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
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
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
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
It was all cash-in-hand so no VAT was paid -
but the low quality pressing meant about one-third of the pressing was
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
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,
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
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
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,
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
Apart from Hawkwind - who remain my all-time
favourite band - Throbbing Gristle were probably the biggest influence on
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
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
All I do is outline, roughly, what the final
package is to be (pic disc, gatefold, inner bag etc) and set some form of
I know what I like but I lack the talent to
make my own artwork. I wish it were otherwise.
I consistently use
who designed my logo and did the artwork for several of my releases.
He is very talented and has an incredible
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
conducted by Michael Tau
published May 2009
Equation Records website
EQUATION RECORDS ONLINE