Profile: No Label Collective

by Sheldon Birnie

What started as a small snowball of an idea bouncing between two friends has built itself into an avalanche of creativity within Winnipeg’s DIY music scene. After a few months of bouncing around, the No Label Collective was rolling and picking up speed.

Founded last winter by Dave Skene (Mary Jane Stole My Girl, the Manic Shakes) and Charles Granger (Ex-Modern Teen), No Label quickly blossomed into a diverse and tight-knit collective who are interested in finding fun and innovative ways to promote each others’ projects.

“We’re kindred spirits in a way,” explained Granger. “I bounced the idea off of Skene. It wasn’t like ‘let’s start a label,’ but more of a skills sharing co-op.”

“We were already playing shows together,” says Nick Friesen (Merch Table Delite) on how the bands in the collective came together. “It was already a scene. We just decided to pool our resources, give it a name. When people are working together it’s a little easier, and people take you a little more seriously, maybe.”

Something that connects all of the diverse No Label acts is “sort of like a DIY kind of aesthetic,” says Tiff Bartel (Crusty Cat). “Everybody does things themselves. They don’t pay somebody else a ton of money to make them sound good. People in the collective do posters for each other, or do art.”

One of the first projects that No Label began pushing was the idea of “video posters” to promote upcoming No Label gigs via social media. With a handful of filmmakers in the collective, this has proved to be a fun and effective way of practicing filmmaking and promoting shows. They’ve also been recording, on video and audio, most of their No Label shows, and posting them almost immediately online for those who just can’t get enough.

Apart from Skene, Granger, Friesen, and Bartel’s acts, the No Label collective is also home to punk legend and CKUW host Johnny Sizzle, as well as local outsider rockers Kato Destroy and Hey Pilgrim.

“We would get shows before the label but we didn’t really know where we fit in with Kato Destroy,” says Kato’s Jimmy Shand. “We have a ballad here and there, a punk song, a crazy metal song. Sometimes we’d play a metal show at the Zoo with these crazy hardcore metal bands and we just wouldn’t fit in. With No Label, it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s different, but still somehow the same.”

“I think us, being from Hey Pilgrim, we were a bit of outsiders because we weren’t really friends with these other guys at first,” explains Pilgrim’s Tom Hurlburt. After playing a few shows with the Manic Shakes and Ex-Modern Teen, the band was approached by Granger about joining the collective. “It’s been really boosting for everyone, because now everyone has to get their shit in order.”

Beyond building an inclusive, proactive scene within the Winnipeg music community, No Label is working to produce a string of releases for the second half of 2012. So far, No Label has released the Manic Shakes 7” in June, which has charted highly on campus and community stations in Winnipeg, and Merch Table Delite’s lo-fi recordings from 2007 to 2012 in July, as well as a collective sampler CD. In August, Ex-Modern Teen’s Teen Lion will be released with a disc of bonus material, while in September the collective will release their tribute to Neil “Wheels” Hope, featuring all of the No Label acts as well as a number of “friends of the collective,” such as Vav Jungle, Brian James, and Josh Benoit. October looks to be exciting, as No Label puts out a long anticipated new release from Johnny Sizzle. Also look for a regular No Label night at the Rose n’ Bee Pub (formerly the Standard Tavern) on the first Saturday of the month, starting in September.

As far as long term goals for the collective go beyond the current year, that’ll be something decided by the group itself over the course of their regular No Label meetings.

“My biggest dream right now would be for the collective to put on some sort of festival,” says Granger, an admittedly “big dreamer,” who would also like to see some distribution for No Label releases as their catalogue continues to grow. “Whether that’s a music festival, or a film festival, an arts festival, whatever.”

“I’d just like to see a progression for the bands,” says Hurlburt. “I’d like to see them not have success in the terms of dollar signs, but have success in terms of doing what they want to do.”

“I feel like we need another meeting with the collective to feel out how serious we want to get,” says Granger, concluding our chat. “There’s so many good people involved that we could make a really big snowball to push off the mountain. I always equate my ideas to one of those uncontrollable snowballs that gets bigger and bigger as it goes down the hill. My ideas always start as a real little snowball. But with all these people we could make something as big as a frickin’ house and get it rolling down the hill.”

Keep your eyes on lampposts, billboards, Facebook walls and pretty much anywhere you least expect it for No Label gig posters all around the city.

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