As well as forming a key part of the Northern Irish music scene, No Dancing Records recently decamped to the Moroccan city of Marrakech to work with a number of local artists. Label boss Jimmy Devlin describes the experience for State….
I’m sitting in Start Together Studio, Belfast. It’s one of two studio spaces operated by Rocky O’Reilly and Ben McAuley. I’ve just received an email from Meryem Abouloufa containing some artwork images. Images to go on a CD featuring a track which Rocky recorded. A track, not recorded here in sunny Belfast, but recorded in sunnier Marrakech. The song in question, like the weather, is glorious.
I met Meryem for the first time a few weeks ago. She wasn’t one of the acts we had planned to work with. Our booking sheet was full and already starting to run over, but we agreed that if she could come back the next day we would get a couple of hours with Rocky and run through some tracks. I didn’t know at the time but she had travelled the 240 or so kilometres from Casablanca to our modest, week old pop-up studio in Marrakech. I’m glad she made the journey.
The idea of the studio was simple really. To record as many tracks by as many local bands as possible, to provide the musicians with the basics in terms of self promotion and marketing, and crucially…to find the equipment a home in the city. We took the gear out, but the vast majority of it would be staying. A pop-up studio hopefully laying some roots. A previous trip to the city had made us realise that although there’s a lot of very talented musicians there’s maybe not the same access to studios that we have in the UK & Ireland. Maybe not the same support in terms of radio, papers and blogs willing to play and write about exciting home grown music. Not a criticism, more an acknowledgement that around these parts we’ve quite a few opportunities for new bands to get heard. More than some other places.
So we mentioned the idea to the British Council, partners on that earlier trip. Could we come back to the city and could we work together to put in place the basics for a new band. That is, somewhere to record that doesn’t cost too much and the knowledge of how to shout about the tracks. The British Council offices in Rabat and Belfast agreed, adding that they felt it important that as well as working with musicians we also worked with producers, or people who wanted to be producers, so as when the gear was left in the city and Rocky returned home there would be someone there who could be the new Rocky, producing new bands, shaping new tracks, helping bands move forward, all of that. Put simply…recording some music.
We met Idlane on the very first day. A rap producer and performer he was there throughout the sessions – looking, listening and helping. By the end of the week he was driving the sessions. Also on that first day were 51 Candles and Betticia. The plan was to split the bands up into studio recordings and workshops but before we had a chance they had all started work on a song by 51 Candles. Idlane had added verses and Betticia was on the chorus, the last person out of the studio on the very last day. They were long days, very long, but she was enthused throughout and the product of her time is two fantastic tracks.
And So I Watch You From Afar made the journey too, playing the Sun Festival in the city and helping with the recordings. All the bands that came through the Riad which housed the studio and workshops for the week had one thing in common, great vocalists. They were all good musicians, but the vocals stood out. Solarium came in and recorded three songs and Ble2s finished writing their track while studio was being set up, making their song all the more impressive, that it was finished literally minutes before it was recorded.
But recording is only one part of any band’s day. We talked about how best to reach out to those who might appreciate their music and we pulled together some artwork, skype-ing one of the creative artwork designers we work with in Belfast. All of this effort, the cross-continent artwork and the audio will be on CD’s that the British Council are providing for most of the bands who took part. Meanwhile the British Council is looking for a permanent home for the pop-up studio in Marrakech. A space where the bands can continue to work together and co-operate as they did on that first day.
We’re a very small record label, the majority of what we do most bands can do. Once the audio is recorded, that is. A lot of things in the music industry seem entirely out of reach to new artists and labels, no matter where they’re based. But it’s small steps from one level to the next and if the music is good then these steps are even easier to take. With new tracks recorded, new CDs to sell (or give away!), a new positive internet presence and a new studio to use I look forward to seeing if the bands we met make those small steps to the next level. I hope they do, and listening to Meryem’s track again it‘s easy to hear they can.
Photo – Simon Mills