Sean Price looks back on 20 years of bucking the mainstream...

This time next week Fortuna POP! will be no more: the final gig will be over, the final chord will be strummed, the final gin will be tonic’d. It’s been, without any doubt, a bit emotional.

An independent label of a two decade vintage, Fortuna POP! started when shoegaze and indie pop were by-words in uncool, and watched as the genres drifted back into fashion, before slowly slipping over the horizon. A steadfast presence in a genuine underground scene, the label’s passing completes a stellar discography that shifts from Darren Hayman to Joanna Gruesome, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart to Spook School.

Label founder Sean Price is typically modest and self-deprecating about it all, however. “I was going to stop when I got to 100 records… but then The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart arrived, and I was on 101 records, and it seemed to be going quite well so I kept going!” he says with a chuckle. “I never quite managed to do it as a full-time thing, it’s always been a bit of a struggle. 20 years, 200 records – it seemed quite nice and neat!”

Ending with a run of sold out shows in London, Fortuna POP! will bring together its extended family for one last shindig. It’s a far cry from the labels origins, when Sean was driven by little more than a thirst for music and relentless enthusiasm for the concept of a label.

“I grew up in a small place in the Midlands, and really nothing ever happened, and I started working in a boring IT job and wanted to do something different,” he recalls. “I wanted to be involved with music. I always wanted to be in a band but I was a terrible musician.”

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“My brother was in a band with some of his friends, and we bought a reel to reel 8-track so they could record something on it. Then we thought: let’s put out a single. And we did. I didn’t really know what I was doing. And a year later I still had them under my bed because I didn’t understand how to get records into shops! But that was how it started. Just really wanting to be a part of music, because it meant a lot to me when I was growing up.”

Right from the start, the label was meant as more than simply a business, but a community in its own right. Bands would exchange numbers, projects would begin in rehearsal rooms, and Fortuna POP! would sit at the centre, quietly supporting them in their endeavours.

“One of the things that I think we’ve been quite good at is engendering a sense of community between our bands,” he says. “I’m always surprised about how many of our bands know each other. Often I’ll find out that some band is collaborating, or working with each other, and I’ll be like… I didn’t even know you guys knew each other!”

All this underlines the importance of a record label. In the web environment, there’s an argument that tech-enabled self-releasing is the way to proceed, but Fortuna POP! – with it’s tight-knit community and carefully curated identity – proved that labels remain superbly creative endeavours.

“There is definitely something about being DIY and taking control, and not being in hock to anybody else,” Sean enthuses. “And I think hopefully I’ve enabled a lot of bands to do exactly what they want to do, because I never really say to them ‘you have to do this...’ and I’m always really, really pleased when bands come up with something that is political, with a big or small ‘p’.”

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“And I feel like a lot of the bands I’ve been working with over the last few years – particularly Spook School and Martha – are saying very, very important things. I think Spook School are an immensely important band for the trans community.”

Currently working with the new wave of DIY pop bands across the land, Fortuna POP! is going out on a healthy, creative note. “They say these things go in 20 year cycles, so ten years ago we had Twee As Fuck and that whole kind of White Heat, part indie pop and part hipster thing going on. I had Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and it felt genuinely exciting then.”

“Indie pop has maybe slipped away a little bit, but what I am excited about now is the DIY pop thing going on with bands like Martha and Joanna Gruesome, and the scene around DIY Space For London. Which seems a bit more edgy and political, to me, and all the better for it, I think.”

What’s needed, though, are imprints with ambition, who want to reach a wider audience. “I think there are good labels around… there’s a lot of labels I do like. But I think it might take a little while until you see what those DIY/younger labels are like. I feel like we were ambitious about what we wanted to do, and that enabled us to sign better bands because people saw that we were willing to put the effort into doing press and radio, and the like.”

“Sometimes you see these little DIY labels spring up and they last for ten releases. I think the important labels are the ones who do have that ambition to get their music out to a wider audience. So I hope that some of the bands I’m talking about in that DIY pop area, I hope there are labels who will help them to get to that audience.”

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Reminiscing about the label’s run of singles, those important album releases, Clash observes that the internet – services such as Spotify and BandCamp – offer the label a kind of immortality. “There’s a lot of negative things about Spotify,” he observes, “but one of the good things is that in 20 or 30 years time someone will presumably won’t be struggling to find a stream of Fortuna POP! whereas it wouldn’t be like Sarah Records, where people would be paying £150 for a seven inch on eBay. It’s interesting. Maybe there’s something there about Spotify where it’s maybe a longer income stream for labels and bands. You’re still earning from the single you released when you’re 20 when you’re 65.”

Planning to maintain the label’s catalogue where appropriate, Fortuna POP! might well become a living museum to two decade’s of existing outwith the system. The struggle, though, is only getting more and more fierce with each passing day.

“I think people are just generally buying less music,” he says. “There’s less money around. People don’t spend as much on music. I feel like maybe music means less to people these days, somehow. To a small number of people it means a lot, but I feel as a massive cultural thing it doesn’t have the same kind of power that it used to have.”

“Since I decided to give up I kind of feel that I’m doing it at the right time, with Brexit happening. There’s a lot of small labels pressing in the Czech Republic, so with the pound going down that’s only going to become more expensive. And with custom charges coming in, that will just absolutely kill small labels.”

Able to look ahead, Sean Price believes that the end of Fortuna POP! will ultimately give the label fresh perspectives. “A lot of those labels that I loved when I was growing up (stopped early)… particularly Postcard. What was it… 11 seven inches and one album? And they continue to be a classic label. It is kind of nice for somebody to have that beginning and an end. I don’t think things have to last forever, it doesn’t devalue them by stopping. In fact, it probably adds to the value of it, really.”

Set to quite literally fly off into the sunset – he’s moving to Japan, after all this dies down – Sean Price is eagerly anticipating being able to gather friends, collaborators, contemporaries, and new acquaintances for the biggest party the label has ever had. “I do know that I’m finishing,” he says, “and it’s nice to be able to have that control over how I end it. With a big celebration!”

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Final Fortuna POP! shows:

Fri 24 March - 6.30pm – Islington Assembly Hall
The Butterflies Of Love + Sodastream + Flowers + Darren Hayman + DJ Declan Allen

Sat 25 March - 3pm – Tufnell Park Dome / Boston Music Room (all dayer)
Comet Gain + The Proper Ornaments + Evans The Death + The Loves + Mammoth Penguins + Milky Wimpshake + Bearsuit + September Girls + Tigercats + Special Guests

Sun 26 March, 12 noon – The Lexington
Steven James Adams & The French Drops + Tender Trap / The Catenary Wires + Elva + DJs John Jervis & Ben Clancy (The Hangover Lounge) - (Five Day Pass Holders Only)

Sun 26 March, 6:30pm – Scala
Martha + Joanna Gruesome + The Spook School + Chorusgirl + DJ Paul Richards (Scared To Dance)

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