Origin Stories: Finders Keepers
Andy Votel explains how one French artist was the key to the heralded label
Finders Keepers may be an archival label, but describing it as such fails to truly capture its essence. Founded in 2005 by Andy Votel and Doug Shipton, the imprint has charted a unique path that somehow brings together undiscovered and underappreciated bits of soundtrack music, avant-garde synth exploration, psychedelic funk from around the globe, obscure disco and new wave, and almost unclassifiable jazz and noise selections.
With a discography that includes everything from Serge Gainsbourg collaborator Jean-Claude Vannier to electronic pioneer Suzanne Ciani and reissues of banned pre-revolution Iranian pop music, it’s no surprise that Finders Keepers’ guiding principles are “making global music local” and “breaking boundaries before breaking even.”
Loved by music collectors, DJs, and sample diggers alike, Finders Keepers has found support in all corners of the music world, allowing for special collaborative projects with a wide range of artists that includes Demdike Stare, Jarvis Cocker, Belle & Sebastian and The Gaslamp Killer, to name just a few. In this excerpt from his recent chat with RBMA Radio’s Hanna Bächer, Andy Votel discusses the origins of the label.
Jean-Claude Vannier is like the patron saint of Finders Keepers. It was absolutely improbable that I would have any sort of relationship with him – he was a hero. There are so many musicians in your life who inspire you, and you want to try and make music like them. Vannier was like the biggest film star, the most famous wrestler, or the biggest superhero. I wasn’t inspired by Jean-Claude, I was in awe. He was on such a high pedestal. Anything to do with Serge Gainsbourg was the same. There was never any question of releasing anything to do with Vannier or Gainsbourg. I’d worked with a couple of French labels, and they’d told me about Vannier, told me that he couldn’t speak English, told me that he wasn’t easy to work with. People literally warned me away.
But there was this one album by him that seemed to be not attached to anything. It was a recording of a kind of radical ballet performance called L’enfant Assasin des Mouches. It was a really hard thing to track down, a record that had been hidden in record shops for years and years. It was possibly, and still stands to me, the most amazing record I’ve ever heard in my life. It broke all the rules. Parts of it sounded like the sequel to Histoire de Melody Nelson. Certain other parts sounded like a real radical musical reaction to May 1968. I didn’t know a musician who even could come close to that kind of thing.
I was amazed to find that he was actually really keen to work and susceptible to ideas of working together.
When I did decide to try and contact Vannier on a whim, just to meet him or interview him, I was amazed to find that he was actually really keen to work and susceptible to ideas of working together. It was a really good contradiction to the myth that you should never meet your heroes. That was the birth of Finders Keepers.
Me, Dom [Thomas], and Doug [Shipton] decided to pool all our resources, forget everything that we learned in the independent music industry, and try to release something with no market research, that we totally believed in, with no sort of press. Something that was absolutely idiosyncratic and totally new, a concrete/orchestral/psych-rock/ballet/protest record, which had been made of bits of adverts and bits of work and was almost like a library, a sort of sketchbook. It was a record which was like nothing else at all. For that reason it became, and still remains to me, the perfect Finders Keepers record.
He built the family. That was it. That was the start of the alternative musical universe where Jean-Claude Vannier was Elvis Presley and Suzanne Ciani was Dolly Parton. It was like they were an oldish cast of characters that could only exist in an alternative universe. It just gave us the confidence to ask again and again.
After we released L’enfant Assasin des Mouches, it’s like the color of the world changed. We designed a label around Jean-Claude Vannier’s first record and that inspired us. We became a bit fearless, really, and thought, “Let’s just really take this as far as we can,” and started going through the dream records. From the outset, Finders Keepers never was meant to have anything to do with nostalgia. It was never meant to be a retro label. It wasn’t even meant to be a reissue label. It was a label that liberated music from any country or any era. It just so happened that a lot of the music that we have released was from the ’70s and ’80s or even the ’50s, but mainly the ’70s.
Jean-Pierre Massiera was another name that kept popping up loads. Then I heard his name pop up in disco records, and I was convinced it was a different guy. I always had this fascination with Massiera. He was basically the French Joe Meek. He seemed like an artist who never looked back, just moving on and making new records and not caring. It was half-trashy and half-amazing experimental pop music. I think that’s something that Finders Keepers really embodies. It celebrates trash and irreverence and that pure energy to move on as well as it celebrates deep artistic gestures and blurs the lines between the two. Massiera inspired us to just put records out as much as possible, do our own thing, bring two or three of your own records out at the same time of your own material and move on. Change your name all the time, different guises, just keep on going.
What Massiera did is unbelievable: opening studios, closing studios, just island-hopping with music. It was great what he was doing, without caring or even knowing, like re-selling his own records and finding the same thing in the record from 1967 that he’d released on a disco record in 1981. He’s definitely like the Frankenstein of French pop.
Most of our discography is previously unreleased music. Some of the greatest were the soundtracks to Czech films and unreleased film music. One of the earliest ones was Sitting Target by Stanley Myers. He was a relatively famous composer, but it was a very obscure film, which I always dreamed of finding. Sitting Target was an incredible symphonic/rock/electric thing. When we found the original master tapes for Sitting Target, we were presented with these tapes that we really didn’t know what to do with. There’s a process called “baking tapes” where you have to re-emulsify the glue on the tape by various scientific processes. That was quite intimidating. We upped our game to be involved in that. It gave us the inspiration to consider that music exists in different places.
It was the first time it opened our eyes to working within film music, which was a million percent different from working with pop music or record labels. One amazing thing when you get original film music is that a lot of it is written to cue. There’ll be a very climactic psychedelic soundtrack to a club scene, but when you listen to it off the tape it’s literally only 20 seconds long, because they just write that one scene. A lot of these things you imagine are going to be a lot longer.
I regard Finders Keepers as much as a public service as anything. Music’s there to be shared. When you resurrect the music of an old artist or you find someone who has invariably not had success the first time round, it’s hard to open up their world. It’s cruel in a way, because you’re potentially bringing back memories of something that didn’t work and the echoes of failure. You have to be honest with them and tell them that you’re going to do the best thing for them. If you can’t honestly do that, you shouldn’t really do it.
With film music for Finders Keepers, it has to work as a record and be respected as a piece of music outside of the context of the film, otherwise it fails. That music has got life and history. There are a lot of record labels that work within very specific niches and then re-celebrate the facets of the film and history of the film and the actors and the plot. You’re releasing records. You’re not releasing DVDs. I think Finders Keepers really concentrates on the research of telling the story of the artist and how they thought about the film.
Trophy buying and buying trends and fashions – it’s common sense not to do that, really.
We released Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain and the sleeve notes inside are purely about the music. If you want to learn about the film, watch the film, but we release records. It’s important to distinguish that we do it to meet these people, socialize with these people and bring these people into our lives and create this family, as it were. Most of the artists on the label are still very good friends. We continue to release and stay with these people, play with these people. That’s the most important thing. The record’s a by-product, really.
I remember when I was growing up, it was absolutely logical for me as a record collector to go as far out of my comfort zone as possible. In my teens, buying hip hop and original funk records and then jazz and then creating your own identity through DJing, it was always important to my group of friends that everyone should have their own records that were specific to them. That was the only way you progressed. Even your mom and dad would tell you that as a kid: “Don’t buy the same records as your friends. Don’t buy the same computer games, because you can all share if you’ve all got different things.” Trophy buying and buying trends and fashions – it’s common sense not to do that, really. It’s always puzzled me that people want to play classic music. Even as a DJ it’s important to invent your own classics. I still do that now.