Obscene Baby Auction started in 2001 when Giles and I along with Keeby (Shakeeb Abu-Hamdan) organised a gig in a pub called the Fenton so that our recently formed band ‘Real Fucky Fucky‘ could play. We had all met at Leeds College of Art and Design on a foundation course and had varying levels of experience in organising gigs and playing in bands in our previous hometowns of York and Matlock. In Leeds we found resonances of our self-organised approach to music in the DIY punk scene mostly based in the LS6 area of Leeds. We enjoyed going to gigs together that we found out about through the Cops and Robbers listings fanzine and seeing bands the quality of which I wouldn’t have dreamed about witnessing in such humble surroundings.
I had friends in Leeds and had lived there for a year prior to going to art college so was already aware of the DIY music scene. James Islip and Graham Pilling (later Obscene Baby Auctioneers) had been in Leeds a little longer and were fairly embedded in the punk-end of the DIY music community, although such stylistic divisions weren’t as pronounced around that time. They had organised gigs themselves putting on bands of a similar emo bent to their own band Eighty Six and had a record out on Leeds punk label Bombed Out. Fortunately for me at that time the crossover between different ‘genres’ of underground music in the Leeds DIY scene was such that it wouldn’t be uncommon to see much more skronky, angular, ‘arty’ bands in the Am Rep, Touch and Go or Skin Graft Records vein alongside more melodic punk bands. As such we were all introduced to new bands and styles of music we might normally have been unaware or dismissive of. In this way I found out about locally-based bands like J*R, Diesel vs Steam and Bilge Pump all of whom played music similar enough to Fugazi, Shellac and Girls Against Boys for me to have reference points for but who were different enough to signpost some other musical avenues.
Real Fucky Fucky was a first step in exploring these new (to us) sonic territories. Giles played guitar, Keeby drums, I played bass and vocals came courtesy of Ben Walker. We skived off college quite regularly to practice and write songs drawing on our new pot of influences. It sounded a lot like the Jesus Lizard but more chaotic and messy thanks to our lower levels of musical competency. We decided to play our first gig with bands that we’d seen and enjoyed together: J*R from Leeds/Doncaster, Truckdriver from Stoke and D’astro from Leeds. Giles had been very good at introducing himself to people at gigs so getting in touch with the bands and asking Archie (the DIY gig sound man) to do the PA was straightforward. Booking the room in the Fenton wasn’t difficult either. Keeby did an ace poster with a chainsaw on it and we advertised the gig in Cops and Robbers.
The name ‘This Obscene Baby Auction’ came from a Yorkshire Evening Post headline Giles and I saw on the day we had to submit the gig to the listings.
The gig itself was loads of fun, a lot of fellow students from the art college attended as well as what might have been seen as the ‘regular’ DIY gig-going crowd. I think the meeting of these two crowds was a positive thing as it introduced some younger blood into the scene at that time. I had no idea that the age gap between us and the people that made up the Cops and Robbers crowd was as large as it was. Meeting people that were in their late twenties and thirties that were still in bands came as a massive surprise and equally we got a lot of friendly ribbing about our relative youth.
I don’t recall that we put on many other gigs that year whilst we were still at college but Real Fucky Fucky played a handful of gigs. Some were at the offer of the Cops and Robbers guys (with Bluetip at the Brudenell Social Club) enamoured as it would appear they were with our nostalgic (but for us quite progressive) Chicago big-noise sound.
After we finished college Keeby moved to London to study at Goldsmiths and Giles and I stayed in Leeds - I to continue studying art at the University and Giles to get a taste of the horrendous world of work before deciding what education path he wanted to take. Before Keeby and Ben moved away we recorded all our songs at House of Mook rehearsal studios in meanwood. You can download and listen to the recordings in the digital section.
During the Summer we started playing with James as drummer, Giles singing and playing guitar and me playing bass. Giles named the band Kill Yourself after a Pussy Galore song. The band had a tighter sound due to James’ drumming and Giles’ slightly less manic vocals and started sounding even closer to our Touch and Go Records influences. Again we organised some more gigs as a way to get the band going properly, I forget the exact line-ups but I think the first was with The Sex Maniacs at the Packhorse at which my shoes fell apart while we were playing. We still used the ‘This Obscene Baby Auction presents’ promoter name and James and Graham (with whom I shared a house in Hyde Park) also helped in the organising and running of the gigs.
