We toast to a decade of Will Bankhead's label, an exceptionally curated outlet for noise, techno, house, drone and much more.
Bankhead's basement is a music nerd's goldmine. Stacks of records, tapes, CDs, books and magazines reached to the ceiling. I noticed National Geographic issues dating to the 1950s, a flyer from Tokyo's Lion café, plus stickers, skate gear, cardboard boxes and thousands of records. As well as apparently being a very decent afterparty spot, this basement is the headquarters of The Trilogy Tapes, the project that has consumed Bankhead's free time for the past ten years.
The Trilogy Tapes, which started as a blog in 2008, has worked with some of the most respected artists in electronic and experimental music. Bee Mask, Accident Du Travail, Ben UFO, Kassem Mosse, Sassy J, Beatrice Dillon, DJ Nobu, Dean Blunt, Madteo, Blawan, Theo Parrish, A Made Up Sound, Aaron Dilloway, Beautiful Swimmers and Omar Souleyman are among the many names who have worked with Bankhead.
But that's just part of the story. Before Blawan, Theo and Nobu, there was Preggy Peggy & The Lazy Babymakers, Field Of Hats and Boron & The Grebes—obscure acts providing limited-edition cassettes filled with strange noise and drone music.
The Trilogy Tapes' behind-the-scenes graft mostly takes place in Bankhead's basement. He talked me through his process. Once he's received some music, Bankhead sends the digital files to be pressed to vinyl in Germany. Those records are then delivered, without sleeves, to Bankhead's South London home, a journey that ends with a puzzled delivery driver dumping a palette outside Bankhead's front door. ("They leave them on the street, I lug them in.") Meanwhile, the record's sleeves, which Bankhead designs himself, are printed in Rochester, a small town in the UK. When he has both the records and the sleeves, Bankhead slips the former into the latter. Honest Jon's, his distributor, takes some of them. Bankhead keeps the rest at home to sell directly through his online shop.
This is just a hobby—Bankhead makes a living from his graphic design work for Honest Jon's and the skate brand Palace. But it's a gruelling hobby. "The volume of it, the pain of it..." he began. "The trips to the post office. Each time I go back to the post office counter they're like, 'Oh you're back again.'" He admitted he's a sucker for punishment. "The people at the post office tell me to get the records picked up from my house, but I never get around to sorting it, and here I am ten years later. Even though it's more difficult, it's a nice feeling taking them in myself. When I leave the house with the finished records, I know it's all done." That's how it works not only for The Trilogy Tapes but also Hinge Finger, the label Bankhead has run with Joy Orbison since 2012.
We were chatting a few days after the announcement of an album from the techno duo Rezzett. Bankhead stood up and walked over to his desk, showing me an inbox full of pre-orders. He'd received more than 150 that day. It's not always like this—the popularity of a record can be hard to predict.
"Sometimes, I'll get something and think it's fucking brilliant," he said. "And I'll be saying to myself, 'We'll sell thousands of this.' Then I get it back from the pressing plant, pop it on the turntable and I'm a bit like, 'Oh shit, this is pretty weird actually.'" He burst out laughing. "It's all instinctive, it's me on my own, and sometimes I wonder, do I know what I'm doing?"
The Trilogy Tapes started as (and remains) an exceptionally well-curated blog, an online scrapbook in which Bankhead posts music, flyers, skateboarding photos, magazine scans, videos and internet curios. One random example, dated August 19th, 2008, titled "I know nothing about Newcastle Speedway," contains four images from decades-old Newcastle Speedway programmes. Then there are the posts like this, a little slice of history containing the flyer for an Honest Jon's party at Plastic People in 2009 with Mark Ernestus, Sleeparchive and DJ Pete. While most blogs from that era have either disappeared or remain entombed in the late-noughties, The Trilogy Tapes has endured.
Bankhead, who comes from southwest London, came of age in the 1990s, when skate culture was fresh and vital and West London was at the heart of the city's party scene. He was a talented skater, good enough to be sponsored. "I didn't get paid," he explained, "but I got some cool stuff." He'd visit Slam City Skates in the basement underneath Rough Trade in Notting Hill, pausing on his way down to inspect the records on the wall.
Bankhead began to immerse himself in music, buying reggae and dancehall from Honest Jon's in Ladbroke Grove and Dub Vendor in Clapham Junction, places that in the '90s were guaranteed to have intimidating atmospheres. "You'd go to the counter and hear someone ask for something," he said. "You'd watch their reaction and learn. And you'd stay in a shop all day, accumulating this little pile of records. The reggae shops were so busy. I'd just be this dorky kid standing at the back."
Bankhead made some important friendships in those days. On Monday nights, he'd DJ with Mark Ainley, a co-owner of Honest Jon's, playing house and dancehall to a handful of people. He became an important part of the Honest Jon's story, running the dub-focused PK label with Ainley, while also providing Honest Jon's with some of its most memorable sleeve designs.
Before connecting with Honest Jon's, Bankhead met James Lavelle. Along with Ben Drury, Swifty and Futura 2000, he started designing sleeves for the early Mo'Wax releases. On a trip to California, Bankhead and Lavelle went digging for records with DJ Shadow. While the other two scoured the shop for funk breaks, Bankhead contented himself looking in the dollar bin, where he found a bunch of cheap records on the venerable Folkways Records. Something about Folkways—its visual aesthetic, the sheer breadth of strange music and recordings from across the globe—captured Bankhead's imagination. These days, a section of his record collection is devoted to the label. (The Trilogy Tapes has released two mixtapes of Folkways music, one by Bankhead and one by Beatrice Dillon.)
