The sagacity of the Brighton based record company Fat Cat started 1989 with a record store in Crawley, West Sussex, that Alex Knight formed with his friends Dave Cawley and Andrew Martin. One year later they moved to a small, dimly-lit basement in Covent Garden and the shop rapidly grew to gain a strong reputation as one of the country’s finest outlets for electronic music. Regular visitors to the shop included the likes of Jeff Mills, Juan Atkins, Richie Hawtin, Andrew Weatherall, or Aphex Twin. Also Fat Cat were Derrick May’s supporting DJs of choice during his residency at the Ministry Of Sound, whilst Fat Cat’s Alex Knight drove the Underground Resistance tour bus during their UK visit, and was a regular DJ at London’s legendary Lost, Sabresonic, and Blood Sugar clubs. The very first Fat Cat release arrived in November 1996, yet it wasn’t until the shop was forced to close down in August 1997 that the label really started. Since then Fat Cat have gained world-wide fame as a free spirited platform for all sorts of music. Beside todays famous acts like Sigur Rós, Animal Collective, Frightened Rabbit, or múm the label releases all sorts of styles from neo Classic acts like Hauschka to the funky Indierock rage by Party of One, Mazes, or Milk Maid, the narcotic guitar haze of Transient Waves or Forest Fire, or the Postrock explorations of Twilight Sad, Odonis Odonis, or Mice Parade. Their latest sensation is called Breton, a fearless four-piece Band from London that is manipulating guitars, bass, synths, drums and laptops to create a truly original melee incorporating HipHop, Electronica, and cinematic soundscapes. To get some deeper knowledge of the Fat Cat spirit we catch up with head-honcho Alex Knight to accompany the Fat Cat Carhartt Radio show with some untold secrets about his unterrified work as a record label owner.
(Alex Knight (front) editing the Carhartt Radio show with A&R man James Vella)
Where and how did Fat Cat start?
Alex Knight: Fat Cat began as the idea of three friends, all growing up as teenagers during the first explosions of Acid House, it manifested itself as a record shop in the suburbs of London back in 1989, we opened our first London Store in Covent Garden in 1990 which quickly grew to become the hub of the UK’s growing electronic music scene. We specialised in importing and championing music from Detroit, Chicago, and later Berlin.
What is your musical background? What was the impetus behind the start-up of the label?
Alex Knight: Music has always been there, growing up as a child you bear witness to your parents taste in music, in my case and quite typical: The Who, The Kinks, Presley, Rita Coolidge, Simon and Garfunkel, and then Punk hit.. My father had been a drummer and I followed suit, fashioning a kit out of the bits of percussion found at school and learnt by listening to the Pistols, The Clash, Crass, Exploited, Buzzcocks, The Skids, and anything else I could pick up in the local record shop.. In the early 80’s electro and breakdancing was all the rage and it was a short step to Acid House, a real revolution (or so it felt) to us and an exceptionally powerful youth culture.
If you could describe the Fat Cat sound in one sentence, what would you say?
Alex Knight: Haha, super difficult... Eclectic, forward-facing and a somewhat haphazard mishmash of conflicting styles and influences.
If you got a tattoo to pay homage to Fat Cat Records, what would it look like?
Alex Knight: 1989 – 20?? RIP
What process do you follow for getting new artists?
Alex Knight: We have an open door policy as far as the solicitation of demo material. We listen to everything we are sent and try to respond to all submissions whether positively or negatively and try to be encouraging of the DIY process. If we can do it you can too. We also scour blogs and online sites as well as go to numerous live shows. There is a whole wealth of amazing material out there, it can be difficult to filter and narrow down those acts we are keen to work with.
What exciting stuff do you have in the pipeline currently?
Alex Knight: This year promised to be an exciting one, we have a new Twilight Sad record released in February which making all the right moves, we have the debut album from Breton scheduled for March and they are poised to make a significant impact with their audio as well as visual output. We also have exciting releases in the pipeline from US Girls, Forest Fire, Odonis Odonis, Hauschka, Mazes, and various Birthday special issues and re-issues. Fat Cat has been operating as a label for fifteen years this year!!!
Image #67480 (Breton)
Do you have a 'wish list' of musicians you'd like to see on Fat Cat?
Alex Knight: Nope... we keep ourselves constantly excited and excitable by those creative fellows that are already signed.. We do have a couple of remix albums coming this year which has allowed us to pursue the possibility of working with artist signed elsewhere who we admire..!
How does living in Brighton shape the work at Fat Cat Records ?
Alex Knight: Brighton allows us the space and breathing room to really focus on the label and the artists we represent without the usual headaches of the big city, super high rents, the daily commute etc.. travelling to work with views across the sea refreshes and opens the mind somewhat.. Brighton is still close enough and vibrant enough for it to feel like a suburb of London with the added benefits of the sea, the beach, and ample beautiful countryside within 10 minutes of the city.
Fat Cat have a massive artists roster with many different music styles - how do you keep so many bands and styles on your books at once? And why?
Alex Knight: When we initially set up the label, the idea was to work across as many styles and genres as possible, the break down barriers existing between styles, in doing so this would clear a space for us to follow and release music from a wide range of styles which ultimately keep us, the people that work here, enthused and interested and excited to working on the records we release..
Can you give some advice to someone who is interested in starting his or her own label?
Alex Knight: Only spend what you can ultimately afford to lose, there are no definite winners or losers, release what you truly love and people will hopefully agree and come to you..!!
What was your biggest hit so far?
