Aarght Records: Ten Years of Absurd and Psychotic Underground Music
The Melbourne label is celebrating ten years of releasing records from the likes of Total Control, UV Race, and NUN.
Photos: Naomi Lee Beveridge
In 2003, at the age of 31, Rich Stanley was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Two weeks later he had a kidney removed and doctors gave him a year to live. The suburban boy from Brisbane was probably scared shitless, but he considered himself a punk, and if punk had taught Rich anything it was how to say "fuck it" from the depth of your guts and follow your instincts. A few years later—amid end stage renal failure and daily peritoneal dialysis—Rich helped start what would become one of the most important independent records labels in Australia, Aarght Records.
Aarght Records started in 2007 by the members of Ooga Boogas—Rich, Mikey Young, Per Bystrom and Jonathan Wilmott. All deeply ingrained in the local music community, it was no surprise that Aarght's first release—Dead Farmers' Violence 7''—sold out its 250 copies in a blink. Though this label was a team effort from the start, over the years it was Stanley's part stubborn, part nepotistic and full DIY attitude that kept the label running and consistently ahead of the curve.
For the past two years Rich has been running Aarght Records with bandmate Jake Robertson, 28, who is in four of the bands on the label including Ausmuteants and Drug Sweat. It's also worth noting that Aarght rose from Rich's previous label, Dropkick Records. The esteemed label run for almost a decade, working with bands like Cosmic Psychos, X and The Sailors. Their final release in 2006 was Eddy Current Suppression Ring's debut LP. Rich once described the transition from Dropkick into Aarght as "less like a phoenix from the ashes and more like a bat from a rotting mango".
Now celebrating its tenth year anniversary, it's easy to look back and see that Aarght Records has had their finger so stuck on the pulse, the label is now an artery in the heart of the underground music scene. Putting out the first releases for bands like The UV Race, Super Wild Horses and Total Control, Aarght has spent the past decade taste making and proving everyone that punk and vinyl are both not dead, but very much alive and relentlessly kicking.
To celebrate their birthday we had a cup of tea and a chat with Rich Stanley.
Noisey: It's been 10 years, 40 releases and countless showcases. As the backbone of Aarght Records, do you view the label as your long term partner or more like your baby?
Rich Stanley: I view it as a giant pain in the arse [laughs]. It's like Belial, a growth that is coming out of your abdomen and it keeps whinging. No, I'm joking. I guess it's a hobby I can't quit. I often wonder why I do it, what I get out of it and mostly why I can't stop doing it. It requires endless work and only once you get it half done do you feel any good about it. I work full time [as the booker] at The Tote so the label is something I do in my spare time, when I come home and I should be resting and sleeping. I guess it's just the thing I love doing the most—after seeing my daughter and band practice, of course.
What was the vision you had in mind when you first started Aarght?
We didn't have a vision. Personally, I just wanted a label that when you look back at it, band by band, release by release, it's one killer record after another. I wanted purely fucked-up, resolutely underground music. Bands that are of their time but for the ages. Roots conscious but forward-looking, you know? In saying that, I don't think Aarght has been in any way ground-breaking. We're one small label like a million others.
Some of the best underground bands from the past decade put out their first release through Aarght records—to what extent do you think the label's reputation help these bands reach that status?
A label is only as good as the bands it puts out. I feel like with Aarght, we've been riding the coattails of bands that were going to do whatever they were going to do, regardless of which label picked them up.
You were consistently there before those other labels noticed them, though.
They were all friends or friends of friends. Maybe it's just that music nerds with no social skills tend to hang out with other music nerds with no social skills, and be nerds together. Eventually these bands of music nerds form right under your nose and you ask if you can put out their record.
Aarght Records is predominantly based on your personal taste in music and curatorial indulgences. How would you describe this experience after ten years?
I think booking The Tote is like running a socialized democracy; at the other end running Aarght is nepotistic fascism. Presenting a radio show is somewhere in the middle—you're supporting the scene with some curatorial input. A record label is where you get to indulge exclusively the music you like, and beyond that nothing else matters. It should be like that otherwise we'd be one of those lame community-spirited labels with compilations like 'Brisbane 1997-1998' with not one good song on it.
How would you describe the genre that Aarght Records predominantly seeks to work with?
I like bands that have either a sense of psychosis or absurdity, or preferably both. I'm not that interested in bands that want to make the world a better place. I like outbursts. The only thing that connects these bands is that they don't jockey for position on line-ups, and none of them would ever accept a management deal. I'm sure most of them wouldn't like to consider themselves as an "Aarght band", and nor should they. They're not. Maybe Drug Sweat are but the others can get rooted.
I like that the label has a wide range of styles, some things feel more rock and others more punk but as a whole Aarght doesn't feel purist or stuck in a genre.
I think maybe more than loving rock and roll what I love is punk rock, and punk has a problem with rock and roll. Respecting the rock is the death of rock and roll. I hear amateur hour bands and they open up a whole world of possibilities, anything can happen. I hate how older people get stuck in the mud. If I'm not liking listening to something I used to hate something's gone wrong.
Most local independent labels have adapted to digital releases as a format, but I feel like Aarght Records has truly stuck to vinyl. Is that a 'vinyl is not dead' kinda statement?
It's not a statement at all, we have download cards! I started buying records in 1980. Throughout the 90s with the explosion of CD's and the supposed death of the vinyl, all of the bands that I liked—mostly on underground labels—still put out vinyl. It's just always made sense to me. There was a period Aarght put out CDs as well as vinyl but that always felt to me like records were for the fans and CDs for the potential fans. Now CDs are supposedly dead and vinyl and tapes are back. CDs are great though. They're all going to be there until peak oil, when our entire lives will exist on vapourware.
If Aarght Records was a person I was to go meet at the pub, where would I find them and what would they be drinking?
They would have been drinking a pot of the cheapest beer going but switched to house white. They'd be passed out in the toilets with their pants around their ankles and people would be walking past taking photos. I know this because it happened to me three weeks ago.
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