NME meets the misfits behind a defiant DIY scene that's shaking things up on Merseyside
The dingy basement of Liverpool’s Sound Food & Drink is rammed to the rafters. Onstage comes a procession of extraordinary young artists, the gorgeous, lilting indie of Astles, then the hazy, lo-fi psych of Dan Disgrace, and finally Hannah & The Wick Effect’s edgy guitar-driven pop. The final four, in particular, are staggering. Bill Nickson’s tender, confessional set is received with the adoration of a cult hero, Beija Flo’s manic blend of performance art and cosmic pop adds a wild, celebratory edge, The Wild Fruit Art Collective unfurl insidious and twisted gothic gloom, before Eyesore & The Jinx, touted by many as Scouse indie’s next big thing, close with a triumphant, incendiary set.
Every band on this bill is different from the last, each excellent in their own way, but united by only one thing: their label Eggy Records. The gig serves as a showcase for the imprint, a defiantly DIY venture that formed out of necessity. Liverpool was riddled with terrific young artists doing all sorts of fascinating things, but few of them could find the means to record, let alone lay down the roots of a concrete ‘scene’, until they unified as one, terrific collection of misfits.
NME manages to cram half the label’s roster into the corner of a Liverpool pub a few weeks before the showcase. The label’s bosses Sam Warren and Matt Hogarth are here, as well as the Wild Fruit Art Collective, Beija Flo and Eyesore. The label was inspired, they tell me, by the likes of Bill Drummond and David Balfe’s Zoo Records, the crucial ’80s label that gave rise to Liverpool greats like The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen.
“Everything was being played live but not recorded, and people didn’t feel like they had the means to release anything,” says Hogarth of the label’s genesis. “No one’s really cared about Liverpool outside of Liverpool until people from Liverpool have forced it to happen. If you look at Zoo Records, that was bred here, and once people in London start listening, that’s when it gets going. It’s kind of the kick up the arse that Liverpool need.” says Hogarth.
“Basically, it just needed to happen in this fucking city,” says Warren, more succinctly.
There have been sporadic Merseyside artists to reach mainstream acclaim, but no ‘scene’ to properly break free of the North West since the Zutons and Coral-headed ‘Scousadelia’ of the early 2000s. There was an artier scene spearheaded by the likes of All We Are and Stealing Sheep in the early 2010s, but after the closure of central venue The Kazimier, and a creeping sense that gentrification was destroying the utopian ideals they held, it had twisted into darker, punkier territory.
“The scene that existed previously was more of an academic thing, there was great musicality but nothing behind it. People have a bit more of a point now,” says the Wild Fruit’s drummer Jake Jones. “We’re the antidote to all that,” laughs that band’s frontman Jamie Roberts. “We’re thick!
The bands on Eggy do not have much in common musically. Beija Flo’s powerhouse pop, which includes spoken word segments about her experiences with MRKH syndrome (meaning she was born without a vagina), might seem removed from the Wild Fruit Art Collective, for example, who continue to plough the dark, gothic furrows set by their predecessors on the scene, but as the latter takes to the stage at Sound a few weeks later, Beija joins in, lending an incredible shamanic presence.
What unites these bands is a philosophy, rather than a sound, a shared set of ideals that allows for glorious cross-pollination between them all. Their collective is based simply on mutual creative admiration, a sense of humour and an outlet for anxiety. “It’s finding the right amount of light and dark,” says Hogarth. “The right amount of comic edge without taking ourselves too seriously. “
Beija Flo is not a Merseyside native, she moved from Essex to study at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. “So you’ve heard of the Big Bang? That was me,” she explains. “I was on Mars for quite a while, then it was a couple of centuries ago I came to Earth and I’ve just been chilling.
She found the Liverpool scene of a few years ago a more hostile place. “I couldn’t get anyone to keep in a band, no one liked what I did until I did put on something spectacular and extra and did burlesque. I couldn’t find any support, I mean I am a weird girl who sings with a laptop and talks about her vagina, it’s quite a hard thing to sell.” It was only when the Wild Fruits’ Jamie Roberts “insisted” they be friends that she joined Eggy Records, and found a growing contingent of rare, likeminded creatives.
Eyesore & The Jinx, too, noticed a shift in mentality when they joined Eggy. “We were in a shortlived boyband that we’re not gonna name, and it was very different in Liverpool then,” says frontman Josh Miller. “It felt more hostile, you wouldn’t go and speak to other bands. I think that’s why we’re very suspicious when we get praise. We got a note under our door one day in our practise rooms, it was from Matt and it said ‘You’se are boss, who are ya?’.” They were signed at the same pub table we’re sat around now. “Now we’ve seen two sides of the Liverpool coin, one where it was all about one-upmanship, now this is something totally different and organic and natural, no one’s bothered about that anymore.”
“If you go to Manchester you’ll see shit bands. They wouldn’t get a gig here in Liverpool!” – Wild Fruit Art Collective
“Being in Liverpool has meant we’ve had to go out and do it ourselves. There’s not many people helping in this city,” says Wild Fruit drummer Jones. “There’s a lot of bands who do pretty well in London where I think ‘if you were in Liverpool you’d go fucking nowhere,” adds his bandmate Ben Cowie. “If you go to Manchester you’ll see shit bands. They wouldn’t get a gig here!”
What’s even more heartening for the long-term health of Liverpudlian music, is that the bands on Eggy Records are not alone in their mentality. There are visual artists and photographers in their collective too, are all sorts of satellite bands not signed to the label that are regulars at their shows, like weirdo-pop forefathers RongoRongo, titanic rockers SPQR, or the rabid punk outfit Ohmns who many of Eggy cite as a direct inspiration.
Nowhere do you get a better sense of what the label represents than in Sound. It regularly plays host to a night they run called ‘Sea Bass’, where bands outside of the city are invited to join the collective for one night only. The shows are chaotic, bands will swap members and collaborate off the cuff, leaping between stage and mosh pit whether they’re playing or not, dressed in gaudy, preposterous nautical outfits.
“It’s important for us to have a place where we can put on those shows and express ourselves in that way but also feel safe,” says Beija. “I jump around in leotards and stuff like that, at the last Sea Bass show I was a topless mermaid, and I’ve never once been harassed in Sound. The usuals, the people that are appealed to go to the bar are also the kind of people to hear what’s going on downstairs and to come check it out. They let us run wild.”
Eggy Records is many things. It is a collection of bold, exciting new artists, and a means for them to release their music, but more importantly it represents a defiant collective spirit. These are trying times, not least in Liverpool, and as well as an artistic vehicle, the group also forms a support system. At their heart, the one thing that defines every member of Eggy Records is that they’re misfits. “I don’t think we can underplay the fact that we’re all freaks,” says Jamie Roberts. “There’s a line we use in our press releases: ‘Eggy Records functions somewhere between a business and a support network for the terminally creative’.”