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Dead Hound Records: The label making the Edinburgh student music scene alive

On a typical Edinburgh day, with the sun only slightly peeking through the grey sky, I caught up with Ollie Turbitt, a fourth year English and History student by day, but the main man behind Dead Hound Records by night. Kitted up with a woolen green turtleneck and Columbia jacket, we made our way to Black Medicine. With coffees and vegan brownie in hand, we found a quiet corner where we chatted about his passion project, cassette tapes, and the Spanish Civil War.

Having run for about six years, Dead Hound Records has consistently released projects made by Edinburgh locals, trying to inject new energy in a music scene that is often overlooked and overshadowed by its Glaswegian neighbour. While it started as a bedroom project for Turbitt, his casual bandcamp uploads gave him the platform to share his passion for music, but in 2019, after being contacted by the British Library trying to log local labels, he decided to buckle down. “That’s when I thought I could make it a real thing, a ‘proper’ label” he says. The name Dead Hound Records doesn’t actually have a story, just something Turbitt thought would sound cool. “Maybe I should make up a story so it sounds better,” he jokes. After meeting some more like-minded people in Edinburgh – he singles out Michał Fundowicz of Czaszka Rec., Edinburgh musician Joe Coghill, and the folks behind East Records – he started putting out cassettes, trying to shape Dead Hound into a label that promoted music that was more “experimental and out there”. Six years on, Dead Hound is a mark of success in the local music scene, and even more remarkable when considering Turbitt has been studying full-time at the University of Edinburgh simultaneously. 

Of course, when we speak about anything nowadays, coronavirus will come up. With the global pandemic still semi-raging, it has taken a heavy toll in Edinburgh and Scotland, especially in the creative sector. Venues have been pushed to the brink of close, artists have been urged to become accountants, and the government has provided minimal support for an industry that brings in so much revenue for the British economy. “Of course venues being shut is a hit” Turbitt states, “gigs are a great way to promote the label, and the main way we can push our tapes and merch”. While live performances are still banned, Turbitt sees a silver lining. With everyone stuck at home, he says that more people are putting in the effort to seek out new music and spending time scouring the internet for fresh tunes. The increase in down time has also led to more interaction with other labels and prominent people in the music scene. “Since lockdown I’ve had so many more people sent projects, and from people I’ve respected for a long time, as well as complete strangers” Turbitt remarks, “it’s exciting”. 

A big part of this support during the pandemic has been in large part due to bandcamp, the online music sharing platform. “Bandcamp has been massive in supporting local music, especially with their bandcamp Fridays initiative.” Since the lockdown, bandcamp have run a campaign where the first Friday of each month let fans buy music and merchandise from accounts, with bandcamp waiving their revenue share and the money going straight to the artist or label. The initiative was a massive success, with fans having bought $75 million worth of music since bandcamp Fridays began in March. Turbitt says bandcamp’s efforts cannot be overstated, and that the set days they stuck to meant fans had something to look forward to. “For the first time in a while, people got excited for new music, and wanted to spend money on it. It’s like Christmas”. It’s at this point that our coffees have run out, but I still had some questions to ask, so it’s a good thing the brownie had still been relatively untouched at this point.

One of the questions I had was why he had such a penchant for releasing his label’s music on cassette tapes, as opposed to putting it on streaming platforms or vinyl. If you’re about the same age as me, you’ll have faint memories of cassette tapes being a difficult to use, unintuitive way to listen to music. But even if that’s the case, Turbitt still sees the charm in them, as well as their enormous upside in cost. “Simply put, they’re much cheaper to put together than something like vinyl” he says, “but there’s definitely some character there, you actually have to put it together and make the physical act of pressing buttons.” The tactile nature of making a tape is something he prefers over the detached nature of streaming, and he also prefers the stylistic freedom artists have in physical media over streaming. “You get more choice in your cover art and track name stylisations” Turbitt rants, “On Spotify, you can’t even have lower case song titles or album art that’s just a solid colour.” From the way Turbitt described it, it sure seemed tapes gave him the creative flair that streaming platforms don’t. Turbitt also described the community behind cassette tape music as extremely welcoming and a great place for the exchange of projects. “There’s a great culture of just swapping tapes, and even though it’s a niche audience, you still get to have a strong, if smaller influence.” With a smirk and knowing sarcasm, Turbitt jokes that tapes are also less mainstream, but does help him reach the audience he wants for the music.

While Dead Hound might be considered a backburner project for Turbitt to some, he does consider it equal to his schoolwork, at least when it allows (this is also where a digression into the Spanish Civil War and non-authoritarian socialism occurs). “Doing uni, Dead Hound, and two jobs at the same time can definitely be full-on” Turbitt says, “but working on music projects don’t always feel like work, as cliche as that sounds”. As the conversation moves towards discussing Edinburgh’s student music scene as a whole, Turbitt points out that the local scene is not always as bad as it’s made out to be; “Obviously with Glasgow nearby the comparisons don’t help, but it’s quality for those that look for it.” He goes on by drawing attention to LOAF Magazine and eh-fm, all which are doing a great job in uncovering the talent walking our cobblestoned streets. Our music scene might never be as big as Glasgow’s, but Turbitt firmly states you won’t get the hospitality and sense of community over there either.

“If the music’s good, I’ll probably want to release it”. Turbitt has always seen Dead Hound as not just a small side gig, but as a passion project that could help Edinburgh’s student artists find an outlet. Looking forwards, Turbitt hopes that he can keep expanding, releasing music not just from Edinburgh-based artists, start releasing in vinyl, and maybe even open up a brick and mortar shop or cafe. The options are plentiful, but he knows that if this year has shown us anything, it’s that plans are never set in stone. Even so, as our allotted time slot of one hour runs out at the cafe, Turbitt stresses staying grounded, however big Dead Hound might end up. His casual demeanor and friendly nature proves to me that he will.

Image: Yu An Su