From dubstep to house and techno, Bristol-based record label Idle Hands has been shaping the sound of its city since 2009 – the year its founder, Chris Farrell, first released music by Peverelist, one of Bristol’s dubstep originators. The artist and Farrell worked together at the now-defunct store Rooted Records and came up with the idea to launch a record label that reflected the nascent sounds of dubstep appearing in Bristol’s vibrant music scene. When Rooted Records closed at the end of 2010, Farrell opened his own record store, which shares the same name as his label. From the very beginning, he represented Bristol’s local music world and mixed it with international club music and other free spirited sounds from around the globe.
Last year the label celebrated its 50th release, as well as releasing tracks by Pistole Pete, Andy Mac and, once again, Peverelist. For Carhartt WIP Radio Idle Hands mastermind Chris Farrell has prepared a mix that mirrors his world, blending older releases with more recent tunes by the likes of K-Lone, Strategy and Daisy Moon. To find out more about what keeps him busy, we spoke with him about his town Bristol, the store and the label, and his favorite Instagram account.
Hey Chris, what was the impetus behind the start-up of the label in 2009?
Chris Farrell: I was working at Rooted Records and wanted to release music being made in Bristol that was on the fringes of dubstep, closer in sound to the house and techno that I was into. Peverelist came to me and offered me some tracks that fitted the bill and off I went. I’ll always be grateful for that as I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for him.
How important was Bristol and a certain scene there for launching it?
Chris Farrell: It was massively important. I had seen people I know start labels and do them properly, it made me think I could do it and the supportive nature of the scene meant that I did.
Chris Farrell: All that music loomed large as a teenager growing up in the UK, it all seeped in.
What exciting stuff do you have in the pipeline?
Chris Farrell: I have a bunch of stuff lined up for this year, some of which is on the mix. The rest will just have to be a surprise.
Can you give some advice to someone who is interested in starting his or her own label?
Chris Farrell: I think everyone approaches it in a slightly different manner so I wouldn’t want to be prescriptive. My one bit of advice would be to make sure that the music is the primary focus, fancy artwork and all that must come second.
Idle Hands has grown over the years – can you tell us how the fanbase and reaction has changed throughout the years? Does it feel to you like the attention has grown with the label or is it less exponential with all the ups and downs of the vinyl market?
Chris Farrell: In a weird way I think it has stayed pretty much the same, people find their own way to it and I still sell a similar amount to when I started.
As a label and record store: are you cautious about being put into a box and do you see yourself as part of any scene?
Chris Farrell: I’ve always felt like we do our own thing here at the shop, whilst at the same time being integrated into the wider world of international dance music. Let’s be honest however much the wider scene changes, it also stays the same – tempos might vary, as will beat patterns, but the fundamentals stay the same: electronic music made for dancing, played loud in a dark room.
In 2011 you opened your record store. Can you tell us a bit about the decision to launch it?
Chris Farrell: Out of everything the shop is the most important thing, it was necessary at the time and I still think it is today. When Rooted Records closed down we didn’t have a shop that represented dance music and all the labels coming out of the city. I took it upon myself to do that and the shop is still going strong eight years later. I think today it is the best it has ever been.
As a record store you have only a certain budget to buy new goods. How do you deal with the increasing flood of vinyl and under what guidelines do you curate your shop selection?
Chris Farrell: Listening carefully to the music and to our customers. Trusting our own judgements and looking for things that fit the vibe of the shop.
What’s the latest genre you added to the Idle Hands’ record shelves?
Chris Farrell: Not had one for a while, I would love to branch out and sell a wider range of music in the coming years – one day I will have a country section.
How important are genres for customers?
Chris Farrell: Some find it more important than others.
How important are genres to you? Do you find the search for the right sub- or sub-sub-genre helpful or misleading?
Chris Farrell: I try not to divide stuff up too much – more banging stuff goes in the techno section, less banging goes in the house section. It isn’t something I lose sleep over.
What’s the vibe like in the record store compared to the days you worked at Rooted?
Chris Farrell: Towards the end of Rooted it was quite depressing, no one was coming in. All of us who worked there had given a lot of time, energy and love to the place but it just wasn’t sustainable. Our boss Pete had put everything in to making it work, it was the last of the old-school independent shops in Bristol. Here at Idle Hands I’ve tried a slightly different approach and it is still working, we have the option of being more positive compared to the last days of the old shop. I love my job and being able to share music with people. I feel lucky to do what I do.
What do you find most challenging about the work you do?
Chris Farrell: Same as any business really time and money.
How do you think your generation will leave its mark on Bristol’s rich music scene?
Chris Farrell: I’m not sure it is for me to say, I’ll leave that to the journalists in twenty years-time.
What was your musical intake when you were younger?
Chris Farrell: I devoured music voraciously. I wanted to know and listen to as much as I could from a young age. It was the one of the ways I came to understand the world. I was big into indie in my early teens, and then 60s stuff. That gave way to reggae, Hip Hop and eventually raving in my late teens.
What labels are you following at the moment?
Chris Farrell: I keep tabs on lots of labels because of my job and I pick up lots of stuff across the board but I am always interested to see what is happening with Kimochi, Berceuse Heroique and anything in the Low Company orbit. I should add that those are some of my friends, but what they do inspires me to push on with my own label.
What can music do which all other art forms cannot?
Chris Farrell: A painting isn’t going to keep you up all night, a book might but it isn’t going to make you sweat.
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
Chris Farrell: I wanted to do a cross-section of some stuff on the label old and new, maybe a few lesser known tracks, quite a deep vibe - a good mix to stick on whilst you are going about your day.
What are three albums that you'll absolutely never get tired of listening to?