Ever since the first release of a compilation EP back in February of ‘94, titled “Shagging In The Streets,” fierce panda has been an important proving ground in the U.K. music scene. In fact, it’s easy to overlook the label’s importance as the birthplace for many of today’s most popular bands. It’s a story worth telling, and PledgeMusic is helping fierce panda do just that with the launch of a DVD campaign for Endangered: The Story Of Fierce Panda.
The label was actually never intended to be a label at all, but rather a quick home for the aforementioned EP and nothing more. Instead, the label’s artist roster reads like a Who’s Who of recent music that includes releases from Coldplay, Art Brut, Keane, Death Cab for Cutie, The Polyphonic Spree, Air Traffic, Embrace, Idlewild, The Walkmen and many others.
As Coldplay’s Will Champion notes, the label was essential for helping them gain such early acclaim. “It was a huge part of a wider puzzle – a massive stepping stone. It was definitely what got us played on the radio and then got us a headline slot at the Bull and Gate, which at the time was the biggest gig we’d ever done.”
Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley agrees, “Fierce panda is a national treasure, one of the most beautiful entities in British music, the absolute epitome of an indie label. The number of bands they have discovered, taken a chance on, made dreams come true for is truly awe-inspiring.”
Even now the label continues to feature some of the brightest new acts in the business. Milo Greene, The Crookes, Woodpigeon and Hawk Eyes are just a few of the bands currently on the roster worth checking out. At this point, however, fierce panda has earned the credibility to watch every single album they release.
“Document Films” is working on the release and fans can sign up now to pre-order the DVD as well as other exclusive merch.
Here’s a little interview we did with fierce panda Founder Simon Williams:
You mention on your PledgemMusic video that you want to find out who still cares about a label like fierce panda in a world of “hyperspeed culture.” Are you concerned about the current state of labels?
The struggles for most indie labels are no different to the struggles endured by most people in the arts, and in fact most people just trying to make a living nowadays, so making a film saying that physical record sales are dying and so we could do with a bit more money to tide us over isn’t that interesting. What both fascinates and alarms me is the way the download culture has changed everything I knew when we started out in 1994.
Back when we were putting out singles by the likes of Coldplay, Placebo and Idlewild, launchpad labels like us were the gatekeepers to the music. If we didn’t make the records to get played on the radio, you couldn’t get to hear these bands. Now the Internet has opened up new music to everyone -- for good and for bad -- the good being the sheer jaw-dropping quantity of new bands coming through the system, the bad being the way so many of those new bands are discarded or downright disillusioned by the time they would have naturally got to the point of releasing a physical indie single in the olden days. The hyperspeed nature of consumerism these days means it’s so much harder for a new artist to build from the ground up, to stand out from the maddening crowd.
Similarly, in those olden days, pretty much all the information that fans got came from the industry -- major labels even owned and controlled bands’ mailing lists -- whereas now there is obviously a lot more in the way of direct band-to-fan relationships. Consider that one of our signings has 20 times more Facebook followers than us, yet we have put out two albums by them, and you realise just how head-scratchingly overlooked we are becoming.
Throw in downloads, both legal and illegal, where the name of the record company will barely even register with the “customer” and I quite realise that I am beginning to sound like some ancient indie mariner standing on the rocks shouting at the raging sea, but I see this film as being like a rallying call for indies like us. It might be the last call we make, judging by the pretty damning evidence laid out above.
Take me back to the beginning of fierce panda. You didn’t originally intend for it to be a label, correct? What drove you into the indie scene?
We definitely intended for it to be a record label, but we also definitely planned to release just one record, the “Shagging In The Streets” compilation EP, which was a tribute to a wee punk rock scene we’d invented called The New Wave Of New Wave, and then call it a day. There was never any intention to make a second record, let alone another 250, which is precisely why the label was called fierce panda -- if we thought for a moment we’d still be going 20 years later we’d have called ourselves something much less stupid.
In truth, as a fanboy and buyer of alternative music I’d been driven into the indie scene at least 15 years before fierce panda even started. Growing up in the ‘80s I dabbled with releases on the obvious labels like Creation, Rough Trade and Factory -- I had a particularly fleshy soft spot for New Order around the time of “Lowlife” and “Brotherhood” -- but smaller, weirder labels like Kitchenware, Waap, Sarah, WXYZ and Small Wonder, a company based in a record shop local to me in Walthamstow who did the first singles by The Cure, Bauhaus and, but of course, The Molesters, really intrigued me. By the end of the ’80s I’d started writing in the indie trenches for the NME. As a label, fierce panda inevitably ended up being a horrible mishmash of all those pioneers, with added pie and ears.
What are your hopes for this documentary?
Some people want this film to be a celebration of the fierce panda history, while I’d like to make it a little bit darker, to draw the story into the shadows of the London night. It is called “Endangered” after all. It shouldn’t be too fluffy, nor should it be too gloomy, but in the true showbiz sense it would be great to make viewers laugh and cry. I want people to see it who have no idea of the bands we’ve helped along the way. I want people to see just how much fun and just how traumatic it is operating a label.
Like I always say, “You don’t choose to run an indie record company. It chooses you.” One wise person has already subtitled the film “The Rise And Fall And Rise Of fierce panda” and if we get anywhere near nailing that narrative arc then this will not be a dull 90 minutes. Ultimately I want it to be something people can watch on BBC4 with a cup of tea and without any knowledge of Kitchenware, Waap, Sarah, WXYZ or Small Wonder records and still enjoy it -- both the film and the cup of tea.
What kind of interviews can fans expect to see in the documentary?
I’m aiming for a hyperspeeding combination of mildly famous old faces from the past and gunslinging youngsters from the modern panda era. We recently made a wee trailer for the film in the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town and Roddy from Idlewild, Will from Coldplay, Toby from Hatcham Social and that nice DJ Steve Lamacq all made it along to talk about us like we had died. Perhaps we already have. In which case, if that is a true taster of the main feature then this film will be a right old feast of fun.
Tell me a little about the status of fierce panda today and how you guys are getting on in the ever-evolving music culture?
Well the irony is that, for all the griping, as a label we are flourishing creatively like never before. In 2012 we released 10 albums, and already in 2013 we’ve had smashing success with Milo Greene as well as terrific gigs and records coming up for the likes of The Crookes, Ultrasound, Dingus Khan, Hey Sholay, Hawk Eyes, Woodpigeon and Melanie Pain.
For all the perils and pains of the music industry nowadays, the one thing I will say is that with everyone running scared, the majors are obsessed with instant pop hits, so there is a slew of really great bands out there who would have signed really good major label deals a few years ago but now have to make do with signing to us. Seriously. Also, in terms the ever-evolving music culture we’re definitely getting to grips with downloads. With one of our recent album releases, 94 percent of the first week sales were digital. If we’d told our 7” vinyl-tastic selves that back in 1994, our little heads would have exploded.