Back of the net after 100 releases for Cork label FIFA 

Cork-based independent label FIFA Records celebrates its 100th release with a compilation of tracks from the band’s current roster. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with label honchos Ashley Keating and Eddie Kiely, as well as some of the label’s artists.
Back of the net after 100 releases for Cork label FIFA 

Cork-based independent label FIFA Records is celebrating its 100th release.

It’s the rare few Irish record labels (or distros, netlabels or similar arrangements) that ever hit the milestone of one-hundred releases, much less those operating specifically on the basis of creating platforms for new, emerging and/or independent artists.

Soldiering on for the better part of two decades now, Cork’s own FIFA (that’s ‘Forever in Financial Arrears’) Records breathes in that rarefied air with a compilation of bands that are currently plying their sonic wares under its ever-expanding marquee, including psych-poppers The Love Buzz, prodigal shoegaze sons Emperor of Ice Cream and ska heads Pontius Pilate and the Naildrivers, as well as artists from further afield, like folk duo August Wells, indie-pop singer Cat Dowling and punk outfit Klubber Lang.

The Frank and Walters’ Ashley Keating founded the label.
The Frank and Walters’ Ashley Keating founded the label.

It wasn’t necessarily designed that way, though, says label founder and Frank & Walters sticksmith Ashley Keating.

“I suppose when you start a label, you start to do it short-term. It came out of a conversation, while watching a band, "wouldn't it be great if they got signed?" And then someone just mentioned, "why don't ye form a label and sign them?" And I was like, "oh, yeah, s'pose" [laughs]. We'd grown up in a music industry where labels were separate to the act. When Eddie came on board, which is a while ago now, he gave it a bit of spark and the releases started to increase. So I think ever since then, that it's been a bit of a long term project.

“We've kind of walked ourselves into financial mishaps, here and there, but that's kind of stopped. We know the model that we're working with now, we know that we can't overextend ourselves, because if we do overextend ourselves, you're essentially shutting it down for two years, and then you're missing out on all those acts that potentially could come along during that time.

I just never, you know, kept count, until Eddie mentioned that we must be coming up on 100. That's actually quite a milestone

“I just never, you know, kept count, until Eddie [Kiely, label co-director] mentioned that we must be coming up on 100. We went through and counted it, and I was like, "god, that's actually quite a milestone". And then when you look around at other labels, y'know, not many people reach that milestone. So we just decided it would be something that we should maybe chat about, and just celebrate a bit more. We're not very good at self promotion [laughs], so to do it once in a while isn't a bad thing.”

At a time when major labels continue to effectively ignore or underplay what’s been happening in Irish independent music in favour of their own confections and contrivances, FIFA has effectively given licence to its artists to follow their creative desires, working out the best means of promoting and exposing their music as it takes shape.

John Phelan, of Waterford duo One Morning in August, talks about working with the label for the last few years.

Klubber Lang: Ciarán Tallon says FIFA has maintained an artist-first position.
Klubber Lang: Ciarán Tallon says FIFA has maintained an artist-first position.

“It's an absolute joy to work with the lads to be honest. Our relationship with them is pure positivity. It's been a matter of "what would you like us to do, how can we do something that fits in with what you want to do in the future?" I suppose COVID kind of made things a little bit slower than we hoped for, for a few releases. But it's been an absolute joy, just to be looking at some people there [on the roster], that have been in bands that I've been a fan of for the guts of thirty years, it's beautiful to be associated with it.”

Reuben Maher of West Cork alt-rockers chimes in with similar sentiments: “My experience with FIFA… I'll tell you, I'll compare it to our first record. We made a band, we made a record, and then we got signed to this German label, kind of a friend of the singer's, and they were going to do all these things, we were going to go on tour in Europe, it didn't happen, and then COVID happened, but they didn't really do anything. And it was fine, we got some free vinyl. But then we're like, "f**k, we're gonna make a second record. How are we gonna release it?"

“And then we contacted FIFA, and they said, "sure, we'll put it out". They have been so good, like the promotion and radio, their social media stuff, like, they've really helped us. I'm just bummed that we didn't release our first record with them, because we're starting over again with our second record in Ireland, where we should have been trying to promote a record in the first place, not Germany. But it's been a wonderful experience. I think they're a great label.”

