If your reason for being in the music industry is finding things you like and letting other people hear them, then that’s not a business thing, it’s a human thing,” muses Jarvis Cocker after tonight’s show, and that’s certainly the model Rough Trade, his paymasters, have employed for the past 30 years.
From latter-day indie heroes such as The Strokes, The Libertines and Arcade Fire, back to early signings The Smiths, Young Marble Giants and Scritti Politti, many of your favourite bands have put out records bearing the famous logo at one time or another. And by offering those early signings a previously unheard of 50/50 profit share, the label haven’t just provided a soundtrack to most of our lives, they’ve also helped bring some ethics to the music business. Tonight, then, Looking Rough At 30, the first of five ‘parties’ in honour of the label’s anniversary, is a celebration of all that. We get a flipbook slideshow from support act Jeffrey Lewis explaining the label’s history, words of praise from Jarv, and owners Geoff Travis and Jeannette Lee even play records between bands. But it’s also a chance to hear new material from Sheffield’s most famous musical son… and more.
Cocker, see, is bored with the conventional ‘band comes on, plays songs, buggers off’ approach and delivers not only his set but also a disco afterwards and a series of mini-lectures in-between, covering such topics as hometown landmarks, John Peel and books, with the assistance of an OHP. Jarvis’ ineffable charisma and dry wit ensure these anecdotes don’t fall flat (Johnny Borrell take note: do not try this), but it’s songs from his forthcoming second solo album that really capture the imagination. The picks tonight are heavy, bass-led opener ‘Complications’, which positively throbs with lascivious intent, and confirms reports he’s letting his band rock out more on the new stuff. ‘Girls Like It Too’ is based on a piece of advice Peel’s brother received from the late, great DJ and ‘Angela’ is a Motown-y stomp powered by some dirty fuzz bass from ex-Pulp cohort Steve Mackey. Afterwards, Cocker races to the decks in the middle of the room (cue many, many camera phones) and starts dropping hard-house and techno classics (cue equal parts mayhem/confusion). Surreal doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Not your average gig, then, but that’s apt considering Rough Trade is about as far removed from your average label as it gets.