Label of the Month: Bowl Cut Records

The name behind some of Leeds’ most exciting new music, Bowl Cut Records is a northern gem with southern roots. Bringing names from the Westcountry and the South Coast such as Penelope Isles up north, the label know a thing or two about spotting talent early on, not least our new sonic crushes Uncle Buzzard.

TMB caught up with Ben Sargent, the man behind the bowl cut, to talk origins, dodgy electrics, date mix-ups and how great Chris is.

For those who don’t know, who is Bowl Cut Records?

Bowl Cut is a DIY label run by a student with little hair, putting out music by people with good hair for people with some hair. It’s me, Ben, a cog in the Leeds College of Art wheel, who used to have a bowl cut. Jean of Delinquent Magazine is a constant help and other friends lend a loving hand here and there as well.

Ben without bowl cut

Where are you based?

Leeds, Leeds, Leeds! It’s an amazing city for music and culture. The Brudenell is possibly the best venue in the world, Hyde Park Book Club and Wharf Chambers are also two amazing venues, especially for DIY labels/promoters like myself and the newly refurbished art gallery The Hepworth in Wakefield, and Yorkshire Sculpture Park are really exciting places to have on your doorstep. There is always something creative going on (and usually within walking distance with cheap pints).

When did you realise you wanted to start a label?

I think perhaps the ball got rolling on October 8th 2013, a 16 year old me saw Drenge, Radkey (remember them?) and Birdskulls at The Cavern in Exeter. Birdskulls’ song ‘Rolling Tongue’ is a classic and seeing them for the first time opened the door to DIY music and introduced me to Art is Hard, which was at that point based in Exeter (I think). Sharing a city with two exceptional labels, Art is Hard and Specialist Subject, gave me an idea of what it is to own a label. I was and still am obsessed with what Art is Hard do – they’re an amazing label. You look at all the bands they’ve put out over the years, it’s unbelievable. Being around those labels and learning about others all around the country made me want my own.

How did the label start?

Myself and Jean put on our first gig at The Cavern in 2015 but I spent a while kicking myself that I wasn’t doing more. When I moved to Leeds for uni in 2016 that seemed like the perfect time to do it. I had a big city full of great bands and venues to work with and I felt it would be a good way to get myself acquainted with the local scene. The first release, the NorthXSouthWest compilation tape, was a celebration of my own move up country. It was all about bringing together bands from down my way and across the south with bands from Leeds and the north in general. That came out in January 2017 and we had an all-dayer at Wharf Chambers to celebrate.

Where does the name come from?

It probably seems very simple. I had a bowl cut so I called the label Bowl Cut. You wouldn’t believe how much I laboured over a name. I had lists of names written down, most of which I have forgotten now. Cut Yr Hair Records was a possibility but obviously Major Leagues fill the quota for Pavement-inspired label names from the South-West. To be fair, the fact that Jake [of Major Leagues] had started a label was another motivator for me to think I should just do it! Eventually Jean said something like ‘why don’t you just call it Bowl Cut?”. I’ve had some lighthearted criticism for no longer supporting the bowl but I found when you have a hair cut like that and also run a record label called Bowl Cut, the bowl begins to own you and no-one should feel trapped in their own haircut.

How do you decide who to work with?

It’s always about hearing the right thing at the right time. Money fluctuates as the student loan is slowly drained so I am mainly on the look out for artists to work with in the lead up to new terms and fresh funds. It’s mainly about just releasing music that I really like and that I think other people will like. On compilations I’ve been lucky enough to release some of my all-time favourites (Garden Centre, Porridge Radio & Penelope Isles to name a few). I recently did the physical release for FVC’s new singles; that was a case where I approached Florence and asked if she’d want to do it and she said yes. It was really exciting to work with her as I still have her first demo cassette and have always loved her music. Uncle Buzzard are about to release their second EP on Bowl Cut, they’re good friends of mine and are making some really amazing stuff. What makes it more impressive is that they’ve done pretty much everything themselves. Danny from the band engineered and mixed it and it sounds amazing, he’s a very talented producer. I’ve also worked with Chris, formerly of Something Anorak, on both of his solo projects (Pictures of Belgrade & Post Yoga). Everything he touches turns to gold.

What’s the hardest thing about running the label?

The hardest thing is definitely the press side of things. I really believe everything I release is brilliant and deserves way more attention than it gets. I want people to hear these releases because I think they’ll really like them. Although, I think I am perhaps about to hit Bowl Cut’s biggest challenge so far when I graduate in six months and I have to face the real world with no regular loans.

What are some of your favourite BC memories?

The first all-dayer was brill, we had some great bands there and lots of friends and family came to support so that was special. I had a real sense of achievement. Every release day there is a real excitement as well, every ‘cha-ching’ email from Bandcamp gives me a little buzz. Two other gigs stand out as well. Firstly when we had Penelope Isles up for a show in my friends’ basement. Basically we had a mix up with the dates and so we had to find a venue at like two weeks notice. Of course that didn’t happen so they played the basement and it was packed. The sound was fantastic as well! Second is the first Uncle Buzzard EP launch at The Fenton in Leeds. There where a few technical issues throughout the night and we where a little scared the electrics would explode but everyone was so pumped for the gig and it was their first headline show so that was special. We’re having a party for their new EP at Hyde Park Book Club next Sunday so hopefully that will match the first one.

If you had to pick a favourite release, what would it be?

This is like asking a parent to choose their favourite child. I’m going to break the rules and pick two. Pictures of Belgrade’s ep1 that was my first EP release and it’s an amazing one at that. I’ve already said Chris is great but it’s worth reiterating. Chris is great. Secondly, the new Uncle Buzzard EP, it’s fantastic and like nothing else you’ll hear coming out of Leeds right now.

What does the future look like for Bowl Cut?

TECHNO! The first taste of new electronic project NASCAR (Greg from Uncle Buzzard) is coming very soon. We also have that Uncle Buzzard gig (9th of December) and EP (14th of December) coming up in the near future. There are a couple of other things in line as well that I won’t talk about specifically, they’ll be from Leeds and beyond. Also Penelope Isles are coming back to Leeds in April!

If we’re talking about long term then who knows? The sky is the limit. I’m a visual artist so I am very keen to incorporate some more of that side of things into the mix. I’ve already made a few music videos for releases so maybe that’s a starting point.

What’s the dream for the label?

I guess keep on growing and improving. As I said I want to incorporate the visual arts a bit more so maybe if we’re in dream land Bowl Cut would become some kind of creative hub for musicians and artists to collaborate, have shows and generally share work. I feel like there is definitely a divide between arts and music scenes that people are starting to notice and try to do something about. Guillotine in Leeds are an example of creative people doing exactly that. I’d really like Bowl Cut to be able to become part of that discussion.

Ben with bowl cut

Thanks Ben!

Uncle Buzzard’s Expensive Drinks EP is released 14/12/18 via Bowl Cut Records. Listen to the lead single ‘Diamond White’ here.