FIFA Records label co-director Eddie Kiely.
FIFA Records label co-director Eddie Kiely.

The label has been at it for the bones of two decades now, and while it’s cast its net wide over the years in terms of talent - from national acts like Fight Like Apes, Hybrasil and Dae Kim, to legendary outfits like Whipping Boy and The Would Be’s - the heart of the operation has always been in Cork, stemming from its function as a label home for the Franks.

“It was always to try and give Cork bands a platform, right?”, says Eddie. “There was never, never any labels coming out of Cork, and ideally, if there're good Cork bands, let's give them a platform. If they can get picked up or get attention from somewhere else? Brilliant. Myself and Ash are Cork-born and bred. It's obvious it's going to be Corkcentric.

“But I think in recent times, I just thought, why keep it to Cork? Why keep it to Cork, when there's so much brilliant talent around the country? I got sick in 2020, and when I came out of that, I said, "what am I holding back for? Why not put energy into what I love, find bands I love and just put a big push on?"”

Over the span of FIFA’s run, there’s also been huge changes in how people consume music, from the death of CD, to iTunes, to Bandcamp and streaming. Eddie speaks on the nuts and bolts of maintaining attention and going where people are, in an ever-accelerating attention economy.

Prodigal shoegaze sons Emperor of Ice Cream, who are part of FIFA Records roster of bands.
Prodigal shoegaze sons Emperor of Ice Cream, who are part of FIFA Records roster of bands.

“It's back to what Ash is saying about a business model: it's almost a bit of branding. You have to make people familiar with the music before they're going to actually go and invest in it. It's not like before where you'd hear a song on the radio on Dave Fanning or John Peel, or you'd read about someone in NME and Melody Maker, and you'd go in and take a punt on the album.

“You'd go in with your hard-saved-up fiver into Golden Discs and buy a record - you're not doing that now. You're lucky to get 20, 30 seconds of people's attention, and it's flick on to the next thing, flick on to the next thing. Digital releases are wise, as a way of building up a band's profile, before you put out that physical release.”

As touched upon, the label has maintained an artist-first position of finding good music and getting behind it first and foremost - to the point of taking a hands-off approach while artists are writing, demoing, recording and producing tracks, according to Ciarán Tallon, currently of Klubber Lang and formerly of ‘90s alt-rockers Revelino..

“During COVID we were absolutely mad for writing, so we got about 30 songs in there that we're now working through. We were a little slow, obviously with the band members that we have, our keyboard player Ronan works for Def Leppard, so he's away quite a lot. Getting all the lads to be in the same room or on the same page, it's quite difficult for our band. Now, having said that, when we have a song ready, we would offer them to Eddie to have a listen, but a lot of time he goes, no, I want you to do what you're wanting. To hear that from any label is absolutely fantastic.

So when Eddie came on, and said he's interested in taking something like that on board, he's incredibly supportive

“I didn't think the sort of music that we do - it's quite hard, like, you know, dark - would even get entertained by a record label, to be honest, so when we were releasing the music, it was purely from a selfish perspective. So when Eddie came on, and said he's interested in taking something like that on board, he's incredibly supportive - doesn't get involved in the mixes, he might give a little bit of advice here and there.”

Psych-poppers The Love Buzz.
Psych-poppers The Love Buzz.

The question that lies ahead, then for FIFA Records and all who sail in her is of the challenges and opportunities that wait in the future, says Ashley.

"I think the key to stepping it up a notch, and we do want to step it up a notch is to get get some investment somehow from somewhere. If we had a war chest, where we could just do more physical releases, you know, maybe put on a few special events, some label nights where you're not putting the bands under pressure to sell 100 tickets each or whatever. We're not talking a lot, we're just having that kind of war chest, so that we could plan a year out.

“At the moment, we're still in that kind of scattergun phase, especially since COVID, as well, where you're just reacting to things, and you're just doing things when you can. Hopefully 2023 will be the year when we'll have that little bit of fun, that we'll be able to plan out the year, and that model will take us forward, just give us a bit more outreach, keep working with who we're working with, and add one or two more slowly. It would be great to have fifteen, twenty acts. I think that's what you'd be working towards.”

The FIFA 100 compilation is tentatively scheduled for late July. For more information on the label and its artists, go to @CorkFifa on Twitter and https://fifarecords.bandcamp.com

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