Fierce Panda is an indie record label that started life as a dare in 1994, founded by music journalists Simon Williams, John Harris and Paul Moody. They have released a grand total of 99 albums and 299 singles to date, and are about to release their 100th long player and 300th single to celebrate not only being old enough to smoke, drink and buy a house but also marry another Panda of the same sex. After 21 years of trading, their motto, if they had one, would be ‘Independence or Death!’
They are single handedly (pun intended) responsible for launching the careers of Ash, The Bluetones, Idlewild, Supergrass, Coldplay, Hundred Reasons, Kenickie, The Blackout, Keane, Death Cab for Cutie and Placebo, to name but a few.
Of the three original label founders, only Simon Williams remains, now sole proprietor and the often slightly drunk captain of a ship that’s still steaming ahead with no immediate sign of dropping anchor.
“Seeing as how we only created the label to put out the Shagging in the Streets compilation EP, we didn’t think we’d be around for 21 days, never mind years!” he jokes. “The 300th single is by epic alt-popsters Longfellow. The 100th album will be a compilation called PANDA21 which features 21 recent / current panda bands like Pile, Pesky!, Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and other acts which don’t begin with ‘P’, which hopefully will drive home our tendency to put out records by bands who are punchy and punky and not at all like Coldplay, Embrace and Keane. There’ll be a Fierce Panda t-shirt as well. It’ll say something pithy on the front like “Every day is record store day”.
Still as enthusiastic as ever about finding new music, Williams says of anniversary release-ees Longfellow “We put them on one of our Tuesday night Club Fandango shows at the Buffalo Bar where we were really taken with their live show. I asked the singer to send me a few tunes and he promptly posted me 16 songs, eight of which were possible singles and three of which have gone on to be playlisted on Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music.”
Just like their ridiculous looking namesake, Fierce Panda emphatically refuse to become extinct in a time when most indie labels are being wiped out. Here are Simon Williams’ top ten Fierce Panda releases:
1. PLACEBO - Bruise Pristine This was our first taste of A&R chaos in 1995. We picked up Placebo at their fourth gig and they had an astonishingly fast rise after this debut, which was notable for a distraught Brian Molko hearing himself on the radio for the first time and being convinced the single has been sped up, so feminine did he sound.
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS - Mortal Wombat We released a load of appallingly-titled compilation EPs over the years (see Otter Than July, Gruff Trade, Shock And Oar) but 1995’s Mortal Wombat really took the biscuit. Notable for showcasing a very youthful Super Furry Animals and for us having to use a picture of the Wombles on the front because pre-internet we couldn’t find a picture of a wombat in time.
3. KENICKIE - Come Out 2 Nite Gleefully chaotic indiepop glory from a teenage Lauren Laverne and Sunderland chums, this song topped the John Peel Festive 50 of 1996, an achievement so genuine we didn’t even vote for our own single release.
4. HUNDRED REASONS - Cerebra Terrific math-metal-rock debut from 2000 which starts like Out Of Control by U2 and gets even better from thereon in. This was our 99th single so we wanted to release it on Flake chocolate-coloured vinyl. Luckily the band decided that shite brown was not the way to go, so clear vinyl it was in the end.
5. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE - The New Year We released three excellent albums by Death Cab For Cutie on the panda and the last one, Transatlanticism (which featured The New Year in 2003) is my favourite out of that trio and indeed out of the 100 albums we’ve put out since 1994. It’s also the one Panda record which most people I meet say made a shiny dent in their heartachey lives.
6. ART BRUT - Emily Kane This indiepop love letter (to a real-life Emily Kane, natch) was our highest charting single, reaching number 41 in 2005 and missing the Top 40 by two sales. Rather annoyingly, just as we were finally getting our heads around how to have a hit record a month later downloads were allowed in the charts and we’ve scarcely been near the Top 200 since.
7. GOLDHEART ASSEMBLY - Under The Waterway Utterly lovely alt.country.folk.pop with killer melodies from 2010 by archetypal fierce panda ones-who-got-away. Working on the basis that they would have appealed to fans of Fleet Foxes and Band Of Horses the thought occurs that if they called themselves Giraffe Assembly or Goldheart Bears they’d have had more of a chance.
8. DESPERATE JOURNALIST - Control Brittle, bittersweet old school indierock from suitably panda-eyed girl / boy combo outta North London who released their Desperate Journalist album this year. One of the angriest, angstiest bands we’ve ever worked with, and all the better for it.
9. LONGFELLOW - Medic The original demo of this epic alt.pop tune referenced cocaine and guns and appeared to be five different songs stuck together with Blu-tak and love. One quick buff up and a lyric change from ‘cocaine’ to ‘Cobain’ later it was no less crazy but was – somewhat amazingly – playlisted by Radio 2 earlier this year.
10. ULTRASOUND - Sovereign From the second coming of these progrock dreamers in 2012, long after their light had burned so swiftly with Nude Records at the turn of the century, this is seven minutes of demented sadness and heroic melody which will surely one day soundtrack the end credits to the whole tragic-comic Fierce Panda story.