Portland via Hong Kong, New York City, Sydney and Hersham/Surrey – Metal Postcard Records creator, Sean Hocking has traveled the world in search of new music, unexplored treasures and exotic destinations – an incendiary constellation in its own right, but combine it with a discerning ear, the persuasive rhetoric of a champion for undiscovered talent and the spirited belief that music has the power to change the world and you will suddenly find yourself caught up in a firestorm of who, what, when, where and how did you exist this many years unaware of Metal Postcard Records, or that Cambodia has an Alternative Music scene that will blow your mind. Did the temperature just raise a few degrees?
A fan of John Peel and Radio 1, patterning his fledgling company after the indie record labels of his youth, including Factory, Rough Trade and Fast Product Records among others, Sean concluded that the smaller labels were appealing in terms of not only the music – the daring unorthodox, sometimes political, always provocative sounds of late 70’s UK, but also the artwork and album cover designs, which were far superior in their originality than anything the mainstream could offer.
With the desire to showcase original underground and obscure new music, and with a nod to Siouxsie & the Banshees and anti-fascist, John Heartfield, he founded Metal Postcard Records in 2002.
In speaking to Sean about his roster of artists from not only China and Cambodia, but Australia, the UK, and one of my favourite cities, Portland, Oregon, it’s apparent his passion is ideological, free of restriction and strongly of the opinion that today’s youth need, or rather deserve to be informed there exists a whole world outside of our perception of ‘alternative music,’ that’s just waiting to be discovered…bands like “Ollo” from Sydney, Tasmania’s “Zoe Zac,” “Cambodian Space Project” who bring to mind Tokyo’s Shibuya-Kei sounds of the 90s, “Bambora Adora,” reminiscent of early Galaxie 500, and “Christopher Rau” who have a psych vibe similar to Perth’s Tame Impala.
While these bands may fall on deaf ears to hardcore Taylor Swift fans, those of us who grew up with a healthy respect for MC5, The Clash or The Fall, or have children we wish to rescue from the pablum of mainstream culture, understand what independent labels like Metal Postcard Records are trying to achieve – It’s not about the hype, it’s not about the lifestyle or the herd mentality of flocking toward the subliminally marketed trends of the moment, and it’s certainly not about money – it’s simply about the love of music.
So if you’re feeling adventurous and I haven’t frightened you out of your comfort zone, put on your headphones, light up or open that coveted bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet and treat your ears to a brand new experience, because when all is said and done, what good is life without new experiences?
A: Yes I referenced that song as one of my favorites of all time. It just so happens that the Scream is the LP that has the best song titles in the history of song titles. At school I persuaded my friends to call their band Suburban Relapse. Why no other band has thought of that name has always surprised me. Metal Postcard was also named to confuse people into metal. Over the years many have flocked to the site, bandcamp etc., expecting run of the mill heavy metal and being somewhat surprised and generally angered by what they’ve heard. As they say in the UK, “Result”. But more importantly the song is all about an anti-fascist artist, John Heartfield, and I wanted the label to celebrate art and anti-fascism at every turn. There’s also a slight nod to Scotland’s wonderful Postcard Records in there too.
I’d been dreaming about my own independent label ever since listening to the John Peel Show in the late 70’s as a young teen, but what solidified the idea of the label was an idea that popped into my head as I was holding a Burroughs night for an art label I was running with a friend at the time 12 Apostles . The opening dj at the night was Lars from Sydney electronica act Ollo and there he was at 8 in the evening dressed from head to foot as a gorilla playing Psychic TV’s recording of the Jim Jones massacre as his entire set, it was this particular moment in time that forced me into action.
A: Yes. Mash-ups were all the rage at the time and although fun they were in the main rather pointless and safe in just referencing pop culture. I’d come across Sydney artist Wax Audio, who was quietly tinkering away on his own and saw that with his Lennon ideas and 9/11 ( I was unfortunate enough to be in Battery Park City that day only 3 blocks away from the Towers) that he was actually trying to do something interesting with the form + there nothing better than a track that starts with Lennon saying fuck; I thought what a great first release for the label. Talking of fucks the A side has nothing on the flip side which is still, I think, one of the most punk things ever committed to vinyl (https://metalpostcard.bandcamp.com/track/off-the-air) A song that shows shock jocks for what they are.
