Cool Death is the no-nonsense label every diehard wishes they made. Since 2012, founders Tom Bradford, Alessandro Coco and Moses Williams have released a small army of cool, creative, and catchy punk records. By any measure, their know-how of singular music is enviable. The likes of Power, Gutter Gods, Tyrannamen, and Soma Coma have at once pushed Melbourne’s punk scene and broken it down piece by piece. With crunching power chords, face-melting distortion and cyclonic vocals, this new wave of punk bands is more Rose Tattoo than Ramones. The trio have also been fortunate enough to keep a physical outlet for the label. With help from Dan Stewart (of Straightjacket Nation and Total Control) Lulu’s opened in 2015 and provided a compact record store flattering their love of scuzzy, chest-beating rock. For Tom, Mo and Coco – three mates who flippantly bemoan their waning finances – money seems to be the least of their concern. At Cool Death, the only objective is to keep the scene alive and kicking. Always kicking.
As the founders of Cool Death what made you want to have your own record label?
Mo: It was more so on the back of distributing my own band’s stuff. It’s good to cut out the middleman. Pressing records, dubbing tapes, sending them off, it just seems easier to do it yourself. That was my impetus.
Thomas: Coco and I were in a band together. We had a demo tape and we knew it had to be released. That’s pretty much how we made the label.
Coco: There also seemed to be a lot of labels working with cool bands or bands I was into. From where I saw it, they kind of dropped the ball and didn’t do the coolest thing they could do with each release. I thought some bands warranted more attention and effort to making the release look and seem the right way.
Mo: In my opinion, there wasn’t a label that was cool enough. We just figured we could do it ourselves. And there was a circle of friends where everyone was in a fucking cool band. So, to begin with, it seemed like we could do a whole bunch of releases.
Coco: We also didn’t want to just do one release, put our name on something cool we liked and then drop off—which is what a lot of labels were doing at the time.
Is there a sound you’re gunning for when a new band comes forward with music?
Mo: Absolutely not.
Coco: I would say there’s definitely a vibe of ‘punk’ or ‘punk history’ with every band we’ve been involved in, whether they’re an outright hardcore band or they’re someone like Power who play something more similar to rock n’ roll. I can still hear a lot of punk in Power. But I can also hear a lot of punk in Orion.
Thomas: It’s also about the attention to detail with all the bands we’ve put out. They all labour over their shit. They’re not just like “Oh yeah, let’s just throw together the first five songs”. There’s always an element of hard work and attention to detail with how our band’s sound. Also, there are no two bands who sound the same.
What’s the journey been like since you first started? Are you surprised the label has managed to hack it for this long?
Thomas: I think the essence of the label hasn’t changed one bit. It’s still just the three of us being like, “Yeah, that’s sick. Let’s release that.” It’s real simple.
Coco: It’s also come at a really nice, natural pace. From the early days, it’s been “A friend’s got a new band, let’s release that… Holy shit, they’re really good! Let’s try and work with them.” Maybe things have gotten bigger, particularly for some of the bands. I don’t think the label’s necessarily gotten bigger but some of the bands have gotten a lot more recognition than anyone would have foreseen.
It’s never been about making a buck?
Coco: No way. If I had the opportunity to release a band that I knew would sell but I didn’t give a shit about their music, you wouldn’t catch me dead.
Mo: And we’ve never made a buck either.
Coco: We’re still sitting around scabbing cigarettes, aren’t we?
Mo: I’m scabbing cigarettes. I’m in fucking heaps of debt.
Tell me how Lulu’s came about? Does the store go hand-hand with Cool Death? Is this where you want your label to have a physical presence?
Coco: It is, but this isn’t just our idea. I remember being at my mate’s art exhibition, and he came up and said, “Oh yeah, Dan (Stevens) told me during the week he’s thinking about opening up a pop-up record store, and he wants us to be involved.” And then maybe a month or two later we heard about this room from a friend who works at the bar. And then five weeks after that initial conversation Lulu’s happened.
Mo: This room was just full of garbage and junk. It was the storeroom for the café. So we cleaned it all out and started up the shop. It’s a good place to have our records. It takes the pressure off distributing. People can get them here instead of having to mail order them from online.
Thomas: But it’s very much its own thing. With Cool Death, we release all of our friend’s bands. Whereas Lulu’s is all of the other shit we think is sick, whether that’s around Australia or the world. It gives us more scope and makes things bigger.
In this day and age, is it important for underground bands and labels to maintain a physical presence?
Thomas: Absolutely. We’ve still never done a digital download code with anything we’ve ever had, because we stubbornly feel if you’re releasing a record, then it’s about the record. It’s about sitting in front of it and playing it. It’s all we know, it’s all we’ve grown up on.
I can imagine too many people have told you running a label and a record store isn’t financially viable in 2017. But what’s it really like? Is there a reward for all your work?
Coco: When you think about it, and you think about how busy you can be at any given moment, it’s fucked. Especially for something you’re not getting paid for.
Mo: But it’s about opening a box after they’ve come from the plant and holding a shiny Gutter Gods record. It’s been a pain in the arse, but look at this thing! It’s a monster! It’s beautiful! It makes it worthwhile.
Thomas: All the rewards are intrinsic. It’s also because we’re fucking obsessives. You want to pass on that obsessiveness to other people. And there’s a lot of enthused kids that come in here which is great.
Did you have any exclusive release plans for the label or the store for this year’s Record Store Day?
Coco: No. If we could have something cool to offer like, say, a sales bin then maybe something like that. But, it’s a wank. It’s just big money getting onto something, which is way more pure than that.
Mo: It’s beneficial for a store. It’s good when those sorts of days keep small businesses in business. But for a small label it’s a fucking pain in the arse. It’s because all those exclusive Record Store Day releases clog up the pressing plant and then your Power record gets delayed, or your Orion record gets delayed.
Thomas: And from what I understand, if you want to get on the ‘official Record Store Day drops’ in Australia then you have to go through Sony BMG. There’s no fucking way I’m talking to them.
Coco: If it works for some people, then great. But it’s not for us.
What’s the future of the store and the label? Has ‘just keep on keeping on’ been the motto since day one?
Coco: Cool Death will always be what it has been. As for Lulu’s, there’s other people involved and I think we’re all excited to see where we can take this. How many more great records can we have in a year or two? Where can we go with this? It’s really fucking exciting. I feel like places need that. I want to be in a city that has a dope record store that understands the underground and gets that stuff in.
Thomas: The future is pretty easy. I mean, the whole thing from day one has pretty much written its own script. The essence of the label and of Lulu’s hasn’t really changed; it’s about cool music.
Mo: We’re definitely not pushing for something. We’re not trying to sign bands or all this other shit. I’d rather do one or two records a year, than do a record every fucking month. It’s fun as shit.
Lulu’s is a record and book store located out the back of: A Fan’s Notes 787 Nicholson St Carlton North. Open Thursday 5-8. Weekends 12pm – 6pm or by appointment.
- Photography: Stephanie Coco