As Kill Yourself started to play outside of Leeds we began to play with bands who we thought would be good to bring over to Leeds; like Q-Car from Manchester, This Aint Vegas from Sunderland and so on. Thus, playing in the band and being a gig-organising collective went hand in hand. The more gigs we played the more we organised and vice-versa. Also there were bands that we either really wanted to see or play with – or commonly both – that would prompt us to organise a gig.
It probably goes without saying that we ran all the gigs in a not-for-profit manner. All the money made on the door after room-hire, sound engineer and perhaps flyer-production costs would be split between the bands. Most of our gigs were held in the function rooms of places like The Packhorse, The Fenton or The Royal Park all of which held roughly 80 or 100 people but would feel comfortably full with 40. That said, I remember pretty much all of our early gigs as being full – perhaps in part due to the ‘younger crowd’ we were part of who some of the previous generation of DIYers were keen to meet and hang out with. The gigs definitely had a good-time party vibe and we tended towards loud but groove-laden music as they were our musical tastes at the time. I guess I might have seen what we were doing as slightly different to the harsher and more ‘serious’ hardcore scene which I think we all found a little clichéd and didactic in its politics. Although we did stuff DIY and some of us were vegetarian, vegan or to differing degrees interested in activism or radical politics we didn’t characterise our cultural activity by these interests. In retrospect I find it weird that this seemed like an antagonistic position to take, nowadays the ‘underground’ music scene is completely devoid of any political consciousness and it makes me feel a little uneasy that we were complicit with that transition; but more on that later.
Another difference between us and the older-garde of the Leeds DIY scene, and one that was noted by people like Archie and Andrew Raine, was that we were quite happy to work shit jobs that they had (admirably) rejected in favour of life on the dole. Although I was at Uni I probably spent the majority of my time supplementing the meagre student loan I had with call-centre work, as did most of our friends if they weren’t in fact doing such temping work full-time. This allowed (more like encouraged) us to be involved in perceptibly more bourgeois pursuits than might be expected of punks; buying lots of records for example, eating out in restaurants now and again or drinking in posh bars like North Bar.
Our incrementally higher level of (hard-earned) disposable income was probably also a contributing factor to why we ended up putting out records. The initial decision came about, predictably, as a way to help out our own band, Kill Yourself. We wanted a record with us on it – we’d done some recordings in Stoke-On-Trent in early 2002 – and were preparing for our first tour, going out on the road with our most favouritest of bands J*R who we’d also built up a fairly solid friendship with. As such we decided to make a split 7inch with them and - in an unabashed aping of Skin Graft records – house it inside a short comic. Getting the record out was a process that we all chipped in to. If I remember rightly James and Graham had a bit more experience and contacts with self-manufacturing records, particularly vinyl, and we got some initial contacts through other DIY labels in Leeds. Tim Boothe – a friend of ours from art college – did the artwork for the comic and James took care of mastering and putting the recordings we had on to a CD. I then sent this to GZCD who were at that time the cheapest place to get vinyl records done and as such the defacto choice for bedroom record labels. We decided to press 300 because that was the minimum cost-effective run you could do.
Without romanticising our early forays into record-manufacture I do find it quite cute that me and my girlfriend at the time spent an evening using her work’s photocopier to put the master-copy of the booklet together before sending it to print. We weren’t at that time competent with scanners or image-processing software, as you might be able to tell from some of the flyers I used to make. The aesthetic was somewhere between punk cut-and-paste and Microsoft Word prefab: a peculiar mix.
As is the norm the records and covers arrived back only just in time for the first date of the ‘tour’ J*R and Kill Yourself embarked on that had by that point been reduced to a meagre three dates. We assembled the records in the van on the way to the first gig – hand stamping the labels and hand numbering each copy, vinyl fetishists and geeky collectors that we were. We sold quite a number of the records at gigs and shifted the rest reasonably quickly. Hopefully this was due to fact that the bands were good but it may also have had something to do with our quite aggressive sales technique which would involve us going round with a bag of records after the performances and asking each person if they’d like a copy and if not why not. Also, more people bought records in the early 2000’s as it was just prior to consumption of nonphysical music being the norm and what seemed like a renaissance for owning vinyl after the novelty-spark had had plenty of time to wear off of CDs. In addition, a bag full of the 7-inches were stolen when Kill Yourself were playing a gig at Fibbers in York in a spot of opportunistic car-park smash and grabbery.
