Our quest to shine a light on the world’s best vinyl labels continues with prodigious Edinburgh reissue label Athens Of The North. Single-handily responsible for filling our 7″s box to bursting with ridiculously rare, painfully funky soul, disco and Brazilian jams, AOTN has already spawned a number of sub-labels united by the sheer quality of every track they release.
Having furnished us with the ultimate miami soul wantlist last month, we asked Euan Fryer to shine the spotlight on his own operation and the clandestine world of midnight phone calls behind one of the most essential and on point reissue labels around.
Athens Of The North
Who are the faces behind the label? When and why did you setup the label?
Just myself Euan Fryer. I have lots of people who help out, Elph (a well known Scottish graph artist) just did the cover for the Henry Stone’s Miami Sound LP. I do all the mastering and Timmion in Finland does a great job of cutting and helping deal with manufacturing.
Where does the name come from?
‘Athens of the North’ is a nick name for Edinburgh, Scotland. My home town. AOE (Owls of Athens), the sub label is a from a Roman coin. My new label ‘Ocean of Tears’ is from a Big Maybelle song, I always loved the title and it fits for a ballad label.
The role of vinyl for your label?
Vinyl is everything, I love the 7 inch format, it is simple, one tune each side. The band has to get you hooked in less than 4 minutes. For a DJ it’s a simple wonderful tactile way of playing music. I love putting my favourite albums tracks onto 45 and thankfully so do lots of other people. LPs are not your friend in a club.
Tell us about records you've released that most represent what the label is about.
This was one of the early releases and got such strong support, it really put the label on the map and was a mission statement of the label’s intent to put out good music. Special thanks do Dave Haffner for helping me with this one, he’s the star for sealing the deal for me.
The Reality Band and Show
It took so long to make this happen, you sometimes give up hope, but after 12 year I got it out. Probably one of the best rare disco records in the world and completely out of any sensible persons reach until now.
We had such a good master for this and it sounds fantastic, what made it so special was the fact that Jeanie is a wonderful person, so full of positivity and strength and too many great stories. I am humbled by kind, passionate artists and honoured to put her music out.
This little known (almost completely) withdrawn first press of the Milton Wright LP was such an amazing project, I got a clean copy and it all just came together right. I got to speak to Milton, Joe Stone (Henry Stone’s son) helped with the licensing side and the packaging was fantastic. I’m really proud to have brought an alternate version of one of my favourite LPs back from the dead.
Boots for Dancing The Undisco Kidds
Later this year we have an unreleased LP by funky Edinburgh post punk band and it’s a belter. Bob Last (famous for label Fast Products and creating Human league and Heaven 17) signed them to Pop Aural but they were dumped when lead singer Dancing ‘Dave’ Carson refused to leave his band and go solo. It’s crazy as they would have been massive.
Your reissues are always of the highest calibre - how do you source them and how do you choose what to reissue?
In an ideal world you get the tapes from the artist, in reality I often have to find clean copies of the record and work from that (the recent ‘Gangster Boy’ issue took 10 years to find a clean copy). If you know what you’re doing and have a selection of high quality stylus, a Phono amp and DAC the results are as good as tapes once I have done my magic (as long as the pressing is strong). Years of DJing has taught me what I need a record to sound like in a club, that’s what I aim for.
As a one man band, you have already released a staggering number of 7"s. How do you do it?
Work all day on making the records and make phone calls and do research at night. There is no shortcut to hard work. I have been collecting for years I have a huge peer group of people that are willing to help out or give me tips. Just recently Mike Curtis (DJ and collector) helped me out on the Forrest Terry Single, being a Providence, Rhode Island local he was able to hook everything up. You always do this on the phone so you need someone with that local knowledge.
AOTN is beginning to expand from soul to disco and Brazilian - each area with its own visual aesthetic. What's the thinking behind this?
I just do whatever comes into my head when making 45s labels like any small band would have done at the time. Each one has to be different enough that it is instantly recognisable when your flicking through your box in a club.
What is your vision for the label?
Trust. I want to take the label to all sorts of different corners of obscure musical excellence. My aim is to have the trust of my customers to know that if I’m putting it out, it’s worth investing yourself in.
Give us an idea of some labels you admire.
Daotine, Jazzman, Numero, Soul Jazz, Ubiquity, Sofrito, Eglo, Transmat, Nu Groove, Sound Signature, Djax, Now Again…
Hardest thing about running a reissue label in 2015?
Slow manufacture time due to large labels pressing up shit rock LPs you can buy better pressings of for £1 in the charity shop, for baby boomers to replace the collections that they gave to the charity shop.
What's in the pipeline for the rest of the year?
I’m very excited to be doing my first local LP with post punk band Boots for Dancing. I have spent the last two years piecing together images and recordings from all over the city (and some from Spain). We have also done a deal with the BBC for Peel Sessions and have put together the LP that would have made them stars. It’s everything I love about music, energy, youth and the charming perfection of imperfect music being more than the sum of it parts.