Anyone can do what Kevin Douch has done.
Starting his label Big Scary Monsters while at sixth form with no help, money or real idea about what a label even did, he’s spent the past sixteen years making mistakes and using his victories as fuel for pushing forward. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the name, you’ll know the music. Pulled Apart By Horses, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly., Andrew W.K., Tubelord, Meet Me In St. Louis, PWR BTTM, Joyce Manor: BSM has worked with them all. And the rest.
Today, at the label’s pop-up shop in London, he’s sat in the same corner that’s hosted shows from Gnarwolves, Beach Slang, Modern Baseball, Kevin Devine, Tiny Moving Parts and Tall Ships in the past two weeks alone. Somewhere along the line, Kev has taken Big Scary Monsters from something he did in his spare time to a ‘proper’ thing that has released some of our favourite ever records.
Anyone can do what he’s done, but few actually do.
BSM started out of “idiocy and pure glamour,” says Kev. “I couldn’t play an instrument; I couldn’t be in a band. I was writing a little ‘zine, but I didn’t really like it.” Writer’s block meant it was released every six months. “It wasn’t me, and then someone suggested a record label. That was it, really. I didn’t even know what a record label did. I’m still not completely sure, but it seemed like a fun thing to do.”
In the beginning, he didn’t know anyone. “I knew of labels, I was buying magazines and listening to music all the time, so I heard record labels’ names mentioned but I didn’t really know what their role was and I had no one to ask advice. It’s why if someone contacts me about starting a label now and they want advice, I’m happy to help. I wish I’d have known who to contact back then.”
He looked up to Drive-Thru Records (“I liked the family vibe they had”), Sub Pop, Fierce Panda and the handful of great local Oxford labels. “[But] I didn’t really feel confident enough to cold call someone and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this in a similar place. Can we have a chat about it?’ I just figured it out by myself.”
Although Big Scary Monsters is sixteen this year, it’s only really felt like A Thing for the past ten. The first couple of years just saw Kev walking around town, telling everyone he had a record label even though he had no bands. “Then when we started getting bands, it was one at a time. It was quite sparse with no real cohesion musically. ‘I like this’. There was never any long-term thought; there was never a consideration that it could become a career. It took a few years before I quit my other jobs and went full time at the label.
“At that point, we were working with Get Cape., who was doing well. He’d just signed to a major label and was growing considerably. We also had this UK math-rock scene that was beginning to develop. We had Meet Me In St. Louis that led to This Town Needs Guns, Tubelord, Colour, Blakfish and various others. We had a little scene that was exciting to be a part of. That led us on to Pulled Apart By Horses and Kevin Devine which led us to the American side of what we now do. There’s never been one single point where it felt like ‘this is it’, it’s just been a lot of gradual things. It’s hard to say how we made it. I couldn’t turn and say to another label ‘you’ve got to do this’ because everyone finds a different path.”
“It’s the easiest job in the world,” he continues. “It was never rocket science; it was just a case of making lots of mistakes and being sure you don’t make them again. It would have been nice to have been someone’s apprentice, but I think things would have been very different if I had of been. I don’t think we would have found our way quite like this. I’m glad it took a while to get to where we’re at. Sometimes I do still think of myself as an 18-year-old running this as a bit of a laugh, and I have to stop myself.”
From the first release, compilation CD ‘A Taste Of The Horror To Come’, BSM has steadily grown. A few years ago though, it began ramping up. The realisation that “we’re a good a label and we do things pretty well” excited him again after a few months of wanting to do something else. “I just got over myself. I think everything we do is good, but sometimes things feel slightly easier, or there’s a bit more to it. Last year we released albums from Modern Baseball, PWR BTTM and Beach Slang. All these bands are very important. They all have things to say that transcends the music. That reinvigorated me, feeling like we’re doing something good rather than just releasing music people quite like. I felt like we actually had a message. That helped me stay excited by it.”
The label works with everything from Totoro, instrumental math-rock to Gnarwolves, skate-punk. “There’s not much connecting them. I’m probably one of not many people who like both those things,” admits Kev. “With all our bands, it’s that two degrees of separation. I like that every one of our bands is just one or two steps away from each other. Even though it’s an eclectic roster nowadays, you can connect them all very easily.”
First and foremost, BSM sign bands on the music. “They have to sound good. Beyond that, we have a lot of conversations. ‘Where do you want to take it? What sort of band do you want to be? How can we help?’ It’s a lot of trust on both sides. We are that bridge. We’re trying to take a band to a new audience, and we need to find that audience ourselves. We act as that voice for them. We’re also a filter and a stamp of approval. We do have that platform, and so do the artists. It’s important they are saying stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have a band sometimes that’s just dumb fun, you can’t take yourself too seriously, but I think with these bands and their platforms, it is important they use them. We’re trying to as well.”
2017 sees BSM release more important, worthwhile records. “Our first four albums are Meat Wave, Sorority Noise, PWR BTTM and Gnarwolves, which is the strongest line-up we’ve had in a very long time. They have something to say, capping it off with PWR BTTM. The way they handle identity, sexuality and their fanbase, to the way they address their fans on public forums, to the way they are on stage and the way they are as people, everything about them is just incredible. In the six months we’ve worked with PWR BTTM, I’ve learnt a lot about the LGBTQ scene just from talking to them and going to see them play. Seeing their crowd, that atmosphere, what it means to people and the way it pulls it all together, it felt very welcoming and inclusive. That record is going to be a very big record. And it’s a brilliant album too, it’s bigger and better than the first one, and I love that first one.
“Sorortiy Noise, in a similar way to Modern Baseball, are dealing with some important issues and it’s their best work yet. That’s a running theme with the records we’ve got coming up. They’re not even peaking; it’s just moving up. We also have a lot more things that will be coming up. I think we did twenty records last year and we’re aiming to beat that this time.” The label, which currently operates in the UK and Europe, is now looking to America with a glint in the eye.
Once upon a time, Kev drunkenly emailed Andrew W.K. asking to work with him – he said yes. They, funded by a football bet gone right, put out a square 7″ of ‘I’m A Vagabond’. Nowadays, things are a bit more considered. He knows which bands he wants to work with. “Things feel stable and structured for the first time, and it’s led me to dare to plan ahead. Where do I want to take this? It feels like we got to this stage accidentally. Now I’m excited to see what we can do when we really try.”