In this ongoing series, we take a closer look at some of the many labels carving their own niche.
The story of Partisan Records could never have been guessed, but it could be the first of any effort driven by passion and insight. Since Tim Putnam and Ian Wheeler formed the label in 2007, the Partition team has noticed that their instincts have almost always ceased to follow. Take its unexpected rise Cigarettes after sex, A dreamy noir-pop sensation led by Greg Gonzalez from El Paso, Texas. The group broke up in the mid-2010s, only to reunite after a fan-uploaded YouTube video of their song a few years later. “Nothing will hurt you honey“It went viral. Gonzalez captured the moment, and Partisan Records, which released the band’s two studio albums, both topped multiple charts around the world.
Similar signatures, based on a hump and sharp ears, have elevated Partisan from the beginning of his bedroom to a global indie force. Only in 2019, Partison received the first Grammy approval for the album Deran By Bombino, Who became the first Nigerian artist to be nominated for a prestigious award. It has also received two Mercury Award nominations and won the Libra Award from the American Association of Independent Music for its medium-sized label of the year.
We spoke with Andy Hesuh, Partisan’s US label manager, and Jenna White, managing director, to find out more about how Partisan itself became one of the most electric indie labels in the world.
In the beginning
In 2007, Putin was working as a night manager at The Knitting Factory in Manhattan, when he and close friend Wheeler decided to test their shared music tastes. Originally operating from Putnam’s Brooklyn apartment, the label began with much like an emotional project: a desire to create something no one else could afford. “The team kept a bunch of records through a bunch of different labels over the years and it was this dream of starting a label that he always wanted to be,” says Husuh. After the first out The fall of the West, An expert avant-garde album by Portland friend Emil Amos Holy Son, Putnam has released an album from his own band, Value. But then he discovered Deer tick.
“Tim and Ian watched them play and fell in love,” Husuh says. “They thought [frontman] John McCauley was truly a special artist. They finished signing him and did the record really, really well. Partisan quickly became an Americana powerhouse, as the artists came up with Mother Middle brother (Project among deer tick members, Delta Spirit, And Davos) And Mountain Man. But labels were never intended to represent any single genre or scene, and their roster soon diversified rather in an organic way, especially with Sylvan Esso. Former Mountain Man singer Amelia Meth and her producer husband Nick Sunbourne’s electro-pop duo became the label’s first major success when their self-titled debut album peaked at number 39 in 2014. Billboard 200
Around the same time as Sylvan Aso was flying the charts, Partisan was already making big plans to take the world – or at least the UK. “We realized that in order for us to be competitive, we need to have a label that can represent an artist from around the world,” Hussein said. So, Partisan opened an office in London and signed Ag Gal, An atmospheric post-punk band from Leeds. During this time, Jenna White arrives on the ship and immediately learns about Partition: supporting artists who don’t absorb the word au courant, but challenge and advance them.
For him, the Bristol punk band signed IDLS Has captured this sense of principle. “They were in the UK for eight years and were not taken by any label,” he explained. “We absolutely loved the band, but we were particularly hesitant about what we could do in America with this British-sounding, golden angry guitar band. But Tim heard something that was so culturally relevant that he knew they would be able to capture a wide audience.
Those audiences – hungry for fast, violent, politically inflamed music – have grown bigger than they could have imagined. The band has sold more than 200,000 records worldwide since then and in 2019 they were shortlisted for a Mercury Award and nominated for Best Breakthrough Act at the Brit Awards. “Everything you’ve been looking for in a record release has somehow got done,” White said.
Jenna White and Tim Putnam, courtesy of Partizan Records
Although it has expanded its ambitions on a more international scale, Partisan still has the struggles and capabilities of a small indie label. Its artist-friendly reputation has attracted such established work Mercury Rev., Craig Finn, And The Black Angels. Meanwhile, the label is looking to the front, not to today’s trend, but to “where the wind is blowing,” White said. With the release of new music in 2020 – including a second album Ultraista (Featured Radiohead Next installment from producer Nigel Godrich) DC Phonets, And debut from the Montreal Garage-Punk Five PotteryArt Partisan will continue to re-release music from the late Afrobit pioneer’s catalog Fallen cottage, A project to which the label has been dedicated for more than a decade.
Fela Kuti, courtesy of the team record
White explains, “The spirit of throwing as a resistance fighter is much more in the consciousness of the label.” “I think we definitely respect Fella’s music – as much as he was incredibly unprepared.” This spirit is consistent with the meaning of the name Partizan, by which it is inspired Leonard Cohen Song “PartyHe said, “The kind of artists we work with have all sorts of ideas about what the name actually means. If music is a contribution to the world, we always want to make sure that the artists we work with are somehow. Doing that.
– Stephanie Garr