Label Watch: Hibernate

One of the most prolific and aesthetically pleasing labels to emerge in the last few years is Hibernate.

Based in Halifax (England, not Canada), since 2009 they have released a plethora of releases on various formats, always pursuing  an interest in atmospheric ambience and abstract sound collage.

We caught up with label head Jonathan Lees...

Hibernate's release schedule this year is showing no signs of letting up with forthcoming releases from The Sly and Unseen, Umchunga, Spheruleus, offthesky and a split 10" between Isnaj Dui and The Declining Winter. Most recently the label embarked on a benefit CD to raise money for Nepal donating over £2100 in the process (the CD has now sold out but you can still buy a digital version here).

The label is curated and run by Jonathan Lees who now finds himself on the other side of the fence as a musician as one half of the Sly and Unseen alongside Katie English (Isnaj Dui). To celebrate the release of their All Similarities And Technical Difficulties End Here limited LP and CD we have a chat with Jonathan about the history of the label and the difficulties faced in releasing music in 2015.

What led to the setting up of the label? Had you wanted to run such an operation for some time or did you kind of fall into it?

There were a few reasons, it was just something I’d always wanted to do but never had the time or any idea how to start one.  A lot of inspiration came from the 7” labels that I collected during the 90s such as Earworm, Wurlitzer Jukebox, Bad Jazz and so on. I try and reflect this with our releases by doing short runs, keeping everything very DIY and lo-fi with handmade sleeves etc.

Hand stamping of CD case

Your website suggests the label is inspired by “the unpredictable, momentary and quiet solitary beauty of the Pennine moors”.  Do you feel that the music you release is somehow intrinsically linked, redolent of or inspired by the place where you live?

I’d like to think so, one thing that I’ve always done with Hibernate is to mix in elements of unpredictability in that I haven’t always stuck to the same sort of sound.  So for instance I’ve released a slow-core inspired album by Caught In The Wake Forever, followed by a synth freak-out by Konntinent, which to me at least, is comparable with being out on the moors; one minute the sun will be blazing, the next a black cloud rolls overhead and it’s chucking it down!  

Pennines scene

The music you release tends to fall into the “ambient” genre - with certain pushes and pulls around that. Do you ever see the label progressing beyond that or do you feel that a label should stick to a degree within a musical template?

I like to consider ambient music as stretching beyond the Brian Eno scope of background/wallpaper music and being more about an artist’s surroundings which is more in line with what we do.  Although Hibernate's not strictly bound by the ambient tag, I don’t see it suddenly changing direction in any drastic way as I think it’s good for a label to stick to a particular sound so that fans can follow releases and feel confident that each release will appeal to them.  

You’ve experimented with putting out music on a variety of formats. I take it CDs have been most successful for you? Do you think it’s because ambient music suits that particular format or are there other factors at work such as cheaper manufacturing and postal costs?

You know, I've really struggled with past vinyl releases and think that’s predominantly because I've built up a following of collectors that prefer CDs.  A lot of our releases are suitable for vinyl but I just can’t sell them which coupled with high production and mailing costs just make them not worthwhile. However I still love vinyl and we're planning on putting out a series of short run split 10"s later this year.

Hibernate CD case

Your most recent release is by a band you feature in, The Sly and Unseen.  How is it being on the ‘other side’ as it were? Would you plan to release any of that music on other labels?

I think the main thing that has struck me is the lack of interest on a personal level from friends and artists I know through Hibernate.  It’s made me feel a bit despondent that some people often seem tied up in their own work and show little interest in what others are doing.  That said, on a positive note we’ve done plenty of gigs which have been well received, we’ve worked on some remixes, compilations and we’re currently nearly done on album number two.  We’d like to release on another label and are always on the lookout for gigs, please get in touch…

What is the most difficult thing about releasing music in 2015? And has there been any moments when you’ve felt like giving up? And what keeps you going?

Last year I really tried to push the boat out by doing runs of 500, double CDs and getting more promotion but although I had some success it didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped. This year I've focused on doing shorter runs, continuing to release the music I love - I've never been interested in releasing an artist for the sake of commercial kudos.

I have regular doubts about how worthwhile it all is but then something usually comes up to keep me going.  I’ve enjoyed getting a lot more hands on with releases over the past couple of years, contributing field recordings and music as on the forthcoming William Barber album, recording with The Sly & Unseen, designing covers and working with Yorkshire based artists. More so compiling the album Dayalu for the recent Nepal earthquake appeal which raised over £2100 for the British Red Cross has been incredibly worthwhile and I feel very humbled that I have been in a position to do so.  Other than that I’ve always put on gigs which is fun and this August 1st we hope to put on an all-dayer at Fuse in Bradford alongside Recluse North.

Thanks to Jonathan for answering our questions. Here is everything we have in stock on Hibernate.