Alex Knight: Both Sigur Rós albums, ‘Ageatis Bryjun’ and the ‘( )’ album both sold remarkably well and forced us to grow up very quickly as a label. From being almost a bedroom label we were fully exposed to the real business of the wider record industry, both good and bad..!
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt Radio show?
Alex Knight: James and I wanted to showcase a broad spectrum of music from across the label, both in terms of style, age, and also to create using edits and samples something new and unique to the mix. We spent quite some time trying out different ideas and edits.. this mix was a steep learning curve in itself!
If you would do a forecast of what is the sound of tomorrow how would it look like?
Alex Knight: If only I knew the magic formula... What i find interesting is the melting pot that exists between the various styles and genres out there, artists such as Patten, Ambassedeurs, and Breton, who are all pushing the envelope and unafraid to experiment and pay homage to their influences.
What old albums you rediscovered lately and what makes them special?
Alex Knight: I’ve recently been on a Phil Spector holiday, enjoying the thickness of his productions but also the sheer raw emotion and joy in many of those works. It has resonance with the current scene that revolves around the current flock of US bands that include Dum Dum Girls, Best Coast etc..
What records from the past coined your live?
Alex Knight: The Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ album is the one constant and always easily found, it still brings nothing but pure enjoyment to my ears. The records that shaped the years leading up to and including the Fat Cat shop include Derrik May ‘Strings of Life’, Model 500 – ‘Night Drive Through Babylon’, Equinox – ‘Chapter One (Climax)’, Phuture – ‘We are Phuture’, Charles B – ‘Lack Of Love’, and many other genius club tracks of the mid to late 80’s.
What is the most obscure record you have in your collection and why?
Alex Knight: Crikey.. I would imagine a lot of my collection could be categorised as obscure, I have a few dub plates given me by Juan Atkins, bootleg dubplates from Jeff Mills, mis-manufactured and extremely rare 12” vinyls of which there are only a handful of copies and completely unreleased tracks from many pioneering dj’s / producers, stemming from the time spent djing at various clubs through the 90’s and early 2000’s.
Who are you listening to these days?
Alex Knight: So in the last couple of months the bands / artists that I’ve been listening to are as follows: Fungi Girls – ‘Some Easy Magic’, Cousin Brian – ‘Cousin Brian EP’, Thee O Sees – ‘Contraption EP’, Heavy Times – ‘Jacker’, Patten –‘Glaqjo Xaacsso’, Dirty Beaches – ‘Badlands’, Bass Drum of Death – ‘GB City'. There are many more too...!!!
Do you collect anything beside music?
Alex Knight: Only the new bugs being passed around by my two boys.. there are only so many hours in a day..!!
What do you do when you're not working?
Alex Knight: I’m a football fan and have followed Chelsea for many years. I also still play most Saturday mornings.. I also Climb and try to get to the mountains as often as time will allow me.. I love the feeling of insignificance you feel amongst the mountains..
When do you feel most at peace?
Alex Knight: Having reached the peak on a difficult climb / hike, before the arduous trek down..
What superpower would you like to have?
Alex Knight: With every super power comes come cataclysmic effect and way too much resposibility.. i’m quite happy being me!
If you did’nt do what you do for living, what would you do?
Alex Knight: A professional footballer would be nice although I think I may have missed my opportunity...
If somebody give you a million quid and you had 24 hours to rinse it, what would you do?
Alex Knight: Kit me and the missus out with some great clobber, pay off the mortgage and hide the rest in trust for my boys so they have the best possible start in life.. I’d probably treat the lads at football to a box for a season too..
If you could spend a night partying with any of your icons, who would it be?
Alex Knight: Jay Z and P-Diddy would be cool, I hear they throw the best parties...
Can you name us some things that you haven't done yet but you always wanted to?
Alex Knight: Climb a 6000m peak, sky dive, watch Chelsea win the champions league.
Can you name us 5 things you used to believe!
1. That I’d make my first million by the time I was 20.
2. That I would be a professional footballer.
3. That I would have a number 1 hit record with one of my bands.
4. That Chelsea would never win the league.
5. That I would live forever.
What people should collaborate for a better world?
Alex Knight: Christ... there’s an essay in this question.. there’s too many opposing views out there already, at least for a fleeting moment Acid House offered completely disengaged and outside of the everyday, a form of escapism where everything was possible..
What was the best thing for you about 2011?
Alex Knight: In 2011 Fat Cat helped launch its sister label Palmist Records which has released some of the most eclectic and challenging new music of 2011, it’s still in it’s infancy but looks to be developing a great roster and there will be many great releases ahead to look forward to in 2012.
What are you most looking forward to in 2012?
Alex Knight: Fat Cat, the label, is 15 this year and we’re looking to arrange some special parties and celebrations beginning with this year’s Great Escape Festival in Brighton, we’ll also look to tour some acts through the UK and possibly make a trip or two into Europe.. keep an eye on the website..
You are located in Brighton. What are your favorite spots and secrets in your hometown that you would recommend to somebody that comes around for a visit?
Alex Knight: If you want to check out new bands, have a late drink, then you can’t beat the Green Door Store.. if you want to catch a great film then the independent cinema The Duke Of Yorks is fantastic, for food, especially breakfasts, hit Billies Cafe, we take every band there for a post gig breakfast, all go back... If you want a record store hit Resident Records, super helpful and super knowledgable, see Edgeworld also for rare and difficult to find CD’s and vinyl.
Fat Cat Records Discography