Ever wondered why there’s been so many rad bands playing Liverpool over the last 18 months? Promoters Samizdat are the answer. Getintothis talks to Samizdat chief Andrew Ellis prior to their Los Campesinos!/No Age/New Times Viking tripple-header, on emerging talent, knife crime and why they had to escape the Death House.
Getintothis: Hey Andrew, so who and what is Samizdat? Are you all Liverpudlians?
Ellis: Samizdat is myself with the help of a bunch of good friends, in particular Hari Ashurst and Paul Rafferty along with alot of collaboration with Darren Roper (of Meshuggy fame). My roots are up here but I was born in the cesspool that is Romford, Essex.
Getintothis: It seems kind of silly interviewing a promoter, however, it is quite a while since Liverpool attracted such a wealth of ultra-hip breaking new bands that you’ve brought here in such a short space of time – how did you get involved? Give us a bit of a potted history.
Ellis: Having picked up a number of instruments in my teens and realised that I was completely talentless in the creation of music I decided once I moved up here in 2005 to put my hand to putting on shows. With good advice from the likes of Engine and Class A Audio and a gig offer from some friends down south I put my plans into practice and the results were decent so I kept going from there.
From then on I just progressed a bit further; every show getting lucky enough to book some of my favourite acts. The ethos has pretty much stayed the same, if I like the band and I think I can cover my costs then I’ll do the show. It’s a shame there wasn’t a bottomless pit of money because I’d definitely do a lot more shows but this way the quality of the acts is never compromised and hopefully everyone has as awesome a time as I do.
Getintothis: Any shows particularly stand out?
Ellis: I have a tendency to say after every show, ‘That was the best show so far,’ so every show stands out to an extent.
The moments that stand out the most were probably totally packing out Korova with The Mae Shi while working with Evol and Meshuggy. The atmosphere was fantastic.
Then there was Liars and Deerhunter at the Kazimier, i wouldn’t have dreamed of putting on a line-up like that when i started out.
Getintothis: You’ve hosted nights at new, uber-hip club the Kazimier – are you part of the set up there?
We heard about strange goings on at the opening night involving horses tied to ceilings and Victorian freakshows. Sounds kinda funky…
Ellis: I’m not involved in the running of the place but I’m more than happy to bring shows to the Kazimier. It’s a great change from the standard venues in Liverpool, a change of location is always refreshing.
I can’t wait to have Oxes on there later this month, rowdy Americans with wireless guitars + 2001 A Space Odyssey re-enactions (Check youtube) + The Kazmier = rad times.
Oxes: Thus Spoke Zarathustra (2001: A Space Odyessy) at SXSW.
Getintothis: It says on your myspace, that you’re based at the Life Hostel – what goes down here? Is it a den of iniquity or just a dull office?
Ellis: For the two years prior to this summer I lived in Kenny (Kensington), the first house had a huge metal door, metal grids on all of the windows and was a serious dive, that was Death-House I.
The next year we move down the road which wasn’t quite as bad but wasn’t exactly palatial, that was Death-House II.
Then at the beginning of summer me and 11 friends moved into a big old ex-nursing home/rehab clinic by Sefton Park. Being the antithesis of the Death-houses we thought Life-Hostel would be a fitting name. Current residents form parts of Indica Ritual, Balloons, a.P.A.t.T., Hackney Carriages and a multitude of other projects, it’s the perfect place to run Samizdat from.
Getintothis: As well as No Age, Times New Viking and Oxes on the horizon, you’ve the buzz band of the moment Abe Vigoda on in December, you must be pleased to bring bands of this calibre to town… Who are you most looking forward to, and anyone in the future we can expect/you’d like to put on?
Ellis: I’m incredibly excited to bring No Age and Times New Viking back to Liverpool, I think No Age have slightly outgrown the Everyman Bistro by now.
Abe Vigoda have been a firm favourite of mine for a year or so and I’ve been pestering them about a tour for ages now. It seems everything that comes out of the Smell (LA post-punk(ish) venue) is gold at the moment and I’m more than happy to bring those bands over here.
As far as future bookings I’m all booked up until the end of the year including maybe a house-show or two and hopefully the new year will bring some new opportunities.
I’d love to do shows with Avey Tare (Animal Collective) and Kria Brekken (Mum), their collaboration album is phenomenal, as well as Barr and Foot Village who’ll both i’m sure be touring next year, so give them a listen.
Getintothis: Having endured the Cosmic Scouse lull of a few years ago, Liverpool’s local band live scene appears to be on the up again, any particular favourites stand out with the Samizdat?
Ellis: I may well have missed the lull or simply not noticed it, however, of course I champion Indica Ritual and Balloons who definitely deserve to get a lot more attention outside of Liverpool than they do. a.P.A.t.T. and Stig Noise Soundsystem, despite having been playing for a good while now, still deserve a great deal of credit.
I’ve always been a big fan of Red Panda and arms at last (especially ATP chalet shows). Then there’s Monobrow, they’re playing a free Samizdat with the almighty Neptune on November 6, I’m not going to say anything other than, get down to it.
Getintothis: Knife crime. Media exaggeration or cause for concern?
Ellis: Violence is of course a cause for concern, this said, the media, particularly the tabloid press hasn’t helped the situation with endless scaremongering.
There has been street crime, knife or otherwise for decades particularly surrounding certain teenage subcultures but never before have teenagers been so poorly publicized, I don’t think this generations youth has been fairly judged by the media and i’d say to some extent makes people live up to the stereotypes which have been thrust upon them.
Getintothis: Have you endured any nightmare gig scenarios?
