Don’t Stop: 20 Years Of Rockfeedback

15 Sep 2020

Toby L reflects on 20 years of Rockfeedback

Don’t stop. You really, truly don’t know where things might lead you.

7,300 days ago, a crackling modem dialled up to the gods of cyberspace and dropped several dozen articles about records, future icons and shows. Back then, the word “blog” didn’t yet exist, whilst a phone call to a record label requesting an advance copy of an album or a guestlist spot for a review would frequently result in either laughter down the end of a phone or even more likely, utter silence.

Yes, it’s fair to say that the notion of launching and running a music website was deemed a folly, a fad, something eminently transitory when compared to the power, potency and legacy of The Print Music Press.

And yet, undeterred and uninvited, Rockfeedback.com landed online to zero fanfare on Friday 15th September 2000.

It followed a year of articles being banked for the site, largely written by myself, aged 14, clueless and hyper-passionate to spew keen love-bombs on the best new bands, alongside a small contributing throng I had met digitally via online newsletters and mailing lists.

The mission was suitably adolescent, naive and simplistic: “a new view on music”, in effect a safe place for artists and fans to be represented without fear of a linguistic mauling of their latest work. Critics I met at the time would argue that you needed the light and shade for music journalism to be valid. Probably so. My perspective was - if we didn’t like something, we simply wouldn’t cover it, and we certainly wouldn’t be flippant or disrespectful. After all, there seemed to be plenty of amazing art and people out there to celebrate instead.

As a project, in those very early days, it was tough-going, but increasingly rewarding, and ultimately the antidote/escape to a miserable school-life. For a few of us, Rockfeedback was an outlet and alter-ego in which to indulge in our pre-adult obsessions, without anyone telling us that we couldn’t. That first year, interviews were with turn of the century UK rock acts such as Idlewild and King Adora, but it wasn’t long until we bumped into the zeitgeist. Through an early interview with Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade Records, a kinship was formed. At the time, his label was undergoing something of a rebirth following a quiet late 90s spell. When we first got a note about a band they had just signed from New York called The Strokes, that’s when everything changed for them, us, and pretty much everyone else, too.

Right time, right place, and all that. Suddenly the humdrum suburbanite hell of Rockfeedback’s hometown of High Wycombe had something going for it - namely a very accessible road network outta there that meant we could get to Oxford within 40 minutes, where the Zodiac venue lived. It was here that we sat down with The Strokes, and so many other bands in the months ahead, and forged a friendship that would span the next couple of years as their star rose at breakneck speed, their disregard for slick production and bland contemporary reference points an absolute sledge-hammer to the pop idiom.

And there we were: noise-drunk teenagers caught up in the hysteria, unaware that this dizzying affair would soon lead to us launching a London club-night, The Basement Club, with The Strokes’ own producer Gordon Raphael, which would run for six years and eventually spawn Rockfeedback Concerts, a fully fledged events company that stages hundreds of shows a year (well, in a non-Covid stratosphere) across the country. Let alone ‘Rockfeedback Presents’ - a multi-series interview and live music show format that (somehow) lived on MTV and Channel 4 for the best part of a decade.

Against all anticipation, the website soon garnered momentum, going on to secure and present interviews with Gorillaz, The Killers and the first ever Libertines conversation. We weren’t granted official access from the PR teams - so we hustled and found other ways in. Booking agents wouldn’t let us book their talent - so we discovered and befriended the artists directly. The club-night soon staged queue-round-the-block monthly shows from The Libs, Regina Spektor, The Zutons, Graham Coxon (in his first ever post-Blur show), Maccabees, Johnny Flynn, The Pipettes, Jamie T, Metronomy, Josh T Pearson, Micachu, Ed Harcourt, The Duke Spirit, The Thrills, The Futureheads, Noisettes, Mystery Jets, The Kooks, Plan B, The Joy Formidable, Slow Club, plus guest DJs such as Boy George and Zane Lowe, and dozens more doing it for the sheer love. Quite simply, they were some of the best nights I’ve ever had, and so many magical unions, discoveries and ideas were conceived there.

