steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

20 questions
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with equation records' bill bailey

Avid record lover Bill Bailey has been sporadically releasing unusual music through his Equation imprint for years now, quietly assembling an impressive discography that reads like a who's who of interesting and unconventional sound. Among Equation's recent releases are a picture disc from Troum, a gatefold-adorned double-LP from Nadja, and a beautiful limited edition Apse LP.


1. How did you become so enamoured with vinyl?

Vinyl is tactile and it "just feels right".

CDs are, in my mind, purely functional (a necessity though).

The first ever record I bought with my own money "Warrior On The Edge Of Time" by Hawkwind - with the great multiple gatefold sleeve that opens up into a full-sized shield (I think you were meant to stand in front of the speakers listening to the album brandishing your shield like the mighty warrior in the narrative of this concept LP).

How can one not be enamoured with that!

That left an everlasting impression on me.

2. What made you choose the name Equation?

I'm a Research Engineer by trade (now promoted/demoted to Research Scientist against my wishes) and I work with equations daily, mainly relating to fluid mechanics.

For my first Equation release (when I was in the UK), I thought it would be funny NOT to have a label name at all - but rather just an equation. I was hoping to confuse and confound distributors (who would have problems listing it) and the radio (who wouldn't know how to pronounce it).

So I chose the Green's Function (which has a nice aesthetic form), modified it a little (gave it a few more elements) then I typeset it in LaTeX* and put it on the label as the label name.

*LaTeX (a version of TeX) is a fantastic free software for writing documents (technical or otherwise).

3. Equation's first two releases were 12"s by British acid-techno duo Jump-II-Funk. How did you become connected with the duo, and how rapidly did the releases sell?

This was around 1994 and I had just come back to the UK from a 4-year stay in Norway (not very happy memories sadly). Jump-II-Funk were two mates from my home town in the UK (Southend-on-Sea in Essex, about 25 miles East of London). The dance music scene was huge at the time and Jump-II-Funk were putting out a host of records under different names. I simply asked them if they would like to do a release with me - for no other reason than I thought it would be fun. They agreed and we made the EP.

We used small mathematical symbols for the track titles - just to make life difficult for everyone involved.

I am a huge cat lover and the cat on the label was our family Chocolate Burmese called Mindy who got stuck up the tree.

Artwork and information on techno records was always poor so I decided to go against the grain and number each record and to list all the releases so far by the band.

The record was pressed at a very dodgy East End London pressing plant (I am sure owned by East End mobsters).

The plant kept going bankrupt and opening up a week or so later under a different name (but at the same premises using the same equipment). They did this so as to avoid paying creditors. All very dodgy.

It was all cash-in-hand so no VAT was paid - but the low quality pressing meant about one-third of the pressing was badly warped.

This first record sold out very fast indeed because BBC Radio 1 (nationwide in UK) played it on the Steve Wright breakfast show (of all places) and it was referred to it as "the sound of the street, the sound of what's happening out there now," or something equally tiresome.

We managed to get that airplay because Richard Easter was a member of Steve Wright's "posse" and he was a local lad who drank down our pub - so we cornered him, thrust a copy in his hand and bought him a couple of beers (our version of Payola).

The next day he played the record - but it sounded so very much better than ours. We barely recognized it, in fact.

It turned out the BBC sound engineer had decided to remix it quite freely - resulting in a much, much better record than our effort. BBC technicians are renowned for being top-of-their-game in terms of their expertise and this was proven by the magic he did on our record. Sadly we never taped it, so it remains a memory.

We would have re-issued it if we had the foresight to tape this new version.

I would like to add here that my actual first ever vinyl release was way back in 1985 (I had just turned 20) - it was then called "ARC Records".

It was the first record by Mark "Snowboy" Cotgrove - who has now gone onto wider fame and acclaim.

It was a 12" EP and Britain's first (and last) Go-Go record! (It sounds quaintly dated now).

We did that just for the pure hell of it - I got a guided tour of the Orlake pressing plant which was a great experience.

I then dropped the label as college was too time consuming and I also had no money - then started it again in 1994 when I had a little extra cash.

4. Since those two releases, Equation seems to have branched out into more experimental and "free" music (Bunnybrains, Troum, Apse). What accounts for this metamorphosis?

My true passion was always industrial, drone, dark/death ambient, punk as well as space rock and krautrock.

