There are reliable outposts, however. As the internet simultaneously grows larger and more hermetic by the day, enclaves have sprouted up devoted to nearly any niche you'd care to explore. Over the past two years, Fluid Radio has been my standby for discovering new music in the ambient/experimental/new classical sphere, a website that mixes album and gig reviews with interviews, mixes and films about artists that I already knew and cared for, and plenty that I didn't know before Fluid brought them to my attention. This stuff may be beyond words, but Fluid doesn't seem to notice.
The website has about eight people writing for them nowadays, but the whole thing is headed up by Dan Crossley, a former Londoner who now lives in the countryside just outside of Bristol. Growing up, Crossley was brought into music via his father, a sound engineer that was constantly bringing home white label vinyl. And while he claims that, to this day, he doesn't know what most of that stuff was, he got the bug—leading him to become a buyer of the stuff, most notably of what became an enviable early Detroit electro collection.
Informed by the transformative power of hearing unknown music, Crossley soon got involved in a pirate radio station "transmitting from the tower blocks of Bow, E3." They focused exclusively on the experimental side of drum & bass, a far cry from what Crossley covers these days. But the idea behind each was the same: Use any means that you have to promote the music that you love. That's why, in 2009, Crossley began Fluid Audio—a label manifestation of the types of music that FR was already covering.
The imprint began in the same haphazard way as most do in the electronic music world. So much great material was being sent their way that hadn't found a home on a label. But the thing that sets Fluid Audio apart is that the goal wasn't to simply set something up to start pumping things out. Instead, Crossley and his label partner, Jess, take care to make each release extremely special. Everything is ultra-limited—often 200 copies—and personalized.
"Every time we are in the middle of creating a new release I always vow it will be the last time as it kind of drains you mentally. You will often find myself and Jess around the table stitching, glueing, folding, etc. way into the early hours of the morning," relates Crossley. "I remember when we did the Hummingbird release [Our Fearful Symmetry], I came across this old store on the harbour of Bristol and in the back room there was an Aladdin's cave of old photographic collections. After nearly two hours of looking through the dusty boxes, I came across some intriguing old Polaroid slides still in the original glass cases. Without a moment's hesitation I bought the lot. I remember one of our followers sending a message after we paired them with the release, saying 'The idea of looking back in time some 60 years while listening to this album is borderline mystical.' For me that is what it is all about. The audio and visual connecting in a special way, giving the listener something that will hopefully be treasured for a long time to come."
Much of the music on the label thus far has centered around the nakedly emotional side of the ambient spectrum. You rarely hear an abstract drone without some light soon shining through the darkness. Fluid's first release, after all, was a compilation entitled Hope. It set the table for the sorrowful, yet uplifting work of Guy Andrews' The Moving Dawn Orchestra, a project begun specifically for his release on the label. "About halfway through the process of creating Hope, Dan e-mailed me with a concept for an EP based on the four seasons," writes Andrews via e-mail. "He wanted something that didn't use any drums and each tune had to be around eight minutes long. Dan knew exactly what he wanted—but gave me complete creative control." As for the artwork, "I always trusted Dan's artistic judgment, to the point where I said 'just let me know when you've decided on something.' He went away for about a month or so and just sorted it all. He had literally organised everything, from the handsewn CD case to the individual photo albums, badges and stickers included in each release. I hadn't seen any of this until a box arrived on my doorstep with the promo copies—when I opened them up my jaw literally hit the floor!"
It's no different to the many labels that have something of a family vibe to them, but each artist on Fluid Audio—to a man—brings up the extensive talking they've done with Crossley, late night chats that no doubt ensure the symbiotic relationship between music and art that the imprint has been able to achieve in its first few releases. As Hessien—the collaborative project between Charles Sage and Tim Diagram—recalls, "There were some challenges [with our release, but when they] were presented there was no sense of crisis from Fluid Audio. The default reaction of most labels would be to fall back to a more conventional design to save time and money, but there was never any discussion of that at all. The process was always about making it look as good as we could. It was well paced too. There were periods of blazing activity, and then we'd take a break for a while. There was no stress, or rush. In fact, that was probably the abiding recollection of the process—there was an overriding sense of purpose."
Purpose is the key to the appeal of Fluid Audio. Everything is done with an aesthetic aim, from the hazy website to Crossley's no repress stance to the immaculately weathered artwork. It looks and it feels personal, a sentiment that flies in the face of an increasingly twitter-friendly world. Handcrafted works of art are a rarity.
As a result, the accolades for Fluid have come streaming in. Even from Fluid Radio itself. It's a careful balancing act, mirroring the same struggle that a website like Resident Advisor faces, for instance, when we put on a party somewhere in the world. "We try our best to keep Fluid Audio as detached from the radio station as possible. What I mean by that is we do not overpromote the label on the Fluid Radio web site. For sure we mention a new release and sometimes have artists from the label involved in mixes, but on the whole we like the label to stay low key," writes Crossley.
But for many the two are inseparable entities. And that's fine. "What makes Fluid Audio so special, I think, is that it's such a supportive environment, the site, the label and the station. A lot of music press and labels are cliquey and exclusive but the way both Fluid Audio and Fluid Radio operates is to try to do the best by everyone," explains Sage and Diagram. "All releases are approached with open ears; there are obvious favorites, but new artists are given equal thrift as well…. There are plenty of places that cover experimental music, but not as enthusiastically. There seems to be an inherent appreciation of its unique nature by anyone that's familiar with it."
Download: RA Label of the Month 1103 Mix: Fluid Audio
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