Label profile: Cross Keys Records (London, UK)

Continuing our recent “Label profile” series is the London independent Cross Keys Records, “a homespun label founded by a cohort of vinyl addicts whose hearts beat in time with the kickdrum”. Our kind of people, then.

Of late, CKR has put out releases by Coves and The Shutes, two bands currently making a name for themselves in clubs and bars up and down the country. We caught up with two of its founders, Ally McKay and Alex Eden-Smith, to find out a bit more about their operation – and what has possessed them to enter into the business of selling vinyl records in a largely digital age.

LFC: When did CKR start?

Ally: We started the label in December 2010 after about a year of sitting around in pubs talking about it.

LFC: What were your inspirations and motivations for doing it?

Ally: Our inspirations came from years of buying records, reading sleeve notes and boring various girlfriends to tears with late-night conversations about Stax and Chess, XL and Big Dada. Our motivation for finally starting Cross Keys was quite simple really. We heard a song so special that we wanted to do everything we could to make sure as many people as possible heard it and loved it. I don’t think we could quite believe we’d done it when we first held the 7″s in our hands. We’ve come a long way from that point and suffered some setbacks and disappointments but, essentially, that same ethos holds true today. We will only ever put out music that makes all three of us feel completely awestruck.

LFC: What was your first ever release on the label?

Ally: Freebirds by Lover Lover. A beautiful song that deserved to be a big hit.

Are you genre specific, or is it a case of you sign something that excites you?

Ally: I don’t think we are genre-specific. I mean, all the records we’ve put out could loosely be called indie-rock but that’s just the way it has panned out so far, rather than any attempt to stick to a rigid concept for the label. The three of us, Ally, Alex and Joss, met when we used to run club nights and DJ a few years ago, and our styles of music then would vary from reggae to rap, rock ‘n’ roll to electro, so I think we would consider releasing anything that we really loved. Our next release might be a balearic doom-metal version of Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5′ made up solely of looped samples of Alex’s cat Mackerel eating a packet of Dreamiez, you just never know.

LFC: How do you find bands to work with?

Ally: Mainly from the internet, I guess. Bandcamp, blogs, Soundcloud. But also from friends’ recommendations and going to gigs. I’m a voracious reader of gig listings, and always check out support bands for other acts I like. We get sent lots of demos and stuff, but the quality is pretty poor. I dream of one day opening an email and just getting a wave of adrenaline at the sight and sound of an artist doing everything right, but that’s pretty much never even half right. Some bands get the name or visuals right, but then the music just sucks. And those that get the visuals and name wrong, well their music pretty much always sucks!

LFC: Do you focus on UK talent, or would you sign an international band and introduce them to the local market?

Ally: We have only released music by UK-based acts so far, with the exception of a couple of remixes. Again, this is probably just a coincidence rather than any masterplan. We do like working with artists who are based in the UK, though, because we like building relationships with them and being there as the journey unfolds. It must be pretty crap for small labels who release international bands to hear about how good their gigs were by reading about them on Twitter.

LFC: Where can people buy CKR releases?

Alex: We use Bandcamp, which we absolutely adore as a service ( But also distribute our vinyl releases ourselves to the main record shops up and down the country. Piccadilly in Manchester and Rough Trade have been especially supportive. All our releases are available digitally on iTunes and Spotify etc.

LFC: What have you found to be the biggest challenges in running a vinyl-centric label?

Alex: There are a lot of challenges to be honest. The decline of vinyl has been well documented but it’s easy to think this is overblown when you see the queues of people outside Rough Trade East on Record Store Day. The truth is, there just aren’t many people going into shops listening to new bands and making impulse purchases. We pretty much set up the label because we’re vinyl fanatics so it’s difficult for us, we want everything we release to come out on vinyl but the production costs are so high and the immediate returns so low. The challenge is to stay true to what we want to do but to be sensible with the financials so that we don’t put ourselves out of business.

LFC: What have been your most successful releases to date?

Alex: We’re very proud of what we were able to achieve with the Echo Of Love EP by The Shutes, both in terms of sales and in terms of profile. Seeing the lead track ‘Echo Of Love’ sitting at #2 on the Hype Machine chart over this Easter weekend was a real moment and then following this with a series of blistering, packed-out shows was a real vindication of our belief in the band’s music and talent. We’re also very excited about Coves, they’re just starting out but they’re fast maturing into the whole package; great songs (the new ones they’ve just sent us are amazing), exciting production, thrilling live presence and a real gift for creating their own visual identity.

LFC: What can we expect from CKR in the future?

Alex: Well, our former accountant recently got put in jail so anything could happen! That had nothing to do with us by the way! We’ve got a new video and some big-name remixes coming on Coves and we’ve come across a few artists recently that we’re getting pretty excited about…but obviously we’d have to kill you if we told you about them. We just want to continue to work with creative people who we believe in and to help add something to the positive things that are going on out there in the DIY label scene in the UK.

Like Cross Keys Records on Facebook here, and follow them on Twitter at @CKRecords.

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