Record Label Profile: Transgressive

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The Independent Culture

It's only just gone 10am, but inside Transgressive's tiny offices, the music is booming. It might be early, but label founders Tim Dellow and Toby L are throwing a party. Aged just 22 and 21, they're not really the sorts who need an excuse for merriment, but when pushed, they ascribe two reasons to this morning's impromptu shindig. Firstly, this month marks the second birthday of their label. And secondly, they're about to add a new signing to its roster. Who? They're not telling. Transgressive have learnt to play their cards close to their chest. "We need to be quite cagey about such things these days," says Toby. "Other labels keep stealing our tips!"

In its two years Transgressive have released over 50 records by 15 bands. As the youngest label to have five chart hits to its name, Transgressive have an impressive track record which has pricked the ears of the majors. Both label bosses have been headhunted for top A&R jobs, but have refused the lure of fat salaries.

Transgressive have fostered an indie credibility that's proven alluring to several bigger labels. Hoping to release a new band's first single on Transgressive, one major offered the pair £30,000 each, plus 10 per cent of the band's future earnings. "That sort of money was tempting," says Tim. "If it had been an amazing band we'd have found it difficult to turn down, but it wasn't. We thought there is no way our fans would be into this."

However, the label does have a loose consultancy deal with Warners, who prize the fact that Tim and Toby have their ears to the ground. Transgressive give the major a few titbits of what they've enjoyed listening to recently, in exchange for money to help pay for their marketing needs. "It's an informal agreement," says Toby, "but it's enough to help us develop as a label and for them to keep in tune with what's going on. You need money to get the word out there otherwise no one will hear of your amazing artists."

The duo's reputation for knowing a hot tune when they hear one precedes Transgressive. Working with his former business partner, Rob Fawkes at singles label Trash Aesthetics, Tim is credited with releasing the first singles of both Bloc Party and The Rakes. Toby, meanwhile, has spent the last six years at the forefront of new music running his influential online magazine, The website spawned an MTV2/Channel 4 show - fronted by Toby - as well as a monthly club night spin-off, The Basement Club, a showcase for upcoming acts. In fact, it was at the club, on the night a then unsigned Bloc Party played, that Tim and Toby met and the seeds of Transgressive were sown.

Transgressive's first release was "1am" by The Subways. The band went on to win Glastonbury Festival's inaugural unsigned band competition, earning them a priceless live slot on The Other Stage, and justifying Transgressive's decision. A bidding war for The Subways ended when the spiky trio signed to Warners. Transgressive releases by much lauded and now major label bands like The Pipettes, Regina Spektor and Larrikin Love followed, further emphasising the label's knack for finding innovative new acts. "People began to see Transgressive differently," says Toby. "They didn't see us as two idiotic kids any more."

The label owes its musical Midas touch to Tim and Toby's youth. Simply put, the pair are under half the age of most major label bosses. And while the middle-aged suits are trying to second guess what will be the next thing to take the MySpace generation by storm, Transgressive already seem to know. As contemporaries with both the bands they sign and the people who buy their records, the label are in a unique - and invaluable - position. They're in constant dialogue with their fanbase: "We're plugged in," says Toby.

Like their audience, Transgressive's bosses are yearning for something "a little more subversive, fresh and exciting". And like the bands they've worked with, Transgressive are infused with a refreshing idealism and an invigorating, anything-goes creative fearlessness. "The biggest lesson we've learnt is you need to have real conviction and not be swayed by fads or what anyone else is saying," says Toby. "When the Young Knives came along, no one was interested in signing them. So many A&Rs were saying, 'I can't see them succeeding'. But now they're one of our most successful acts. It gives you faith that if something is special, it will translate."

With their innate understanding of what their audience want and their youthful confidence, Transgressive are fast making their mark. Having just launched their own publishing company, the label have set their sights on further establishing themselves. "We've evolved in the best way," says Toby. "I can't tell you how frustrated we get when we see Transgressive being described as an über hip or trendy label. Just because some of the acts we've been involved with have become reasonably successful in the now, doesn't mean that they are a now band. We've built everything up slowly because we're not just a flash-in-the-pan thing - we're in this for the long haul."

Transgressive releases for October include: Jeremy Warmsley debut album, The Art Of Fiction; Mechanical Bride debut EP 'In The Throes EP'; Young Knives single, 'The Decision'; Battle mini-album, 'Back To Earth', and single, 'Beautiful Dynasty'

Fact File

Introduction: Celebrating its second anniversary, this eclectic newcomer has fast developed a reputation for unearthing exciting, genre-defying and unique acts with cross-over potential. Amongst their discoveries are The Mystery Jets, Larrikin Love and The Subways (pictured above).

History: After meeting at a Bloc Party gig, Toby L and Tim Dellow found they shared a passion for the same new underground acts. Disheartened that the bands they followed were being ignored by major labels, the pair decided to do something about it and Transgressive was born. They signed their favourite live act, The Subways, and with £1,000 borrowed from Toby's dad, released 500 singles. The success of the venture depended on the run selling out. It did.

What they say: "When it comes to signing bands, there's no checklist or boxes to tick. A band's got to have their own integrity." Founder and joint label head, Toby L.

Notable acts include: Young Knives, Battle, Ladyfuzz.

Top Tips 2006/2007: Mechanical Bride and Jeremy Warmsley.

Pub fact: In the name of rock'n'roll, Toby L has drunk bull semen. It is not something he's likely to do again.