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Digital Subscriptions > Long Live Vinyl > Jul 2019 - David Bowie > THIRTY YEARS OF MERGE RECORDS


Founded in 1989 by members of Superchunk as a vehicle to release their own records, Merge has flourished. Huw Baines marks their anniversary
Superchunk line up (l to r): Jon Wurster, Mac McCaughan, Jim Wilbur and Laura Ballance

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. The opening line of L.P. Hartley’s The Go- Between has been misused and retrofitted a thousand times, yet it serves an evocative purpose – as we look over our shoulders at the Polaroid hue of our youths, things get fuzzy at the edges. But for those who came up in the indie-rock boom of the early 90s, amid major-label bidding wars for out-of-the-way, Nirvana-adjacent punk bands, the sentiment might not go far enough.

“In a lot of ways, it feels like a different world,” Laura Ballance says over the phone from her office at Merge Records’ HQ in Durham, North Carolina. In a few months, the label will celebrate 30 years of music – including canonical releases by Arcade Fire, The Magnetic Fields, Spoon and Neutral Milk Hotel – with a bash featuring stars past and present, including Ballance and co-founder Mac McCaughan’s band, Superchunk.

Like all the best adventures, Merge’s began with people in one spot trying to get to another. In the summer of 1989, Ballance and McCaughan set out from Durham to drop some college friends home on the West Coast. Their van died a fiery death on a roadside in New Mexico, leaving them in a rental car with their sights trained on Seattle. Once there, they visited Sub Pop’s offices, picked up a Mudhoney single, and saw the label’s Lamefest showcase at the Moore Theatre.

On the return leg, the duo dreamed up a label of their own. They had music that no-one else wanted to put out – Mac couldn’t stop starting bands – and they’d had a brush with the process after helping release a collaborative 7" boxset in 1988. They also had residual Sub Pop fire in their bellies and plenty of time to think. It’s a long way from Seattle to Durham, give or take some small change – we’re talking 3,000 miles. That’s a lot of road signs. Merge is a common one on the highway.

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About Long Live Vinyl

1969 was the year that changed everything for David Bowie, and in our exclusive cover feature we speak to his former girlfriend Hermione Farthingale, plus bandmates John 'Hutch' Hutchinson and George Underwood to get the inside story. With three new Bowie boxsets out this year, you won't want to miss these rare interviews with the people who knew Bowie best – and our stunning collector's cover. Elsewhere this issue, we meet the ever-engaging Richard Hawley for a pint and a chat about his new album, Further, while Calexico and Iron & Wine tell us about their collaboration LP, Years To Burn. On the 40th anniversary of Joy Division's stellar debut Unknown Pleasures, Peter Hook takes us inside the making of the album, and we look back at another classic, Talk Talk's The Colour Of Spring. We also pay tribute to US indie label Merge on their 30th birthday and hear from James Lavelle about working with DJ Shadow, Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft and Danny Boyle. If all that's not enough, we bring you 40 essential vinyl samplers and meet Super Furry Animals artwork designer Pete Fowler. Plus you'll find the widest range of new album, reissue and hi-fi gear reviews anywhere on the newsstand. Long Live Vinyl is THE magazine for vinyl lovers. Pick up your copy today…