Benbecula Records: 1999-2009

<b>Benbecula Records</b> are closing their doors after ten years of experimental electronica, and for a sad reason: The scene just doesn't turn them on anymore. Label founder <b>Steven McConnell</b> vents his dismay...

Feature by Rosie Davies | 01 Sep 2009

"Music, from pop right through to completely underground, is for the most part shit or a tiring derivative. Art is shit. TV is shit. Movies are shit.  Fashion is shit. Western attitudes and values are shit. It seems that we have so little innovation or imagination that we are constantly rehashing and regurgitating the past four or five decades until they have been through our collective bowels at least a dozen times."
When I first ask Steven McConnell why he has decided to retire Benbecula Records, he appears tight-lipped. He gives a neat and tidy reason. "Ten years to the day seemed a good point to quit while we are somewhat ahead." The label will continue to promote tracks through Benbecula Music Publishing, he assures me, and the back catalogue will remain available to buy.  
When Benbecula was founded in 1999, the Scottish electronica scene was as underground and disparate as it is now. "There wasn’t a great deal happening in Scotland," laments McConnell. "There still isn’t to some degree." But there was definitely excitement. Edinburgh artists Phase 6 and Beluga sought to provide their peers with the infrastructure to push their music worldwide. Acting as an open-minded sounding board, the label was shaped by the diverse sound of the innovative artists who sought it out. When asked what the best part of running a label has been, McConnell is clear: “Hearing a new demo that caught my attention for the first time was always a good feeling.”

But quality control is paramount to the survival of any label worth its sand, and the Benbecula founder alludes to an increasing difficulty in sustaining that. "I have broad enough taste to appreciate all forms and genres," says McConnell. "We never sat down and said 'this is an electronica label' – if we were sent music that was innovative we put it out, it's that simple. But the problem with the genre was it was so easy to make it, but usually very badly. There is now so much of it out there that the signal to noise ratio is tiny, and the gems are hard to track down, if at all."

Besides enjoying one of its most prolific years in 2009 - with well-received releases from the likes of Wouned Knee and The Flowers of Hell, and more to follow - one of Benbecula's most notable high points occurred in 2003 when Christ., one of the label's most revered acts, received an encore request from John Peel whilst performing on his Sessions. Indeed, Peel was a fan of the label, and his open-minded, determined search for the innovative and enjoyable has been echoed by the weight of the label's output.

Having celebrated its 10 years with 'The Final Vinyl' show last month - featuring sets from label mainstays Araya, Christ. and Frog Pocket as well as newcomer Plum (see inset) - Benbecula will launch a Ten Tracks channel to coincide with its closing in November. Speaking about the collaboration, McConnell promises “something old, something new, something previously unavailable."

Addressing those concerns about the state of music, art and film whilst considering new platforms like Ten Tracks, McConnell anticipates a break in the clouds. "I commend everyone who tries new angles. Like everything in the industry at the moment it’s hard out there. But when the backlash against (un)reality shows and social web sites eventually happens, popular musicians will be empowered to actually sit down and listen to the music they are creating and evaluate it objectively. It could be five years, it could be 20, but it will happen. Fingers crossed.”

Distance Lends Enchantment to the View by Christ. is released via Benbecula on 21 Sep.

Christ. plays The GRV, Edinburgh on 26 Sep.