In December, Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden gave away a trove of his old songs via Sendspace, quipping, “Is sendspace indie label of the year 2013?” If so, then perhaps Bandcamp will be the indie label — or at least platform — that defines 2014. Last night, Hebden launched his own storefront on Bandcamp, kicking things off with four of his earliest releases: His debut EP Thirtysixtwentyfive, his debut album Dialogue, the Misnomer EP, and the “Glasshead”/”Calamine” single, all originally released on the now-defunct Output label in 1998 and 1999.
Over the past few years, Hebden has increasingly moved to release his music on his own terms. After a decade-long association with Domino, he put out his 2012 album Pink on his own Text Records label — until then, mainly known as a vinyl-only outlet for club-music experiments — and he followed suit with last year’s Beautiful Rewind and 0181. (He even gave the latter away for free.)
Sometimes, doing things his way has meant circumventing “legitimate” channels. Last May, to mark the 10th anniversary of his landmark album Rounds, he gave away the original, unreleased version of the song “Unspoken,” which featured a Tori Amos sample Hebden had been unable to clear.
His independent streak has also shown itself in his skepticism of digital streaming models. Hebden has voiced support for Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich’s criticisms of streaming services like Spotify, commenting, “Don’t want to be a part of this crap.” Text’s records are sold on iTunes, via mailorder, and in certain brick-and-mortar record stores, but you won’t find them on Spotify.
So it makes sense that Hebden would sign up for Bandcamp, which has a reputation for being more artist-friendly than many other services. Given that he already sells his music on iTunes — and given, too, that none of these four releases are available there — perhaps he’s testing the waters. “I was using Sendspace a lot to send out music,” he told SPIN in an email, “and then people started telling me they liked Bandcamp. I used it for the first time ever a few days ago when the Lomax/Wrigley records got reissued on there and it seemed cool so I thought I’d give it a try too. Have had the rights to the Output stuff for a long time but never done anything with it so it seemed like something good to use. Not sure if I’ll use it more in the future for other releases. Only had it for less than 24 hours!”
It’s tempting to read at least a glimmer of political intent in his choice of the service. Just consider the header image he chose to adorn his page: A screen grab of a Spotify banner (“Music for everyone… Get Spotify for free”) that’s been squashed flat and flipped upside down, bringing to mind the way an inverted flag serves as a universal distress signal. It’s a common conceit to refer to the music industry as a sinking ship; perhaps Four Tet is suggesting that, with new tools for artists and fans alike, help is finally on the way.