This month Rocket Recordings turn 25 years old. That is a remarkable feat for a label that was mining the deepest veins of obscure psychedelic rock music way before it became cool again. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that psych music’s current renaissance is largely due to their incredible, passionate efforts in bringing this music to people’s attention once more.
To celebrate this milestone, they are taking over this year’s Roadburn Festival, with an absolutely stellar line-up of their affiliated artists.
Given that, over the 15 years of Echoes and Dust’s existence, we’ve probably covered and had feature in our end of year lists, more Rocket albums than any other single label, we wanted to mark the occasion, too. So, in our own inimitable fashion, we asked a bunch of crew and psych scene stalwarts to pick their favourite Rocket album. Here’s what they came up with.
Anthony Chalmers (Baba Yaga’s Hut)
There is obviously a TON of records I could choose for this. Rocket Recordings is the most played label of all time in the 401 episodes of the Independent Music Podcast after all!
But I thought I’d go for Teeth Of The Sea‘s Orphaned By The Ocean as it was my entry point to the label. Although my Discogs is telling me I own Mammatus from 2006 so maybe did buy one before and didn’t know it!
I loved Orphaned By The Ocean when I first heard it and I felt they didn’t really sound like anything else in London right then. 15 years later it still stands up as one of the best releases they have done, creating a unique dark, drizzly and futuristic atmosphere while still having moments of fist pumping bangers like ‘Swear Blind the Alsatian’s Melting’, which was long a staple of their live sets.
Gnod – Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine
Steve Bradbury (Black Tempest)
This album burst screaming onto the scene back in 2016, and it’s been kicking and shouting in my record collection ever since. Gnod have always been a great band, but something crystalised on this album – the free-form noise mantras which hammered repetition into your skull for psychedelic effect coalesced into something more formidable, something with more form, more shape. A steamhammer of sound emerged.
Right from the off, ‘Bodies For Money’ is a statement of intent, of revulsion with our society, of fighting back. A thunderous, spitting ear-splitting kick to the Temple of Sound. Then People – “We always get what we deserve” – Marlene’s throbbing bass is foregrounded against a looping synth noise, crashing drums underpinning the whole, and Paddy’s pleading, angry vocals shouting into the void. For me this is the moment when Paddy’s now trademark clean-but-nasty guitar sound starts to appear from the wreckage. And then that moment when it all drops together – total freakout domination.
Seeing out the first side, ‘Paper Error’ doesn’t let up the intensity. The deceptive simplicity of the riff allows a hypnotic lift-off, the heads-down, no-nonsense noise machine rolls on relentlessly, pummelling the already fired-up synapses.
Drums pound, the bass shakes and the guitar stabs as ‘Real Man’ enters the room, with his “cauliflower ears and a bag full of beers”. The sleaze drips, testosterone leaks like piss stains on yellowed nicotine walls, and Gnod kick against the pricks with steel-capped amps.
“I wanna be a stick in the wheel – don’t wanna be a cog in the machine” – ‘Stick In The Wheel’ sums up the whole revolutionary spit and bile of this album. The world of “real hard workers” selling their soul to the man just to stay alive. Kick out the capitalists, bring the industrial death machine to a screeching grinding halt – revolt against the revolting situation that capitalist society has wrought. Ending on a surprisingly subtle yet muscular tabla loop, showing there is more to this shit show than just blood and thunder, more to come, another side to the coin, more beauty to be found in the brute force, the eye of the maelstrom.
Not since I first heard the Pistols and the Clash back in the 70s had I felt something move and change inside of me listening to a new sound, something clicking into place and making a whole new revolutionary sense from music. Play Gnod loud, shout back at the bastards, raise a fist, man the barricades, don’t go quietly into the void.
AFTERWORD: This album is an icon of Rocket’s aesthetic – a new psychedelic sound, Johnny O’s red/black black/red graphics – everything that makes Rocket such a special label is here in microcosm. Rocket have brought so much to the scene for the last quarter of a century. I for one hope there are decades more of this era defining music to come. Thanks to Chris and Johnny for all they’ve done, it means a huge amount to me, and to many, many others.
Marlene Ribeiro – Toquei No Sol
Nadia Beniamin (Rocket Superfan!)
When I said to my daughter that I have been asked to write a few words on my favourite album released on Rocket Recordings, she turned around and said ‘That question should be illegal (laughing). It’s your favourite label. How can you pick just one??!!’
I paused and thought – I felt very humbled and honoured to be asked in the first place. So, where do I start?
At the beginning of the journey. At the very start. I picked Marlene Ribeiro’s beautiful Toquei No Sol.
With no hesitation.
