From Indie To Metal To Rap
Their Fast Times by Peter Crigler
There was a time when Relativity Records was one of the most impressive labels of its period, around the mid Ď80ís to the mid í90ís. Despite having a massive distribution deal, they could be described as the little indie that could. The label had a little bit of everything under one umbrella: hip-hop, cool indie rock, destructive punk, English goth and pop rock, Swedish hair metal and experimental dance pop. This is a tale of music and bands that got shoved under the rug and a record label that had everything going for it, then flushed it all away.
The label was started in the early Ď80ís and after a couple of years of establishing itself as a reliable label, they managed to snag the distribution rights to Englandís lauded, beloved 4AD label, home to Cocteau Twins and many other great English Ďdreamí acts. This partnership lasted for quite a few years until at least the early í90ís, when 4AD switched to Capitol and other labels to distribute their artists. Relativity picked up the pieces by picking up distributorship of Creation Records, home to amongst others The House of Love and My Bloody Valentine; both bandsí earliest releases were distributed in America by Relativity before they moved onto the majors. But Relativity also had a few successful artists of their own including guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani and singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock.
Throughout the eighties, the label became a hotbed for alternative and indie rock. Signing and releasing albums by bands as diverse as The Brandos, Scruffy the Cat, The March Violets, Bleached Black, Thelonious Monster and The Dancing Hoods, the latter best remembered as the early band of the late Mark Linkous (better known as Sparklehorse), the label became a driving force in the development of college rockís growing popularity.
It was around this time, the mid í80ís that the label began diversifying and signed up to distribute Combat Records, a smaller label specializing in metal and punk. Among Combatís best known signings were Agnostic Front, Megadeth, Exodus, Possessed, Nuclear Assault and the Circle Jerks. With the almost instant success of Combat, the label began picking up other metal labels, such as In-Effect, home to Sick of It All, Scatterbrain and 24-7 Spyz.
Going into the nineties, the label was riding high with all the success of their offshoot labels and their different bands, so the people running the label decided it was time to up the ante and the resulting years would see the label expand way beyond its basic perimeters.
As the new decade began, the label began experimenting with what they were distributing. Taking on the already-established British extreme metal label, Earache, the label now became home to among other titans of this style, such as Napalm Death, Carcass and Godflesh. This proved to be a popular move as all the Earache actsí profiles were significantly raised in the States and helped to make their names known. Combat Records had fallen into dormancy so when it came to metal, Earache was the main thing Relativity had going for it at the time. Relativity also started to branch out into hip-hop, an area that hadnít really been explored much before. Among the hip-hop acts the label now took on were Chi-Ali, an artist who became a convicted murderer not long after the release of his one record; also on board were a young Fat Joe, Common, MC Ren and The Beatnuts.
By this time, Sony had taken over the distributing of Relativityís releases, which helped to raise the labelís profile but also allowed several bandsí releases to go out of print, seemingly to never be released again. As time went on, the amount of hip-hop acts signed to the label began to grow exponentially while the amount of rock acts started to decrease. Aside from the success of Corrosion of Conformity, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and some decent sales from They Eat Their Own and Shotgun Messiah, the label was shifting more units of hip-hop for the first time in its history.
By 1993, almost all of their alternative rock bands had been dropped in order to sign a new class. Also, the distribution deals with In-Effect, Earache and Combat were done and gone and so the heads of the label looked toward hip-hop to be their savior. The new breed of hip-hop included a young Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Dru Down, Kokane and M.O.P. Some acts sold like hotcakes while others gathered dust on the shelves. The new rock acts now included a young Govít Mule, the indie Overwhelming Colorfast, the grungy Lucyís Fur Coat and the experimental Home as well as a one-off record from Peter Frampton. With the exception of Govít Mule, the sales of the new class of rock bands were disheartening for the heads of Relativity and in 1995, they decided to try something drastic.
Having signed and released the first album by Our Lady Peace and after signing the Kansas band Frogpond, the heads of Relativity decided to drop all rock bands or shift them over to Sony, as they had done with Corrosion of Conformity., and announced that the labelís sole focus would be on hip-hop. This move, they thought, would help to stabilize the label and hopefully, theyíd be able to sell more records.
