[PIAS] Le Label
It was 1982. The story of Play It Again Sam begins here, when Kenny Gates, a student, opened the front door of the Casablanca Moon Record Shop, a Belgium-based store owned by Michel Lambot. Both men, equally passionate about music, wanted to form a label that improved the production, distribution, and promotion of new non-commercial music. They had a shared desire to restore the image of Belgian musicians abroad, looking to develop in an international manner. Their project started to materialize in 1983 with the creation of an LLC, founded with an initial capital of around 20 000 French francs, which they duly named Play It Again Sam. The name inspired by a piece of dialogue from the Michael Curtiz film, Casablanca.
The results came quickly. In 1986, Play It Again Sam started registering artists in charts across the world. The following year, thanks in large parts to the success of the track ‘Pump Up the Volume’ by the 4AD group Marrs, PIAS continued to grow financially. This opened up a myriad of opportunities during the late 1980s. In 1987, Play It Again Sam started exporting to many countries, such as the United States, Canada, other member states of the European Union, Japan, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, and Australia. The approach of the 1990s marked another new turning point for Play It Again Sam, as it built on its Belgium-based development and expanded further abroad. As the majority of this growth occurred in Europe, in 1994 the company decided to establish a distribution structure for France. During this calendar year, Michel Lambot and Kenny Gates contacted Laurent Didailler to form PIAS France alongside Jean-Luc Marre. PIAS France was launched with 8 people on-board on April 1st, 1994, maintaining its founding objective of providing a credible alternative to major labels. Staying true to this commitment, the label signed up smaller companies that would go on to become alternative linchpins. These included City Slang, Flying Nun, Earache, F Communications, Touch & Go, and the bulk of the French alternative scene, taking in Boucherie Productions, Crash Records, and A Donf! Another important signature for PIAS France was that of Miossec, obtained three months after the launch of the company, which has to date released eight albums, selling more than one million copies in total.
In October 1994, the Epitaph label signed a distribution agreement in France with PIAS, remaining consistent with the logic of this American label that it would only distribute through independent publishing houses. This signing brought with it ‘Smash’ by The Offspring, which remains the bestselling release on an independent label ever, with 650,000 copies sold in France alone. Now convinced that quality of discovery always ends up paying dividends, PIAS France stuck to its philosophy – ‘Indie or Die’ – continuing to nurture the development of independent labels and artists. Thanks to its openness and quality control, PIAS was an important part of some of the biggest musical movements of the 1990s, like Beck on K-Records, Garbage on Mushroom Records, and Arab Strap and Mogwai on Chemikal Underground. PIAS remained closely attuned to the explosion of House and Techno in Europe on Warp (Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada), Soma (Slam, Daft Punk), Wall of Sound (Propellerheads, Les Rhythmes Digitales), and F COM (Laurent Garnier). It also stated its intent in the field of Hip-Hop, with major coups including the signatures of Tommy Boy (De La Soul) and Rawkus (Mos Def, Talib Kweli). Also, with the soundtrack ‘Ma 6-T Cracker’, the label played an important role in the burgeoning development of French rap.
PIAS approached the twenty-first century by keeping its philosophy very much in check, thereby continuing to establish itself as one of the leading distributors in the independent record market. The label’s discoveries and success stories continue to enchant our ears today. Rough Trade released albums by The Libertines and Antony & The Johnsons; Touch & Go released records by Cocorosie; the re-signed Domino had huge successes with The Kills, Franz Ferdinand, and Arctic Monkeys; NinjaTune built up a rabid following through the success of Bonobo, and Back Yard Recordings broke through on the strength of The Gossip’s smash ‘Standing in the Way of Control’. PIAS’s support of French artists remained strong; its twenty-first century luminaries includes Vitalic, Villeneuve, The Hacker, Agoria, and the aforementioned Miossec. The future of PIAS looks bright, as the company continues to provide a rich basis for new, independent artists, year after year.