Athens Of The North founder Euan Fryer
The IMI 30th Jul 2021

'Indies are strong and can get stronger. We are the future'

The AIM Independent Music Awards returns on August 25. In the weeks leading up to this year's ceremony, The IMI will be sitting down with the people behind the nominees for Best Small Label. This week, meet Athens Of The North founder Euan Fryer…

Founded in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2014, Athens Of The North could perhaps be described as an extension of Euan Fryer’s record collection.

“I have a serious collection of American soul, funk and disco 45s,” he says. “The vision of the label was to find artists from the records I collect and reissue music they thought had been forgotten.”

But it doesn’t stop there. In fact the AOTN model is three-fold, with Fryer recognising that by signing publishing deals, he is able to boost profits through sync and sample clearances.

“We then use profits to fund high quality new releases from a small group of artists I 100% believe in,” he explains.

Reissue or new release, the remastering and recording is all done in-house: “It takes a huge pressure off artists financially and time-wise,” says Fryer, who would like to get even more hands-on in the near future by adding a cutting lathe to the AOTN inventory.

“I’d also like to build a small analogue studio in the hills of Ibiza so we can take artists away and record in the sun with no pressure, but that’s a while away yet.”

In the meantime, Fryer has a 2021 AIM Awards nomination for Best Small Label to worry about.

How do you define success for your releases?

Obviously sales are a driver, as you have to pay the bills, but I want to make future classics and take risks with good artists. Success for me is going back two years later, listening to an LP and knowing we made something really special.

What have been your proudest moments with the label?

I find it hard to pat myself on the back or be proud, I’m always learning and getting better. I’m proud whenever cashflow is not on the edge and I can say to artists, ‘Let’s just start this next week.’ I guess my proudest moment, when I can stop and look back, is yet to come.

"With the rise of new indie stores - and some hardcore shops that have been around for years - we have allies pushing good music in every town."

Why do you think you’ve been nominated for this award (don’t be modest)?

We work on putting out good music. I stay away from fads and try and make classic albums with people I know are right. Someone has obviously spotted that. That’s really nice.

How have you coped over the pandemic? How have you adjusted?

Sales were down a bit, but the label didn’t stop completely. Vinyl pressing capacity has been a nightmare and sync all but disappeared. We got a couple of good hip-hop sample clearance advances, which helped a lot, and we have increased our output on the reissue side to make up for fewer sales. We just worked harder.

How much impact can indies have in 2021 compared to, say, 5-10 years ago? How have things changed?

Obviously digital is a great equalizer, and with the rise of new indie stores – and some hardcore shops that have been around for years – we have allies pushing good music in every town. I feel people are searching out music again, so we are strong and can get stronger. Indies are also strong in the sync market as we have the best tunes. I still feel advertising needs to take more risks, but we will get there. So, yes, loads of impact. We are the future.

If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?

I’ll take two short ones: The fact it is so London-centric and streaming rates could be better/more transparent.