Alas, this move just helped the label to delay its funeral for a couple of years. After Common left the label to sign with MCA and subsequently achieve breakout stardom, Relativity was stuck with the likes of the Moí Thugs family, Gangsta Boo, Link and L.V. They still had some success, with the likes of The Beatnuts and the first Big Punisher record, which was a Relativity record with Sony distribution. But the label was starting to slow down and show its age. In 1999, the label re-released several Combat releases under the title ĎRe-Masters of MetalĒ; for several bands, it was an albumís first release after years of being unavailable. After the year 2001 and a random Three 6 Mafia record, there would be no more Relativity Records as it was wholly swallowed up by the massive Sony family of labels. One of the most interesting and diverse indie labels was history and there was seemingly no chance for it to be restored.
In 2010, the name was brought back for a couple of soundtracks and over the years, it has appeared on random albums by the likes of Skindred and the Randy Rogers Band. But thatís all it is: just a name, no real label or muscle behind it. That leaves the labelís legacy: dozens of records that have never been released on CD or digitally and seemingly never to be released again. In 2013, members of Scruffy the Cat, long since disbanded and consigned to the dust bin of Ď80ís alternative rock initiated a campaign to harangue anyone who would listen at Sony about getting their catalogue reissued. Finally succeeding, that summer, Time Never Forgets: The Anthology (í86-í88) was released digitally with fully remastered sound. It shined a light on Scruffy the Cat and helped introduce a new generation of listeners, including myself, to one hell of a band.
With the release of Scruffy the Catís catalogue, that leaves dozens of other bands that were once signed to Relativity or Combat or In-Effect that have never gotten their records released digitally or on CD. For some artists, Columbia took over and released the records on iTunes and other digital outlets. Sometime in 2015, Columbia put a bunch of records not previously available digitally up on iTunes, including records by Circle Jerks and Dark Angel. So maybe, slowly but surely, some bands are managing to get their records back out there. Other bands managed to get their masters back or license them and release them digitally on their own. Some artistsí records on original pressing CDís go for high dollar on sites like eBay and Amazon. If there was enough people whining and bitching to the right people, maybe, eventually we can get some of these other records released again. The list that follows compiles all of the major records released during the labelís lifetime that are not currently available on iTunes or Spotify. Most of these records need a radical remastering job and it would be more than amazing, being a fan of several of these artists, to see these records come out to a new audience and allow people to enjoy what these recordings brought to a past generation. It would also allow people to take a step back and realize how truly great of a label Relativity was.
Albums Released by Relativity (or In-Effect or Combat) not currently available digitally:
Bad Brains Attitude: The ROIR Sessions
Biff Bang Pow! Oblivion
Biff Bang Pow! Love is Forever
Bleached Black Bleached Black
The Brandos Honor Among Thieves
Circle Jerks VI
Circle Jerks Gig
Clock DVA Breakdown EP
Coil Horse Ratorvator
Coil Anal Staircase
John Connellyís Theory Back to Basics
Dancing Hoods 12 Jealous Roses
Dancing Hoods Hallelujah Anyway
Defenestration Dali Does Windows
Doctors Mob Sophomore Slump
Durutti Column Valuable Passages
The Exploited Death Before Dishonor
The Exploited Horror Epics
The Exploited Live at the White House
Impellitteri Stand in Line
Jazz Butcher Fishcotechque
Limbomaniacs Stinky Grooves
Lucyís Fur Coat Juandice
Madball Ball of Destruction
Manzanera/MacKay Crack the Whip
Manzanera/MacKay Up in Smoke
March Violets Electric Shades
Mercy Rule God Protects Fools
Mercy Rule Providence
Mock Turtles Turtle Soup
Offbeats Evolution of the Stickmen
Raunch Hands Raunch Hands
Shotgun Messiah Shotgun Messiah
Shotgun Messiah Second Coming
Shotgun Messiah Violent New Breed
Thelonious Monster Next Saturday Afternoon
Thelonious Monster Stormy Weather
They Eat Their Own They Eat Their Own
24-7 Spyz Harder Than You
24-7 Spyz Gumbo Millennium
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