In any case it wasn’t very long until we decided to put out another record using the ‘Obscene Baby Auction’ name. What is often left out in accounts of something as potentially business-like as doing a record label are the seemingly inconsequential conversations or details that can inform the direction of the endeavour. One of these off-the-cuff remarks that shaped what OBA became was from some Cops and Robbers character who at a gig who praised us for putting out a record because 'someone really needs to document what's going on'. Although there'd been plenty of record labels in the LS6 area a few years ago and labels that catered for the punk scene - Subjugation, Flat Earth, Bombed Out and so on –it seemed that the gigs that we were attending and organising mostly played host to bands who had little recorded output. So to re-frame what we were doing as an archiving process – or even a public service - gave it a slightly different feel we hadn't had the audacity to previously consider. Certainly we weren't putting out records under any delusion that it could turn into a money-maker or a business. Perhaps you could say we were doing it mostly out of self-interest but not in a profit-motivated way. These encouraging comments that we received, though, may have had some influence on our decision to make the next record a compilation.
The record – somewhat regrettably entitled 'Brand New Gay Scene' after a drunken joke I made to Dave Allen from Voorhees - featured the then incredibly young This Aint Vegas from Sunderland, to old Leeds stalwarts Bilge Pump and John Holmes, The Wow from Stoke, Buzzkill, J*R and, unsurprisingly, our own bands Kill Yourself and Eighty Six. In this sense it was a record of the wider scene than just Leeds but, as most of the bands played regularly at the gigs we organised, it also celebrated the activity in LS6 at the time.
Again we wanted a fairly extravagant package that built on the comic-book packaging of the first record. Matt Dale from J*R was, and no doubt still is, and excellent photographer and had plenty of non-digital snaps of both the bands and of everyday scenes around Leeds that we asked Ben Whittington of Buzzkill to layout using his creative design skills. The result was a 12-page booklet which we wanted printing at 10” x 10” to house the 10” record with a front cover drawn by Keeby of a cat with a massive dong. Although we used a cheap and ethical printers – Footprint in Chapeltown Leeds who also print Cops and Robbers as well as tons of radical pamphlets, posters etc – the cost per unit was pretty extortionate for this one and I’ve no idea how we afforded to put it out. Regardless, it was eventually released around Autumn time 2002.
We pressed 300 again, reasoning that it would be better to shift them all and we had no real distribution through a third company. People either had to buy the records from the bands themselves or at a couple of shops in Leeds (Out of Step, Jumbo) with whom we would do sale or return. As Graham had set up a website for OBA we started to get a few more orders in that way and requests to take a few copies from various distros which I took care of. Around this time I started using a ‘spare’ bank account I had from my pre-student days to deposit the Baby Auction cash from record sales and gigs and so became by default the administrator for the collective. Also, the email account that we used was accessible by James, Giles and I but as I had a job that most required cyber-diversion it tended to be me that answered the emails. It’s worth mentioning at this point that one of the reasons that I was so into doing the OBA-business was that it felt like an antidote to work. Not only in the literal sense that answering emails, writing updates for the website or just thinking about putting on gigs was always done on work-time (I didn’t own a computer until late 2005) and so entailed skiving, but more generally the whole DIY thing of putting lots of energy and time collectively into something that you actually cared about seemed like a big fingers-up to the mind-numbing jobs we held at the time. Doing something ‘creative’ in our spare time felt like a much better way to combat the evils of work than mindless consumption or leisure.
Back to the website though, it was amazing how quickly after it was set up and the records with the email address were distributed that emails would start pouring in. A lot of these were uninteresting spam-like requests from bands we had never heard of who wanted a gig or a record releasing – despite the transparency of our motives and ethos voiced on the website – but on the odd occasion we’d be sent a CD by a band we liked or get asked to put on a band from further afield that sounded ok. This, coupled with the fact that Kill Yourself was starting to do a lot more touring around the UK - often along with The Wow – meant that we were starting to put on gigs by bands as ‘gig swaps’ or favours because we knew and liked the people rather than just basing our curatorial decisions on musical taste. In a sense the gigs we were putting on became a bit more experimental (in that they wouldn’t be bands that were as well known or that we would even know exactly what they sounded like live!) which resulted in less predictable turn-outs. At some point we got asked to put on Oxbow which I think was our first experience of putting on an American band. They were an odd bunch of people and the gig stands as a lesson learned that it’s in the most wiser to put on bands you know aren’t twats over those whose music sounds ok or who have cool underground credentials.
