Sonic Cathedral founder Nathaniel Cramp
The IMI 14th Jul 2021

'The music industry of old needs to be put out of its misery'

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 Sonic Cathedral's Nathaniel Cramp…

“I genuinely didn’t have a vision,” says Sonic Cathedral founder Nathaniel Cramp when asked about the birth of the label in 2006.

“Sonic Cathedral started as a club night in 2004 and, about 18 months later, I was chatting to Mark Gardener from Ride after a gig in Nottingham. I just spontaneously offered to release a 7” single for him. I’d never done anything like that before and had no idea how to actually make it happen, but it seemed like a good thing to do. So, I suppose the vision was to simply put a record out!”

15 years later, Sonic Cathedral is still a one-man operation but Cramp feels more empowered than ever as an indie.

He counts the chart success of bdrmm’s debut album, Bedroom, as a particular highlight of 2020 – and one that he orchestrated from his sofa at home! The album went on to grace the UK’s Official Independent Album Breakers Chart, Independent Albums Chart, Record Store Chart, Vinyl Albums Chart and Physical Albums Chart.

“I think the music industry of old needs to be put out of its misery,” he says. “Things have changed so much, and the balance of power really needs to shift away from the majors. It’s like they’re clinging on desperately to what once was. The inequalities of streaming revenue and the things Tom Gray and his Broken Record campaign are highlighting are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Essentially, there needs to be a reset: everything should be more art and artist led, and less driven by commerce. I know that sounds a bit idealistic, but imagine how great it would be, especially with independent labels leading the way.”

With Sonic Cathedral a nominee in the Best Small Label category at the AIM Independent Music Awards 2021, we sat down with Cramp to find out more about what makes him tick and to get his take on the modern indie music biz…

How do you define success for your releases?

Obviously, press coverage for a release, radio plays, or people posting pictures of records on Instagram are all lovely, but I think true success is releasing music that people will still want to seek out and listen to in years to come.

What have been your proudest moments with the label?

There are quite a few: bdrmm’s album entering the Official Charts on three separate occasions last year; working with so many of my musical heroes such as Andy Bell, Neil Halstead, Dean Wareham and more; Slowdive playing their first show after reforming at our 10th birthday party and also releasing a 7” single for them. I really do feel proud of each and every release – just seeing them in shops and witnessing other people enjoying them as much as I do is always incredible.


Why do you think you’ve been nominated for this award?

In truth because I nominated myself! As a one-man operation, I put my heart and soul into doing this and – just occasionally – it’s nice to get some sort of external validation, so I can reassure myself that I’m not wasting my time.

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

Last year was strangely positive, in that people came together and mucked in and perhaps realised the things that were and weren’t important in life. Plus, people bought a lot more records because they had more disposable income as a result of not going out or travelling to and from work. I turned the Sonic Cathedral website and socials into more of a public service thing, doing a weekly zine called Cryptogram, with interviews and features, and a regular guest mixtape called Running Shoes, for those of us who started using our daily exercise allowance to try and get fit. This year, however, things feel a bit more real and there’s less positivity; lots of things that are happening because of both the pandemic, but also because of Brexit, are hitting home – the new VAT rules for selling to the EU, ever-increasing delays at vinyl pressing plants and so on.

Where do you hope to see the label in five years?

I really don’t know. I didn’t have a plan at the start, and I still don’t have one now. I’ve really just let it grow and develop organically and, as nerve-wracking as that can be sometimes, I just hope it will work out, as things seem to have a way of doing that. Anyway, as the vinyl turnarounds are so slow at the moment, I’ll probably still be waiting for my 2022 releases to be delivered in five years!

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

I think the playing field has been levelled quite considerably. The fact that the majors seem to follow what indies are doing with the way they operate just goes to prove that. Look at things like vinyl, which they had all but given up on; when I see the bdrmm album in the vinyl charts – a record that I put out quite literally while sitting on my sofa – nestled between releases by Nirvana and Amy Winehouse with the might of Universal behind them, it really brings that home. Anything is possible!