One of the most influential independent record labels on the British music scene is undoubtedly Fierce Panda Records and on May 21st they celebrated 19 years of helping bring through bands from Keane to Idlewild by showing us they’re still more than still at it with performances from The Crookes and Hey Sholay at their party. Founder, Simon Williams, took us through a brief history of this amazing label and how things have changed for it.
AMBY: Could you take us back 19 years ago to tell us how Fierce Panda was born?
SW: Fierce Panda was invented by three drunk blokes in a pub. The Pub doesn’t exist, the other two people don’t exist and Fierce Panda barely exists. We started to celebrate the New Wave scene and we did it purely to release one record and then call it a day. But we’re still here 19 years later.
AMBY: Is it an addiction then?
SW: Addiction is absolutely the appropriate word. For people like me, once you’re on that indie motorway there isn’t a way back, there’s no exit. It’s like being on the M6 on the bank holiday and suddenly realising it’s another 30 miles to go before you can pop off for a bit of KFC.
AMBY: What are the main differences from when you started 19 years ago and now for an independent record label?
SW: The change is it moves so much faster. Back in those days a band would form and then they would think about what they’d be called, what they’d look like, how to send a demo to someone. Basically it’d take six months to get it together to get a demo tape to a record company. By that point there’s a potential they’d be a good band whereas now bands can achieve that in about six hours, which is absolutely brilliant. It opens it up to so many great, new people who might’ve been put off 19 years ago but the problem for people like me is that they don’t stand a chance because they’re not ready. You go see them and you go “You’ve got two good tracks but you haven’t worked on the rest of your set because you’re too new, you’re too young”.
AMBY: Fierce Panda’s helped bring through incredible talent from the likes of Coldplay to Ash to Idlewild and is continuing to do so with bands like The Crookes, The Heartbreaks and Hey Sholay. What makes this label so special?
SW: I think what marks us out is intense stupidity. We’re in that lost middle world now. We’ve had opportunities in the past to move on and develop but we’ve kind of never really cracked it. We’re not even Domino, we’re not even Wichita. They’re huge indie labels but at the same time we’re not super cool and super trendy like the blogy kind of labels, which in a way is good for the bands as you’ve need someone at some point slowing things down and not being part of that big buzz thing.
AMBY: There are some tremendous stories associated with this label. What are your favourites?
SW: Everyday is a joy and delight to be running Fierce Panda Records Company. I mean tonight is a prime example of how great it is. It’s The Crookes biggest show; Hey Sholay will play to a lot of people. Overall, I’d say it’s the birthday gigs that make it work really because they’re the ones that you just put everything into it. When you see that queue of a hundred people outside the door it kind of justifies all the pain and misery of everything you do in the music industry.
AMBY: And what would be the perfect gift for Fierce Panda?
SW: Well obviously a birthday cake in the shape of a panda which was made of panda.