In Autumn of 2002 Giles moved to Glasgow to study art. In late 2002 I broke up with my girlfriend of two years which I didn’t handle particularly well but which did have the slight benefit of pushing me towards putting more time and energy into the band and the collective. I don’t have a very clear memory of what we did label or gig-wise around this time but it would appear that we released two more Kill Yourself records in fairly quick succession. The first (in catalogue number at least) was a split between Kill Yourself and the then recently formed Humanfly, who featured ex-members of Canvas. The release itself was a joint effort between us and ‘Decavity’; a record label formed by a young guy called Stuart who had originally got in touch asking to do work experience or shadowing at Obscene Baby Auction. When I explained to him what a small operation we were and that the best way to learn how to put out a record would be to do one, we agreed to split the effort and the cost and put a 7-inch out together. Humanfly had started as a kind of psychedelic space-rock band but were playing fast hardcore a bit like JR Ewing at that time. Later they returned to the slow heavy sound they’d begun with but I always preferred watching Dave the ridiculously ace drummer go fast and really like the song on this seven inch. The artwork for this release was a bit confused which is unfortunate given that part of the division of responsibility between OBA and Decavity was that we’d do the artwork! It has really nice drawings by James’ girlfriend Jessica Thomas but these are relegated to two inserts and the label prints. The cover, which was a cheap fold-over thing was done in a rush and the collage/cut-and-paste feel didn’t really come out well in the print. Still it’s a decent enough record and I often wonder whether there’s a huge stack of them gathering dust somewhere as I don’t think Stuart did much with Decavity following his experience with OBA.
The next record we released was the Kill Yourself EP ‘The Soft Touch of Man’ the name of which I stole from a line in eighties wonder-film ‘Romancing the Stone’. The songs for this (as with LOT 003) had been recorded in a session with Robert Whiteley (whose name is misspelled in the insert). We met Rob when Kill Yourself were on tour and playing in Liverpool. He introduced himself drunkenly by explaining to us that we ‘sounded exactly like Shellac and he could record us exactly like Steve Albini.’ How could we say no? We opted for minimal and cheap packaging on this release but it worked out nicely. Giles had taken some photos in Glasgow of a horse and a dog which became our first full-colour labels and we went transparent with the rest: clear vinyl, acetate inlay (which would have been the most expensive element if Paul Rauschen hadn’t sourced some for cheap from his work), and a clear sticker for the sleeve. Later Gringo records would release a CD version.
In April 2003 Kill Yourself did their first European tour at the behest of Rob Kito who had initially proposed the idea and then helped us to book it and drove us in his red LDV van. Rob had driven Kill Yourself and The Wow on a couple of our UK tours and I think saw in us, and perhaps to a lesser extent The Wow, a potential extension of the LS6 hardcore scene from the early nineties in which he had been heavily involved. There is a legacy of hardcore and weird rock bands from the Leeds 6 area touring Europe which grew out of the network formed by the community of punk squatters who came from Europe to live in Leeds and Bradford either because of University or because of the 1 in 12 Club and the anarchist punk scene in the UK. There was a squat in Sheepscar, Leeds called 120 Rats formed by a group of European crusts in a band called Headache. When Headache toured Europe they opened up the floodgates for bands like Kito and Polaris to tag along or make use of the existing networks of squats and social centres that they knew of. Rob had toured a lot as the singer in Kito and then as a driver for bands from Leeds and beyond and was keen to see a younger generation of DIY punks take up the gauntlet.
The tour was an incredible experience – taking in France, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Belgium and The Netherlands - and we were very excited about being able to leave a trail of records featuring exciting new bands from the UK DIY scene in most of the places we went. The Kill Yourself EP even got a quick play on Slovenian radio albeit at the wrong speed! It’s a bit of a cliché, but Europeans did seem to be more into buying records than people in the UK and I seem to remember we shifted a relatively large number of the compilations and the Kill Yourself records. Additionally we made lots of new contacts and friends for future tours especially in Belgium where we made some excellent friends with a younger generation of music-heads following the footsteps of legendary emo-core Hechtelians Reiziger. James and I in particular had been diligent in collecting email addresses and following up on offers of future gigs that were made after the majority of performances.
