Speedy Wunderground: The cult label on working with Squid, Black Midi and more

Speedy Wunderground's Dan Carey on the songs that made the label's year, including Squid, Black Midi, Sinead O Brien and more

You can forget about lunch breaks with Speedy Wunderground.

This label notoriously demand haste from artists to capture them at their most impulsive. There are a few conditions when it comes to recording in their South-west London Studio: the key one being that everything must be done in the space of a day, so it’s a drilled affair to say the least.

It’s been the label’s biggest year to date, something which is proven with the latest annual compilation ‘Year 4’ which features a host of brilliant names like Squid, Black Midi, Sinead O Brien to name a handful – all showcasing urgency in each swiftly executed session.

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“I think it’s quite liberating because it encourages people to experiment more and not worry about the outcome”, says producer Dan Carey. “If you’ve just got a day, it’s more of a snapshot of what you were thinking at that time and there’s not too much pressure. I think that brings out the best in people. We come in, we work very hard but it’s liberating.”

This rapid approach doesn’t leave much room for thought until it’s time for a few beers in the pub after. “Sometimes it’s hard to describe what it was like because it’s dictated so much by what we’ve got to do that you don’t know what it’s like until the very end of the day. There’s no time for small talk,” Dan says. To celebrate, we’ve gathered Dan’s reflections on five killer tracks that feature on the band’s new compilation: ‘Speedy Wunderground – Year 4’.

Sinead O Brien, ‘Taking On Time’ 

“This was amazing because I had very little preconception of what this song would be like. We met up for a drink and I got sent a couple of rehearsal room demos of some tunes – then we said we’d do ‘Taking On Time’. It was different each time we did a run-through. We experimented a lot with different ways to let the vocal tell its own story without being too tied to the beat. It was quite an experimental session. I’ve never gone as out there as her doing it without hearing the music but I’d been experimenting with that on the last Kate Tempest record. It was quite a weird session in that respect – also her lyrics are amazing, they’re very unusual and really resonant. It was a really fun session, quite quick as well. I like to make decisions spontaneously and we tried it a few ways and that was that.”

Squid, ‘The Dial’

“The whole thing with Squid feels like a journey that we’re all in on because the first time I saw them, they just sent me this low-key email saying, ‘Hi Dan, hope you don’t mind me getting in touch, we’ve got this band, we think it’s quite good but we haven’t got it to sound very good yet, we’ve got this gig near your house maybe you can come and watch’. So I went and I didn’t know what they looked like or anything and there were loads of bands playing, every band that came on I kept running up to the stage and saying, are you Squid? They were like ‘no’ every time. By the time Squid came on and played it was like, ‘fuck, it’s so good!’ We realised the song we should do was ‘The Dial’. When they came, I said we can make it much faster because it was really slow when they first played it. When it came up to that tempo it all came alive. They’re an amazing bunch because they’re all such good musicians and they all play different instruments. Sometimes I don’t like that when bands change over instruments too much but with them, it’s just great the way it works.”

Black Midi, ‘Bmbmbm’

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“I’d seen Black Midi play a couple of times at The Windmill and I’d had the chance to hang out with them beforehand and get to know them. I immediately wanted to do that track because I thought it was the easiest to translate for a first single. When they play the sound is so dynamic that it took me a little bit longer to get the room set up right because there’s a lot of detail that needs capturing with the massive peaks and dips. I think they got it in the first take. The intensity in the room was there from the beginning. Their music is very complex, loud and fast and it changes tempo a lot. In their minds, it’s very regimented. They think so quickly. They know exactly what they’re doing. With Geordie, it’s so deep in his mind that he can do some crazy part on the guitar and then play it on the piano or synth without ever trying it before. It’s very, very complex music. When they perform they go pretty crazy and Matt flies around the stage but he never misses anything.”

Black Country New Road, ‘Athen’s France’

“This was such a different kind of sound from some other stuff I’ve recorded. The violin and the sax are so central to the process so I had to really think about it. I like to make a sound in the room where nobody has to wear headphones so it feels like a natural environment, like a rehearsal room so a lot of work went into making everything balanced and running together. My memory of the actual take is being crouched down behind the actual drum-kit with my hand on the snare drum, because we wanted some sections of the song to be really muted and others really ringing, so I distinctly remember kneeling behind the kit doing that which is a weird perspective to experience the song from. The amazing thing about Isaac is that he writes lyrics that are so important to him, so when he’s delivering them he really goes off into another world. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with someone delivering something that powerfully, it was a really extreme experience. I have so much respect for that because you have to kind of go there.”

Tiña ‘I Feel Fine’

“I first saw Tiña at one of Lottie from Goat Girl’s nights at The Bunker in Deptford. For her birthday present, they’d rehearsed a cover of ‘Move On Up’ by Curtis Mayfield. They played it as the last song and it was amazing. We pretty much arranged a Speedy session on the spot. That’s my favourite way of doing it, seeing someone play and then inviting them to come down after. The session was interesting because as it went on we made it bigger and more bombastic. It was funny because throughout the day we realised the lyrics, “Dicks in the sky / Vagina’s in my mind” probably weren’t best suited to the radio. So we spent a large part of the day thinking of alternate lyrics for a radio edit. I think people have just played the main version anyway, it didn’t really matter in the end.”

Speedy Wunderground – Year 4 is out now

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