The state51 Conspiracy has been connecting the worlds of music, technology and creativity for three decades.
We are a record label and distributor. We make products in our Atelier and make content in our Factory. We release and market music and build audiences. Our team has many years of expertise in marketing, PR, creative, product design, project management, rights administration and more.
Our production capabilities and our spaces are exciting and unique: they give us the luxury of deep creative exploration and experimentation. The look and feel of what we do and how we work with artists and labels is completely different to any other music company.
We produce live sessions, video content, press shots, marketing assets, events and more - all in-house and in our spaces. We even have a chef on site.
We run greedbag webstores and publish greedmag, a music, records and culture zine. Each issue, we print 1000 copies and send out to greedbag customers. We run a regular pop-up record shop and host launch parties.
We re-invest our money into projects that support artists and labels, not VC funds. We’re totally independent and play by our own rules.
We pride ourselves on taking a different approach and would love to get to know you.
Labels and artists, past and present:
Lo Recordings, pinkflag, Ghost Box Records, Trunk Records, Clay Pipe Music, Wire, Point Blank, Bella Union, Heavenly Recordings, Soundway Records, Love Love, Damaged Goods, Jalapeno Records, Kansas Smitty’s, NUXXE, Sways, Trim, Stones Throw, Tom Robinson, Donovan, Van Morrison, Glastonbury Festival, The Band Aid Trust, Fake Laugh, Gnod, JK Flesh, Anushka Chkheidze, Kevin Godley, Steve Levine, Korhan Futaci, Nijuu, NxxxxxS, Bladud Flies!, Industrial Records, Coil, Carter Tutti Void, Chris & Cosey, Daniel Pemberton, Fyfe Dangerfield, Guillemots, Toby Hay, Ann Wilson, GRGDN Music, Subtext, Arc Light Editions, R&S, Minty, Strange Attractor, Swim, Teleplasmiste, Alva Noto, Pete Fowler, Psapp, Saint Etienne, Front and Follow, Fika, Trestle, Not Applicable, The Leaf Label, Steve Jansen, Minimal Compact, Her Ensemble and many more.
Media partners: Wire maqazine, DIY magazine, The Quietus, Independent Music Podcast
A history of The state51 Conspiracy by its founder.
“The state51 Conspiracy was the response of a small group of people to the first emergence of the graphical world wide web.
In 1991 I’d started a business to do projects involving music and technology - from music production to interactive features for consumer events. The sorts of things I was doing were an Air Harp - played by stroking a space rather than strings. Some very primitive branching narrative works. Plus looking at the tools and processes of generative music. We used to show up at clubs and events with some interactive installations. I had a band called Digital Nomads, which worked on CDi only and was the only pirate interactive team anywhere.
I’d been introduced by Gavin Hills, an extraordinary journalist who did danger zone features for The Face to Tim Leighton Boyce, who had been publishing a skater mag called RAD. Tim and Gavin were launching a magazine called Phat with a more lifestyle take on skate culture. Tim introduced me to Cynthia Rose, art and pop culture journalist and critic.
Gavin Hills and I pitched a series of ‘danger zone’ CDi titles featuring his writing and photographs from his trips, but ee were all more excited about the internet. Tim ran his publishing operations on Compuserve forums, and I’d got an internet connection, and when the service provider offered web hosting we decided to do a website.
We needed a name for the project. The most prominent things online at the time were the US Library of Congress, and a west coast tech utopian community called the Well - ‘Whole Eart ‘Lectronic Link, which was a bulletin board with an internet gateway attached. So we called ourselves state51 - an ironic reference to not being the 51st state of America, a trope that many 20th century writers had explored, and a rejection of what we termed ‘techno-cyber-bollocks’.
I had a strong sense at the time, not that we were part of a ‘change the world’ cliché, but that state51 would allow us to exist on our own terms within the world, and the world could share what of ours it could see and find useful. We therefore became, and remain, a conspiracy, and will only stop being a conspiracy when we fully explain our existence and purpose.
Alternatively, I had been interested in the origin of science for some time. The internet seemed to be emblematic of science in popular culture, and our relationship to it as individuals was shaded with utopianism, Posthumans, and Cyberpunks, of which I was deeply suspicious.
I think it was March 1993 when we really started construction work, and we launched in December that year. It must have been one of the first websites in the UK. It made sense to me the way that 7” single records and pop radio made sense.
We put the Knowhere Guide online, which had been a list of places in the UK of use to skaters, and made it so you could send in updates. The UK’s first UGC. We started doing one page articles on music and pop culture. Word went round, and people started offering things. I met David Toop and we tried to make an interactive online version of his Buried Dreams album.
In 1994 I was asked by Tony Wilson and Feargal Sharkey to go to a music industry conference in Manchester to tell people about interactive media. In 1995 they asked me back to tell the music industry people what the internet was and why they should take notice. David Toop came with me, and introduced me to Jeremy Silver, who was running press at Virgin Records, and would become Head of New Media. Jeremy asked me to help Virgin get online, and we built the UK’s first record label websites for Virgin and some of the artists.
I was given a fairly free hand at Virgin. By this time The state51 Conspiracy was well known as an award winning new media creative shop. We put together a way to do online events on the web, chats and live publishing. We did some internet broadcasts, with Future Sound of London and The Rolling Stones. We also made an interactive TV show, which won some awards, and did a live interactive TV broadcast.