On return to the UK we carried on touring the UK in the holidays we had from our respective University courses; a short tour with J*R in June/July and a depraved three-headed tour featuring This Aint Vegas, The Wow and Kill Yourself in September where we were joined by Graham and driven by Kerry Morgan. We also began to plan our next trip away to the mainland. This happened in December 2003 as a short UK and then Benelux tour between Kill Yourself and Isambard Kingston Brunel, a tapes and synth noise duo made of Keeby and his younger brother Lawrence .
Meanwhile we continued to put on gigs in Leeds in the same venues we had always used with a particularly busy month in November where we tried to put on a gig every Friday night. Bands included Macrocosmica, Soeza and Giddy Motors who split up a couple of days before the gig.
Record-wise, in August we had released our fifth record as OBA; LOT 005 a split 7-inch picture disc between Bilge Pump and Brown Owl (a newer Leeds band featuring members of The Dragon Rapide, Baby Harp Seal and Bob Tilton playing very ace Heroic Doses style angular funk and afrobeat) who were also touring in Europe. Keeby did the artwork for this one and we continued in the same vein as LOT 004 with cheap but hopefully striking minimalist artwork; this time just black and white picture disc with a sticker on the sleeve. These sold very quickly as we just gave the band pretty much all 300 copies which they sold on their tour. Sadly this means that I don’t have a copy now as I misplaced the one I did have.
Giles began to put on gigs in Glasgow, the first few of which he used the Obscene Baby Auction name for. Giles had found Glasgow’s underground music scene very different to Leeds’ upon his arrival in late 2002. Guest lists and profit-making promoters were the norm at that time and it seemed as though Glasgow’s DIY and hardcore heritage - with bands like Dawson, Shank and Dog Faced Hermans - had been overshadowed by the commercial success of bands like Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian and Arab Strap. The gigs that Giles organized there were very transparent and vocal in their ethos. This seemed to be an effective approach as nowadays you can’t move in Glasgow for DIY music collectives, bands and labels. Perhaps Giles had just arrived at the low ebb of a cycle that music communities go through and which would have naturally righted itself but it doesn’t seem too overblown to suggest that his arrival - and the Leeds mindset he brought to the city - might have had a role in the revival of more ethical and intentional music activity in the city. Certainly Nuts and Seeds – the name of the gig collective, record label and Cops and Robbers style listings fanzine Giles formed along with other Glasgow-dwelling friends – is seen by many of the younger crows active in the city as a big influence.
Back in Leeds, Giles’ absence had led James and I to start playing as two-piece under the name That Fucking Tank. We started the band as a joke and as an excuse for me to play a new baritone guitar I had purchased after watching The Fucking Champs in Leeds and getting an idea about how to play bass lines and guitar lines simultaneously by means of special tuning and playing simultaneously through two amps. We played what was meant to be our only gig with Vialka and Like a Kind of Matador in August 2003 but I broke a string and as neither I nor the other two bands had replacement strings we had to end the set after half a song. People seemed to find what they had heard promising though so we said we’d play one more gig. As it turned out we played many more than that. When we got gig offers for Kill Yourself that we knew Giles wouldn’t be able to play I’d suggest Tank as a replacement. Later in the year we did a bit of recording and Jealous records of Leeds offered to put an EP out of the material we had.
In late 2003 we started to plan the next OBA release. We originally wanted it to be a 7-inch by a new band from Nottingham we had organized a gig for called Lords who featured members of Wolves of Greece, Reynolds and Twinkie and whose Captain Beefheart, The Groundhogs and ZZ Top style rockings had blown us away. As time moved on we decided to expand the release and make our second compilation record; LOT006 ‘Old Baby Sex Scene’. This record was meant to serve a similar purpose to ‘Brand New Gay Scene’ and bring together a lot of the bands that we had organised gigs for or who were playing regularly in Leeds. The line-up included Isambard Kingston Brunel, The Unpleasants (solo project from Gaz previously of Canvas), Monster Killed by Laser (a band that had only recently started playing DIY gigs in Leeds originally from Wakefield), Lords, That Fucking Tank, Soeza (of Bristol), The Unit Ama (ex-Crane and Four Frame from Newcastle), McWatt (with a previous member of Headache from Leeds), This Aint Vegas and Little Girl with Cherries from Nottingham who sadly disbanded by the time the record came out in June 2004.
