Chris Farrell has been an integral part of Bristol’s music scene for many years now, working alongside his fellow music-heads to help shape the sound of the city. Chris has his fingers in many pies, though most of us will associate him with local record label Idle Hands that he co-founded with Tom Ford, aka Peverelist, whilst working together at the now defunct Rooted Records. The vinyl-based electronic label was established in order to represent experimental dance tracks being born out of the city’s underground touching on house, techno and bass music. Idle Hands’ early releases consisted of tunes from Peverelist himself, as well as artists like Kowton, Headhunter and Shanti Celeste. 

Chris has his fingers in many pies, though most of us will associate him with local record label Idle Hands that he co-founded with Tom Ford, aka Peverelist

Towards the end of 2010, vinyl collectors had to sadly wave goodbye to Rooted Records despite its establishment as one of the city’s favourites. Along with Imperial Music and Replay, Rooted was another record store in the depressingly long list forced to close during a troubled decade. In their wake, Bristol was left with a void desperate to be filled by its music community. With encouragement from his friends, Chris resisted the vinyl downturn prominent in the noughties by deciding to open his own record shop which he named after his burgeoning record label. Idle Hands opened its doors to the world in 2011, initially situated in Bristol’s creative hub Stokes Croft. 

Since its inception, Idle Hands has fast and furiously become one of the city’s most trusted platforms, with releases from artists close to home as well as from far afield such as Kahn, Om Unit, Strategy and Kevin McPhee, to name a few. With such a killer reputation, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Chris’ record collection is in constant demand by both locals and visitors alike. 

Chris’ label has fast and furiously become one of the city’s most trusted platforms, with releases from artists close to home as well as from far afield such as Kahn, Om Unit, Strategy and Kevin McPhee

Idle Hands is now located just around the corner from its original premise on City Road in St Pauls, resulting in more of a calm and relaxed feel as locals are provided with an inviting space away from the hustle and bustle of the city to enjoy Chris’ record collection at their own leisure. Nitelife paid the store a visit to hear about Chris’ passion, drive and taste for music, as well as the unique magnetism of his adopted hometown. 

Idle Hands Bristol interview

When it comes to record shops, Chris has been around the block a fair bit since his entry into the industry, having worked at Imperial, Replay and Rooted. Now, not only does he have a store of his own, Idle Hands is viewed as the city’s leading vinyl emporia with a worldwide reputation. 

‘I’ve worked in record shops for a long time now. By the time Rooted closed down in 2010 I thought maybe that was the end of records shops, though a few of my friends that were running labels and the like suggested that maybe I should have a go at doing it myself. As the record industry was so bleak, it was a good time to start really as there was no competition.

As the record industry was so bleak, it was a good time to start really as there was no competition

‘I look back now and there was this one afternoon where I just walked into Imperial and there was someone standing at the counter asking if there were any jobs going’, continues Chris, ‘and they said that there were actually. I thought this guy didn’t really sound like he knew what he was talking about, so when he left I went up to the counter and my friend Ralph was working at the time. I said that I think I can do that and he was like, “okay, well tell me what you know”. I gave him a bit of chat and the boss was really happy to take me on. I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for that one fateful day. You know there’s that phrase, chance favours the prepared mind – I quite like that.’

Coming from a musical family, Chris explains that getting into music was never discouraged. Following in his dad’s footsteps after getting into dance music and the rave scene, Chris also took his turn on the decks and has become a credible DJ that can dish out an incredibly diverse range of music. It takes a bucket-load of talent for a DJ to seamlessly move between house, disco, soul and techno, and it is evident that Chris’ time spent handling vinyl has had a glowing effect.

‘The idea of Idle Hands was to represent stuff that was going on because there was so much music coming out of Bristol’, Chris explains, ‘it felt wrong that there wasn’t a record shop to represent it. The aim of the shop has always been to represent good dance music in Bristol with a local focus but an international perspective.’ 

The idea of Idle Hands was to represent stuff that was going on because there was so much music coming out of Bristol (…) it felt wrong that there wasn’t a record shop to represent it

Chris certainly didn’t expect to still be doing it seven years down the line, however, as he explains, back then he was more of a pessimist. These days, with a successful record shop alongside two records labels (Idle Hands and Brstl, which he runs with Celeste) to his name, Chris explains that he has naturally become more of an optimist. 

‘As time has gone on, I’ve admitted to myself that yeah, we have actually had quite a positive impact. I’ve had people meeting in here that have gone on to do other things and that’s been really positive. I’m glad to have a hand in that.’

Named as one of the UK’s most creative cities, Bristol is well known for its vibrant music scene with a plethora of prominent producers bubbling to its surface such as Julio Bashmore, Eats Everything and Phaeleh. With such a fervent music culture and countless up-and-coming artists being born, it’s vital that it’s supported and encouraged by record shops like Idle Hands as they provide an outlet for musical talent and creativity, playing a crucial role in the city’s musical development whilst providing the city’s music heads with a community base. 

‘It’s just nice to have a place for us all to meet and to have a focal point, but also, somewhere that represents some of the labels that are putting records out. That’s what I think is the most important. My motivation here has never been completely profit, it’s been about bringing people together’. 

With such a diverse range of music coming out of the city, I asked Chris how he goes about selecting Idle Hands’ stock whilst catering to everyone’s needs, and whether he considers it as sharing his own personal collection with the world. 