"I can't resist stuff like this," he said, pulling out an LP from 1958 titled An Actual Story In Sound Of A Dog's Life, credited to Tony Schwartz. I asked what it is. "It's just a recording of a dog." A dog starts yapping. Then a man starts talking—"It was little more than a year ago that a puppy was brought to a shelter for homeless animals on New York's Upper East Side…"—while a dog continues to bark in the background. "Someone's gone to the effort to put that on a record," Bankhead said as we listened. That simple but profound process continues to captivate Bankhead, and it's what emboldens him to release strange music wrapped in intriguing artwork. "I try to make The Trilogy Tapes sleeves look like something that I would look at and think, 'What the fuck is that?'"
Bankhead said he receives a lot of demos but generally prefers to work with people in his orbit. "I have only released two or three records from people I didn't already know. If I get an email that says, 'I do stuff on hardware, it's weird techno, you'll definitely be into it,' I'll never listen to it. There's probably some really good stuff in those emails, but there's just too many."
A few landmarks in The Trilogy Tapes' catalogue plot its ten-year course. There was the label's first vinyl release, 2010's Venus Knock by the Australian producer Dro Carey, who Bankhead found while trawling through YouTube videos. During 2012 and 2013 the label released a succession of scruffy experimental dance music records that became central to the discussion around "outsider house." The label's best-selling release is a 12-inch by Theo Parrish, released four years back in collaboration with Palace. 71st & Exchange Used To Be contained at least one bonafide Parrish gem (the smoky "Blueskies Surprise"), and the series with Palace also led to a combination that could only have appeared on The Trilogy Tapes: Rezzett remixing the Syrian folk singer Omar Souleyman.
The label has also been a safe haven for artists looking to experiment or use aliases. JR Seaton, the artist best known as Call Super, has appeared on The Trilogy Tapes as Elmo Crumb and Ondo Fudd, most notably with 2016's gorgeous Blue Dot. It's where Darren Cunningham, AKA Actress, debuted his then-mysterious Levantis project in 2013, and it's where Blawan released his only record to date as Bored Young Adults. In recent times the label has provided an outlet for breakthrough artists from dance music's fringes (Buttechno, John FM) while debuting a string of intriguing collaborations, like Kassem Mosse and Beatrice Dillon, or DJ Nobu and NHK yx Koyxen.
Bankhead's tastes veer away from expensive or rare music. "I like new music," he said. "I don't buy records because they're rare or expensive, and I don't have rare records as such. Some of them end up becoming rare—I bought a lot of techno back in the day, things on labels like Metroplex, Transmat and Retroactive. On a couple of occasions, I've paid a lot for a record. But I'm into getting new shit, or cheap finds. I'm not going to pay £100 for something. By that stage it's already rare, and someone already knows it's rare—that's why it's £100. I can get ten new records for that price."
It's possible the money Bankhead saves on rare records instead goes into his collection of books and magazines. He showed me a book, Imponderable: The Archives Of Tony Oursler, which he bought from Donlon Books on Broadway Market. "I like the way this book's laid out, it's nice and firm, the quality paper… the whole thing is just solid," he said. "I don't tend to take stuff from books like this. This guy's already done it, hasn't he? So I need to look elsewhere."
Whenever he's in Tokyo, Bankhead visits Nakano Broadway, a shopping mall that sells "everything from Japanese photo books to comics to weird dolls." After leafing through a magazine of Japanese collectibles, he shows me a thick book titled Japanese Folk Art And Design. He then grabs another book, a directory of Japanese children's books and games, that he first spotted in a bar in Tokyo before later snapping it up in an online auction. "Every second page is inspiration for a cover."
Next to Bankhead's collection of books is a small sliding cabinet. In one drawer there was a scattered assortment of passport photos; another contained old flyers from his dancehall and house parties in London; a third drawer had torn-out magazine pages—lying on top was a photo Bankhead took of Snoop Dogg in 1993 for Touch magazine.
We walked from the sliding cabinet to a section of the basement devoted to incoming TTT stock. He brandished a large custom-made stamp and started stamping record covers. "For some of the regulars I'll go a bit crazy," he said, pounding the stamp several times onto one sleeve. We started discussing forthcoming records on the label—he mentioned Lil Mofo, No Go Zones, Dolo Percussion, DJ Residue, J. Albert and Mix Mup—before I noticed a copy of Accident Du Travail's Très Précieux Sang, which Bankhead admitted could be his favourite-ever release on The Trilogy Tapes. "It's just so unique, there's no one else like them," he said. "When they play live, Julie [Normal] has to travel with a very fragile ondes Martenot in the boot of her car."
Despite his occasional self-doubts, Bankhead clearly takes pleasure in confounding expectations. "I want to keep it interesting for myself, and I want to keep people thinking, 'What's he doing now?'" he told me. "I released a straight-up house record by Baba Stiltz. And then I'll release a noise record, and someone who liked Baba Stiltz will be like, 'I can't listen to that noise shit.' That's fun. And it reflects what I'm into."
Next to Très Précieux Sang is a copy of last year's Bullion record, Blue Pedro, which RA called the "catchiest space disco sea shanty you'll ever hear." Others were not so kind—one Discogs commenter scornfully listed songs by Rednex, 2 Cowboys and Scatman John as "novelty records I would put in my record bag" ahead of Blue Pedro.
"No one was expecting that one," Bankhead grinned. "It's nice to piss off some techno nerds every now and then."
90 minutes of strange, beatless sounds, recorded in Will Bankhead's basement.
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