For the artwork we made use of Leeds College of Art and Design’s print workshop and the generosity of Mick Welbourn who helped make the screens, did some of the printing and supervised James and I as we screen-printed both sides of the 500 records, and the paper bags that we had bought to house them. The record came with a booklet of short stories and writing contributed by people mostly involved in the DIY music scene that had been laid-out by Graham. It was a nice package but when it came to actually assembling the records we realised that the paper bags were a little tight for both the record and the booklet and the job took a huge amount of time to put together. Luckily for me I was otherwise engaged that afternoon.
To celebrate the release of the record we had a big gig featuring nearly all of the bands at The Fenton in Leeds. The gig was superb and completely rammed for most of the day with a sterling performance by Lords who covered ‘A Love Supreme’. A table football table that I had made out of found and free materials for a Black Dogs art exhibition was also installed in the gig room and we had a bloody good old time. Despite the sizeable turnout and the quality of the gig we sold only a handful of records. Possibly its incredibly fragile packaging and 12” size didn’t make it look too appealing as an accessory for a night on the piss. Also we pressed 500 of these rather than our usual 300 which might explain why it’s the only OBA release of which I still have a few copies left.
Obscene Baby Auction and our house, 8 School View, had by now earned itself a bit of a reputation as a party place. It had all the signs of being a punk house; we regularly had bands staying over, the kitchen was mostly full up with musical equipment and people tended to head over after gigs as an alternative to expensive drinks in town. For those reading who are unfamiliar with it, the Hyde Park area of Leeds has a demographic mainly made up of students, one-time students and Asian families. John Peel once described LS6 as having more bands per square foot than anywhere else in the UK, a ‘fact’ that can partly be attributed to the fact that most of the houses have basements that make good practice spaces. People also drink a lot. Hyde Park and the Leeds 6 music community has more than its fair share of characters burning the candle at both ends whose exploits generate urban pissed-up-folklore. 8 School View was the setting for a few of these, some fun, some nasty and an overview of which isn’t really appropriate here. Suffice to say we were boozing it up quite regularly with me in particular developing an unhealthy habit of drinking full bottles of Jim Bean, knacking myself up and being a nuisance to strangers.
After ‘Old Baby Sex Scene’ the next record we released was a Kill Yourself seven-inch featuring songs that we had recorded in a second session with Robert Whiteley in January of 2004. The seven-inch was catalogue number LOT007 and I drew the text copying some George Macunias typography and took care of the packaging, making use of the primitive screen-printing facilities at Leeds University which was almost completely empty over the Summer. It took me a day to make the screens and print the 300 copies although I can’t recall exactly where the paper came from. We pressed the 7-inch on blue vinyl and hand stamped the labels to distinguish side A from side B, or more rightly ‘side Eeyore’ from ‘side Psalm’. The record was finished off with a split-pin fastening device which people seemed to find very original despite its heavy influence from the June Of 44 stapled 12-inch and Jealous Records elastic-band fastened 7-inches, one of which Kill Yourself had contributed to. Our friend Joe Osborne who had previously played in Buzzkill and was becoming a dab hand with music software mastered the recordings we had done in his flat and would continue to do so generously for the next OBA releases. We pressed the records in time for a European tour we did with This Aint Vegas in September 2004 and which followed a similar route to the first tour of Europe we had done with The Wow. The tour was done in the van that James and I had bought together – a red LDV that belonged to James Beal (who ran Hermit Records and a partner at Out Of Step) – with those members of the bands who could drive all doing a share. The tour was a successful one in terms of turnouts, mostly thanks to TAV gaining a great reputation on the continent, and was another opportunity to get some of the OBA vinyl around Europe.
Also in 2004 That Fucking Tank had been doing a lot more gigging and the EP on Jealous had been released. So it was that a few days after returning from the KY/TAV tour James, myself and Moz (then known as the world’s friendliest soundman but now probably better known as the keyboard player in Quack Quack and Pifco, drummer in The Declining Winter, Two Minute Noodles and Chops amongst others) made the long drive down to Spain for a 10-day tour. The tour itself was a bit of a fuck-up, we hadn’t booked it ourselves and poor communications between us, Ian of Jealous and the Spanish tour booker meant that a lot of the gigs were cancelled, or, as it turned out, had never been booked. Regardless we had an amazing time and met some excellent bands and people including a synth-punk duo from Madrid called Grabba Grabba Tape who would feature on the next OBA release.
