Are you ready to blast off with the fearless rock cosmonauts of Rocket Recordings? The independent label has teamed up promoter Baba Yaga’s Hut to celebrate Rocket’s 20th anniversary with a weekend party from 9 March. But hurry, tickets are going fast.

The gigs will take place at two Highbury Corner venues – The Garage and Thousand Island. Full line-ups are below. Take care not to miss the opening set on Saturday! From 3.30pm the madness kicks off with a landmark set from Temple Ov BBV, who must play first because of their huge stage display and visuals on all three days will be curated by Rocket co-pilot John O’Carroll and Liverpool Psych Festival’s AV genius Sam Wiehl.

To get to grips with the distinguished history of the label, we pinned down founder Chris Reeder to reminisce about Rocket’s action-packed 20 years – including the moment that Geoff Barrow of Portishead fame helped save the high-flying label from a catastrophic crash.

What made you start the label way back in 1998? Who were the founders? And tell me about your first release – The Heads / Lillydamwhite – Spit 7”

Well, it started on a drunken night at The Louisiana in Bristol sometime in 1997. Me and a close friend Simon Healey were there to see another good friend of ours (Gareth Turner, now of Anthroprophh/Kuro) play in a band called Lillydamwhite. They were supporting a band with other friends of ours, The Heads. After Lillydamwhite played a blistering set, Simon turned around to me and set we should put out a 7″ by them and I thought: ‘Wow, what an idea!’ In the morning though, once the fog of the previous night’s excesses had cleared, the idea of releasing a Lillydamwhite 7″ popped back into our heads and we thought – actually that is a good idea. Why not? Let’s give it a crack! The Heads heard of this idea and said, why don’t you do a Heads/Lillydamwhite split…so we did.

Where were you based? And where are you based now? Any changes over the years?

Well Rocket was started in Bristol by me and Simon. Six months into it my old school friend (and the person that introduced me to Simon) John O’Carroll joined the team so there was three of us. Just over a year after our first single was released I moved to London, so I became the London office and John/Simon were in the Bristol HQ in. Unfortunately, Simon left around our 10th anniversary mark so it has been just John and myself running the show since then.

What’s been the most successful release for the label?

Our biggest success is easily Goat’s World Music, we have sold well over 40,000 LPs and CDs – and obviously no idea how many downloads/streams. As soon as it landed in our inbox, fully finished, after not really hearing anything bar the first single I was pretty blown away! I got goose bumps listening to it and knew it was a big album for us.

And conversely, what were the lowest moments? How close did you come to jacking it in?

There was a moment when we got really let down by someone we trusted (I won’t mention names) and it really nearly put an end to the label. I think it was around the 2004 or 2005. But we dusted ourselves off and the newly formed label by Geoff Barrow and Fat Paul – called Invada Records – helped us out and we sort of formed a partnership with them that lasted a few years. And we will always be grateful for how they helped us. It really got us back on our feet and let us become who we are today.

What is the most common misconception about running an independent record label?

Obviously, we have seen a lot of labels come and go in our time. Also, we’ve seen labels start and do amazingly well from the outset! I suppose you have to be passionate about what you do. If you are doing it for financial reward then you are in the wrong business. It’s something you have to do for the love of music, if it makes you some cash too, then great!

What would you still like to do that you haven’t achieved yet?

We never really have set goals. When we first started out we were mainly just a 7″ label and all we cared about was John Peel playing our records. If he did it was mission accomplished in our eyes! Now… I don’t know. I suppose I would like to see more of our bands infiltrating the more ‘mainstream’ indie festival markets? Goat have done well. But I would like to see Gnod or Teeth of the Sea or Hey Colossus playing Primavera or End of the Road, for example. We are champions of the underground and we always have been. But we do want to see our bands infiltrate the overground. When I was young, seeing underground bands I loved appear on Snub TV, Chart Show or even TOTP – it was a moment! I know the outlets like that are few and far between now, but if we can infiltrate more mainstream festivals then it can only be a good thing!

What are the acts you are most looking forward to at Rocket 20?

All of them! Gnod are doing a greatest hits set, playing music they haven’t played in years. Teeth of the Sea, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Josefin Öhrn, Gnoomes and FLowers Must Die are all playing new music. Anthroprophh’s forthcoming album is an absolute masterpiece so their live set could be very special. Same with Mamuthones – we have only seen them live once before and they blew us away and now they have this crazily amazing album they are playing. Gum Takes Tooth, VED and Bonnacons of Doom are all new Rocket bands, so seeing them perform new music is going to be special. Housewives current live set is one of the most exciting things out there at the moment, they sound like no one else. Temple OV BBV are a collaboration between Gnod and Radar Men from The Moon which represents a VERY RARE chance to see them live. And don’t let me forget Zimpel Ziolek from Poland who made one of our favourite albums last year – I can’t wait to see them. And then there is Goat!

Is it just us, or do you think Hey Colossus are criminally underrated?

YES YES YES YES. They’ve produced three absolutely classic albums for us and they should be massive. They really should! We can’t fathom it. We really don’t know why they are not revered as one of the UK’s best rock bands. Their songwriting has grown so much, they are writing exception pieces of music and very clever lyrics.

Why is creating music in a physical format – CD/vinyl – still important? And what do you say to the people that have got rid of all their physical music in exchange for a Spotify account?

This is a huge question that many people have different opinions about. When we started we were just making 7″s, then vinyl only LPs, then CD-only albums as no one was buying vinyl. Now we press vinyl, CDs and obviously streaming is a massive part of people hearing your music. We’ve got to have the physical sales as we couldn’t survive on just the money we receive from streaming. We used to get some money for downloads but that is so small now, it is another ‘format’ which is becoming redundant. However, we are completely aware that physical sales won’t be around for ever. But as long as people buy vinyl, we will be here releasing it! And what can I say about people who have sold their physical music and got a Spotify account? I say I am jealous of how easy it is for them to move house!

Friday March 9
Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation
Julie’s Haircut
Flowers Must Die
After bands DJs: Teeth of the Sea

Saturday March 10
Hey Colossus
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
Temple Ov BBV
Gum Takes Tooth
Mike Bourne
After bands DJs: Nothing is… (aka Cherrystones/Jamie Paton/Mike Keeling/Chris Reeder)

Sunday March 11
Teeth Of The Sea
Zimpel Ziolek
Bonnacons of Doom
Negra Branca
Ayn Sof

Rocket 20 comes to The Garage and Thousand Island on March 9-11.