The story of Southern Records and Southern Studios is a long and winding one that could extend over many pages, and is a story that deserves to be told, but the “about” page of our web site is not the time and the place.
So let’s condense it down to a few bite-sized pieces. Many wonderful people will be left out of this oversimplified version. Many fancy names will be left undropped and many scintillating facts left shamelessly out.
John Loder was a fan of Jimi Hendrix and experimental music in the 1970’s, and dreamed of opening a recording studio. With a friend, he found a location in South London and dreamt up the fantastical name “Southern Studios”. However the location in South London never came to fruition, and so John built Southern Studios in a garage behind some terraced houses in Wood Green, North London. Through his wife Sue, John met some art school graduates Jeremy Ratter and Gee Vaucher, and they formed a performance group called Exit.
By 1976, Jeremy Ratter had changed his name to Penny Rimbaud, and formed a punk duo with his friend Steve Ignorant. The duo eventually became a band and called themselves Crass. Crass came to Southern Studios to make their first album with their friend John. When the band decided to form their own label, John the Sound Engineer became John the Business Manager who took charge of pressing and distributing all of the records and looking after the money (or lack of it).
Crass sold a lot of records and John quickly learned a lot about the business of distribution. In his travels, he came across a few bands from here and there and he helped them release records in Europe — Flipper, Minor Threat, Purrkur Pillnikk, that sort of thing. He also partnered with musicians who had a similar mindset to Crass and helped them start their own labels — Dick from the Subhumans with Bluurg, Derek from Flux Of Pink Indians with Spiderleg, Rudimentary Peni with Outer Himalayan. John also started his own label, Corpus Christi. Meanwhile, the recording studio was busy recording many of the records released on these labels (and others).
Around 1985, John decided to start his own distribution company, and he asked his friend Allison Schnackenberg to come from San Francisco and help him. They worked together to bring many American labels into the European market—Dischord, Touch & Go, Wax Trax, Pusmort, BYO. Southern took over worldwide manufacturing and distribution for Dischord so they could sign more bands and release more records. More labels were brought into Europe — Wrong, Trance Syndicate, Simple Machines. More label partnerships were formed—Cat & Mouse, Wiiija, Agitprop. A separate UK distribution company was formed (SRD). A new in-house label (imaginatively named Southern, after the studio) was set up and bands like Babes In Toyland, Therapy?, Silverfish and 67 were signed. When Dischord’s Fugazi became too huge in terms of sales to be handled from just London, an office in Chicago was established. More bands joined the Southern label: Karate, Rex, Ui. The Chicago office started distributing other labels. Everything got bigger and bigger and bigger.
By the turn of the century, labels like Constellation, Ipecac, Southern Lord, and Neurot had joined the fold. The Southern label signed more bands in Chicago and in London. An office was opened in Berlin, then one in Le Havre. In 2004 the Latitudes label was established.
In 2004, John was diagnosed with a brain tumour that eventually killed him in August of 2005.
Without John, Southern needed to seriously regroup. Three out of the four companies were separated and taken over by the managing partners who worked there. The Chicago company was sold and changed its name. In London, Allison took over the label, studio and European distribution.
In 2010, due to changes in the market and the desire for a less stressful life, Allison closed down the European distribution side of Southern, and for similar reasons, in 2013 closed down the recording studio.
Today, Southern is working on being as 21st century as we possibly can. We have a small staff (fewer than five people at any given time) who all work remotely from home or shared workspaces. (We love it!) We have reduced our “footprint” on the planet by digitising everything possible. It was a huge effort to reduce the space we were occupying and it took most of 2013 to achieve that.
At the end of 2013 we decided to take a break from working on new projects. We needed a breather. And once we were rested, we needed to concentrate on other priorities. Curating an archive of wonderful releases and memorabilia. Repackaging, remastering, and reissuing titles which have fallen out of print. Building some new software to run the internal side of things, and a new website to run the external side (ta-dah!).
Although we have not been sharing much publicly of late, we have been touched by how many fans of our labels and bands have reached out to us. (We love to hear from you!)
And so here we are, quietly toiling away on about a dozen projects at any given time. As they come to fruition, this will be the best place to find out about them.