Urban music has not always been at the forefront of popular music culture in this country and when Punch Records, a Birmingham record store selling rare black music, closed down in 2004, few could have imagined that this company would go on to challenge the UK’s major music market. Yet, that’s exactly what Punch have done.
Established as a record store in 1997 by Ammo Talwar, Punch Records today stands as an urban music company that seeks to promote black music and arts through a variety of different outlets. Based in the heart of Digbeth within Brum’s much-renowned Custard Factory, Punch also lies at the heart of the community’s urban music scene. It’s a music-driven organisation that seeks to promote and develop artists whilst offering a range of music-based workshops for young people within the city.
Punch Records is an independent company that seeks to actively benefit its local community; a refreshing thought in an era of cuts to the public sector by a government whose commitment to community projects has never been so low. Its crowning achievement is arguably BASS Festival, the UK’s only month-long celebration of black music and art. The annual summer festival is now in its ninth year and a launch night in late November marked the first real glimpse of next summer’s event.
2013 was a hugely successful year for the organisation, as they continue to establish themselves in a market dominated by major corporations. “It’s been a really exciting year”, said Punch’s events co-ordinator, Smita Jalaf, as she reflected on the company’s achievements. “This year we’ve been focussing a lot more on touring, which is dominated by the bigger companies such as Live Nation. We wanted to give the local artists a chance, we can’t compete with the huge arena tours but we can provide a platform for independent talent that does not get the same chance”.
The company has worked with a range of artists, both local and national, in this period to put on a range of different tours featuring a host of different genres including soul, grime and electronic music. Last year’s festival was launched with a soul-acoustic tour and a recent tour entitled ‘Soundhistory’ explored the history of UK garage music.
Punch’s most recent tour concluded in October and was titled ‘We Live The Dream’ in memory of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. This idea was unique to Punch Records, who aim to design their tours with a certain specificity to set them apart. “We wanted a mix of local and national artists for this, merging new music, grime, soul as well as some more political stuff as well”, Smita told us.
The artist’s selected included Midlands based rapper Macca, soul-vocalist Shezar, Hackney born MC Paigey Cakey and Rukus & Dwayne Haiden from five-piece urban group The Trinity Band. These acts were responsible for writing a host of new material based around the ideas of inequality and struggle that are rooted so deep within King’s legendary speech. The tour reached several UK cities including London, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham, and ran throughout Black History Month. It merged Punch’s passion for music with its commitment to education and resulted in one of the year’s most interesting independent tours.
Their influence within Birmingham’s urban music scene is undeniable, with a host of people involved in Birmingham’s independent music scene present at their BASS Festival launch. These ranged from the up and coming: Arthur Wamala, a former recipient of Punch’s videography who now runs his own music and fashion business titled Innovance, to the very much established: Jamie Dred, the leader of the Birmingham’s biggest grime label, StayFresh Records. Live music came from Birmingham artist Lady Lykez and the sense of community amongst those in attendance was there for all to see.
As far as what lies ahead for Punch, the main aim for 2014 is to reach out to other parts of the UK, expanding their reach and linking up with more and more artists from outside the Midlands area. Having established itself as a major force within the West Midlands music scene, Smita believes it is important to continue expanding nationally. “We’re still in the planning stages as far as specific plans for the year go but we have a lot of exciting ideas”, she told us, and the excitement in her voice was unavoidable. “When competing with companies such as Live Nation, we have to stand out, and that’s where we excel. For us, we just have to make the next step to become a national company”.
It is this area that represents Punch’s biggest challenge, but also their most exciting challenge. Having established themselves as a major player within the independent urban music scene, they find themselves in the unique position of having a genuine shot at taking themselves to the next level.
This is easier said than done though, and tackling the overwhelming stronghold the major labels hold over the industry represents a huge challenge for Punch Records, but that is not to say that it is unachievable. After all, for a company that has known no limits since it’s birth in 1997, growth appears to be in Punch’s DNA.
Punch Records will be announcing their first major tour of 2014 next week, so follow them on Twitter to find out more and keep up to date.