Lolo of Grabba Grabba Tape had been incredibly generous in hosting us in Madrid for two days on the tour, organising two consecutive gigs, one of which Grabba Grabba Tape played at. Lolo also ran a label with his lovely girlfriend Ingrid called Gssh Gssh which seemed to have a similar approach to OBA but with more impressive screen-printing skills. We had had such a nice time hanging out with the GGT lads and Ingrid, had enjoyed their band so much and felt enough affinity between our respective ‘labels’ that a split release was almost inevitable. When we returned home to Leeds the wheels were put in motion for LOT 008.
In the meantime though That Fucking Tank did their first full European tour in December of 2004 with what was originally meant to be Keeby and Lawrence of Isambard Kingston Brunel’s new band Cleckhuddersfax. For some reason the whole band couldn’t make it so they formed a new one, Poltergroom, just for the tour. As it turned out they were totally brilliant. Once more we re-trod the circuit of Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovenia. This tour started in a fairly depressing manner with a bit of Illness, stupid drives, low turn outs and freezing cold grey towns but things picked up towards the end and we had a very fun in-between-Xmas-and-New-Year gig at the Cardigan Arms in Leeds with new LS6 lads and lasses, Cowtown.
Prior to the Tank tour Kill Yourself had gone back into the studio for a day with Robert Whiteley to record the second half of what would have been the Kill Yourself album. Due to the ever-decreasing pace at which Kill Yourself was gigging, in part due to Giles’ growing commitments in Glasgow, James now working rather than studying, as well as an increase in gigs with Tank, it never seemed sensible to release it. We had always viewed records as documents or souvenirs of the live experience that gig-goers might want to take home afterwards and as such it wasn’t a priority to release a record by a band whose touring future looked uncertain. The full album can be listened to and downloaded in the digital section.
Tank had also been doing some more recording: a one-day session in East Leeds with Moz following the Euro tour with Poltergroom. Two of the tracks from this session ‘Andrew’ and ‘James’ became the Tank side of the split with Grabba Grabba Tape, LOT008. In a reverse of our division of responsibilities with Decavity for the Humanfly/Kill Yourself split this time we took care of the record production and Gssh Gssh did the artwork. We booked a UK tour for Tank and brought Grabba Grabba Tape over to join in the fun. They flew over and we picked them up from Heathrow Airport and assembled the 500 records in the van on the way to the first gig in London. Lolo had made a stunning job of the oversized sleeves and I have a recollection that we had hand stamped the labels to indicate whose side was whose. The copy I have doesn’t have any marks on so maybe we just left it up to the listener to work it our for themselves? The tour was a little peculiar despite the generally good turnouts and reception of the bands; GGT didn’t appear to like the UK much, I had my mind on my final projects for the art course that I would be graduating in the Summer which the tour had interrupted, and accordingly the vibe in the van was less joyous than we had perhaps anticipated. It was still a worthwhile experience and had it’s moments; a gig at Bletchley Leisure Centre where Lolo was chased by the crowd into a lake outside being one of the highlights
Once back in Leeds we had made a decision to move out of 8 School View in July. James was moving to Armley where the rent was cheaper, Graham was moving in with co-8 School View-ite Rachel to whom he is now married, and I had ill-fated plans to live in the back room of a café at the bottom of the road. Although we continued to put on the odd gig together as Obscene Baby Auction and we did one more shared-label release with Jealous of the That Fucking Tank album on vinyl (LOT009 – ‘The Day of Death by Bono Adrenalin Shock’) not living in a shared house and our eventual departure from Leeds 6 altogether - my decision being made on the potential state of my liver if I stayed much longer – contributed to a hiatus in activity.
