9 things you might not know about Spirit Level

Spirit Level

A festival, a podcast, an app, a band from Norway. We do things quietly, and differently.

We were pretty stunned recently to find out that we’ve been nominated as one of the five best independent record labels in Australia.

Spirit Level: nominee for Best Independent Label at the 2019 AIR Awards.

In a country that boasts some of the most creative and inspiring indie labels in the whole world, we feel pretty humbled to be recognised in this way. Maybe even feeling a bit of that old-fashioned Imposter Syndrome.

At Spirit Level, we tend to go about things in a pretty low-key fashion. That’s why we thought it might be a good idea to highlight a handful of the things we’ve done in the last few years.

So here are 9 things we’ve been doing that you might have missed.

(By the way, feel free to pop this playlist on shuffle while you read.)

1. We have a festival.

In both 2016 and 2018, we took over a building in Melbourne called The Stables at the Meat Market for a mini-festival we called Kindred.

Photos by Briana Davis. Kindred at the Stables 2018.

The most recent event combined music with improvised visuals and dance, featuring music from Braille Face, Anatole, Hemm, Juice Webster, Ben Abraham, Nearly Oratorio, Woodes and Lucy Roleff, visual curation and improvisation from Carla Zimbler, and improvised dance from our friends at Playing Field.

We are hoping to bring Kindred festival back in early 2020.

Speaking of the Meat Market — it is a heritage-listed old butcher’s market in North Melbourne that a while back was converted into an arts precinct. It is also where Tim Shiel and Ben Abraham’s studio is located, inside a converted old meat locker.

That meat locker is a place where many Spirit Level records have been mixed, band rehearsals have taken place, award-winning game soundtracks have been composed, and Grammy-nominated songs have been written.

It is also where this live performance was filmed:

Telling — First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (live). (2016)

2. We work with a Norwegian band.

We love great music no matter where it comes from. Even though we are based in Melbourne and work with mostly Australian artists, that didn’t stop us from falling in love with Oslo-based pop collective Wauwatosa.

Wauwatosa and the cover art for their debut album Souvenirs. (2018)

Sigurd Ytre-Anne and Martin Langerød are the two songwriter/producers who form the core of the group. Wauwatosa’s debut album features contributions from friends Marianna Sangita (of Bella Union-signed band Broen), Emilie Storaas, Ellen Sunde, Unn Lange Buer, Vegard Holum, Aleksander Sjølie, Halvor Strand, Jessica Sligter, Marius Simonsen, Morten Minothi Kristiansen, Tora Söderstøm, Sigrid Traasdal, Bjørn Strand and Tobias Ørnes Andersen.

Their playful and chameleonic songs layer dusty samples, saturated synths and skittering drums around strong vocal performances, embedding sticky melodic hooks inside rich and constantly shifting sound worlds.

We love them so much that we flew to Norway to hang out with them last year, while attending Oslo’s by:LARM Festival. It’s our dream to bring them to Australia one day.

The opening track from Wauwatosa’s debut album.

Speaking of ‘the rest of the world’ — we like to travel. Our artists have toured Japan and played shows in Vienna; we’ve organised label showcase events in London and Sydney; we’ve attended indie label fairs in New York, songwriting sessions in Los Angeles, tech conferences in Helsinki.

We love Melbourne, we love Australia, but we exist in the big big world.

3. We experiment with creating interactive listening experiences online.

The first album released on Spirit Level was Braille Face’s debut album Kōya.

Technically, it’s his thirteenth album if you include the twelve albums he wrote in the twelve months beforehand.

To accompany the album’s release we enlisted our friends Ian McLarty and Charlie Gleason to build an interactive web-based experience that uses your webcam to transfer your face into a 3D landscape which you can then explore as you listen to the music.

Braille Face’s interactive listening environment for Kōya.

Take Braille Face’s Kōya website for a spin if you like.

We also worked alongside interactive developer Simon Burgin to create this immersive, interactive 360-degree video for Braille Face’s 2018 single “Fix”:

Simon Burgin’s 360 video for Braille Face’s “Fix”. (2018)

Our label founder Tim Shiel has a background in tech as a go-to musical collaborator of Melbourne’s world-class independent game development community.

He contributed music to the 2013 mobile game Duet which was awarded Game of the Year by The New Yorker, Apple, Kotaku and more, and has since been performed at PAX Australia and with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

He also worked on the 2018 game The Gardens Between which recently won both Mac Game of the Year and a prestigious Apple Design Award.

This soundtrack can be experienced inside the game, on vinyl or on digital platforms - the soundtrack was also released on YouTube in the form of ‘ambient slow trailers’ designed for contemplation and focus:

We’ve also been developing our first Spirit Level-made app. We actually can’t say too much about this yet — but if you were lucky enough to attend Melbourne Knowledge Week recently, you might have caught a little preview. We hope to share more soon.

