Label Feature: The Great Pop Supplement

logonewThere is an almost frightening and overwhelming amount of music being released in the world right now, in both tangible and incorporeal forms.  For listeners the challenge is not currently about gaining access to music but how to filter it into meaningful and memorable contexts.  Contrary to popular technologically-subservient media myths, discerning and somewhat old fashioned record labels are perhaps needed more than ever; to help us find a way through the deluge and to stop audio moments that genuinely deserve space in our time-poor lives from being lost in hard drives, click once and forget streams and inside piles of physical purchases.

In recent years on these pages we have documented several of the leading – albeit low-key – lights that have helped revive the concept of record labels being taste-making connoisseurs rather than just routes for anonymously delivering product to our ears.  Whilst we’ve covered the likes of Second Language, Little Red Rabbit and Critical Heights repeatedly and in justifiable depth for following and expanding upon this resurgent ethos, The Great Pop Supplement has perhaps been under-documented here, for which this feature seeks to make amends.

Dom Martin

GPS founder Dom Martin

Owned and run solely from the corner of a Wandsworth flat, by Dom Martin (erstwhile veteran of the equally enlightened Enraptured and Earworm Records), over the last decade The Great Pop Supplement (AKA simply GPS amongst friends and followers) has incrementally established itself as one of the best vinyl-only labels on the planet.

And what you may ask puts the Great into The Great Pop Supplement?  ‘Where to begin?’ is perhaps the more difficult question.  There’s the imaginative and innovative packaging just for starters; often stuffed with curious inserts and artefacts.  Then there’s the exploration of vinyl as a medium with multiple speeds, colours, etchings, shapes and sizes.  On top of that there is the gleeful genre-hopping; with everything from acid-folk to Krautrock and from psyche-pop to bedroom electronica spread across the now vast GPS discography.  Most importantly however, is the uncanny knack for capturing cherishable one-offs from established artists (such as Wooden Wand, Spectrum, Spacemen 3, Wooden Shjips, Damon & Naomi, MV & EE and Dean & Britta) as well as virtual unknowns (Violet Woods, Death And Vanilla, Snails, The Soundcarriers, ad infinitum), that ultimately makes GPS catalogue navigation such an unquestionable and open-handed joy.

Just after one of the most prolific and sonically rich years to date in The Great Pop Supplement story, this writer tracked down the ever affable and refreshingly enthusiastic Dom Martin whilst he took a brief break from coordinating what could be an even busier 2013 for a label that loves and respects its artists as much as its fans.

The first Great Pop Supplement release was just over 10 years ago.  Looking back; how and why did all begin?  Did you ever envisage the label lasting this long?

GPS1 - Vibracathedral Orchestra - Girls With Rocks In Their Hands

GPS1 – Vibracathedral Orchestra – Girls With Rocks In Their Hands

Wow!  I had to take a little look on Discogs to believe that myself! It is hard to think that far back sometimes as there was a huge gap of three years or so between GPS9 and 10.  It was very disjointed and part time up to around three years ago.  But no, I had no idea it’d last so long and GPS 100 is nearing… It started as a low key kinda side project to another label I ran, Earworm – which had a distro deal with Cargo.  I fancied doing something with a more hand done, creative approach with smaller runs and no one to really run it by first other than the artist each time.  Hence those first few releases being limited to 111 copies of 45s with cut ‘n’ paste poster sleeves, comic decorated tracing paper sleeves and even one in silver body lining paper straight from Scotland Yard!

From where did you get the label name?

I’ve never had this truly confirmed but I believe ‘The Great Pop Supplement’ was a small column up against the margins of a local East Anglian newspaper where John Peel would review new releases and gigs ‘n’ stuff….

To what do you attribute the long-term sustainability of GPS?  A simple business model, a decent network of contacts and some good luck?

Lots of all the above I guess! It’s very manageable at this level and after 100 releases or so it’s still got that ‘me and artist only’ thing going.  I’m very lucky in that I have a mail order list of contacts who will take every release and trust the label’s output and taste.  It’s quite flattering really, and I still manage to have releases that attract fresh faces to the label.  It’s a nice situation and I still love doing it, which is something I perhaps lost with Earworm after 80+ releases…

GPS bills itself as a vinyl-only enterprise.  Why does the format, particularly in the 7” variety, work so well for you as a curator?

