If you aren’t aware of Purgatory Records at the moment the chances are you haven’t been paying attention to the UK scene at the moment. Boasting bands such as Brutality Will Prevail, Breaking Point and Broken Teeth, Purgatory has been around since 2009 and has taken the UK by storm. I went to Newport to talk to Michael Darke and Ajay of Brutality Will Prevail about their reasons for starting Purgatory, their thoughts on merch and the strength of the scene.
How did you guys get Purgatory started?
Darke: Well it started in my attic didn’t it…?
Ajay: Basically I was doing the Brutality Will Prevail (BWP) record, Forgotten Soul, and no-one wanted to put it out, so me and him [Darke] were like, “well let’s do a label type of thing” and we sat in the attic for ages trying to think of a name for the label and we came up with Purgatory out of something we were reading and we thought it was a good name so we went from there. We brought out that Forgotten Soul record, which was the first release out on the label. There wasn’t really a plan to carry on going after that though really, we just wanted to get that out.
What were the first bands you worked with apart from yourself (BWP)?
Ajay: We did that Hang The Bastard record; the Hang The Bastard/BWP split. It carried on just being for releasing BWP stuff as we couldn’t get anyone else to release the stuff.
What sort of numbers did you put out for the first release, how many records did you press?
Darke: We didn’t hold back!
Ajay: There was 1000 of the Forgotten Soul CD, and 500 of the split 7” and they sold out really quickly…. I wish I did more of them if I’m being honest with you.
How has Purgatory changed since then? You’ve obviously got a lot more bands now, do you run it differently?
Darke: Not really, it’s the same principle. You find a record you want to do, find out a way of making it work and go at it.
Ajay: It’s the same, we do it from the house, we scrape the money together, and that is pretty much it really. Just trying to release it and get it out there, it could be better…
Darke: …But would it work then? The principle has always been that you work with your friends, There isn’t really a band we’ve worked with we don’t like. We always joke that to be on Purgatory you’ve got to come round and have food at the house, that’s basically the principle [So it’s a family ethos then?] Yeah definitely, we wouldn’t want to put out a record of people that we think are arseholes regardless of how good the record is or how it’s going to sell. I want to work with people who I can sit down and share food with and spend my time with. That’s how it’s always been, the plan from the beginning, it wasn’t really a plan but that’s how it’s developed.
Yeah, definitely, we wouldn’t want to put out a record of people that we think are arseholes regardless of how good the record is or how it’s going to sell.
Ajay: It’s like on that Acacia Strain tour, we went out on that tour and every night there would be someone from one of the bands on Purgatory out with us, having food with us, staying over at their house, hanging out, just chilling. It’s really good man, it’s a good position to be in; I just wish it could have happened a long time ago.
How do you guys do finance wise, do you ever make money from Purgatory?
Darke: It’s a cobble you know, Forgotten Soul did well which meant that we could afford to do another record. Some releases haven’t done great, records which we thought would be pretty good for us haven’t necessarily played out like that, but it’s becoming self-sufficient now, with merch sales and one thing and another we can get more releases out and it’s gathering momentum I think. The first quarter of this year we’re looking at an album and two 7”s and the first half of this year we’re looking at two albums and three 7”s. For a small label being run out of someone’s living room I think that’s pretty good, I’m pretty happy with that.
Do you ever get any stick for putting out merch? You guys are pretty much eBay gold, or is it a means to an end?
Ajay: Well, we don’t really do that much merch. I try not to do too much of it really. I always see people moaning that we don’t do enough of it, and I think we probably could do a lot more, like other labels in the UK but I’d rather hold back and not rinse it.
Darke: We’ve been really lucky with how people have picked up on our merch, I’m not going to deny that and it’s been really cool and exciting going to shows and seeing so many people representing the label, and that means we can put out more records which means we’re in a really fortunate position.
Ajay: If it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t do half as many records as we could as there’s only a certain amount we can afford out of our own pockets, because we’ve got mortgages and bills to pay at the end of the day.
Is it ever a difficulty running a label and working a ‘real job’? Do you ever find motivation an issue, especially if you’re losing money?
Ajay: Not really no. The worst bit is when someone orders something and within 5 minutes they ask where it is, that’s the worst bit about running a label. People need to understand that Purgatory is something that I do next to my real job. I go to work, I come home, I’ve got a lot of real life stuff to do, I’ve got a band to do, Darke has things to do, my girlfriend posts everything. She replies to stuff, Darke replies to stuff, I don’t really go on the e-mail and reply to stuff… It’s just hard work, and people have got to understand we’re just a label. It’s not our jobs, if it was our jobs we’d be on it every day, e-mailing back straight away about why your T-shirt hasn’t arrived within 24 hours.
What jobs do you both work when you’re away from Purgatory?
Darke: I work for the NHS at the moment doing a general administration/management role.
Ajay: I’m a hairy-arse plumber.