I still have a soft spot for techno, mainly acid and dark house, but I felt 2 records was enough, especially after the trouble we had with the second release which was a pure disaster. See my web site for the full story.

Apart from Hawkwind - who remain my all-time favourite band - Throbbing Gristle were probably the biggest influence on my life.

Their 1st proper LP (2nd Annual Report) is a true inspirational classic and simply an important record.

This set me off in the odd tangent I eventually took: Nurse With Wound, Whitehouse, Current 93, Organum, New Blockaders, and SPK were the bedrock of my collection in the 1980's.

I absolutely adore Troum - who should be much bigger than they are - and as I was a regular customer of Stefan Knappe (Drone Records mainstay and Troum member), I asked if I could put out a proper record of his. He agreed - and that was the Un/Mahts pic disc.

This was the first "proper" non-techno release on the label, even though it has a higher catalogue number than other releases.

5. Packaging and presentation play a vital role in your releases. How do you decide on the packaging? Are you solely responsible for the releases' design?

The artists do all the artwork themselves or they nominate someone to do it for them.

I try not to impose myself at all in this regard.

All I do is outline, roughly, what the final package is to be (pic disc, gatefold, inner bag etc) and set some form of budget.

I know what I like but I lack the talent to make my own artwork. I wish it were otherwise.

I consistently use Alan McClelland who designed my logo and did the artwork for several of my releases.

He is very talented and has an incredible aesthetic.

6. Let's talk a bit about your fourth release, the immense Damarge box set (4x10", 2x12", 1 square 8", and a bunch of other goodies - limited to 20 copies). How did you fund this project, how much did they sell for, and who bought them? Did you get them lathe cut?

That was a pure vanity project. Nothing more.

Damarge was my old band from early 1980's in UK - I played keyboards and electronic rhythms. (The full story, as well as complete audio recordings can be found at

I thought it might be fun to just collate these tapes and make a release and did not feel anyone would be interested in it so I made just 23 copies in total (20 regular and 3 promos - one of which went to John Peel RIP).

Each band member (4 of us) got 4 copies each, leaving 4 for sale.

All records were lathe cut by Peter King in New Zealand.

We never found our way into a studio so the quality is mediocre to very poor (depending on the source).

My bedroom 4-track was as close as we got to semi-decent recording.

This was my first "release" since moving to the USA from the UK.

Due to technical issues - plus I was quite very naive - I got screwed by the printers which resulted in the unit cost of each set being about $180. I did sell the 4 copies - for $125 each - so I only lost $55 on each one!

This was a loss making venture to start with, I knew that, but it gave us a chance to locate and collate a lot of loose tapes that were lurking in various drawers.

We also found some "lost" material so it was worthwhile.

BunnyBrains 88's Squirrel Attack EP

7. On the subject of packaging, does a preoccupation with elaborate packaging risk objectifying the music? Do you find there are many collectors who just buy the records without listening to them?

Sadly yes.

I used to seal each record but my people wouldn't break the seal to play them so I won't be doing that anymore.

It's important that the record actually gets played - not sitting inside a sealed sleeve gathering dust.

However - saying that - I do release records I would like to own as a collector myself - BUT I always make a point of playing each and every record I own and return to some records again and again.

The only exception to this would be if I owned an original Charley Patton, Son House or Skip James 78rpm record (on Paramount one any other ultra-rare original Delta Blues 78).

In this case just owning a record like that would be an experience in itself (I'd then just play the CD).

However I don't own any of these so that dilemma remains hypothetical.

(I am guilty of sometimes dreaming of having a complete collection of Patton 78's though - that would easily pay the mortgage).

However your question is a good one: There is a fine balance between "objectifying" music and the actual artistic integrity of the release.

Troum - I feel - deserves beautiful packaging to match their equally beautiful music.

Les Joyaux de la Princesse make the most elaborate and beautiful releases in any genre - these are both objects of beauty and musically outstanding.

But saying that I wonder how I would feel about their work if their releases were, dare I say, more conventional?

I am not sure really.

8. What would be your dream record to put out?

At the risk of being a little indulgent, here is my wish list:

1: A double picture disc set by Throbbing Gristle of the IRC 06 live tape (their live show at Nuffield Theatre, Southampton in 1977). That show almost single-handedly defined dark ambient and I have had this wish for a long while. I did write to them but got nowhere. Maybe I should try again - but this would be lovely release.

