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.

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FIVE FAVOURITES: Sophie Hutchings

A talented composer who produces mindful piano-led music, Australian artist Sophie Hutchings uses sound to ease the anxieties of everyday life. She recorded her recent EP, Love & Keep, between the hours of 12-4am, embracing her insomnia and offering her listeners a moment of stillness and serenity amidst her restlessness.

We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Sophie to ask her about her “Five Favourites” – five songs that have inspired her song-writing techniques. Check out her choices below and scroll down to watch her video for recent single ‘Light Over The Moor’ at the end of this post.

Sophie: “I find it almost impossible to choose 5 favourite pieces, so I’ve chosen 5 of my favourites that had a significant impact on my formative years. Even though they are all quite different from each other, there’s a common ground of repetition in these pieces which I’ve always found quite hypnotising in music.”

1. Brain Eno – ‘Discreet Music’
I love Erik Satie’s invention and coining of the term “Furniture music” – sounds that were designed to be heard, but not listened to. Brian Eno fans will know this is the whole aim with ‘Discreet music’. It’s intended to blend into the ambient atmosphere of the room rather than be directly focused upon. This, to me, has got to be one of the most soothing ambient pieces I’ve ever heard and has always been one of my favourite go to late night listens. I grew up listening to a lot of Brian Eno but this one really stirred me. It always felt like a musical bedtime story. There’s a dreamy placid beauty about it that allows you to float and drift outside yourself without you even realising.

With a very simple organic layering of melody the piece never really changes which is what I love about it, yet it constantly and subtly evolves with the accession of various decay as the piece gradually and quietly repeats its motifs with all the sounds remaining continually tranquil and peaceful. It’s one of those pieces that feels like it could go on for infinity. It’s music that doesn’t demand your attention though still evokes a delicate sense of emotion.

2. Arvo Part – ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’
The first time I heard ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ it put a massive lump in my throat. I’ve listened to it countless times and there’s not a moment when it still doesn’t raise the same stirring response. Again, this is one of those hypnotising pieces due to the unchanging nature of recurring motifs in the piece and beautifully long sustained notes. I love how the minimalism relies on atmosphere and not on building towards a climax like a lot of classical music does.

Arvo Part is a true example of introspective music. It’s not how many notes are played but how they are played. It’s also about the space in between. Silence in music speaks and I find there’s almost as much strength in the pauses and space in music as there are notes. ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ hangs on the edges, yet there’s a restlessness over the quietness that balances the fragility in this piece of music and I guess being a sentimental person you don’t tire of this kind of beauty in music.

3. Susumu Yokota – ‘Traveller In The Wonderland’
Discovering Susumu Yokota was like discovering Alice In Wonderland as a child all over again (which I’m slightly obsessed with). I find him the true master of ambient electronica. Sadly, I only discovered him just before he died and I would love to collect all his albums on vinyl, which are few and far between. There’s a lush fanciful playfulness to this piece. It’s almost like nature talking to each other.

Yokota taps into the senses through melodic remnants taken from historical old classical pieces on his album Symbol, and in this instance on ‘Traveller In The Wonderland’ there’s some beautiful Camille Saint-Saens and a little Luigi Boccherini which gives it this mystic whimsical edge – still he reveals it in this almost anonymous way – placing a sense of nostalgia of some long lost place weaved throughout his dreamy melodic textural synths, wordless dreamy vocals and drum loops with romantic musical pathways of middle eastern tonality resonating around the circumference. To me, it’s like being under the trance of a magical child-like spell which takes me back to my Walt Disney imaginative heydays.

4. DJ Shadow – ‘Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt’
DJ Shadow was a revelation in my early adult years. He enthusiastically rocked my world. There’s this clever combination of moody and intense rhythmic melodious energy that just brings everything so alive in this piece. The haunting atmosphere that’s accentuated by the repetitive hypnotic group vocals, rich off beat bass and the urgency and drive of the eerie piano riff. I’ve always affiliated with a certain amount of intensity in music and hearing this song for the first time was like hearing an unexplored wilderness of dynamic addictive melody. I love how he brings to life all these old vinyl treasures and re-creates layers and collages of sound. It’s enticing, energetic, ethereal and ambient all in one – where happy and melancholy are competently one – it’s an intoxicating and timeless listen.

5. My Bloody Valentine – ‘Soon’
I grew up being surrounded by a lot of noisy indie rock and shoegaze music and as much as I don’t listen to this kind of music as much as used to, this piece stuck with me and was one of my favourites that bounced off the family household walls at high decibels thanks to my older brothers. I would always have a good dance to it!

If there’s ever a blurred latitude of noisy dreamy sound with a rhythmic propulsion, I say this is an iconic one. It’s one of those songs that feels like you’re lost in a sonic labyrinth which one will either grapple with or be enlightened by. I just listened to it again for the first time in years and it took me back to days of going for walks and blaring it in my headphones. When embraced, it’s like entering a woozy euphoric daze that you can get totally lost in and it taught me that you don’t necessarily have to always interpret music as long as you feel it – then to me, you understand it. Not everything in music needs an explanation to be felt.

Thanks so much to Sophie for sharing her favourites with us!

Watch her video for ‘Light Over The Moor’ below.

Photo Credit: Luke Dubbelde