GIHE Behind The Scenes: Mercury KX

Founded in 2017 to support artists in the alternative classical and electronic music spheres, Mercury KX celebrated its 4th anniversary earlier this year. Sitting under the Universal Music Group/Decca Records banner, label Co-managers Cerys Weetch and Hildur Maral have helped to build an eclectic, boundary-pushing roster that includes international talents such as Ólafur Arnalds, Anoushka Shankar, Sophie Hutchings, Isobel Waller-Bridge, Luke Howard, Keaton Henson, Josin and more.

Our ‘Behind The Scenes’ series focuses on the women who work off-stage to help bring our favourite music to our ears. We caught up with Cerys and Hildur to talk about how they first met, the foundations for Mercury KX and their experiences of working within the music industry so far.

Hello Cerys & Hildur! Talk us through where the inspiration for Mercury KX came from and what it’s like working under the Decca Records banner.

Cerys: I met Hildur two years ago when she interviewed for the marketing role at Mercury KX. Immediately after the interview we went to Decca Records’ 90th birthday party and had an amazing time getting to know each other, learning about the rich history of the label and the passion we both have for all types of music.

Prior to the launch of the label, I was an A&R manager for global classics & jazz division. We needed to launch the label and it came about very organically, as we saw first hand that there wasn’t a space within a major that reflected and resonated with the artists we wanted to sign. We were already representing Ólafur Arnalds and already part of helping the modern classical culture grow as well as having a deep knowledge and affinity with the fanbase. The label sits within Decca, the perfect home, and it was important to us that we created a label that represented an area of music that is not pop or core classical – that this music was more closely aligned with alternative and electronic music and had the freedom to go in those directions. So we took a long time ensuring the branding and messaging was just right for the artists and the fans.

Hildur: I initially heard about an open position at Mercury KX from Ólafur, actually. We’ve been friends for years and always wanted to collaborate. I was finishing my Master’s degree at Berklee in Spain at the time so hadn’t really planned on relocating to London, but when I looked into the opportunity I quickly realized it was a perfect fit and just had to apply. Not only because I really love the music and the roster, but part of my background has been running avant-garde indie labels such as Bedroom Community and figureight records, so it felt like the perfect next step for me.

Cerys: I studied music (Jazz, Pop & Classical) at University of Southampton and as soon as I graduated, I got through several rounds of interviews and got an A&R Internship at Decca Classics (2013). I got the call whilst I was at Bestival and the news I had got the job made for an amazing night of celebrating. I’ve been in this area of the company ever since, moving between all angles of how a label works from marketing, production to organising large scale orchestral recordings and then eventually into A&R and setting up Mercury KX.

Who was the first act you signed to your label?

Cerys: We started with Ólafur Arnalds! We then signed Luke Howard, whose beautiful music I’ve been a fan of for a while as well as a few other colleagues who urged us to sign him.

Mercury KX releases music from an eclectic range of artists. How do you decide who to support and work with? You must receive lots of submissions and requests from artists.

Cerys: We do get a lot of submissions and I wish I had the time to go through all of them. With instrumental/alternative music, it’s incredibly important for those artists to go beyond just “great music” and have a unique sound world that belongs to them. They must have a message that resonates, a world class creative vision and control over the world they create around them. Many of our artists are multi-disciplinary either in music or other artforms – graphic designers, photographers, film makers.

Hildur: It’s an incredible feeling seeing the people you work with get the recognition they deserve. We obviously believe in our artists and their art, so there’s nothing better than seeing it resonate with others too. My favourite feeling is seeing this manifest in live settings, surrounded by likeminded people experiencing the beauty of music together. Can’t be topped.

What are the challenges and rewards that come with running a boutique label like Mercury KX?

Cerys: We work in quite a niche genre, so it will always be a challenge to get attention on a more pop scale but we LOVE that challenge. When you see and artist really gaining commercial and critical success. The rewards are being reminded hat there is a place for music left of centre and there is an audience eating it up! Olafur Arnalds’ album some kind of peace, got 5 star reviews, album of the year nods and had chart placements in the UK, USA and Australia. You dream of all that and work for it, but when it actually happens it shows we’re doing something right!

Do you have any advice for people who are considering starting up their own label?

Cerys: It’s a tough landscape and we’re lucky to be within UMG & Decca. Before starting, I’d say set out 3 clear goals and 3 core values to understand WHY you are launching a label, and what about the model makes it a compelling proposition for amazing artists.

Hildur: I have so much respect for people who take on the project of launching a label. It’s incredibly hard work to run an indie label as it touches on so many things within the industry, and you’ll need to be extremely passionate about every act on the roster. Build a good team around you – get mentors to advise you and interns to help you create something great. Start small and reasonable and grow steadily over time. Make sure your book-keeping is on point, flex those organizational skills!

Covid-19 has had an enormous impact on the music industry. How have you been coping and working through it?

Hildur: It’s definitely not been easy working from home for over the last year, but I do feel fortunate that we’ve been able to keep going and have not been impacted as heavily as some of ours friends in the music industry. I mostly miss the personal connection with my colleagues and our artists, but our artists have truly been amazing, producing some of their most incredible work to date under these extraordinary circumstances and I feel very lucky to be able to play a part in sharing that music with the world. For me, what’s helped is regular walks and making time for stretching and mindfulness, in whatever form.

Finally, are there any artists on your roster, or on other labels that you recommend we check out? Or other labels who you admire?

Cerys: I’ve recently been introduced to Vinylmeplease who are an online label-come-retailer that focus on high end physical product. They always have some amazing gems and it’s great for discovering music you wouldn’t usually come across.

Hildur: For a quick sonic journey into our roster check out the Birthday Playlist we created this year. My newest label discovery is Luaka Bop, founded by David Byrne in 1988. What brought them to my attention was the masterpiece that is 2021’s album Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra, which quickly got added to my all time favourite albums.

Thank you to Cerys & Hildur for sharing their experiences with us.

Follow Mercury KX on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook for more updates.

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