2: A TROUM box set (like those great Vinyl-on-Demand sets) - they deserve the box-set treatment in my humble opinion.

3: A 10" pic disc of the complete recordings of Blind Joe Reynolds (he recorded just 8 songs - 2 of which are completely lost). I hope to actually realize this release sometime in the next year or so. This is completely left-field as he recorded in 1929 - but I love his music.

4: Anything by Les Joyaux de la Princesse (that won't happen - but I can dream)

9. Why are Equation releases done in such small quantities? How do you determine how many to press?

If I had more money I'd release more records and not worry about edition size so much.

To be honest edition size is very much dependent on cash flow at the time.

We have plans for a liquid-gel filled sleeve for a 7" soon - but each will cost a fortune to make so I must be strict on how much I can spend on such a project.

Thus the edition will reflect that limitation.

I have a modest day job, a mortgage and no trust fund to fall back on so this little venture of mine is a labour of love - a true "label of love".

10. How did you end up putting out the Apse record?

I knew Malcolm Tent when he owned Trash American Style (in Danbury CT) - the best indie record shop I have ever been to in the United States**.

He insisted I purchase their untitled EP which they left in his shop.

I bought the EP and I didn't look back.

I emailed the band when I relocated from CT to MA and 2 years later we got the "Eras" LP out.

My deals are quite simple - I give the band about 20% of the stock and they can sell these as they like.

I have to break-even on the remaining 80%.

This way the artist gets payment up-front with minimal fuss and paperwork.

** Trash American Style was forced to close in May 2007 after the owner underhandedly pulled the lease from under them. Another magnificent indie shop gone for ever. A sad day for many people. The shop was then taken over by a low-quality print shop.

11. Running a label comes with its fair share of mundane duties (assembling sleeves, corresponding with record pressing plants, putting things in the mail x 100, etc.) Are there any such duties that bring you an inexplicable joy? Are there any that you despise?

I used to enjoy collating and sticking and numbering and gluing (etc). It's more of a chore now but once I see the final product I get a deep sense of satisfaction.

I work full-time so I have to do this in my free time - and this little venture takes-up most of it.

The pressing plant knows me well now so usually the process of manufacture is quite smooth.

The artwork is, however, always a bottleneck.

I hate doing the accounts and chasing money and I have a pile of invoices from years back. I have a somewhat lax attitude in chasing wholesalers - which is not helpful and I am trying to rectify this. I got stung by the failure of 2 distributors recently resulting in me losing a pile of money - but it's half my fault for not being diligent enough. Being British means I am somewhat reserved and I am certainly no good at "the hard sell".

I suspect I could be more aggressive in promotion - but I can only be myself. If I was to get help it would be in the promotions department - this aspect of the business I find more daunting than mundane.

12. Financially, do you end up breaking even on your records? How do you fund your releases?

I aim to break even and I try to sell copies to wholesalers at the lowest price possible (I hope they pass these savings onto the customers).

Sometimes I even sell to wholesalers at a loss: the Troum Sen pic disc set cost $27 each to make but I sold them at $19.95 as distributors tend to be wary at anything that's too expensive.

If I break even now then I am more than satisfied - I would be happy for the artist to take all the profit but the 20% of stock approach means less paperwork (which I am terrible at) and the artist gets "payment" up-front.

It's all funded with my own hard-earned money and my trusty VISA card.

For my sins I also hold an MBA degree but I seem to be doing the exact opposite of what I was taught to do!

My business plan is summarised as follows: "Try to break even".

I do not make a profit.

13. Seeing your releases and how your run Equation, it's pretty clear to me that you yourself are a pretty major record collector. Am I right? What is your collection like, and what are some of your more prized items?

You can view my entire collection (LP's, CD's, 7" and 12") at my main website.

The insurance people wanted to know exactly what I had so I wrote a simple HTML wrapper on the database which means my entire collection is easy to put up for all to see.

Your readers make up their own minds.

I think "obscure" would be an apt word to describe it.

But compared to other people I know my collection is small.

My good friend Mark "Snowboy" Cotgrove has at least 40,000 LP's and a large collection of hyper rare Northern Soul 7" records to die for.

At the risk of sounding boastful I am an owner of the original Throbbing Gristle "24 Hours" cassette tape box set (#50 of 50).