I have a pretty wide music taste, but I don’t think my taste is better than anyone else’s

‘I have a pretty wide music taste, but I don’t think my taste is better than anyone else’s. When you’ve been doing this for a long time you get a feel for what people want and, as time goes on, you can see people’s taste change or certain things come in and out of fashion, and I respond to that. We don’t take everything that come out as that would be impossible. I try and select things that are relatively obvious, like the big dance tunes of the time, and then I try and find things that other shops haven’t necessarily stumbled upon yet.

‘I’m really into the idea of discovering younger artists or people who are putting out their first release and getting behind them’, continues Chris. ‘I guess that’s one of the supportive things that we like to do. If I hear something really good from a brand-new artist and I know that I can sell 30/40/50 copies, my ear is definitely tuned-in.’ 

I’m really into the idea of discovering younger artists or people who are putting out their first release and getting behind them

With the rise of global online music services like iTunes and Spotify providing users with the instant gratification of digital downloads, I asked Chris how that fairs in terms of his competition. 

‘There is so much competition in terms of music, but then there is also a lot of space for everyone. Say 15 years ago, there would be five to ten shops all selling dance music, whereas these days there isn’t really that. I’m lucky to not have any direct competition in what I do. There is a number of really good record shops around town but we all specialise in slightly different things. One of the nice things about Bristol is that they’re all complimentary to each other and I would happily recommend Friendly Records or Wanted Records or Rough Trade – we don’t tend to tread on each other’s toes.

‘Also, what I’ve found is you’ll have certain things that just belong on vinyl’, Chris continues, ‘so, say like Burial, people really want that on vinyl or MF Doom. There just seems to be certain artists that people want on record.’

Idle Hands record label and record shop owner Chris Farrell

vinyl sales have reached a 25-year high

Currently, vinyl sales have reached a 25-year high as consumers of all ages have once again embraced music as a physical medium. Chris explains how that has played out in his own experience:

‘We’ve definitely noticed over the last few years a younger generation of people coming in, whereas when I first opened the shop it was very much me selling records to my friends. These days, we get people from abroad that come to us as their first port of call. Also, there are a couple of music colleges in Bristol now, so students come and see us and again, they’ll mostly be DJing off digital but there are always a few things that they want on record. Increasingly you’ll have labels that will do a limited amount of stuff and they’ll have a desire to buy something like that.’

when I first opened the shop it was very much me selling records to my friends. These days, we get people from abroad that come to us as their first port of call

‘A lot of the younger people coming in actually end up being artists’, Chris continues, ‘they might be buying records and then in a few years time they’re putting out the records. The shop here makes it seem a lot more realistic that people can put records out. Or when they come in there might be some of the older heads here like Pinch or Pev, so it’s accessible as people are around. One of the nice things about being in Bristol is that it’s a small city, so you can have a tangible connection to people and having a shop like this means there is some kind of connection between people.”

Not only is the shop a hangout for local artists, Idle Hands also hosts EP launch parties for some of the city’s best underground talents, including Sir Hiss, OH91, Jabu and Boofy over the past year. However, despite an undeniable coolness surrounding the establishment, Chris doesn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable coming into the shop, whether you’re Bristol’s next best producer or not. 

Tackling a deep-rooted and pervasive suspicion that record shops are elitist and stand-off entities, Chris says, ‘There’s definitely the old-school culture of it. But I mean, Dene over there works in a record shop and he’ll always be really nice to you when you walk in. I  think that culture has died a bit because the shops that were like that, when the internet hit and the rest of it, who wants to buy records off an asshole? 

One of the nice things about it is meeting new people and I wouldn’t want people to feel uncomfortable coming in here

‘One of the nice things about it is meeting new people and I wouldn’t want people to feel uncomfortable coming in here’, continues Chris, ‘something that I drill into anyone that works here is that we’re not better than anyone that comes in, our music taste isn’t any better – it’s not about that. If someone is coming in they are taking their time to come and see us and buy records, so let them get stuck in.’

There’s no doubting that Bristol is in the midst of another golden era for electronic music with many of the city’s artists getting respect all over the world, however, Chris isn’t willing to sit back and enjoy the ride. Through the shop, his labels and other projects, Chris wants to make sure that Bristol remains on the musical map where it belongs.

I’m old enough to remember when Bristol was seen as a little bit of a backwater for stuff. When drum and bass was on the wane there were a few years that were like a barren wasteland

‘I was talking earlier about how we want to have an international perspective; I run a label too and am involved in a few other things and what I want to do is to make sure Bristol continues to be known as a great place for electronic music in its different forms. 

‘If I can help with that in any way then that’s great. I’m old enough to remember when Bristol was seen as a little bit of a backwater for stuff. When drum and bass was on the wane there were a few years that were like a barren wasteland. Not to say that things weren’t happening, things weren’t necessarily getting recognised outside of the city. So that’s where the international perspective comes in, I’ve always wanted to shout about what happens in this city and let people know that great music happens here, whether its grime, dubstep, techno, reggae or whatever, and people are going out and partying. All these things happen in the West Country and that’s – even though I’m increasingly getting older – something I find really exciting.’

Words by Georgie Partington
Photos by Martin Thompson // @thefacecollective

idlehandsbristol.com

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