Updated: Aug 6, 2018
Jamie Oborne, the founder and manager of Dirty Hit Records, is always adamant about the ethos of his label. He desires to assist artists in breaking, consistently noting that it is always the artist that is in control, from recording tracks to marketing a finished record, and he is subservient to their wishes. The label has a business model based on a profit split between the label and the artist, with the management receiving nothing. This is a stark contrast with the harsh ‘360’ deals set by major record labels today. These are a few of the many examples of what makes Dirty Hit so desirable a label to work with for many artists today; unlike some, they actually care.This strong emotional involvement with the signed artists goes back to the establishment of the record in 2010. Jamie had critical experience previous to Dirty Hit’s establishment that assisted him in making this decision. He had been part of a successful band, before he went to university to study Philosophy and Contemporary English Literature. He realised, however, the frontman life was not for him just before the band had completed signing with a label. After graduating university, Oborne set up his own management company, All On Red and managed One Night Only, but the issues he encountered after the band signed
record deals forced him to rethink his strategy. Disliking his loss of creative control, and further enraged by labels passing on his clients The 1975 and Benjamin Francis Leftwich, he decided to establish the label. After a few meetings with his close friend and fellow music lover, the late Ugo Ehiogu, and his financial advisor Brian Smith, Dirty Hit was up and running.
Dirty Hit now hold on their roster some of the most forward-thinking and boundary-
breaking bands of this generation. People’s favourites and roaring indie-rock outfit Wolf Alice, quirky alternative duo Superfood, and the brash, sonic-charged King Nun are just a few of their artists who are gracing the main stages of festivals and selling out venues. Many of the bands appear together, with Wolf Alice’s most recent UK tour being supported by Superfood, and King Nun ensuring Pale Waves’ October tour had a great eclectic lineup. This forms great friendships between the acts, an atmosphere that other, larger labels just do not have. Indeed, The 1975’s Matty Healy is an integral part of the label, directing music videos for singles such as Pale Waves’ Television Romance and Just Banco’s Ashleigh.
Whilst it may appear Dirty Hit focuses much of its attention on its first love, the 1975, this is far from true. New signings The Candescents, the aforementioned Just Banco and Ben Khan receive much support from Oborne and Dirty Hit across all social media. This forms a key part of the label’s strategy in increasing the popularity of their acts. On Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, Oborne replies daily to a mount of requests for information about one’s favourite act, be it lo-fi pop crafters The Japanese House or the most ‘fangirled-about’ band on the planet, the 1975, and ensures he retweets his own signing’s tweets or those from venues or festivals at which they are playing. There is one sad boundary to this fan interaction, namely enabling his artists to meet fans before and after shows. Most venues, for ‘security reasons’, attempt to restrict this occurring, but are more than happy at
establishing paid ‘Meet and Greets’. We all realise that these are simply schemes at making easy money from true fans of cult bands.
But what truly accounts for the success of all the acts signed with Dirty Hit, as there does not appear to be one dud band on their list? As a matter of fact, it is a business idea that Oborne reiterates time and time again: he is not selling music, but he is selling an identity. Thus, all album campaigns need to have a solid theme which is consistent with the band’s imagery. For example, the familiarity between the covers of the 1975’s two records ‘The1975’ and I Like It When You Sleep… created this. Alternatively, the steady yet unswerving build-up of single releases by Pale Waves leading up to their debut EP, 2018’s All The Things I Never Said allowed their audience to get to know their dark, dreamy goth-pop sound. It’s a
simple, yet effective strategy, guided by the artists themselves and then finessed by the label, which explains why Dirty Hit have been the most successful independent label since Fuelled by Ramen. It is back to basics, trusting in the instincts of their artists, allowing them to form their own sound rather than forcing them onto paths they dislike. As King Nun stated in an interview with Clash, artists want their music to be part of something bigger;‘it’s a really exciting thing.’
What aims do they have for the future? It has been impossible to miss the hype over the third The 1975 record, A Query Into Online Relationships. It is possible the label will be focusing on making this the record that makes them the world’s biggest band, not just the world’s biggest cult band. Elsewhere, it becomes apparent that even their largest acts, Wolf Alice, Superfood and Marika Hackman, are only on their sophomore releases and still touring these. The former and The 1975 are already marked out by Festival Republic as a future headliners of Reading & Leeds. More growth is surely on the way for the label, and it is increasingly likely that Dirty Hit, with an ever-growing roster of artists from across the musical sphere, from gritty Mancunian grime in Just Banco to New York garage rockers QTY,
will define the sound of a generation.
WORDS BY MATTHEW PRUDHAM
PHOTOS BY LUCY