The Big Reissue
All hail the labels encouraging us to Be With music…
“Brave move.” Words of scant encouragement from DJ Balearic Mike accompanied news of Be With Records' tenth reissue back in 2016. Kylie Minogue’s eponymous 1994 album was making its way to the presses under a freshly-minted Be With logo. Even the distributor was sceptical. Here was an upstart indie releasing a major label hit to an audience for whom rarity means more than popularity. If genres and scenes are lines in the sand, Be With crashed across them like a wave.
“A good, timely reissue can re-frame or re-contextualise a whole scene that people thought they knew everything about,” Be With's founder Rob Butler says. “It can act as a hand-raiser for that particular artist as a means of saying: ‘Hey, we were there too, and we made this amazing body of work that has actually been criminally overlooked for the past decades’.” What makes the Kylie record so compelling is that it flipped this relationship on its head.
An array of specialist and enthusiastic reissue labels are now chipping away at that grand canonical edifice of music history to reveal myriad chinks, angles and perspectives smoothed down by the passage of time. The result has been a thrilling, kaleidoscopic refraction of the musical landscape.
Launched in 2014, Be With has reached 100 releases (a milestone recently attained with the release of Kenny Dickenson’s beautiful score to French-Vietnamese artist Mai Hua’s documentary ‘Les Rivières’) off the back of a singular and undiluted approach. Schooled behind the counter at Manchester’s Piccadilly Records, Butler was determined for the label to reflect his broad tastes as a DJ and record collector. A cursory glance at his first ten releases speaks for the whole: classic soul, UK garage, West Coast AOR, melodic folk-rock, South African boogie, R’n’B royalty, Hawaiian funk, kosmische disco, and, of course, Kylie Minogue.
“Perhaps the discernible authorial voice resonates because it all emanates from one record lover’s deep passion for these artists and these records,” Butler suggests.
What also unites a Be With reissue is its attention to detail. If the audio isn’t spot on, the artwork not pristine, or, most importantly, if the artist doesn’t want it to go ahead, Be With won’t do it.
“Reissue labels must treat the artist and repertoire with the greatest of respect,” Butler continues. That he could take American singer-songwriter Ned Doheny on tour, 40 years after his debut, speaks to the depth of their working relationship. Ned is now affectionately known as the uncle of the label. “Every effort should be made to ensure that the artist is able to tell their own story, or get to set the record straight, if required.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Kay Suzuki, whose Time Capsule label has recently featured Angolan musicologist Mário Rui Silva, dance therapy pioneer Gabrielle Roth and electronic gwoka from Guadeloupe.
“I thought re-introducing this rare and beautiful music to a wider audience would be a perfect way to celebrate the original artists,” he explains. A focus on extensive liner notes and in-depth context play a crucial role in telling a record’s story and expressing his gratitude towards the music.
Being exposed to these stories can also have a transformative effect. For Coco Maria, the Amsterdam-based DJ and curator behind Bongo Joe compilation ‘Club Coco’, there were two titles that particularly captured her imagination when she was starting out: ‘Roots of Chicha’ (on Barbès Records) and Soundway’s ‘The Original Sound of Cumbia’.
“They influenced me because I could see through new eyes the music of Latin America I grew up with,” she explains. “They made possible a reinvention of my music in Europe.”
It’s something she now takes on in her own work, “opening doors for people who are curious about music and other worlds.” Those lines in the sand are nowhere to be seen.
It is 15 years since vinyl sales began rebounding, and you could say that labels like Be With have become victims of their own success. Majors are now more likely to reissue their own vast catalogues, and in doing so clog the pipes of the vinyl manufacturing industry like coffee grind. So much so that Butler believes they have a responsibility to build their own pressing plants.
While long lead times can become prohibitive for small labels with tight margins, the passion behind the work remains. “The recent past is no longer a foreign country,” Butler says. “I feel that great music, like all great art, has the ability to endure, regardless of whether it was important in the wider sense of being part of a crucial scene or capturing a certain Zeitgeist, or whether it's just a pretty piece of music, or rhythmical killer that will never fail to make people move or smile.” It is this approach that has helped Be With thrive.
And as for that Kylie reissue? The first run sold out in 24 hours and, perhaps just as importantly, Balearic Mike approved too. “I am a MASSIVE Kylie fan – as are all right-thinking people,” he enthused.
In life, as in reissues, some of the bravest moves are the most resonant.