“Peter met Frank, formed a dummy run gang, worked heist or hit for 10 g’s flat” – Micky Rourke’s rap on David Bowie’s “Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)”, 1987.
Operating out of a rain-washed warehouse space in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, where window condensation and refraction conspire to give the streets that particular Granada-VHS-bobble, Heist or Hit do little to downplay regional cliché. It is perhaps no coincidence then that the label office historically housed raw materials. It still does. Only now the unprocessed matter is new artists. Bringing unknowns in from the cold, developing careers and generally skulking around in the cracks between genres, the label has always taken a non-conformist approach. While the acts vary musically, they share the same DNA: extraordinary pop cut with indie sensibilities. Owing its origins to founder Mick Scholefield – an ex-punk who in 2008 represented US radio station WOXY’s ears for new music discovery in the UK – seeds were sowed when he began to independently support acts he was fond of. One of these acts was The Answering Machine. Two of which, Martin Colclough and Pat Fogarty, would go on to join Mick as Heist or Hit.
Due to Mick’s affiliation with WOXY, the first generation of Heist acts were naturally handpicked from a global pool of talent. During this time, the label was running out of kitchens in South Manchester and London and licencing releases into the UK. Test pressings stacked on Formica counter tops, press releases unintentionally wet-branded by ice-box dinner trays and promo CDs patiently traffic jammed by kickboards; while the set-up wasn’t ideal, the new music discovery was electrifying. However, the realisation of licencing music via release partners eventually became a little too much like admin. The international panorama of the roster also meant that geography, distance and time zones colluded to disrupt artist development. Knowing the label had a lot to offer in this area, the decision was made to rent office space and pull focus on the glut of UK talent on the doorstep.
With the migration to the city centre came the journey of building out an infrastructure for management, publishing and distribution. Despite being first timers in these worlds, there was an air of knowing just enough to get by, not to mention a tireless dedication that was to see the label flourish in the years to come. Following a rebrand, logo redesign and the installation of a beer/ideas fridge, the office was officially baptised by a local graffiti artist who adorned the wall with a 10ft mural. Keen to cultivate a curated, family feel, Heist would raise its second-generation artists from the embers of DIY fires sparked by C86. The raw spirited, anything is possible romanticism of sub-cultures, lo-fi production, creative expression, limited runs, fanzines, basement shows and a ground swell of energy continually humming beneath the surface. A synthesis of this and Mick’s punk defiance laced the ethos of the label. Two of the key signings at this time were the then anonymous Pizzagirl and Her’s – both acts the label would manage and help build into career artists. Quickly gaining a reputation for A&R alchemy and a currency as tastemakers, the decision to develop and market brand new UK talent had paid off.
From month-long residencies in Williamsburg, NY and fever pitch shows at SXSW to festivals in Japan and Malaysia; vinyl repress after repress and album reviews that knocked Bruce Springsteen off the top of the news cycle, the label experienced some of the highest highs, but also the darkest lows. On 27 March, 2019 around 1am, Her’s were killed in a head-on collision with a car that was driving in the wrong direction up Interstate 10, Arizona. An outpouring of grief, tributes and news reports flowed until suddenly, all was still. The littleness of an everything exposed. The pain was unbearable and a body wears grief like an extra layer that cannot be removed. Gripless and lost, no amount of night was enough because when the sun rose it would all return in wave after wave of cruel consciousness. The label almost folded and it almost certainly would have done if it hadn’t been for the spirit Her’s brought to the table. Mick, Martin and Pat knew that the silence that had followed their funerals needed flooding with noise. Determined no one would ever forget the incredible catalogue their flagship band channelled into the world, rarely a day goes by when Heist isn’t actively celebrating them, protecting their legacy, interacting with the fanbase and working for their families. Holding tight to the community that surrounded the band and refusing to let it fragment was deemed the only way to maintain the joy Stephen and Audun poured into this world.
Recovering any semblance of the baseline functioning you had before a traumatic event is hard. For a collective, perhaps even harder. Then there’s sustainability. Getting back in the saddle was never going to be easy. Despite the feelings that it was almost a betrayal to continue without Her’s, it was decided that they would remain on the active roster. Every win from that point on they would share, knowing that it was they that had spearheaded the momentum for it. Ironically, staring into a void actually became an energising experience and back in pursuit of mystery, Heist began to seek out new artists. Stephen and Audun’s close friend Brad Stank was a natural starting point. It became cathartic to release his debut album ‘Kinky Om’ which is rich in the concept of loss, the tragic death of Her’s being a major theme throughout. Hot on his heels came, JWestern, Tungz, SKIA, Nature TV, Hannah’s Little Sister, Orpine and Eades each seasoning the pot in fresh and exciting ways.
Heist has never had a manifesto. Art is in charge and half the fun is following it down the rabbit hole. Needless to say, it has taken the label on some astonishing journeys and it’s what makes the entire proposition so idiosyncratic, unpredictable and edgy. Rolling the dice on artists with raw potential and zero profile is addictive and rewarding. It doesn’t always pay off either, but Heist only touch what they love. That remains uncompromised. Idealistic? Perhaps. But integrity finds a way of floating to the surface.