

oh, and red house painters. YES.
posted by soi-disant at 1:15 PM on June 1, 2012

And of course Scott Walker is now on 4AD. The proper Scott Walker, that is, not the total arse.

Came in here to post this. Providing a worldwide distribution artery for Scott's devastating The Drift (and Vaughan Oliver cover art) ranks among the greatest moves the label has made. His last LP, 1995's Tilt, was a pricey Fontana UK import until US indie Drag City put it out a few years later.

New LP in 2014?
posted by porn in the woods at 1:36 PM on June 1, 2012

1995 was the early days for music videos? Kid, get off my lawn!
posted by xil at 4:04 PM on June 1, 2012

OK, maybe not "early," but that production screams "we just got a video camera and are going to be on Mtv!"
posted by filthy light thief at 4:41 PM on June 1, 2012

Former 4AD employee here. I have nothing to add to filthy light thief's post, it was quite well done. So I'll just add my best 4AD story:

I had been an intern for a few months when I got the task of selling merch at the All Virgos Are Mad festival in September 1994. After setting up the merch table at McCabe's Guitar Shop one evening, I was sitting around waiting for the doors to open when Brendan Perry strolled in and started trying out guitars. Soon he found one he liked and proceeded to sit down, about three feet away from me, and start playing. He went through five or six tunes, nothing I recognized, but maybe something that ended up on the next DCD album. I was far too intimidated to say a word, so I just sat there and tried to look nonchalant. When he finished, he just glanced over, nodded, put the guitar back on its hook and wandered off. There were no McCabe's employees in the room at the time, so as far as I could tell, it was a completely private concert.
posted by otters walk among us at 6:53 PM on June 1, 2012 [9 favorites]

Thanks to 120 Minutes playing the Dif Juz song, I got my local record store in a small southern town to order Lonely is an Eyesore, which had an almost overwhelming effect when I was 17. Can't state fully what this album did for me.

Anyways, I have to mention my favorite 4AD album, Insides - Euphoria. Absolutely gorgeous minimally lush pop songs with cynically lusty lyrics, which kinda sorta fit in with the rest of the mid-90's dreamwaving lingering staring-at-shoes stuff. But, to me, there's something absolutely timeless and transcendent about this album.

Insides - Euphoria - Darling Effect

Insides - Euphoria - Relentless
posted by honestcoyote at 6:56 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can heartily recommend This Mortal Coil's "It'll End in Tears" to anyone looking for a taste of the early 4AD aesthetic, and any of Red House Painters' early 4AD releases (eg, "Down Colorful Hill", the self-titled Rollercoaster album) to add a different perspective.

There's an interesting discussion between Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid, etc etc) and Ivo Watts-Russell (4AD founder, and SOTL's biggest fan) that rubs up against the selling of 4AD:

posted by pjm at 8:18 PM on June 1, 2012

Colourbox was such a brilliant band. 'Arena' and their stonking cover of 'You Keep Me Hanging On' won my teenage heart forever.

Such a shame that they turned into M/A/R/R/S and imploded immediately after. The world could do with a few more lush Lorita Graeme albums.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:09 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

This little box set should please you then, yellowcandy. Was just released last month.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 1:06 PM on June 2, 2012

So back in the early 90's I was on a 4AD listserv (oh yeah), and one day the denizens of the listserv decided to assemble our own "best of" compilation. Songs were volunteered, voted on, dismissed, accepted, flamed, praised, etc. When the dust settled, there were 2 playlists split across 2 100-minute tapes (!), where the first tape was intended to compile some of the more obscure favorites of the listserv, and the second tape was comprised of the crowd-pleasers, so to speak. Or at least that's what I vaguely recall, it may have been more of a guideline rather than a rule, judging by the actual content. A mailing list of actual real-world addresses (!!) was assembled, the master tapes were recorded (!!!), and the chain mail was commenced, with no small fanfare. From what I understand there was a high-level exchange of "master" recordings that was undertaken because no one person had all of the material in their collection. The deal was that once you had the tapes you had 48 hours to dupe them and mail them on to the next lucky recipient. To this day I have no idea if the tapes made it all the way to the end of the line. This is how we had to do things in the Internet Stone Age, people!!!

Today I dug through my basement crates and unearthed both tapes. Here are the playlists. So if some zeitgeist is what you want, this is "the 4AD sound" as it was when it was, as judged by people who were really earnest aficionados of the sound. To my ear all these years later it sounds like the soundtrack for an opium den frequented by punks, and I mean that as praise.

The Best Of 4AD Volume 1
Tunnels Cross In Random Fashion

Side 1
Bauhaus - "Dark Entries"
Dead Can Dance - "Frontier"
Dif Juz and Elisabeth Fraser- "Love Insane"
Modern English - "I Melt With You"
The Past Seven Days - "Raindance"
Rema Rema - "Fond Affections"
Colin Newman - "Lorries"
This Mortal Coil - "Song To The Siren"
Daniel Ash and Glen Campling (aka Tones On Tail) - "Instrumental"
Xmal Deutschland - "Qual"
Matt Johnson - "Icing Up"

Side 2
Cocteau Twins - "Wax And Wane" (I can't remember if the Garlands or The Pink Opaque version is on the tape, so here's the Garlands version)
The Birthday Party - "Mr. Clarinet"
Rowland Howard and Lydia Lunch - "Some Velvet Morning"
Sort Sol - "Marble Station"
Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis - "Ends With The Sea" (Only the first song)
Cocteau Twins - "Aikea Guinea"
Rene Halkett and David J - "Armour"
The Fast Set - "Junction 1"
Shox - "No Turning Back"
The Birthday Party - "Six Strings That Drew Blood"
In Camera - "Die Laughing"
C.V.O. - "Sargasso Sea"

The Best Of 4AD Volume 2
The Use Of Ashes

Side 1
His Name Is Alive - "How Ghost Affect Relationships" (a personal fave, oh how I love this song)
Clan Of Xymox - "Medusa"
Colourbox - "The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme"
Pieter Nooten and Michael Brook - "After The Call"
Pixies - "Gigantic"
Lush - "Etheriel"
Dead Can Dance - "Fortune Presents Gifts Not According To The Book"
The Breeders - "Hellbound" (120 Minutes!)
The Wolfgang Press - "Cut The Tree"
Pale Saints - "A Deep Sleep For Stephen"
Cocteau Twins - "Crushed"

Side 2
Frazier Chorus - "Sloppy Heart"
Throwing Muses - "Counting Backwards" (120 Minutes again!)
The Wolfgang Press - "The Wedding"
Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares - "Polegnala E Todora"
Dif Juz - "No Motion"
Throwing Muses - "Fish"
AR Kane - "Butterfly Collector"
This Mortal Coil - "The Jeweller"
Ultra Vivid Scene - "Mercy Seat"
Pixies - "Debaser"
The Wolfgang Press - "Ghost"
Richenel - "L'Esclave Endormi"

Wow, I am stunned that almost all of this is on YouTube. Stunned. Also, I forgot how much I loooooved Tones on Tail. And that In Camera song was lost on me at the time, but now I can see the light. These 4AD threads trigger some kind of weird OCD for me that can only be fixed by strapping on the ear goggles and listening to Lullabies To Violaine Volume 1, Disc 2...
posted by the painkiller at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2012 [12 favorites]

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