Darke: It’s not really an issue, I mean everyone has got a smart phone nowadays, you can do a lot on the fly, but people have the perception that Purgatory is this much bigger label and it’s just not.
Ajay: Some kid said to me at the show the other day “oh you must be rolling in it, all the money you make from Purgz.” – I was like, man, I have never once taken any money out of Purgz, and I put the money in to start with. I’m out of pocket because of Purgatory; the only good thing about it is I’ve got a couple of free t-shirts I can wear!
Darke: You get the odd show for free and we get a couple of free T-shirts and that’s the bottom line really.
Ajay: We do it as a hobby, that’s really what it is. It has become a hobby, we did the first BWP record followed by the split, and we’re really good mates with HTB. We recorded together and it was really cool, then we thought, let’s do another record for another band and it’s kind of just gone from there.
How many bands are on Purgatory at the moment? Do you have bands who only release on Purgatory?
Darke: There are bands who I would consider to be on the label, Breaking Point are on their second with us, third if you count the split (with Wiretap), Broken Teeth are on their second with us, BWP are very much on the label. Frustration and By My Hands are on their first record with us. They’re our friends so we want to keep working with them. If Frustration put out another record like that (Dying Breed) we’d put it out tomorrow, it’s so good. They’ve done well. They’re a prime example of a hardcore band getting out there and doing the work. Dublin has a strong scene from what I can see so they’ve got the support back home and Dublin has come out for them hard supporting them on this release. Some bands have the fortune to be playing all the spots every week, but that’s a band that’s gone out and lost money. They’re in Europe more than most UK bands, that’s two trips, one to the UK then over to Europe, that’s a band who is losing money, but grinding it out.
Ajay: Broken Teeth are putting the work in hard at the moment, those two bands (Broken Teeth and Frustration] are the bands putting the most work in out of anyone at the moment. I don’t understand how they do so much really, fair play to them.
Some labels are associated with scenes; do you think Purgatory is more national even though there are the South Wales origins?
Ajay: There is a South Wales thing, but like we’ve got bands all over the place, we’d love it to be all over the world, but there is the time and the place to do that. We went to Europe, met AYS, listened to the 7”, thought ‘this is good’ and then worked with them to put the record out. So yes, I think Purgatory has expanded from its CCHC origins but it does still come from that scene.
Do you think the UK scene is doing well at the moment?
Darke: Yeah definitely, people are quite quick to dismiss it which has always been the same. Kids who were in the cool band before Christmas are now saying that the UK isn’t cool and there aren’t any cool bands, but I don’t give a shit, there’s always bands doing the work. There are some mainstay bands like BWP, Frustration Breaking Point, and Broken Teeth who have been doing work for a long time. There’s so much stuff, loads on the South Coast, Iron Curtain, Abolition out of London, stacks of good things.
Ajay: From being in a band from the last few years I’ve noticed that bands are being appreciated more; people are buying vinyl more which didn’t happen before. Vinyl sales have gone up by about 7% worldwide, and more bands are releasing on vinyl as CDs just appear to be dead now. When American bands used to come over, everyone would get really excited about that, including myself, but now an American band can be on tour with a UK band and that UK band can be on par with the touring band every time.
Kids who were in the cool band before Christmas are now saying that the UK isn’t cool and there aren’t any cool bands, but I don’t give a shit, there’s always bands doing the work.
Have you guys ever toyed with the idea of doing an all-day event like TDON do?
Darke: It would be nothing like TDON, we’d do it our own way, Purgzfest! Although it would probably end up being more like Wayne’s World II. We’d end up booking Aerosmith and U2…
Ajay: We’ve talked about doing it. It would be so hard to do.
Darke: We wouldn’t want to do it without all the bands, but getting everyone together is just such a big task. It would have to be in Le Pub (in Newport), which might be the last thing that ever would happen there. They’ve always been good to us since we started Purgatory and since we got CCHC going. It’s a great venue, it’s not somewhere that’s always appreciated, and it’s a place that knows what it’s about. Whether it’s someone falling down the stairs or someone smashing something, they don’t get stressed about it, it’s a place for music.
What’s coming for next for Purgatory?
Darke: Well, the Aerosmith and U2 split [laughs]. We’ve got two releases being pressed at the moment. The Natural Order record is coming out, that’s going to the press very shortly and it’s something we’re quite excited about and people are catching on to that. When they play some shows people will lose their minds.
Ajay: We’ve got a new BWP record that we’re recording at the moment, so that will be out on the label soon. The record is on hold until we think of a name for it, which is proving to be a problem; it’s doing my head in. I did like ‘Desperate Youth’ but it sounds a bit too much like a Youth Crew name, so I don’t think I’ll use that. It will be ready for the summer time though.
Purgatory has just released the new LPs by Frustration and By My Hands which can be picked up online as well as the new E.P by Broken Teeth. All of this can be found on their Bigcartel website.