An independent label based in Brighton on England’s South Coast, FatCat is renowned for the high quality of its output and the broad diversity of sounds, styles and approaches that the label and its various imprints (Splinter Series / 130701 / Split Series / Palmist records / 7” Series / E-RMX) has nurtured. Perhaps best known for the discovery of artists such as Sigur Ros, Múm, Frightened Rabbit, Animal Collective, and No Age as well as being instrumental in the re-emergence of Vashti Bunyan, the label has consistently unearthed and helped develop a stream of new talent.
Fired by an enthusiasm for the sounds then emerging from Detroit and Chicago, FatCat began life in 1990 as a tiny independent record store in the London satellite town of Crawley. Ending up in a small, dimly-lit basement in Covent Garden, the shop rapidly grew to gain a strong reputation as one of the country’s finest outlets for electronic music. Regular visitors to the shop included the likes of Jeff Mills, Juan Atkins, Ritchie Hawtin, Andy Weatherall, Steve Bicknell, Aphex Twin, and many others. Besides being a major supporter of quality techno / house, FatCat became closely associated with and an early champion of the UK electronica scene that began to emerge in the early ‘90s.
The very first FatCat release (the ‘EVA’ EP by Japanese producer Web) arrived in November 1996, yet it wasn’t until the shop was forced to close down in August 1997 that the label really started. Initially given space under the shelter of One Little Indian (both Björk and OLI owner Derek Birkett were regular shop customers), the label spent its first year releasing a stream of 12” singles that quickly debunked the preconception that FatCat would continue life after the shop as a techno label. From the start, the label began to open up a more challenging and genre-defying space for itself, attempting to escape the fixity of any easily identifiable label sound or style, and to instead open out a more adventurous and broad-ranging spectrum of music. This early period also saw the launch of its pioneering and influential Split Series, a strikingly designed and boldly conceived output of records that would pit divergent styles and producers against one another, guiding the label into increasingly uncharted territory.
In late 1998, after releasing nearly a dozen 12” singles, FatCat left One Little Indian and went fully independent. Moving to a new office in Old Street, the label began to release its first albums, and attempted to build up an initial roster of artists - from the narcotic guitar haze of Transient Waves to the improvised hiphop group Live Human; the post-rock explorations of Mice Parade and Fonn, to the pulsing, minimalist electronica of Process and Various Artists.
Year 2000 saw the label entering into a 4-year-long joint venture deal with PIAS (UK), an independent distribution / label network. This followed the signing of then-unknown Icelandic group, Sigur Rós, who were spotted playing a show in Reykjavik that FatCat were DJ-ing at. Two albums and three singles on FatCat saw the band receiving massive critical acclaim, rapidly rising from a complete unknown to an internationally-acclaimed phenomenon. With a whole new audience potentially turned on to the label, FatCat attempted to mix this new-found accessibility with retained ideals for adventure, diversity and experimentation.
2000 also saw the birth of the Splinter Series. Loosely running in parallel with the Split Series, this imprint was initially established for CD-only releases, remaining undefined by generic boundaries, yet largely seeing artists who worked in the margins or between genres, mixing accessible melodic parts with noisier or more destabilising elements. The first album came in the form of Foehn’s haunted ambience, followed quickly by releases from Janek Schaefer, Ultra-red, Xinlisupreme, Dorine Muraille, and Animal Collective, a brilliantly adventurous American four-piece who we discovered in early 2003 alongside their Brooklyn-based companions, Black Dice. More recent additions to the Splinter Series have included Our Brother The Native, Silje Nes and Psychedelic Horseshit.
In early 2001, the label relocated to Brighton, where the office has since been based. Icelandic band Múm were signed and proved another success for the label, mixing electronica with great musicianship and a whole range of live instrumentation. The same year also saw the establishment of the 130701 imprint for the Set Fire To Flames album. A home for ‘post-classical’ music, the imprint was later appended with the signing of pianist / composers, Sylvain Chauveau, Max Richter, Hauschka and most recently Dustin O'Halloran and Johann Johannsson. In the same period FatCat consolidated its roster with the inclusion of artists like David Grubbs, Giddy Motors, and Party Of One.
