Hailing from the village of Cellardyke, East Fife, the Fence Records co-op of coastal-dwelling musicians has created a unique style of electro-infused folk. While the artists record their own material, they continue the folk tradition of sharing songs among the collective and often collaborate live.
KT Tunstall, a former member of Fence, once complained that they lacked commercial ambition. The collective chose to ignore such criticism and last year’s Mercury nomination for King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’ Diamond Mine proved the musical wisdom in chasing originality not commerciality.
Could you start off by telling us a bit about your music?
I record music as The Pictish Trail and sometimes as Silver Columns with my friend Adem. I started writing songs in about 2001, and released a mini-album on Fence Records in 2002. As soon as I left university, I went full time at Fence – organising gigs for the artist roster at first, and then gradually taking on more label responsibilities. I’m now co-director of Fence Records Ltd… oooh!
How did Fence Records get started?
Well… The label was started up by Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote) in around 1996. He’d been in a few moderately successful bluegrass bands and had toured all over the UK and Europe throughout the early nineties… but suddenly found himself without a band to play with. He purchased a Fostex digital 8-track machine and one of the first generation CD-R burners, and started recording lo-fi albums, playing all the instruments himself.
Burning copies of these albums, individually one by one, putting them in hand-assembled artwork, and selling them in the CD shop he had a day job with, he started a label.
Kenny released recordings by his brothers (Lone Pigeon and Pip Dylan), attracted the attention of his other musician friends – James Yorkston, Billy Pilgrim, Gummi Bako – and all of a sudden St Andrews had its own music scene. The Fence Collective was born, and 40 albums down the line, King Creosote still releases music through Fence (and also Domino Records).
Cellardyke must be a very musical village! Is the label still run out of there?
Yup, the label is still based in the East Neuk of Fife. Kenny’s based in Crail, and I live in Cellardyke most of the time (but I’m spending increasing amounts of time on the island of Eigg, in the Hebrides). The internet has made it possible for us to operate outside of the city scene – everyone all over the world is only an email away. I think the fact that we’re from somewhere quite remote actually attracts folk to our label – we’re not trendy, we’re not competing, we just do our thing.
Fence is an inspiring alternative to the multinational record company, so it’s useful to hear how such alternatives are practically organised. How is Fence set up?
Fence now operates as a limited company – of which Kenny and myself are directors. We take dividends from the business, and we both have an equal share. As we’re both musicians in our own right we tend to focus on our own careers, and this tends to steer how the business is run. Following a Mercury nomination last year, Kenny’s profile has been raised dramatically, which has meant he’s been a lot busier with King Creosote stuff. This has been great for Fence, as he is the label’s biggest ambassador. I’ve spent most of the past year working on Fence events that can harness this new audience.
It’s not a one man show, though. Kate Canaveral has been helping to run our webshop, which is increasingly becoming a full-time job. David Galletly, a fantastic artist from Glasgow, has done a lot of work for us too, as has our pal Hardsparrow, and Gummi Bako.
You describe Fence as having a do-it-yourself work ethic. How does that inform the day-to-day running of the label?
The label is very much cottage industry – we all work from our respective homes. We used to burn CD-Rs and spraypaint/stamp all the artwork individually, so in that respect we were very DIY. We now have things manufactured by other companies but the day-to-day running of the business is still done from our homes. It’s fine, unless you have to wait in all day for a delivery.
Does Fence enable artists to make a living out of music who might not be able to ‘go professional’ otherwise?
I think we help. We don’t offer our acts any advances or anything like that but we try and give them a platform so that they can make music their life. Not all of our acts want to do music for a living, though. It’s a very competitive, heartless industry at times.
The most important part of any business is ideas. If you don’t have new ones, then you’re fucked. It doesn’t matter how uncommercial or how weird the idea is. As long as you’re consistently trying to innovate the way you communicate with people, you’ll do well.
With the increasing professionalisation of the arts there’s a danger that culture, be it music, literature or art, is left to the ‘professionals’. Fence seems more participative – how do you encourage people to create culture for themselves rather than just consume it?
We’re approachable, I guess. I think the live events that we put on really show how grassroots this all is – and how easy it is to share music with one another by supporting fellow musicians and promoting their music. I know we’ve inspired a bunch of other labels to start because they’ve told me. It’s a great thing.
Some Fence artists have signed to other record labels (King Creosote, James Yorkston) but are still very much involved in the Fence Collective. Does it devalue Fence?
It makes Fence stronger. As a label, we can only do so much. There’s very little infrastructure to Fence. We can only get a certain amount of attention from the press and radio and the public at large. When one of our acts signs to a bigger label that is the greatest advert for us because we’re always keen to keep our association and friendship with the act.
When did Fence start putting on festivals?
Kenny ran all-day events called Sunday socials way back in the early noughties. They were incredible. It’d be in a pub, free entry, they’d start around 2pm, and it’d be live music from Fence Collective folk until the bar shut. Very drunken affairs.
What festivals have you got lined up this year?
Quite a few things, actually but the next two are called ‘Eye O’ the Dug’ and ‘Away Game’. Eye O’ the Dug is happening in St Andrews in April, over the 14th and 15th – tickets available from the Fence Records website. Away Game is happening on the island of Eigg in July – tickets have already sold out. They are both going to be amazing, the line-ups are phenomenal.
The people who live on the Isle of Eigg have an inspirational story – securing community ownership of Eigg after years of insecure tenure…
We love Eigg, and all who live in her. They’re a great community – and big party lovers! The islanders throw their own event in June to celebrate the ‘buy-out’ and it’s a beautiful thing. Away Game isn’t directly related to that but the island is the perfect setting. Great people.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’