With Rise Above just celebrating their 25 birthday, here’s one from the vaults, published in rock sound 117, December 2008, just as the label for all that is heavy were celebrating their 20th anniversary.
RISE ABOVE RECORDS
20 YEARS OF TUNING IN, TURNING UP AND DOOMING OUT
Words: Ronnie Kerswell
“I’m extremely happy; it’s been a struggle, but it’s a struggle that keeps you fighting.” Time flies when you’re having a good time – that’s certainly true for Rise Above. For 20 years, the label synonymous with all things heavy has bringing quality doom and hefty sonics to the long-haired masses and founder Lee Dorrian is pretty chuffed, actually. “I thought it would be one or two releases and then I’d call it a day but as it went on, I started really enjoying it and it was something to keep me occupied other than just being in a band.”
Roll back to ’88: Margaret Thatcher, unemployment, and a country heading into recession. Against this bleak backdrop, a fierce creative scene was fighting back; fanzines were springing up full of bands like Extreme Noise Terror, Doom, Electro Hippies, Chaos UK and Napalm Death, and the DIY scene was in full-flow. With time-served hitching around the country following bands as a teenager, promoting gigs and writing a fanzine, Lee Dorrian was fronting Napalm Death and recalls one of the main reasons for starting up Rise Above was to get the dole office off his back! “Napalm were everywhere in terms of publicity – on television, magazine front covers… I was still signing on as I was broke. If you’re on TV three times a week and someone in the dole office sees that, they’re obviously going to think you’re in the money,” he remembers. Ironically, it was a Thatcher initiative, the Enterprise Allowance Scheme (a back to work scheme for the unemployed, motivating people to start up small businesses by continuing benefits), which kick-started the label. “I’d seen how Children Of The Revolution and Peaceville had started on the scheme – you basically had to raise £1000 and a business plan, take it to a committee and get approval; it meant I could still get £65 a week but I wouldn’t have to sign on for a year.” Fronting Napalm was an obvious way to get the label up and running, with the initial outing a live 7” EP recorded from the sound desk. “There were no recording costs involved, just the costs of mastering and pressing; I thought that was a safe bet, was pretty much certain it would sell out – and it did.” The proceeds funded the next release, ‘Thrash Night’ by Japanese grinders SxOxB, but bringing them to tour the UK nearly cost Lee the label. “I took a bank loan out, the tour failed and I ended up owing the bank £4000 – I waived my rights to Napalm royalties so I could get money off Earache to pay the bank off and keep the label going.”
Fortunately, Rise Above lived up to its moniker and has since gone on to bring us the likes of seminal slow-motion groovers Electric Wizard, Witchcraft, Grand Magus, Orange Goblin – even Lee’s current tomb-heavy troupe Cathedral, together with Sleep’s ‘Jerusalem’ and Down’s first ever release on the ‘Dark Passages II’ compilation. In fact, the first ‘Dark Passages’ compilation, released in ’91 and featuring the likes of Cathedral, St Vitus, Stillborn and Penance, helped form the face of doom. “I was a massive fan of what was considered doom but there wasn’t a lot of it around,” states Lee. “People were aware of St Vitus, Candlemass and Trouble but there wasn’t really a ‘doom scene’ as such. I realised there were a handful of bands scattered around the world and thought, ‘Why don’t we get these groups together.’ I was really into the idea of something to solidify this music into more than just a few scattered bands around the world doing tapes in a garage. The main intention of ‘Dark Passages’ was to give the doom scene a bit of definition and hopefully it did.” After an almost exclusively doom roster in the mid 90s, Rise Above dipped a toe into classic 70s styled sonics. “People ask, ‘Why did you stop signing doom bands?’It’s not that we deliberately stopped signing slow, heavy doom bands; they disappeared over that period,” Lee asserts. “The label has always been about progression and moving forward. If something becomes stale and uninspiring, I’ll go with the things I find inspiring. Essentially, the label just reflects my own personal music taste, which isn’t just narrowed down to doom – I’ve got a much wider taste in music than that.” However Lee maintains that there are a few contentious boundaries… “Doing the Circulus album shocked a few people. I hope people who buy our releases are open-mined enough to know that it’s not completely one-dimensional; there will be some tangible links between a band like Circulus and the whole ethos behind where the label comes from. A lot of it goes back to the origins of heavy music and bands like Sabbath; you can imagine a band like Circulus playing with Sabbath at the time.
“The label’s become less inhibited than when it first started,” he continues. “Maybe that’s because as I’ve got older, my tastes have changed and I’m not afraid to let the ‘alternative’ tastes creep into what we release. Hopefully people who buy our stuff are not as narrow-minded as people might like to think they are. I see the label as being a long-term thing – it’s already been around for 20 years and a lot of that has to do with the fact that we’ve stuck to our guns and not been a commercial, cash-in label. In terms of being around for 20 years, I didn’t expect to have lasted more than a couple of years initially, it’s all an experience – you never know what is going to happen next!”