There’s a certain something to the humble 7” record that the vinyl resurrection overlooked this time around. As the alluring physicality of a meaty LP has in time proven itself irreplaceable, the old-fashioned notion of buying an actual single looks inert in the face of SoundCloud and Spotify – the romanticism of immediacy blunted by the internet’s oversaturation. Step forward GOD UNKNOWN RECORDS, the new label whose atypical approach looks to breathe the life of personality back into the 45rpm disc, to restore proper faith in a format that for others is a mere promotional platform.
When Mugstar started we very much wanted the immediacy of the 7”, and I’ve still got that inside me. I think there’s something really beautiful about it,” says Jason Stoll – God Unknown founder and bassist in the mettlesome psych rock outfit – when we meet him for a chat about the project. “It’s short-ish compared to an album format, and some of the bands involved, their songs often would last a lot, lot longer than they would on a 7”, so I think [it’s] just the essence of a short, sharp, shock.”
Over the course of nearly a decade touring the continent with Mugstar and putting on shows with the Behind The Wall Of Sleep collective, Jason Stoll has amassed a pretty bulging contact book of far-out space rock merchants. God Unknown is making good use of these contacts, setting up a mouth-watering run of initial releases: White Hills, Teeth Of The Sea, Mind Mountain and Acid Mothers Temple are among those already signed up, each of whom takes a side on one of ten split 7” records, to be released intermittently across the next twelve months to subscribers who pay an upfront £50 subscription. With Mugstar, Stoll has had his fair share of experience with labels, and from it acquired nothing but passion. “The labels we’ve been on, and are still having records released by, are labels that are done by people who love music and love the vinyl format. I think having that aesthetic and that love of vinyl behind what you do is vital. There’s always this lineage of people who just absolutely love what they do.”
For Stoll, the idea behind God Unknown has long been something on which he’s been ruminating. “It was about twelve months ago I came up with the idea to do a label, and the idea of a singles club came up around the same time. It was sort of inspired by Sub Pop Records’ singles club, which was out, like, twenty years ago.” That famous string of releases gave birth to nascent sounds from the likes of Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Fugazi, and is now widely associated with the “Seattle Sound”, but for God Unknown the slant is more overtly psychedelic, for now at least. Stoll attributes the similar strains running through the roster to the personal connection at the heart of the label’s formation. “They’re basically just people I’ve connected with over the years and I’ve been privileged enough to put their music out… There’s continuity in that aspect, a lineage of psych rock or krautrock.”
Indeed, the psychedelic scene is at the moment immensely fertile, and God Unknown can almost be looked upon as a chronicler of sorts. “I think it’s great that psychedelia is influencing things again,” says Stoll. “I don’t think psychedelic music has ever necessarily gone away, but I think it’s got a different take on it now compared to what it might have done in the ‘60s for example; the ‘60s was all about exposure to different sights and sounds and colours and experiences, but the music sort of stayed to a particular format, whereas the format of psychedelia now, I feel, is quite a vast, varied sort of musical genre.”
There’s a definite link too with Rocket Recordings, the cult psych label whose roster includes a number of God Unknown alumni. “I know Johnny [O’Carroll] and Chris [Reeder] from Rocket quite well. I suppose the bands who are on their label [are bands] we’ve played with quite regularly. They’re people who are friends as well, like Anthroprophh, Teeth Of The Sea, Gnod.” It’s an exciting time for the label, which, after years of mainstream ignorance is finding widespread adoration thanks to its game-changing discovery of Goat, and God Unknown’s involvement is a welcome widening of their roster’s discography – each single is, of course, entirely new material.
It’s that idea of putting psych on a 7” that’s most intriguing about God Unknown’s approach. The shortest song on Gnod’s latest album, for example, was over eight minutes in length – the longest was over seventeen. They built their sound on Herculean grooves and intense, sweeping soundscapes, free to roam amid the spacious confines of an LP; but, for God Unknown, that potency, that quaking, caustic energy is to be bottled and distilled, concentrated into the good old-fashioned “short, sharp shock”. “Some of the tracks are quite different to what the bands may do on their albums,” Stoll enthuses. “I feel quite honoured that all these people have been involved and are giving it a different take on what they do.”
Enticing too is the fact that each record is a split single. Release one for example – out on 13 October – is a meeting of the aforementioned Gnod and the psychotropic swagger of Portland, Oregon’s Eternal Tapestry. Not only is it an affirmation of the project’s value, but it adds yet another angle. Though not all of the initial twenty names are yet released, the roster so far is a bona fide cornucopia. “We’re doing it as a split release, because I just thought it would be quite a nice idea to be able to have two bands who complement each other,” says Stoll, and amidst such a kaleidoscopic roster the collisions are sure to be astounding.
It would also seem that this preliminary ten is only the beginning for God Unknown; even at this relatively embryonic stage the reception’s been remarkably positive. “I’ve already spoken to a couple of people about being part of the next ten, so they’ve agreed to do that already. As it stands, it’s selling really well.” The machine may only be just cranking into action, but Stoll clearly has grand schemes in mind: “There are so many bands who I’d love to work with. Obviously Goat would be an amazing thing to do… Endless Boogie too, who are like a krautrock boogie band, but absolutely amazing. Maybe Wooden Shjips as well.”
Much of the excitement surrounding the label so far is about the project’s near-boundless potential. We can only speculate as to specifics (Stoll admits to Thee Oh Sees as being favourites of his), but what’s certain is the humble 7” is set for a revamp, and it’s going to be kaleidoscopic.
God Unknown’s first split 7” (featuring Gnod and Eternal Tapestry) is released on 13