“I like the scale at which we work, and the lack of pressure to be commercial” Interview — Justin Watson of Front & Follow Records


Having just released a new album of somnolent electro-folk by Kemper Norton titled ‘Toll’, Justin Watson of the Front and Follow imprint speaks to us about the label’s origins, its premise, and future plans…

Tell us about was it was that made tou want to set up a record label, and the background story to Front and Follow’s beginnings.

(I’ve been trying to think of a dramatic origins story for F&F, but no luck!)

I’ve no idea why I started the label, or why anyone does – apart from a passion for music and desire to collaborate with others. F&F has always been about working together, with musicians, artists, designers, printers. It’s been a bridge to people far more talented than me, to which I offer moderate project management skills.

The ‘patch series’ kicked thing off – I ended up talking to an amazing group of artists and designers called Pika Pika. They did wonderful artwork for a promoter in London called Arctic Circle, at a time when I did the visuals for their live shows.

Around the same time I got sent, quite randomly, some demos by a guy called Roman Bezdyk, who turned out to be Sone Institute. It was incredible, and I felt I had to do something with it.

The idea of doing a series of special releases grew from there, mainly from Pika Pika’s great ideas. We agreed a series of 4 releases, all with a sewn patch on the front – that produced the first year’s releases from Elite Barbarian, Yonokiero, Andy Nice and Sone Institute. It was lots of fun, so I carried on…

Where does the label name originate?

We stole it from The Wire (TV show not mag), where McNulty teaches his kids to do the ‘front and follow’ surveillance technique whilst following a suspect.

It seemed appropriately random to fit the bill, and was the first idea we had that hasn’t been used by someone else. Naming things is hard.

When you set up the label almost 10 years ago, did you expect it to still be active by this stage, and are you satisfied with the success you’ve had during this time?

I’m constantly surprised we’ve lasted this long, and things haven’t exploded in chaos and acrimony. It’s (nearly) always been great fun and we’ve worked with people who share our passion, and (for the most part) share our expectations of what success is – that’s always tricky.

I’m really pleased with what we’ve done, and the success we’ve had in showcasing some amazing artists who will no doubt go onto great things beyond our little project. It can be difficult working with mainly new artists and persuading people to take an interest when there is so much out there, but we’ve been lucky that more often than not people have enjoyed the music, and we’ve had some amazing support from key people who have championed F&F.

Do you ever hope to sign that one act, release that one LP, that garners a whole new level of attention and sales for the label, or does the prospect frighten you, awaken you in the middle of the night in a cold sweat?

Haha, yeah that’s pretty scary. I like the scale at which we work, and the lack of pressure to be commercial – I think there’s a level of success which means you end up trying to chase the next success and get trapped in a cycle which dictates what you do (or at least that’s my fear).

When I start ringing Mark (from The Doomed Bird of Providence) in the middle of the night and shouting “where are my f*cking hits?!” then I’ll know we’ve gone too far.

On matters such (kinda), what would you say has been the record that has– if only mildly or even fleetingly– threatened to take Front and Follow on to Leaf or Warp levels of exposure, a possible Mercury nomination etc?

Laura Cannell’s album last year was probably the closest to that – she is incredible, it’s been wonderful working with her. We’re looking to do something again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she calls me and says a proper label has signed her. She deserves every success as well, massively talented and so hard-working (plus she’s lovely).

Do you have a favourite child? What I mean is, do you have a personal favourite Front and Follow release?

Of course not! No favourite child – that’s not allowed right?

In terms of releases, the collaboration projects feel special personally, as they bring so many people together and end up in places we never expect – so the Long Division with Remainders series, the Outer Church comp and now The Blow project are all great fun.

I will say I’ll always release what Doomed Bird do if I can (and if they’ll let me) – they are so different from everything else, full of invention, and the least commercial thing we do – the perfect combination.

I’d also love to work with Sone Institute again – there are rumours he’s up to something…

And finally, tell us about what’s coming up regarding label product and activity.

A series of Shape Worship remixes are out in October (*possibly out now, depending on when this goes up), we’ve got the next release in the Blow series in November, with Time Attendant and Howlround, then a new Doomed Bird album next year.

It’s also our 10th anniversary (amazingly), so we’re planning something special to mark the occasion, working with a few old friends.


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