The departure of Sigur Ros to EMI in late 2004 lead to the end of the relationship with PIAS, after which the label went back to being entirely independent. In 2005, FatCat expanded its set-up with the establishment of a US office in New York, and with the FatCat Publishing arm. That same year saw the release of Vashti Bunyan’s ‘Lookaftering’ album, following two years of conversations and nurturing. Besides picking up European licences in Vetiver and Blood On The Wall, the label also signed singer / songwriter Nina Nastasia, as well as new acts like Tom Brosseau, David Karsten Daniels, No Age, The Rank Deluxe, and Songs Of Green Pheasant around this time. In 2007, FatCat put out the first FatCat DVD release by cutting-edge audiovisual artists Semiconductor, who had previously worked on videos for Mum and QT?, as well as taking part in a number of FatCat showcases.
2007 and 2008 also saw the unearthing of some immensely gifted young talent from Scotland. The release of The Twlight Sad’s ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ in 2007 marked the beginning of an upward ascent, a tangible mapping of artists steadily claiming ground in terms of public notoriety and peer recognition for a newfound trio of bands: The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit and – more recently – We Were Promised Jetpacks. This time period also saw FatCat regroup with previous partners One Little Indian, moving press, radio, marketing, exports and digital distribution to the unified and solid infrastructure of their experienced in-house departments.
The past few years have seen an expansion in the increasingly influential 130701 roster; the inception of a sister label, Palmist Records in 2011, which began its first year releasing a brilliant slew of limited edition split 12" releases, generally concentrating on artists based in the home-recorded / DIY tradition. FatCat has also continued to refresh and expand its roster, with recent signings including the likes of Breton, Mazes, Psychedelic Horseshit, Odonis Odonis, Milk Maid, U.S. Girls, and Forest Fire.
Furballs – an irregular, FatCat-curated live event residency held in the label’s hometown of Brighton – was also launched at the end of 2009. Based roughly upon the great success of the label’s annual Open Circuit events in Hasselt, Belgium, the events in this series are intended to go beyond the standardized formats of live music and include film makers, visual artists and other media in mutual collaboration.
Refusing to operate the chequebook a&r policy that many labels opt for in order to lure established artists onboard, the bulk of FatCat’s releases have come from music discovered via demos mailed sent in the post, by stumbling upon bands playing live shows, or by artists making direct contact. In January 2001, the label released ‘No Watches. No Maps’, a compilation devoted entirely to unreleased artists discovered via demos sent to the label. 2003 saw the creation of a ‘D.I.Y’ website resource providing a wealth of contact details, advice and information about the whole process of releasing your own music, from mastering, manufacturing and distribution, to case studies of other small labels, and links to other resources. At the same time, FatCat founded its own online ‘Demo Archive’ – a site devoted to the best of the myriad daily demos received, offering downloadable audio and information & contact details for each artist. This continually growing archive has continued to thrive, with now over 100 artists finding a home there, and remains an important part of the label and a great outlet for new music. In 2011, the online resource was updated with the addition of a soundcloud dropbox / player, and in early 2012 another compilation of the best of the year's received demos was hosted here.
2012 marks the 15th anniversary of FatCat as a label. Over the roller-coaster course of those past fifteen years, FatCat have attempted to curate a continually shifting and adventurous series of releases, to introduce new / unknown artists and to maintain a consistently high level of quality. Currently based in Brighton (UK) and NYC (USA), FatCat are proud custodians of an immensely strong and sizeable catalogue, and have garnered widespread critical acclaim as one of the more interesting and divergent independent labels in existence. Truly international in scope, FatCat’s current roster of artists includes Vashti Bunyan, The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Breton, Mazes, Maps & Atlases, Nina Nastasia, Hauschka, Max Richter, Johann Johannsson, Dustin O'Halloran, Forest Fire, Odonis Odonis, U.S. Girls, Psychedelic Horseshit, Ensemble, Milk Maid, Silje Nes, Brakes, Get Back Guinozzi!, and Mice Parade.