Tough Love Records: a beautiful independent label

In the mid-2000s, two inexperienced British students launched a new record label. A look back at the history of the small company created by Stephen Pietrzykowski and Ryan Taylor, which has managed to unite a strong fanbase thanks to punk ethics and unbridled intuitions.

It’s a story that begins in a dorm room, a modern story that is no longer made, an epiphany. In 2005 and Stephen Pietrzykowski dragged his spats to Coventry University, where he studied at cultural studies.

The kind of path that leads to all and to the left, is often taken by young people who never know what they are going to dedicate their lives to. However, we can’t imagine Stephen planting in the campus library, even if he goes to the doctor. We better imagine him lying in bed, dreaming while listening to old Velvet and My Bloody Valentine.

Built without any artists on hand

One night, with his friend Ryan Taylor, he was watching 24 Hour Party PeopleMichael Winterbottom’s epic film Factory Records – the iconic label of Joy Division, New Order, The Durutti Column or even Happy Mondays – and seeing the Blessed Virgin: why not put a label on?

“I know the Factory story was good but, I don’t know why, it inspired me. I already have this sensitivity to DIY, the one that makes you say that if you can’t hear around you what you want to hear, then you have to hear it ”Pietrzykowski explained.

“The only group in the area we liked answered the call”

Stephen doesn’t play any instrument, doesn’t know how to record a song, has no idea how to distribute and record and knows nothing about music racketeering. However, he decided to set up his own label, Tough Love Records. A label with no catalog, because it has no artist available.

He laughed: “I don’t know a band and the music scene in Coventry doesn’t appeal much to me. It’s not very attractive, but I took some kind of flyer from Microsoft Word where it was written ‘Bands like’ and I painted it on the walls of city pubs. The only band in the area we liked answered the call. ”

The era of Myspace and pirated MP3s

As such, in 2005, the simple No One Dreaming about Me/Dear Old Bill, from The Sequins. A record with Smithsian influences and jangle pop, printed in about 500 copies and distributed to Rough Trade record stores in London, which will somehow set the tone for the sequel.

Measuring the path Tough Love is currently traversing is to look back at fifteen years of evolution in the music market. At the time, digital distribution was still in its infancy, there were no streaming platforms and, in addition to illegal downloads, MySpace seemed to be a privileged place to exchange musicians from all over. world.

Today, Tough Love Records has 158 releases

Like most of the artists whose music he released, Stephen didn’t seek his life in his micro-record company with punk manners, but quickly understood the turmoil of public listening habits.

Like a label like Warp, it allows everyone to download songs directly from the Tough Love site. A little revolution. “After I got my doctorate, I worked for a large independent label. It was a pretty tedious job, but thankfully I knew how to run my store. It also allowed me to contact some groups. .

Today, Tough Love Records has 158 releases – albums, EPs, solos put together. And if there’s one thing to be happy about, it’s the quality of each of them and the unselfishness that Stephen strives to put together the four walls of this beautiful independent home.

“In terms of aesthetics, you could say that the evolution of the label follows my personal interest. If it happens that my internal psyche will one day be of interest to someone, then he will surely find the signs of the record that I release. I’m not a musician, it’s my way of being creative. “

Not yet in legend, but not too far away

On the catalog side, there are treasures of indie guitars (from the elaborate pop of Proper Ornaments to the slacker slacker of Favors For Sailors, through the noise pop of Northern Irish of Girls Names), kraut and synthpop (Weird Dreams, Cymbals, Peel Dream Magazine) and postpunk (TOY, Autobahn).

For three years, the Template Tough Love has progressed further, taking the label into a new era, with two famous branches: one Australian (The Stroppies, David West or Rat Columns) and another West American (April Magazine, Star Party or also The Reds, Pinks and Purples).

“I’m not saying we have the same strength in Creation, Factory or Dischord, but obviously we agree on this line”

“We got to a point where we had a strong fan base, who were constantly checking our news and buying all the label releases, it was exciting. I’m not saying we have the same strength of Creation, Factory or Dischord, but we clearly agree on this line ”Stephen finished.

After a few years spent with a major, on the sidelines of his activity within Tough Love, he just hung up his gloves just to dedicate himself to his project that was born seventeen years ago on the hook. -ot room. Not yet in legend, Tough Love. But not too far away either.

Bonus tracks: six key Tough Records signings

April Magazine, listen to the dawn

No one puts money into a good marketing plan, Tough Love Records also owes a long life to the mystery that surrounds it. The same is true for the groups that Stephen takes under his wing: like April Magazine, an interesting quartet from the San Francisco scene.

We didn’t want to know too much about this strange group, led by a Peter Hurley-owner of a Bay Area art gallery-who released a collection of touching and left ‘y last songs of last year. (If The Ceiling Is A Grasshopper Volume 1), where the ghosts of Nico and Warhol’s Factory fly. Listening to dawn, when the rays of the pale sun struggled to penetrate the fog.

Slowcore and jangle pop with The Reds, Pinks and Purples

The San Francisco channel again, with The Reds, Pinks and Purples: one of the countless projects of a Glenn Donaldson, who, Stephen assures us, has never released a bad song in his life. Perfectly DIY, Donaldson is one of the most sensitive melodists we’ve heard in recent times. The scenes he sketched, in a cottony pop jangle genre, were a delight.

As the man came to talk to you about your memories whitened by the sun, with the grace of a man that every detail, every sign left in life, has an emotion that is still alive. The two albums by Vacant Gardens -printed in several copies in 2020 and 2021 by Tall Texan Records -, the slowcore group he formed with artist Jem Fanvu, were also released by Tough Love this month.

Female Names, a name to remember

Stephen tells us, he doesn’t like to be too careful about the cult of things, convinced he sees a certain snobbery emerging behind it. However, Women’s Names have that difference. Passed by Captured Tracks, a major Brooklyn label, the Belfast group, in the early 2010s, moved Tough Love into another dimension with radio channels and all the shaking, during release very well. The New Life (2013). Between the hypnotic new wave and noise pop, the duo is one of the label’s flagships.

Autobahn: towards Leeds

“How is it possible that no one had an idea to call their group the Autobahn as soon as possible?”, Stephen asked. Good question. On a mop in Leeds to see the Eagulls, a successful local indie band, he found this quintet of Bauhaus fans and other postpunk entertainment. Sparkling, the sound of the Autobahn leaves the floor from the first hearing. Not bad for a group that does everything on its own. While waiting for a new album to come out this year, listen to a lot sowing (2015) highly recommended.

David West, a stone delsewhere

Directions to Perth, capital of Western Australia, hometown of Kevin Parker (Tame Impala) and the remarkable David West. Passed through several formations (including the excellent Total Control), West came to Tough Love Records with his playful and brilliant pop (released this year, his final album, Jolly in Bush, a wonder). Clever and iconic character at the same time, we also saw him at the helm of Rat Columns, another house band.

Stroppies, smell like the spirit of a teenager

An almost informal duo in its early days, The Stroppies have evolved over the past few years into an indie pop war machine, summoning the ghosts of Papas Fritas like Go-Betweens. After being very successful whoosh! (2019) and the pure look alive (2020), immersed in a knife-edge of teenage romanticism, the band, like The Vaselines and other Moldy Peaches in their early days, released a lot of electricity. Levity. Before a tour with Modfather Paul Weller. Nor is it a coincidence.

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