“I have always adored the buzzing sound of electricity amplified in highly-distorted sound spectrums” reckons John O’Carroll. “It just seems so fitting to hear instruments like that; when I hear some nice fuzz or distortion, it's an aural manifestation of electricity itself - and being a visual person, I can't help but see it visually.”
The blurred lines between sensory experience that co-founder John O'Carroll touches on sits at the very heart of Rocket Recordings. Visualising fuzz and distortion is one thing but there are endless elements of layering, volume and smooth, sharp and abrasive edges in equal parts adding a tactile facet to the recordings.
This goes hand in hand with the beautiful album artwork across the board which makes flicking through their collection more akin to walking through an art gallery than skimming through a box of records. Co-founder Chris Reeder's background in graphic design is partly to blame for this as are the weird and wonderful artists signed to the label.
“Rightly or wrongly, we’re generally thought of as a psych label” Chris Reeder said in an interview with Loud and Quiet. Though the bands rarely subscribe to Psychedelia in its sonic tradition, all the bands have an appetite for the strange - pushing the envelope every which way. Mystery shrouds Swedish band GOAT and their folkloric frontman Goatman - masked World Music experimentalists with satanic genesis myths and ritualistic sounds.
GNOD are another band on Rocket that have cultivated a cult like environment for their fans, with religious and political imagery a key theme of their output and immersive performances and installations.
O’Carroll set up Rocket Recordings with Chris Reeder in 1998, which they have seen grow from a small hobby - largely concerned with releasing 7” singles from their Avon-based contemporaries. From this launchpad, the label morphed through an early 21st century period in which it worked alongside other neurologically stimulating phenomena such as Oneida - all the while with a strong emphasis being placed on a particularly synapse-shifting approach to graphic design and packaging.
As the first decade of this new era turned into the second, and transformative outfits like GNOD, White Hills, Teeth Of The Sea and GOAT joined the fray, the label’s identity evolved into a byword for intrepid sonic exploration irrespective of any notions of boundaries or genre. This has now expanded to take in visionary and innovative artists from Sweden (Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation, Hills, Flowers Must Die) Russia (Gnoomes) Italy (Lay Llamas, Mamuthones, Julies Haircut) and Newcastle (Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs) alike, not to mention the transatlantic MIEN, that features members of The Horrors and Black Angels - dauntless mavericks all. Meanwhile, Rocket have found themselves taking a curatorial role at festivals such as Supernormal, Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia and Eindhoven Psych Lab to mention just a few.
2018 has seen Rocket Recordings turn twenty and now as ever, the forward motion of this craft remains steadfast and oblivious to all around it, the label’s vision and insights intact with sights set skyward on fresh lunacy and elegant chaos anew.
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Five Minutes with Chris Reeder and John O'Carroll
Which 5 records from the past 20 years would best define your label?
John O'Carroll: That's not a question thats easy to answer really, different albums have taken us in different directions, intentionally or not, so I don't like the idea of defining what we are about in a few sentences.
Chris Reeder: Mmmmm, tricky as for me every release is quite different and we are a label who try not to repeat ourselves with our bands. I know a lot of people just think of us as a psych label, but if you took a track off all our albums and compiled them together you will hear great diversity. But if I have to pick 5 records (really, I need way more than 5!)?
Gnoomes - Tschak!
Goatman – Rhythms
Shit and Shine - 54 Synth-brass, 38 Metal guitar, 65 Cathedral
Anthroprophh – OMEGAVILLE
Rocket have some beautiful album artwork - how much of that is down to the band and how much is down to Rocket?
CR: As both myself and John are designers the artwork has always been an important part of the release. I personally have always been obsessed with record sleeve art so to be able to design sleeves as my job I feel very lucky. We are also very lucky that most our bands want us to do the design. Some come with ideas, some want to work with a particular illustrator or artist. If I was going to have to pick one sleeve I think it would have to be GOAT - World Music.
JO: Both Chris and I have different styles and takes on the artwork which can sometimes collide into one sleeve for an artist. However for the majority of releases we tend to individually work with a band as close as possible to grasp some conceptual ideas, then try to interpret the music visually to see what can reveal itself...to me it's just very informed secret codes that I have to find a way to understand.
What is happening at Rocket right now that's getting you excited?
CR: Well we have lots of great things in the pipeline, new Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs album is on its way. The aforementioned Goatman LP which is the solo project by on of the guys from GOAT. Teeth of the Sea, Josefin Öhrn, Shit & Shine and Gnoomes are working on new records for us. Plus new signing Gum Takes Tooth have an amazing new record on it's way...
JO: We are looking forward to our twenty-first year, our coming of age ritual, lots of heady genres being smashed together, old and new friends, shared headspaces, simple headphone minds.
Being specialists in the strange, would you say Britain is weirder than when you first started Rocket?
JO: Good question, hard to say as in the beginning Rocket was more locally based in Bristol, compared to now with the internet - a worldwide community, so we didn't have a bigger picture like we maybe have now. I'd like to say it is in some ways but has always been there. I like the fact that it can accept itself as being weird, we have a rich tradition of it, it should be celebrated as if its supernormal.
CR: Haha, Britain has always been weird, it is what makes it such a unique country. Obviously these times are weird in new way, and not all good!
Who is Goatman?!
JO: Goatman is in all of us, you've just got to find your own Goatman, I am often Goatman on a Friday night, then I let others be Goatman if they so choose - but those who choose, follow only the one Goatman, who then follows you.
CR: Your friend.