With its 10-year anniversary approaching in October, London-based Moshi Moshi Records can boast a decade's worth of eclectic releases that run the gamut from electro to folk, all tied together with sharp pop sensibilities. Stephen Bass and Michael McClatchey were already veterans of the music industry when they started the label in 1998. Bass explains that they “wanted to do something on our own and put out music we liked on our own terms. We were working at record labels releasing music we didn't have a choice over, and we wanted to have some control.”
The label's varied roster wasn't exactly planned; it was a reflection of the founders' broad musical tastes. According to Bass, it wasn't something “we deliberately set out to do, although I didn't set out to start a techno label or a post-rock label, so in some ways, it's deliberate. We deliberately didn't set out for our label to be one thing.” The label's name echoes this cosmopolitan impulse. The words “Moshi Moshi” are a Japanese telephone greeting meaning “hello.” “It's just a sound almost, unless you're Japanese,” says Bass. “We weren't saying what we were.”
With their freedom from their former major label positions (Stephen Bass still works part-time as an A&R rep for a major), Moshi Moshi quickly distinguished themselves as keen talent-spotters. The label can claim early UK single releases and full-lengths from artists who now enjoy international acclaim, including Bloc Party, Hot Chip, Architecture in Helsinki, and others. However, the independently funded label doesn't wield the budget for promotion or advances necessary to hang onto these artists as they make the transition from clubs to stadiums. Moshi Moshi may appear to be a launching pad for the big leagues as it has succeeded in generating early exposure for these artists, but has thus far been unable to harness this momentum and turn it into fiscal gains. Bass admits that the situation can be frustrating, although the negatives are “balanced by seeing the bands become successful and getting our name around.”
Naysayers often describe the label as trendy, über cool, or twee -- and certainly Moshi Moshi does count subscribers of cardigans, primary colored ensembles, and the David Bowie reverse mullet amongst its adherents -- but the quality of the label's releases are too consistent and the music's sentiments too fun-loving for the label to be brushed aside by these accusations. With some exceptions, an earnest yet light-hearted aesthetic has emerged around the label, as its often quirky artists revel in the possibilities of pop music. “I like to think that it's sort of all pop music,” says Bass. “I don't want Moshi Moshi to be an exercise in being cool or I don't want it to be... The Leaf Label is a label I love and I think it's brilliant, but I don't want it to be serious in that way.”
The label's track record for spotting infectiously catchy pop nuggets on both sides of the Atlantic is impressive. Most of their finds come through the same avenues as any new-music addict, although music blogs were a particular revelation for Bass: “When I saw my first MP3 blog, my mind was blown.” Bass attributes Moshi Moshi's signing of Brooklyn, New York-based Au Revoir Simone and Stockholm, Sweden's Lo-Fi Fnk to Fluxblog. Additionally, the label's current roster is an important resource for spotting new talent. “Many of the bands we like share our taste. Cameron [Bird] from Architecture in Helsisnki and I can sit and play music to each other for hours. Hot Chip as well; Joe [Goddard] and Alexis [Taylor] have incredible taste in music.”
In its first decade, Moshi Moshi has released an array of singles, EPs, and LPs, and in the future, the eclecticism shouldn't be subsiding. “I'd like to do more UK grime sort of stuff and some techno, I like the fact that we're not restricted by anything,” says Bass. As it begins its second decade, Moshi Moshi may or may not expand beyond its boutique status and increase its volume of pressings beyond a few thousand or hold onto their big catches. However, the labels seems assured that it will continue sniffing out top-quality, intelligent pop music.