Founded in 2008, the Wakefield based independent label Philophobia has an impressive roster of talent, an eclectic field from the sparsest of lo-fi through experimental music to anthemic and rousing power-pop. The label was founded by Rob Dee, formerly of Wakefield’s Louder than Bombs label and in 2008 manager of local band Lapels. I asked him about the label’s history and its future in an uncertain age.
OUTSIDELEFT: Philophobia has been going since 2008: you were involved in the label Louder than Bombs before that and were already managing a band. How did you get into music in the first place?
Rob Dee: “In terms of becoming actively involved, that was a consequence of deciding to go to a few smaller local gigs on my own. I'd gone to bigger gigs with friends before that and had read about some new bands in the area that I liked the sound of. I'd encouraged a few friends to join me but I wanted to see more so decided to go on my own. Being there on my own I eventually got talking to more people and wanted to get more involved. I'm musically untalented - and there were already so many great bands - so I looked for a role within the scene, initially helping out on the door at gigs, before starting a fanzine to write about them. Managing bands and starting a label was just a natural development from there.”
OUTSIDELEFT: You are based in Wakefield: what kind of a musical history would you describe it as having? How has the scene evolved over the years? (For me, Wakefield is always where Bill Nelson came from. I'm old I guess. He came to my house once, when I was 2 years old, apparently.) You founded the Rhubarb Bomb fanzine for music in the city and helped create the Long Division festival in Wakefield which has run annually since 2011, but obviously not this year.
Rob Dee: When I started the Rhubarb Bomb fanzine I became aware of some of Wakefield's musical history. You've touched upon Bill Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe but Holyground who released their early stuff is said to be the world's first independent record label. When I started getting involved there was a lot more going on, loads of artists across the genres, some really good stuff that wasn't getting the attention that stuff in bigger cities was getting. Even with 'New Yorkshire' Leeds and Sheffield dominated attention: Wakefield is a small city so the crowds aren't huge but this can allow for a fertile and nourishing environment for bands starting out. Opportunities for those artists have been diminished in recent years due to the lack of venues in the city. There were signs of that rebuilding before Covid hit. As well as myself, Bodys (a Wakefield gig promoter) and Long Division were regularly putting events on in the city and Vortex was just about to start up as a rock venue. Hopefully, as these were still at an embryonic stage, we can at least get back to there post-covid.
OUTSIDELEFT: Why did you choose PhiloPhobia as a name? What about that contrasting set of words appealed to you?
Rob Dee: After being part of Louder Than Bombs I decided to use a similar tactic to find the name for my new label (Louder Than Bombs being the name of a Smiths compilation) and began looking through my record collection for inspiration. Philophobia stood out. (the second album by Arab Strap) In part, yes, because of having the opposites in the word, it looked good written down. I also thought it fit as a lot of songs are about not being very good when it comes to love.
OUTSIDELEFT: When you started out, was there a particular sound or genre that you wanted to focus on, as the label now is very eclectic, but seems to - if I was forced to generalise - be best described as low-fi indie or power pop?
Rob Dee: When the label started, it kind of formed around Lapels who I was managing at the time. They were kind of a lo-fi slacker indie rock band. A lot of reviews over the years have described this as the Wakefield indie sound but it only really applies to a small number of people really. And even amongst those it was more a limitation of equipment and money. I 'm not particularly good at describing genres (maybe that lack of musical talent) but if something sounds good to me and I understand the motives and desire driving it I'm more inclined to get involved with an artist.
OUTSIDELEFT: You have an innovative approach to actual delivery of the music, with singles released as, for instance, t-shirts with download codes on by Runaround Kids. What do you see as the future of the industry in terms of actual product: will it all be streaming and downloads or will there be a return to some kind of physicality? Vinyl sales are (relatively) booming, but are expensive products for teens to get hold of. Where do you see the industry and technology leading?
Rob Dee: It's generally been a combination of trying to make the music stand and having next to no budget to work with. I'm still sceptical on whether vinyl is really booming at a small label level. When I started, we pressed 200-300 copies of a 7" single and sold most of them easily. We avoided vinyl for albums largely due to cost, but I think we would have sold more copies then than now if we had put out albums on 12" as we do now. The vinyl boom, for me at least, was distorted by people discarding CDs and rebuying albums on vinyl. I feel like people are buying less physical music in general, which presents a challenge of what kind of physical package is viable for a release. I think there will always be a proportion of people who will prefer physical products, but streams play a big part and the equilibrium of how to make that all work financially has not quite been reached yet.
OUTSIDELEFT: The acts on Philophobia have generated international attention and 6 music sessions, the Ship-Tones have worked with Stephen Malkmus and Edwyn Collins... How do you think it is that PhiloPhobia has lasted and prospered where so many small labels fail?
Rob Dee: Maybe an inability to know when to call it a day haha! I'm not really sure what the secret is to be honest. I still enjoy helping new music reach new audiences. I guess as it's never made enough money to become a job that I depend upon to live I've been able to keep that fun enjoyment of it. If that goes the label will probably stop.
2020s' JJ Swimsuit
OUTSIDELEFT: We have been in a lockdown and we are returning to a lockdown, this has presented enormous challenges to the creative industries including indie labels such as Philophobia, how have you weathered this storm and what challenges do you see ahead?
Rob Dee: At the start of this year the label's finances were looking very bleak. That was even before covid hit. I had hoped things would have improved by this point of the year. I had begun putting regular gigs on again and was hoping that in part would reinvigorate interest and excitement in the scene in Wakefield. Instead it's been a case of treading water, which is better than some others I appreciate but still difficult. It's been a case of taking each month as it comes. There has only been one release so far that has not happened at all, all the rest that were planned have still come out even if promoting with the planned gigs hasn't been a possibility. It's still difficult to really plan anything too big for next year, it's fairly likely the majority of next year's releases will be digital only to keep costs down, but we'll see how things go.
OUTSIDELEFT: With the long established and expansive nature of Philophobia’s back catalogue and roster, where would you recommend people start if they want to dive in?
Rob Dee: You can find the entire catalogue at philophobiamusic.bandcamp.com. A good place to start would probably be the Wanna Buy A Record? compilation which is an overview of the label from 2008 to 2018 and take it from there.
It's hard for me to pick out absolute favourites but St Gregory Orange - Things We Said In Bedrooms, Runaround Kids - Linked Arms, The Spills - Collecting Dust, Buen Chico - Working For a Work Free Future, Knuckle - Life Is Hard When You're Soft Inside and Dead Slow Hoot - No Reunions are stunning albums (that's seven - I told you it was hard!).
Philophobia Music / The PHOPCast
Current Roster: Baker Island | Black Ribbon | Buen Chico | Chloe Juliette Beswick | Climbing Alice | Dead Slow Hoot | JJ Swimsuit | Knuckle | Charlie Padfield | The Reacharounds | Shake Your Halo Down | St Cyrus
Based in Scunthorpe, England. A writer and reviewer, working as a Computer Science and Media Lecturer and Educator. Sometimes accused of being a music writer called John Robinson, which is not helped by being a music writer called John Robinson. @thranjax