Lifespan of a Labelmarket

September 16, 2013
by Marcel van Schooten

The Independent Label Market idea has spread like wildfire in The Netherlands. Every festival has their own special edition and if your festival doesn’t have one, then you are not paying attention.

The idea of a label market is not really a new thing to a lot of people but for the mainstream festival goers/music buyers it’s a new way to get to know the “independents”; like the Volkskrant said, “party with people behind the labels

Most of the labels were really sceptical towards Excelsior for doing the big collaboration thing at the Tolhuistuin in 2012. Some couldn’t understand why a label like Excelsior would try to claim this “independent” thing; after all how independent are they themselves? And then there was that weird bunch of semi-independents on the first edition. Theo Ploeg perfectly captured the feelings of many in his piece about Neo-Indie.

But you have to give credit to Ferry and Adriaan for doing the market; which showed off to a lot of people a weird mix of labels; all of which are releasing, selling and promoting music from bands some (well, most) people had never heard of, and it was a perfect way for labels to meet each other that sunny Sunday afternoon. The idea to have Smikkelbaard, Narrominded, Samling, Subroutine, and Snowstar get together with Beggars Banquet, Excelsior, and Konkurrent was a good thing. It was “a celebration of independent pop culture” like Adriaan Pels called it. You can check the video of this first edition to get a feeling of that sunny day.

After that Sunday the idea spread and the markets started popping up everywhere. I think the only festivals in 2013 that didn’t do a Labelmarket were Pinkpop and Lowlands. A proliferation which, in a way, also destroyed the idea. Remember that market on that road during Best Kept Secret, the second Excelsior edition during ESNS, the packed room during Subbacultha dutch underground night at Melkweg, the one during Le Guess Who. Even Incubate will have their own marketplace.

The idea of having a nice get together of like-minded folks, lovers of music and vinyl in a nice park is perfect but it should remain something special. When the 2013 edition of the Excelsior Market was announced you noticed the lack of buzz. The internet was not even complaining anymore, the labels just got back from the Best Kept Secret market and the buzz never really happened. The first edition was mentioned everywhere even Elle mentioned it as a must-see-event.

When you walked around the Tolhuistuin you noticed the moment had passed, the sun was not shining brightly (which isn’t anyone’s fault but it didn’t help), and the people who were around were mostly people from other stands, checking out the releases of their neighbours and talking about the current state of the music business.

Still the idea of getting labels together is always a great one. People talk, meet and get to know each other and new ideas and collaborations are made on the spot. The internet gets “personal” so to speak; everybody is shaking hands and trading vinyl. So is this particular market a good thing? Yes it is and let’s just hope that the “hype” will be gone next year, and we can just have this Sunday afternoon in September.

The main problem is that Excelsior started a trend that other organisations follow; they all slap a sort of “look at us, being underground/different” label on each event. I believe a real underground event is not really trying to be different; it just is. The Label Market is a nice event and organisers should not “feel obliged” to turn it into a must-have-item on every festival; like a chillout-room, beer garden and vegan-organic-eco food stand. It should be special and something to look forward too. People are not stupid. But maybe it’s not just the Label Market but something bigger.

A nice small event gets a buzz and other people see potential in making some extra money. They take one small part of the event and make it bigger but don’t realise that it’s the complete experience which creates the buzz. If I want a really big market place I will go to the cd/vinyl event in Utrecht each year. The event in Utrecht is a big market nothing more, nothing less and that’s also the attraction of the event. It’s a huge collection of people that sell stuff and a big commercial event. They don’t claim to be hipster/underground or whatever and that’s probably the reason it working. You don’t go there to look cool and drink coffee, you go to go through box after box of vinyl, hassle with the guy trying to sell you something way overpriced and find that long lost treasure you need to complete your ever expanding collection.

In the meantime I will keep checking the original independent label markets; also known as a distro. The distro has been around as long as bands have been touring the world. For those who don’t know, a distro is a collection of plastic crates carried around by a friend of the touring band. A crate filled with the most crazy DIY releases from unknown bands from all over the world. It’s not the merch from the band but it’s stuff from the same town, same genre, or same band members; it’s the stuff you really, really don’t see in shops. The best distros are the ones from a touring band at the end of the tour when half of the original stuff is traded at all the places the band played. The records from support acts and other local bands end up in the distro for people in other cities to discover.

A distro is just a mini market, it’s doesn’t promote itself as a special event it’s just there and if you go to DIY shows you must have seen and loved them. So, be creative; don’t start a label start a distro!!!

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