I own 2 of the 3 original SPK 7"s and I am very proud of my little collection of Les Joyaux de la Princesse - CD's and vinyl.

My collection could do with more original punk/DIY 7" records - the trouble is a lot of people feel the same way and prices for these items on eBay are too high for my taste right now.

(I'm probably coming across as a terrible collector-bore ... sorry).

14. How important are reviews and music criticism to Equation's releases?

Of course it is only human nature to want nothing but praise - but that can lead to complacency and delusion.

My main condition in sending records to reviewers is they be honest.

That's all. Consistently up-beat reviews (like we see in some of the more mainstream press) are not really helpful or interesting.

15. How much of your time does Equation take up? How many people are involved? Equation is just me.

I do all the lugging about, boxing, collating, gluing, packing, posting, web-site, etc.

It takes up almost all of my spare time.

My back gave out last week (I had to go to ER). This got me worried as vinyl is heavy.

However the industrial strength pain killers seem to be working and as the new Aidan Baker 2xLP "Gathering Blue" (out end April) is heavy - being able to lift boxes of vinyl is important!

16. How in touch are you with your customers? Are there any who buy every record, or who you have a particularly strong relationship with?

I am delighted and honoured to have a small but loyal set of customers. My mailing list has only about 200 addresses.They are equally spread between Europe and USA. For some reason I have very few customers in Asia and Australia.

17. What record should everyone own a copy of?

If you mean non-Equations then any early-era Hawkwind LP is essential.

Also Pink Floyd's version of "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" live at Pompeii (from the film) is quite simply the most majestic, magical and hypnotic piece of music I have ever heard.

Anything by Kraftwerk.

If you are referring to an Equation release then I'm going to be cheeky and say the Guaranteed Katch LP (E=mc10) as it sold very poorly and I have a bunch of boxes of this in the basement. (I love it - but no one else did, apparently).

Musically Troum's "Sen" is superb, the TNB/DSM collaboration is almost classical in the quality of construction.

In short I love ALL the records I made - that's my reward.

Nadja's "Bodycage" (Side A) is probably the most epic work I will ever have the privilege of putting on vinyl.

18. You've put out occasional CDs, mostly as supplements to vinyl releases. Do you envisage putting out standalone CDs in the future? Or has digital music made CDs irrelevant?

I do not think digital counts as a proper "release" - they are too ethereal and certainly non-tactile.

CD's have their place but my first choice is always vinyl and I will only do a CD if vinyl is simply not feasible.

I hope to maintain a focus on vinyl - even though it takes a lot more time, work and money. If I do release a CD it will be in some form of odd, elaborate and novel packaging - that I am committed to.

I will be doing another CD/DVD set soon by an unknown and defunct mid-1980's band called "Taming The Outback". They are truly a marvel and SHOULD have been huge - but never got anywhere (usual story of band in-fighting, drink and more fighting). They sound very much like Echo And The Bunnymen and I hope everyone will get to hear them soon. The sleeve will be something special.

E=mc07 (by m.i.) was double CDR set so I don't count that as a true release - although it did come with a fridge magnet!

The CD issue of Bass Communion was only decided after the vinyl test pressings of the work were (quite correctly) rejected by Steven Wilson. There was simply too much surface noise. The CD (and the DVD-A mix) was the only feasible way to release that music. In doing so I committed to the most lavish and expensive packaging possible. I am very proud of that but if the vinyl had worked it would have been a double 1-sided LP box set.

19. What is your favourite colour? Justify your answer.

Electric blue. It is a harmonious colour. I'm drawn to neon signs and neon electric blue - which is a weakness. I sometimes get distracted driving at night by such signs.

20. What does the future hold in store for Equation?

If I had more money I'd make more records. I have more plans than finances allow me to realize - sadly.

I should apply for some of that TARP money - but I bet making vinyl would be very low on their priority list - big bonuses for failed bankers is more important, I guess.

Right now I'm going to be making more 7" records ... with my current back problem this is the only vinyl I'll be able to physically lift without spending another night in ER!

There are a bunch of other artists I have asked to work with and plans are in the works - so we'll see.

It's all quite a lot of fun.

The beautiful Troum Ajin picture disk

interview conducted by Michael Tau
April 2009
published May 2009

Image credit: Equation Records website



all content copyright 2009