Ellis: One of my favourite US bands (Death Sentence: Panda!) came over to play, eight people turned up, two hundred quid out of pocket – I can’t listen to them any more – haha!
Getintothis: Promoters have a pretty bad reputation for being cash-cows, without going too much into the mechanics of how your night runs, how do you ensure your future. Is Samizdat your full-time focus now?
Ellis: There are many people who succeed financially from promoting, many by the old method of making bands sell tickets, by running battle of the bands or by cashing in on hype bands, these are the main reasons why promoters get a bad name, very very rarely however will you find a decent DIY promoter or for that matter anyone genuinely interested in music that employs those schemes.
While Samizdat does take up a lot of my time, it’s not financially viable.
Over the years I’m probably about breaking even. If you put hours to income I probably make about 5p an hour or something ridiculous from running Samizdat, it really is a labour of love. I do odd bits and bobs to pay my rent and got a new job on Friday so I can pay the bills.
Getintothis: Capital Culture, what’s your take on it thus far?
Ellis: I mean it’s nice to see investment in my adopted city but to be fair the areas of ‘culture’ that are being pushed don’t represent the people of Liverpool accurately.
There are so many subcultures in Liverpool that are grossly under-represented by the board behind Liverpool 08, it’s fair enough if you are some middle class thirty something with an interest in Edwardian architecture who enjoys seeing money for investment in their city being spent on novelty animal-fruits which could have been spent alot more wisely in the areas that need it the most.
But what about everyone else? I for one thank the culture company for totally missing the point on what ‘culture’ is really about.
Getintothis: It’s October, the students are back, and the City genuinely has a buzz about it, what excites you about Liverpool at present?
Ellis: I’m really glad to have rowdy students being sick on themselves outside the Raz (Blue Angel) back in Liverpool. In all seriousness, the students are essential for Samizdat, the population rise brings alot to the city and everyone I’ve talked to about it agrees.
I know what you mean about the buzz, I put alot of it down to alot of fresh minds coming into the city, it’s refreshing, the city centre is pretty vibrant and hopefully this will reflect itself on Liverpool shows!
Getintothis: Your posters are great, who designs them?
Ellis: They’re all designed by different people, some by Paul, some by a guy called A.J. and occasionally the odd one or two by Sean Wars and Ben Wisset. If anyone wants any posters or flyers doing by any of the guys, drop us a mail and I’ll put you in contact. (They’re all dotted about in here with artist credit)
Getintothis: You’ve got 71 fans on Facebook, that’s kind of pitiful – but also shows you’re at the under-exposed, cool-end of things waiting to break when all the hip cats get on it (say mid-October), are you ready for blaggers, bust-ups and messy nights in The Pool?
Ellis: Since you sent this we’re up to 108 which is nice! We’ve got a pretty loyal crowd of awesome people and I hope that continues and stays the same, anyones welcome to come down and we like to keep things as non-exclusive as possible.
As long as these hip-cats don’t act like pricks they can come back any time. As far as blaggers, we operate a guestlist policy which goes along the lines of ‘if you help out the night, do us a poster, play some records, then you can come in for free’ if i just let everyone in for free i’d be out of pocket, it’s the only fair way to look at guestlists.
Getintothis: American bands are ridiculously in vogue; we can lay this squarely at the feet of the Libertines – vacuous London journo’s over-hyping them and the subsequent death of Brit-rock due to the rise of their shit offspring The Pigeon Detectives, The Holloways, The View et al. Right?
Ellis: I never really got into that much modern British music that popped up into the mainstream, I think you’ve got it in one though, that whole scene was fairly vacuous, songs to get pissed to and get nostalgic about.
I can see why people got into the likes of the Libertines but it just wasn’t for me. America being the size that it is churns out thousands of bands every year so comparably there’s going to be alot more promise from US acts based purely on the volume of artists.
Getintothis: What’d be your advice to people starting to host their own nights?
Ellis: Don’t rush into things, start off small and running smoothly, testing the water is always important. Treat people well and when they’re on the up they might return the favour.
Promotion is key, internet flyering isn’t enough, get out there with flyers (good flyers are always a plus too, i’ll take the time to read a decent flyer). Logistically it’s not all that difficult though it is a stressful business, keep a firm head on yourself and try to keep relaxed and you’ll be fine.
Getintothis: Football, who do you support?
Ellis: West Ham, fifth in the league currently somehow, it won’t last I’m sure. (since time of writing the happy Hammers are sixth).
Getintothis: What are your records of the year?
Ellis: Abe Vigoda: Skeleton
Pocahaunted: Mirror Mics
Indian Jewelry: Free Gold!
Gang Gang Dance: Saint Dymphna
Getintothis: Fantasy gig time, who would be your three bands dead or alive you’d dream of putting on?
Ellis: This Heat, Scholastic Deth and Pavement (and Arab on Radar and The Nation of Ulysses)
Totally impossible question!
Getintothis: Anything else to declare?
Ellis: See you at the front. Check out the website for details and mail firstname.lastname@example.org for info and booking.
Upcoming Samizdat shows in Liverpool:
15/10 – Los Campesinos!, No Age, Times New Viking: Academy 2
24/10 – Indian Jewelry: Barfly
27/10 – Oxes, Bilge Pump, Pulled Apart by Horses, Honey Ride Me A Goat: Kazimier
6/11 – Neptune, Monobrow: Korova (free show)
21/11 – Jay Reatard, Lovvers: Korova
30/11 – Anavan, Hackney Carriages: Korova
4/12 – Abe Vigoda, Lovvers: Korova
Los Campesinos!: Death To Los Campesinos!