4. We collaborated with nura — and infiltrated a shopping centre — for Record Store Day 2019.

nura is a Melbourne-based headphone company which is using groundbreaking technology to change the way we listen.

We partnered with them earlier this year to create a 12" double-A side single featuring music from our label artists Braille Face, Happy Axe and Tim Shiel — optimised for listening on nura’s ground-breaking nuraphone product.

Listen to the music and/or purchase the vinyl here:

To coincide with the release on Record Store Day, we set up a stage in one of the busiest public spaces in Melbourne’s city centre (the atrium in Melbourne Central shopping centre) and invited a bunch of our friends to perform.

Clockwise from top left: Danny Barwick, Enola Gay, Braille Face, Happy Axe.

5. We are into pianos.

Pianos are cool.

Cover art for Kindred Spirits Volume 1: Piano Day (2017).

In 2017, we released our first label compilation to celebrate the 88th day of the year, otherwise known as Piano Day.

We invited a bunch of our friends to contribute piano pieces, including Luke Howard, Sophie Hutchings, Evelyn Ida Morris, Leah Kardos and our own Donald Hugh, Braille Face and Tim Shiel.

In 2019, we celebrated Piano Day again with a series of beautiful and intimate piano duets filmed at Melbourne’s Yamaha Piano Centre, this time with our friends Albrecht La’Brooy, Grace Ferguson, Sarah Mary Chadwick, Eliott, and Braille Face.

6. We put on the quietest label showcase at BIGSOUND probably ever.

BIGSOUND is Australia’s premiere music conference and showcasing festival, and takes place in Brisbane each September.

Alongside the official showcase programming, labels often organise their own unofficial parties and events. They can get pretty raucous. But not ours.

In 2017, we ran an event that we called ‘smallSOUND at BIGSOUND,’ where we asked a handful of our friends to play in a gorgeous gallery space at Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art, where incidentally a sound sculpture was installed at the time. We asked our friends to play with nothing more than a keyboard and voice — including our secret surprise guest Wafia.

Wafia at smallSOUND at BIGSOUND 2017.

We’ve had a few of our Spirit Level family both old and new invited to showcase at BIGSOUND over the years — including Telling, Feels, Anatole, Donald Hugh, and back-to-back showcases from Braille Face across two years. This year, our dreamy duo Hemm are heading up in September.

Speaking of showcase festivals, just next week we are putting on a Spirit Level showcase at Melbourne’s CHANGES festival, with a few of our fam and a few of our friends too:

Spirit Level (and friends) showcase at CHANGES Festival in Melbourne. (2019)

7. Our artists make cool videos. Like, really cool videos.

Here are just a few of our faves from over the last three years.

Hemm — Skin (2018). Directed by Rex Kane-Hart.
Donald Hugh — Hymn (2017). Video by Benjamin Portas.
Happy Axe — Seven Sounds (2018). Directed by Jeff Andersen Jnr.

8. We had a podcast (and will have again?)

We believe strongly in transparency and sharing knowledge and insights. The music community is a lovely community of people, but it is also confusing, challenging and filled with illusions, delusions and misunderstandings.

Our short-lived podcast was an attempt to open up and share some of the challenges by documenting some of the things we were dealing with — from the mundane to the more complicated — and give some perspective for other artists, labels or just fans of music.

We asked more questions than gave answers, documenting some of our first forays into (for example) event management and media servicing but also dipping into self-help territory with ruminations on maintaining motivation, the toxicity of ideas of “success,” and how best to support and facilitate the creative process.

The old episodes are offline at the moment — but if you’re curious what kind of topics were covered, you can find out here.

A lot of people have asked us to bring the podcast back … which brings us to this.

9. We are on Patreon.

Arguably, we’ve kind of buried the lede here.

But yes, if you’ve read this far and you are super excited about everything we are doing at Spirit Level — and you happen to be in a position where you can help us financially — we’d love you to take a look at our recently launched Patreon.

Like most things we do, our Patreon is an experiment, and we’re not sure where it might lead.

But we have a strong desire to build a real community around our artists and our projects, and we want to experiment with new ideas that might help us achieve that. We also want to provide a pathway for anyone out there who finds themselves in a financial position to be able to pitch in and help us grow.

To kick the Patreon off, we’ve set ourselves a goal of reaching $250/month. If and when we reach that goal, we’ll relaunch the Spirit Level podcast.

So if you’re curious about being part of that — for as little as $1 a month, every bit helps — please head over to our Patreon page and have a bit of a read.

Spirit Level

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An artist-run music label based in Melbourne, nurturing creative voices from all around the world.

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