I often credit my mum and her record collection as I was growing up – she always had Hendrix, Lou, The Beatles and especially The Stones on at home and I’d often marvel at sleeve art, inner bags, the poster in with Let It Bleed, all that kinda stuff!  The 45 holds a special place in my heart though.  Who can say why?! Loved buying them from around 12 – [age] 7 for my first LP Kimono My House by Sparks I should add! – but the age old adage of a perfect pop song at 3 minutes on 45, [is] still unbeatable…

Death And Vanilla - From Above (square 7" version)

Death And Vanilla – From Above square 7″ release

How immersed into stretching the technology of vinyl have you become; given your successful experiments with multi-coloured vinyl, shaped vinyl, lathe cut vinyl, etched vinyl, extended song lengths and so on?  Do you work closely with manufacturers to push the technology to its limits?  And do you think that Jack White has been spying on you for his own Third Man Records releases?!

Yeah, that guy has totally ripped me off! Jeez, I think it’s quite an honour that you’d even consider that about Jack White!?  It’s nice of you to say that but I’d be somewhat surprised if he’s even heard of the label – though I guess stranger things have happened!  He’s a true innovator and I’m full of admiration for everything he’s doing with Third Man just now.  Some of his ideas are killer and he’s a number one vinyl revolutionary in my eyes!  In direct answer to your question; not half as much as I’d like to be.  Finances sadly dictate everything especially as I will insist on doing so many 45s which are notoriously tough to break even on, even these days. I like to push the boat out a wee bit when I can.  You’d be surprised how many bands are quite conservative in their packaging tastes though, they often need a nudge!

GPS releases are distinctive for their imaginative packaging; how much free reign do artists give you in this respect?

I always start by asking the band how they’d like their records to look of course, that’s only fair. They often have very fixed ideas about sleeves and stuff.  Increasingly however – and pleasingly – more and more suggest I do something instead which is when the ears prick up and the cogs start turning!

Which labels past or present have inspired you most in how you operate GPS?

From the past I’d say Elektra, Ohr, Brain, Fierce, Duophonic, Factory, Rough Trade, Sarah, Postcard.  Currently I’d say Not Not Fun, Woodsist, Ghost Box, Spectrum Spools stand out….

Despite the low-pressing runs, the high-spec packaging and choice cuts of vinyl, GPS records are sold at an affordable rate compared to other bigger labels attempting similar things.  Does this suggest that you’re running things more as a labour of love or that other labels are exploiting the vinyl revival lust of recent times?

Again, a bit of both really.  I can’t stand going into Rough Trade or Phonica and seeing a non-pic sleeve 7″ for £7+…  that’s taking the piss really.  Of course you buy it if you want the tracks but absolutely no effort is made, and to me that reeks of a label in it for a bit more than just the music, shall we say.  Sadly, there are a lot out there.  Although having said that, I do also think there’s something to be said for no sleeve art at all being better than a really lousy sleeve.  It’s a fine line but I feel you should be making the effort! Times are tough out there so to keep the releases affordable and provide value for money is absolutely essential.

One side of the Spacemen 3 / Wooden Shjips split 7" uncovered

One side of the Spacemen 3 / Wooden Shjips split 7″ uncovered

Every GPS release seems to sell-out pretty rapidly.  With this in mind, which releases have become the most collectible and which ones do you wish that you’d manufactured more of?

The early releases especially (1-10) do seem pretty in demand, then there are little sub-editions where I might have run out of sleeves and handmade some more so as to use the vinyl or the lathe cuts… There aren’t that many where I’ve gauged pressing quantities wrongly.  The Soundcarriers recent 7 was one and I could always have used more of the Spacemen 3 / Wooden Shjips and Sun Araw split 45s.

Putting a gun to your head – metaphorically of course – can you name any personal favourite GPS releases?