Working with Virgin Records and EMI had informed my thinking about how the internet would impact the music industry, good and bad. Alongside the work I was doing with The Spice Girls, Genesis, and the rest of the bands I started thinking about how to connect geographically spread fans to niche music. By 1997 I’d put together a website that could sell digital music. I was very interested in how communities work, and with the principles we’d learned from running the Knowhere Guide we created an online music community which we called sonomu. It let anyone participate fully, as an artist, a label, a reviewer, a performer, and sell their music and promote their shows.
This was around the time broadband was being introduced. We helped BT put together some online content - video, audio, writing and interactive fun - that showcased the ADSL product they were developing. We ran a fortnightly video zine called The Skam, which was subscriber only, and featured music and interviews. We won more Music Week creative and design awards.
By this point I’d also developed an interest in machine learning, and was starting to apply it to managing some of the online publishing and marketing systems we had been building and running for the EMI Group. One of the hardest things in pop music is introducing a new artist so this was a good place to test ideas. I started thinking how to create a universal platform that could support musicians, and all the bits you need to connect the music to audiences and to money.
Around this time I was approached by a startup called PlayLouder, with backing from Beggars Group, to help them deliver what can only be called a reimagined music magazine, complete with writers and photographers, and lots of music journo attitude. I’d found a derelict factory site in Shoreditch which we managed to secure, and we had a fibre optic internet connection installed (which surprised BT). Alongside the work I wanted to do with video and content production, and live events, we moved PlayLouder into our space so we could work very closely on the combination of music, content, and technology which I love.
We used some of the early work I had been doing on the universal platform idea to build the PlayLouder.com website and content management system. At the same time we recruited some interesting independent record labels, and ran shops for them on our platform. It seemed likely that music would be sold digitally, and the contracts and functions of the old physical distribution system didn’t fit, so I put together a distribution contract with a music industry lawyer, and we added distribution to The state51 Conspiracy - certainly the first in the UK to do so.
Our first office, which we took in 1992, was a room in the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. It was owned by a huge restaurants group who, after the brewery closed, did not know what to do with the site. After the recession of 1991 there was no real demand for real estate of any kind in the area. The only occupants of what later became Europe’s biggest creative and tech clusters, were us and the Bangladeshi Welfare Association, a local charity. A wholesaler rented the yard, which was the only one in central London big enough for articulated lorries. When the owner of the site put it up for sale the wholesaler bought it so they could continue their business, and added the workspace and venues a little later.
The second half of the 90s was a mini boom, and the first wave of tech investors started pumping money into startups, many of which rented offices in the Brewery alongside the creatives. It got busy, and that lost its attraction for me. I wanted to stay in the area, and found a derelict site at the northern end of Brick Lane, which we negotiated for and occupied in 1999. We called it The state51 Factory as a kind of tame tribute to Warhol’s iconic space, and installed a private fibre internet connection so we could stream out live TV quality video.
We invited PlayLouder to share the state51 Factory with us, and with them I was able to look at another aspect of music online. I built a prototype ISP that could allow filesharing between subscribers, but block transfers to non-subscribers. Broadband and music is a natural bundle, so I wanted to have total flexibility in how we could offer sharing, discovery, and social media around music. Our work won some awards, and the idea was picked up by Virgin Media, before being killed by UMG.
The Factory also enabled us to add physical mail order to our Greedbag web shops, and we fitted out a room as a warehouse. Many at the time were looking for the end of the physical product, but I felt that it would not only have a longer commercial life than some were predicting, but that it would in some way evolve and find a new role. There was no way at the time to predict the vinyl revival, but it seemed to me that holding a thing with weight and size had to be part of the future experience of music. And being all digital seemed to be more for the convenience of tech investors than music creators or audiences, for whom a music product can almost be possessed by a spirit. So The state51 Conspiracy as a group of labels got a bit bigger and more complex.
With the state51 and PlayLouder teams we had some fun with Glastonbury, producing a virtual festival when the real thing wasn’t running, and then taking a full media creation and livestreaming crew to Glastonbury 200n, as well as running an onsite internet cafe for the punters. Lots of tech problems solved, and amazing content created.
Our ISP prototype went B2B with MSP, and we built and ran two full catalogue music subscription services, in Ireland and in Quebec. The state51 platform added content and rights management to support these projects. Both were eventually pulled by their owners.
Also with PlayLouder we had formed a JV which I called Consolidated Independent. I had thought that online music services would inevitably be developed, and that the smaller labels would not be able to afford or manage the kind of digital music supply chain they’d need, so we built it and started to create a community of the best indies around it. We incorporated in 2002, and were in position with the tools and skills to deliver the first indie catalogue to the iTunes store when it launched in 2003. Part of my mission was to tame the chaos; we imposed our own standards on the supply chain, and then were among the founders of the DDEX consortium, and the Merlin, to complete the set of requirements for equal access to the emerging digital music market.
Among CI’s many present and former clients have been BMG, Sanctuary, Beggars, Redeye, The Orchard, Fuga, Secretly Canadian, AWAL, the BBC, and of course The state51 Conspiracy.”
- Paul Sanders