A: I grew up and went to school in the UK and then spent a little time in Australia before returning to university in the UK. As a young teen in the late seventies we’d all heard the first wave of punk as kids, so that set us up for what was to come. Peel helped and before long you’d be hearing a great new band every week, as well as Siouxsie & The Banshees, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, The Birthday Party, The Swell Maps, Gang of Four and too many others to mention. We were also obsessed by the US underground and The Cramps, Black Flag, Fear and of course, The Dead Kennedys.
In the end though it was Peel who really sent me into a new world where one week you might hear The Dodgems from Brighton and their song “Lord Lucan,” the next week a new band called Human League and a song on Fast Records called Being Boiled and of course the mighty Fall whose discordancy was just something that you couldn’t hear anywhere else at the time.
The Australia visit was also a revelation, as out there was a music scene growing up on its own DNA strand. The NME wouldn’t arrive until about a month after UK publication and I rarely remember hearing many US artists. Sydney in 1983 had a live music scene that I’ve yet to see bettered. Bands like The Lime Spiders, Hoodoo Gurus, the Triffids, the Sunny Boys as well as infrequent visits by NZ weirdoes like the Bats and a host of other local acts made it a very exciting time to see live music at venues like the Trade Union Club, the Hopetoun and Paddington Town Hall.
A: First up I’d like to mention how kind Rough Trade records in Portobello were to me on my first releases. They wouldn’t hesitate to take records, sell them and order more. They still do the same. I’ve been buying records from the store from the age of about 13 onwards and they have been equally kind to me as a customer and a label owner. There’s no other store like them on the planet and I wish 95% of the other people I’ve dealt with over the years had their manners and class.
In terms of getting out to the public I started in the days where a physical distro was a must and my experience of these people in whichever country they are based makes me believe they are some of the worst people on the planet up there with Middle Eastern dictators and serial killers. It took me over a decade to get distribution in the US and this year they’ve gone into receivership stealing all my revenues for the past year. It’s only the third time it has happened with distributors!
My advice to all future indie label owners is simple. Do it because you love it, don’t expect to make money. Those artists who make you the least amount of money are by far the most important artists on your label. They are the ones that actually believe in art. With regard to ancillary services like distributors, promo, pr and all that other gumph, be aware they don’t give a shit about music. They just want your money and in some cases they think you will make them look cool. Sometimes you have to use them and bite the bullet and spend money, but in the main I suggest you ignore the industry as much as possible and choose your own path . I believe 100% that DIY will take you where you want. Make art not business.
A: I wouldn’t say avidly but I do want to hear from you if you make left field music that has a meaning of sorts. Mindless white noise or shouty rap with dope beats won’t get far with me! I’m always at metal firstname.lastname@example.org but please do listen to some of the catalogue https://metalpostcard.bandcamp.com first to know that you are in the MP ballpark
A: Ok that’s easy – Let’s start with a new MP act . Digital Suicide from India are the bees knees. There’s no point trying to describe them just listen https://metalpostcard.bandcamp.com/album/digital-suicide-28291115
And also new Portland (OR) band Honeybucket who’s debut album “Magical World” is due in the Fall. Talking of which, that’s how I describe them – an American suburban version of the Fall with their own sound and aesthetic . I just sent out the following track to College & Indie Radio in the US and we have received back a slew of complaints about un-tuned guitars and general whinging which always means you are on the right track ! (https://metalpostcard.bandcamp.com/album/honey-bucket-devo-hat)
Other current acts I’m mad about:
Salary (Perth) This track Mini-Moke is beyond wonderful.
Peter Bibby (Melb) Listen to Goodbye Johnny.
Dream Herbs ( Walthamstow – London) New on Metal Postcard soon – influenced by Syd Barrett, Hawkwind, Black Flag, Sabbath – designed to annoy hipsters.
Loom ( Norwich UK) producer on Peckham’s GobStopper Records . In my book the best label on the planet at the moment:
Psycho Comedy ( Liverpool UK) Smells Like Teen Spirit !.. goosbumps everytime I watch ( https://youtu.be/4m-TqhJtp5I)
Rabbit Island ( Perth) I’d be happy if this was the last thing I heard before I died..
A: This is nigh on impossible but I’d have to go for a double album to get as much music as possible and if it’s a double album it’ll have to be The White Album.
So there you have it kids – Collect your allowance and get online. Just stay out of mummy’s wine!