Okay, this might change tomorrow but sat here now I’d always plump for Wooden Wand, Karen Novotny X and as a long-term Spacemen 3 fan, it’s been amazing doing stuff with Pete/Sonic. Doing the 45 for Dean And Britta’s Warhol ‘Screen Tests’ shows/exhibition was a highlight too. Then, speaking as a fan, releasing stuff with Moe Tucker on drums and with Martin Rev has been pretty amazing too!

Over the last year or two, the GPS release schedule has increased in frequency and quantity, with a satisfying reliable hit rate in terms of quality.  What are your criteria, however loose, on picking recordings for the GPS treatment? Are you now in position where artists hunt you out more than the other way around?

It’s nice of you to say that, the aim is certainly that quality doesn’t dip during this current period of being snowed under with promises and therefore releases every few weeks.  It really is a case of ‘if I like it.’  I genre cross so often!  It’s only ever a reflection of my own tastes pretty much… Increasingly artists do come to me yeah, it’s great when that happens and it’s an artist whose stuff I love.

Although there are a handful of recurring characters in the GPS discography, do you think part of the beauty of the label comes from the freedom to celebrate great one-off releases without the pressure of sustaining a catalogue of fewer artists that a bigger label might have to do?

Yes, absolutely, I like that aspect of it certainly…

Have any artists eluded your reach that you’d still like to release some day?

Years back I’d have replied Neutral Milk Hotel, but right now, I guess The Clean, Six Organs Of Admittance and maybe Stephin Merritt, oh and Emeralds pre-split!

After such a great 2012 for GPS releases; what goodies can we expect across 2013?

There’s tons of stuff I’m really excited about, debut 7 + LP from an ace new Welsh band Trwbador, a killer Soundcarriers LP, fingers crossed on a MV+EE/Woods split 7, Death And Vanilla, Carlton Melton, Black Twig Pickers, Eat Lights Become Lights, one or two more Spacemen 3 demos split 45s projects.  Then on Deep Distance; Expo 70, JD Emmanuel, Kosmonaut, Samantha Glass…

Might you at some point consider an anthology of choice material from the first decade of the label for late-comers to play some catch-up?

I’d never say never… but there aren’t any plans for one really.  I did it with Earworm to some extent.  But speaking as a vinyl junkie it always miffed me when favourite bands released singles comps and in a way it seemed to detract from what made the initial 45 releases so special in their own right.  I like each release to kind of standalone if that makes sense.  Each has its own accompanying artwork and was right for that time…

dd logoWhat made you want to set-up a sister label – in the form of Deep Distance – to add to your GPS workload?  How does its philosophy differ?

This’ll sound very contradictory after my talk of genre hopping above, but I really fancied launching something purely focusing on my primary musical love; the motorik kraut groove!  The first few releases have been LPs only and I’ve made no secret of borrowing the changing, very anonymous looking single colour schemes from the killer series of gallery only/private press Conrad Schnitzler LPs from the early ‘70s, as regards their packaging.  That’ll change soon and I’m real excited about some ace stuff coming out on DD this year.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, from where can you most easily buy GPS new releases?

First and foremost from me direct – email on gps_dd@yahoo.co.uk – but otherwise; UK: Norman Records, Phonica, Piccadilly Records, Amulet, Rough Trade, Heyday Mailorder, Covers33Music, EU: Clear Spot distro and various online set ups, several German stores especially, US: Eclipse, Tomentosa, Thrill jockey, Time Lag, Aquarius.

Do you have any advice for someone setting-up a label on a similar-scale to GPS?

Basically to do it for the right reasons; i.e. a love for the music, a basic appreciation of vinyl and not to plan too far ahead.  If you stick to the trusted ‘record A paying for record B’ philosophy and just try to recover costs only at first, that wouldn’t be a bad start.  Also to be aware of current trends as regards a) no one buying CDs anymore, b) people love a handmade sleeve, or c) a great little numbered small-run 45 being eternally popular, [and] you can’t go wrong!  Perhaps also, sound out shops, mail order outlets, distros in advance – that way you’ll press to what you can sell.  You’ll have no money to pay for your next release if half your unsold first release is in boxes under the bed…

What is your day-job?

I work part time in a library in Wandsworth and I also do a bit of general vinyl buying and selling…

Could you see yourself still running GPS in another 10 years from now?