There were, however, environmental factors, not just personal ones, in the slowdown of OBA which really I can only see in hindsight. To begin with there was the fact that myspace became incredibly popular and seemingly replaced the need to have a website for the label. We felt we no longer had to update the website and write news posts to let people know what was happening, myspace would provide a simpler and easier platform for that. Of course though, myspace is a bland and personality-less platform that homogenises all labels and bands into an indistinguishable lump and was, in fact, no replacement for our own website whatsoever. Once, we had some quite colourful and distinct online presence thanks mainly to Graham’s expertise, and a sporadically used forum that people would use to talk about OBA related matters. That all disappeared when the website became an archive with a forwarding page to various myspace pages.
Second was, perversely, the increase in the popularity of the style of music we had been promoting through our gigs and documenting with our records. 2005 saw a huge increase in Leeds in the popularity of once-‘underground’ gigs and interest from people involved in musical spheres that would previously not have been interested. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what prompted the shift but festivals like All Tomorrows Parties and even the success of bands from Leeds like Forward Russia contributed to the growing cool-factor associated with angular arty rock bands. There was a fairly sudden increase in promoters looking to organise gigs for weird rock bands. As such a lot of the bands we had been organising gigs for were more en vogue and didn’t necessarily need us to put them on. If we didn’t do it then someone else would; it wasn’t a role we needed to play in Leeds anymore.
Similarly more labels cropped up willing to release records by bands of OBA ilk. Also long-running labels like Gringo and Jealous were putting out albums by bands that we would have otherwise done the favour for, such as The Unit Ama, Lords, This Aint Vegas, and even That Fucking Tank. The scene seemed to be being documented well enough without our lifting a finger.
A contributing factor to our dissolution that is deeper than mere redundancy - and perhaps this is more of a personal critique rather than one reflective of the collective as a whole– was a growing disenchantment with the Leeds 6 music scene. It would be both snobbish and predictable to say that ‘once it got popular it became less interesting’ if we were talking in purely aesthetic terms. No doubt the music coming out of Leeds 6 and the underground music community in that area presently is as of high quality, if not higher, than it was between 2001 and 2005. The difference for me however is that the motivation and the ethics surrounding that scene – its antagonistic and oppositional quality, its critique of work, capitalism and mainstream careerist values – seem to have been submerged or drowned out in the increase of similar sounding and similar looking bands, labels and promoters. The scene that we were involved in and keen to document was exciting to me because of its truly alternative nature – not just alternative in its style but alternative in its take on life and accordingly radical in its resonances into other areas of life outside of music. It’s been hard not to feel that with increased opportunities for bands to ‘make it’ playing music that sounds as though it came from the DIY scene has been the loss of a political and exciting dimension: the fact that we were doing it as an antidote to work and industry, not as a stepping stone to get inside those structures.
No doubt what I am describing here is an age-old story of the battle between the underground and the mainstream, or of the recuperation of the avant-garde by capital and so on, and one that doesn’t justify too much dwelling on nor tears. Certainly, there is no bitterness felt towards the way that things have changed and the people, bands and collectives that have brought that change in landscape about; as I wrote earlier we are if anything prime contributors to that process! Guilty as charged! Rather, I just aim to analyse that which brings one chapter to a close, or perhaps a halt, and prompts another to begin. James, Graham, Giles, myself, Keeby and most everyone mentioned in the above are still active in music, promoting and other DIY and self-organised activity outside of music; it just isn’t presently hung off of the Obscene Baby Auction moniker, but that’s not to say it won’t be taken up again. For now though I hope that this new website serves as a more comprehensive archive of what we did and what motivated that activity and acts as a contribution to a narrative about the DIY music scene of that period.
--- update ---
As hinted at in the above, after building this website with the intention of archiving old material it became obvious that there was no real need to draw a line under Obscene Baby Auction. The ethics and the motivations that drove OBA are still relevant and being expressed in various ways so I have begun to use the name for the gigs I am (co)organising in Bradford where the act of promoting and playing gigs seems more urgent and has more potential for meaningful resonance for me than in Leeds presently. The news and upcoming gigs sections are the best places to look for this.
I have also used the site to host a number of digital-only releases, of recordings that never saw the light of day or of new stuff that it seems appropriate to share for free on this site - see the digital section for that.
Last, I recently added an 'on 'DIY'' article in the 'about' section. As mentioned in the piece of writing this isn't an attempt to author or strictly draw parameters around that which constitutes 'DIY' but I felt it would be a useful addition to the site given current debates on the subject and the frequency with which it is used in the site.
Plans for a new record are also under way but more on that later.