by Seth Green
Fat Cat Records is the evolution of what was once a record shop by the same name in Crawley, England, a small town outside of London. In 1997, after Fatcat had been relocated a few times and finally came to rest in Brighton, employee Dave Howell started releasing local underground post-techno and electronica 7-inches with the help of London DJ, Alex Knight. The two started to imprint these records eponymously as Fat Cat Records.
Fat Cat’s breakthrough success came in 2000 with the release of Icelandic band Sigur Rós’ critically-acclaimed album “Agætis Byrjun”. Sigur Rós had been unreleased outside of their native Iceland prior to signing with Fat Cat in 1999. “Agætis Byrjun” garnered much buzz and praise from critics as well as being Fat Cat’s best-selling full-length album to date. Most importantly for Fat Cat, “Agætis Byrjun” expanded Dave Howell and company’s vision for what the label could be and what kinds of music they could release. Sigur Rós’ success propelled (and monetarily allowed) the label into reaching outside of its normal sphere of U.K.-based post-techno and electronica.
Fat Cat Records also operates a “sublabel” called 130701, which is the date of the sublabel’s inauguration on September 13, 2001. 130701 was created for releasing experimental, instrumental, orchestrated music that did not seem to fit under Fat Cat’s umbrella. The first 130701 release was the very eerie experimental album “Sings Reign Rebuilder” by Montreal collective Set Fire to Flames. Other 130701 releases include ambitious records by self-proclaimed “post-classical” composer, pianist, programmer, and producer Max Richter and German “prepared piano” composer Hauschka.
One of Fat Cat’s defining characteristics is that they rarely, if ever, pursue artists in the traditional label-courting-artist way. Fat Cat has mostly discovered and signed their artist repertoire through their demo reception. Artists who could not get or did not want their music released elsewhere would send their demos to Fat Cat based on its track record for promoting off-the-beaten-path music. After Sigur Rós explosive rise to fame, Fat Cat was bombarded by demos from unique and talented groups and artists. In the years immediately following the success of “Agætis Byrjun”, Fat Cat signed some of their most popular artists like Animal Collective, mùm, etc.
With the high volume of quality demos that Fat Cat was receiving and continues to receive, they decided to do something quite unique to service even the artists that they were unable to sign. On their website, Fat Cat has a page dedicated to showcasing unsigned talent for fans and other labels to discover. Fat Cat listens to every demo received and handpicks ones that they like, posting them to this forum for streaming and downloading with contact information on the artists. In some cases, bands that were not signed right away but had had their demos posted to this site have acquired record deals with Fat Cat through the building popularity of their demos (e.g. Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks). They also recently set up a page on their website called “diy” to give a catalog of good resources for artists or labels looking to put out their own music. It lists resources for mastering, manufacturing, distribution, independent retail outlets, and legal as well as providing test cases where DIY artists and labels can share their stories and advice.
Although Fat Cat says they would love to put out most of the great music they receive from demos, they enjoy staying small and being able to focus on supporting, promoting, and accomodating their artists. Although they have some bands and artists that have stayed with them for a number of years, Fat Cat Records seems to act as a stepping stone-label, giving acts like Sigur Rós and Animal Collective,that otherwise might not have had the chance, the time, space, and freedom to hone their skills and develop their sound and audience.