Marlene was the first Rocket artist I ever got to see and listen to. She has travelled the world and has picked the essence, beauty, gentleness, integrity, courage and strength of each place she has been to.
Her album is a magic carpet which takes us on this inner cosmic journey weaving bits of experiences and motions from our roots all the way to the Sun.
The Ultimate Yoga.
Mother of all things.
With gratitude to Chris and Johnny for their integrity, consistency, uncompromising and yet humble approach to what they do and how they do it.
Here’s to another 25 years of Rocket 🖤
Flowers Must Die – Kompost
The Swedish collective Flowers Must Die have been around since 2006 with their EP Sister Valens released on Rocket Recordings in 2016 and Kompost following in 2017 along with new vocalist/electric violinist Lisa Elekelund as they straddle decades – and genres – in influences and improvisations.
Kompost brings this all together with the more free-feeling jams leading us into more structured drone and funk tracks such as ‘Hit’ – that bass hook never fails to grab me – or crashing into ‘Don’t You Leave Me Now’ – effects and rhythms giving disco vibes despite the lyric’s plea.
Songs such as ‘After Gong’ give us rhythm to explore, while ‘Why?’ almost seems contemplative before building to a questioning crescendo of flutes, strings and chants.
‘Hey, Shut Up’ encompasses everything I like about Flowers Must Die (and many more) – a solid bass groove with the other layers spiralling together in the mix.
Finishing with ‘Sven’s Song’, discordant vocals remind you although there is a danceable surface groove through much of this album, deeper layers are there to explore throughout with each listen.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Flowers Must Die several times, most notably opening the Rocket Recordings 20th anniversary celebrations back in 2018, engaging the crowd immediately and setting the tone for a memorable weekend. 2023 marks Rocket’s 25th birthday – here’s to many more releases from both them and Flowers Must Die.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Feed The Rats
Sander van den Driesche
You can’t really talk about Rocket Recordings without mentioning the mighty Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Ever since my old buddy Richard Collins (of Cosmic Carnage fame) dragged me along to their Glasgow gig supporting the Cosmic Dead at the Old Hairdressers venue back in November 2013 I have been a big fan of this band. There’s just something about them that’s super captivating. It’s pure in-your-face rock, there’s noise, psych, even doom and sludgey elements. It’s not surprising they’re finally found fame in the underground with repeated plays on big radio stations like BBC 6 Music, and sold out tours, which is well-deserved as this is one of the hardest working bands in the underground, and a bunch of super friendly lads on top of that.
Their recent outputs have perhaps been geared more towards a bigger audience and have been more radio friendly in terms of song lengths, but their earlier work is unbeatable with the old fans, with long 20 minutes plus tracks of repeated psychedelic, noisey passages which won myself and many others over all those years ago.
Their Rocket Recordings debut release Feed The Rats still has this element included, with two of the three tracks on the album being around the 15 minutes mark, namely ‘Icon’ and the fan favourite ‘Psychopomp’, which was released three years earlier in a slightly longer version on a limited edition cassette tape on Box Records, the label run by Pigs singer Matt. In fact, the Psychopomp cassette was only the band’s second offering after their debut split release with the Cosmic Dead the year before, which includes their epic track ‘The Wizard And The Seven Swines’, later self-released as a separate record.
Anyway, I digress.
Pigs are just amazing, they’re a phenomenal live band and they bring a new and perhaps slightly different audience to Rocket Recordings, which can only be a good thing.
Teeth of the Sea – Master
“Pick a favourite Rocket album” they said. “That’s like picking a favourite child” I said. I mean, over the last 25 years, they have been one of the most consistently brilliant labels out there, how is one meant to pick from that?
Honestly, it was one of the toughest decisions I’ve faced in a while! I could have picked any number of albums by Gnod or the myriad of other fantastic artists that have graced the label in the last quarter century.
In the end though, there could be only one. This is, if you’ll forgive the pun, a masterpiece.This is the album that, for me, marked a band shifting from being a nice bunch of lads with some good tunes to being the absolute real fucking deal playing the music in my head; a visceral combination of psychedelic noise rock and banging techno. (They’re still nice lads, btw)
More than anything, it was the sound of a band finding their feet and finding their voice; growing in to their potential. You could see that confidence ooze off them in their live shows following its release and everything since.
And then there’s ‘Responder’. All eleven minutes of it. All eleven thumping, crushing, disco music for the end of the world, of it. It’s no exaggeration to say that it is one of my favourite tunes of all time. I still regularly drop it in DJ sets ten years later. Utterly magnificent.
So yeah, in a crowded field of fantastic releases from one of the most consistent labels around, this is the one that stands out for me, personally. Here’s to many more years of amazing music from the Rocket and its crew.