IDOL Insights: meet Born Bad Records

Welcome to IDOL’s monthly interview series featuring one of our label partners. The label of the month is a countercultural reference in France: Born Bad Records. Interview with the founder, Jean-Baptiste Guillot.

In 2006, Jean-Baptiste Guillot – also known as JB Wizz – launched his label, Born Bad Records. Marked by the punk and mod culture, the label specialized in garage rock, at a time when electronic music dominated. Soon, the label also decided to offer reissues of albums and compilations of French bands from the 50s and 60s. Today, several groups are proud to be part of this roster, including La Femme, Forever Pavot, Bryan’s Magic Tears, and more recently, the Star Féminine Band. Here’s a look back at 15 years in the service of alternative music.

What pushed you to create your label?

I worked for a long time in a major label – at the time, the industry was already in crisis, so the only jobs available were in these big structures. This experience left me a bit bitter because I realized that financial desiderata systematically took precedence over artistic ones.

"I am a passionate person, and I need to be free.
The label allowed me to find my path and to blossom.”

At the end of the 2000s, I left with a pretty comfortable severance package, and a week later, I was launching my label. I wanted to put this bad experience behind me and somehow find “redemption” through the creation of an independent label in line with my artistic vision. I wanted a label that was incarnated, like the labels that made me dream.

Born Bad has become a look-to label in France. What values made it a rocker’s go-to?

The label gives hope because it shows by example that you can go quite far with very little means, just with conviction and determination. With the label, I try to embody a vision, while preserving a certain freshness and spontaneity…. which is not easy in such a cynical society. Even after 15 years, I’m rarely where I’m expected: people are still surprised by our commitments and our releases on a fairly broad musical spectrum – following an editorial line based on my appetite for singular, and very alternative projects.

"My vocation is to be a force of alternative artistic proposal.
An actor of the counterculture!”

I try to go towards artists who are whole, authentic… A little bit like me in the end! This is what gives a roster of artists who are inhabited, with their cracks but also their dazzle. They are magnificent losers – on the border between shabby and flamboyant.

They’re really good at live shows, even if they are often quite uneven: they are capable of offering crazy shows and then missing it completely the next day. I think of Villejuif Underground, for example, or Cheveu.

You've been working on your own since the beginning. Does this weigh on you or is it an advantage?

People know that it’s only me doing it, which gives the project an epic feel. I’ve never hired anyone, the label is between me and myself. I’ve never had interns, and Clarisse, our PR, is not on a salary, she’s freelance, but at some point she decided to work only for me.

I never developed, I’m really into this DIY culture thing. I produce every record I put out. Then I have to be able to finance projects, then distribute them, promote them, make them exist. And I don’t care if I reach a ceiling, I’m not an entrepreneur. After that, I’m also getting to an age where I’m tired, especially since it’s not easy for an independent label at the moment.

That’s why the human dimension is essential and a prerequisite for all my signings, i.e. I prefer to release a record by an average artist but with whom I am in sync in terms of values rather than an artist who is undoubtedly very brilliant and talented, who is going to be successful but whom I don’t get along with.

How do you find a balance between releases and reissues?

The public loves reissues and compilations, and it makes people aware of riches that we totally underestimate because we are conditioned to think that we only produce crap in France. The idea is to exhume and rehabilitate these artists.

It’s also a way to put the label on a long-term footing, to claim a filiation, in relation to an idea of counter culture in France. Personally, I grew up traumatized, because I hated Noir Désir and Louise Attaque, and I had the impression that it was impossible to evolve outside these two bands that were representing rock music at that time. These alternative proposals allow you to free yourself from many barriers.

There is obviously a financial reality: reissues allow me to have a schedule of releases throughout the year. There are periods that are not very interesting for an emerging artist: from April onwards, it’s too late to be programmed in festivals, and the album will have trouble getting through the summer. Except that I can’t afford not to release any album from April to July, so the reissue is a way to take a break.

Well, it’s sad to say but it’s easier to sell dead artists because time has done its work. There’s no need to create a promotional dynamic, to impose a project at all costs. A lot of reissues are actually used to finance the losses I accumulate on emerging bands.

What’s your project for the next fifteen years?

I didn’t expect that much, so I’m pretty serene: everything can stop overnight, since the label is based on my own motivation and determination. But that’s okay, I’ve reached my full potential.

I sincerely believe that I am good at what I do, that I have come a long way, with very little means and on musical aesthetics that have always been despised in France. It was a double challenge to set up such a label in a country that was not very sympathetic to and quite critical of what was being done locally.

That said, I like challenges: I feel alive when I leave my comfort zone. So for the next 15 years, I’d like to make great records, find good ideas, work with people who make me feel free.

Why do you think Independence Is A Strength?

Born Bad Records goes beyond independence, it’s freedom. A label is a tough business, but I know why I do it. Then the question is: How far are you willing to go to be free? The answer has to lie with independence.

I came to IDOL because I like Pascal BIttard’s background. I like the idea that he is the boss of his own company, that he works with his own money… all in all, that he is independent, that was decisive in my choice.

I was previously with Believe by convenience, and I remained faithful to Jean-Christophe Mercier for years, but at a certain point, I didn’t know who owned the company anymore. And that’s why I will always be more tolerant towards a guy like Pascal Bittard because he is, like me, in his own epic. He could also have taken the easy way out by selling his company or bringing in shareholders, but he didn’t do that and that’s something I admire.

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