It’d be nice to think so, but it’s a tall order in some respects. To maintain the diehards’ interest for another decade would be pretty tough. We’ll see, fingers crossed!


A Recent Buyers Guide to The Great Pop Supplement:

With such an expansive and increasingly collectible back catalogue, creating a definitive buyer’s guide to The Great Pop Supplement is a somewhat impossible task, so for simplicity’s sake here are some choice selections from the last few years, to highlight just some of the bounty of riches to be found on the label.

Spacemen 3Big City (demo) b/w Wooden ShjipsI Believe It (7”, 2009)

gps50a_small Spacemen 3 7This scribe’s first GPS purchase was undoubtedly a shrewd investment as well as a perfect introduction to the GPS world.  Featuring a previously unreleased superior version of the opening track from Spacemen 3’s Recurring backed with a surprisingly blissful Wooden Shjips cover of a song from the same album, on a piece of smeared red vinyl, this is a must-have for space-rock scholars.

Wooden Wand – My Week Beats Your Year (vinyl LP, 2011)

Igps70 - Wooden Wandn-between more widely-available releases on bigger labels like Fire Records and Young God, James Jackson Toth has made several welcome off-piste visits to GPS with Wooden Wand. This earthy archive-raiding long-player, representing his more rugged lo-fi folk-country side, is arguably the one to hunt down first.

Snails – She’d Like An Hour (7″, 2011)

SnailsWrapped-up in suitable natural-world packaging and cut to semi-transparent green vinyl, this gorgeous two-track single from dainty boy/girl Bristol folk-pop duo Snails, who have seemingly disappeared since its release, conjures a divine and calming bucolic mood that is beautifully executed even if it’s not entirely revolutionary.

Savaging SpiresBending The Rules Of Time EP (7″, 2011)

Savaging SpiresFeaturing two of the highlights from 2011’s still terrific debut LP for Critical Heights on the A-side and a lengthy sublime non-album track on the B-side, this acid-folk treasure came pressed on white vinyl and bundled in a sleeve that features a peculiar short story printed on the inside.

 

The SoundcarriersBoiling Point EP (7″, 2012)

gps87 - SoundcarriersThis EP from Nottingham-based retro-psyche-rock outfit The Soundcarriers is one of the most sought-after GPS releases of recent times.  It’s not hard to realise why, particularly with a wonderful spoken word cameo from Lord Of The Rings/Wilfred star Elijah Wood on the awesome acid-tripping “This Is Normal” and with the inclusion of a free ‘stroboscopic speed indicator wheel’ no less.

Violet Woods – Raw Love (7″, 2012)

gps91 - Violet WoodsLetting-off some steam outside of his more serious main vocation co-leading Fuzzy Lights, Xavier Watkins’ new Byrdsian folk-pop quartet debuted with a stunning single that barely that left this listener’s turntable for several months, so utterly infectious are the twangly 12-string powered melodies that underpin its two terrific tracks.

High WolfStars Priest b/w KunlunThe Eternal Return Of The Different (7″, 2012)

gps97 - High WolfA typically great GPS split single pairing, which includes a beguilingly rapturous cosmic-voodoo instrumental piece from High Wolf on one side and an elegaic wordless Cluster-like analogue synthscape from Kunlun on the other. One of this writer’s favourite singles of 2012, alongside the aforementioned 7 inchers from Violet Woods and The Soundcarriers that is.

Death And VanillaFrom Above (7″, 2013)

Death And Vanilla frontThe first major release on the rapidly unfurling 2013 GPS schedule, on red square 7″ vinyl, from Sweden’s Death And Vanilla is an unquestionably sumptuous sci-fi-pop gem that simultaneously picks up batons from Stereolab, Broadcast and My Bloody Valentine without breaking into a undignified sweat.  Already a sold-out collector’s item and deservedly so…

To see full the GPS discography visit the label’s website and to get the heads-up on future releases before they land join the GPS mailing list by emailing Dom directly at: thegreatpopsupplement@hotmail.com.

Comments

  1. The man is a legend and a true gentleman, always such a pleasure to work with and on a social level a limitless font of music knowledge.
    Long may he reign.

    Neil
    Eat lights Become lights.