And little did we know that our tiny club in a red brick basement in Highbury would also introduce us to Bloc Party for some of their first ever sets. In their second outing for us, Kele Okereke would also bring together my friend Tim Dellow and I, where within weeks of meeting, we feverishly set up an independent label called Transgressive Records - itself a music company that has rolled on for sixteen years, working with artists such as At The Drive-In, Foals, Africa Express, Loyle Carner, Two Door Cinema Club, Flume, SOPHIE and Arlo Parks across label, publishing and management.

Our TV programme, meanwhile, shot all over the world, featured modern rock royalty such as Steve Albini and Dave Grohl, speaking candidly and unfiltered on camera, with further appearances from Love with Arthur Lee, Public Enemy, MIA, Sonic Youth, Lightning Bolt, Public Image Ltd, Tortoise, Muse, Gary Numan, Jarvis Cocker, Pixies, Toumani Diabate, Jack White, Silver Apples, The Flaming Lips, Iggy Pop, and again, so many more. We still love telling stories on camera, so recently produced our first feature documentary, with the aforementioned Foals, entitled ‘Rip Up The Road’, which was released via Amazon Prime in over 200 countries. The Rockfeedback film archive is something we’re keen to bring back online at some stage.

Festivals soon followed - By The Sea in Margate (presented with Moshi Moshi), and East London’s multi-venue Visions (presented with Bird on the Wire and formerly Sexbeat), staging a beautiful array of artists ranging from Hot Chip to Andrew WK, Idles to Super Furry Animals, Wolf Alice, Bat For Lashes, Wild Beasts, !!!, Camera Obscura, and so many more.

 

And now here we are. In two decades, music has of course evolved, shape-shifted and broadened immeasurably, scenes have crashed and burned, social media has concurrently united and divided us, and the planet has entered an extended spell of transition and chilling uncertainty. Throughout it all, the endless peaks and troughs, music has soundtracked it all.

Rockfeedback is less a written word outlet these days, but its editorially spirited ethos, offshoots and community of spirited collaborators and friends live on, alongside our archive documenting so many of these precious encounters and moments. To us, anniversaries mark one of those brief moments where one can reflect and dwell - before charging onwards to the next milestone. These years have been so laced with adventure and a healthy spirit of abandon and cluenessness that, as trite as it sounds, so many dreams have come true, for which we are eternally grateful.

So, our simple learning: don’t stop. You really don’t know what’s coming next. We certainly didn’t, and, gloriously, we still don’t.

===

Thank you to everyone that’s been a part of this. None of it would have been possible without the love and support of all of the contributors over the years, our families, and the incredible teams still pouring so much love and passion into Rockfeedback, its new mothership FORM events company (alongside One Inch Badge), Transgressive, and beyond.

Shout-outs to all participants, past and present, including but certainly not limited to:

Dan Monsell
Tom Hannan
Matt Tomiak
Kevin Molloy
Nick Abbott
Hugh Sundae
Rebecca Denton
Cathy MacDonald
Kenny Cavey
Woody
Charlie Hearn
Elliot Callard
Elodie Godard
Lisa Wright
Joe Grant
Tim Dellow
Lilas Bourboulon
Mike Harounoff
Gordon Raphael
Tracy Murray
Big Roy + Karen L
Tom Langley
Will McGillivray
Hannah Abbo

And an extra special thank you to those early believers / supporters that said “yes” when so many others didn’t:

Mark Morriss
Caffy St Luce
Andy Ross
Geoff Travis
Rick Lennox
Claire Sturgess
Steve Lamacq
Andrew Phillips
Zane Lowe
John Kennedy
Christian O Connell
Alan McGee

Stay safe, and stay positive.

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