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Earache Records is an independent record label, music publisher and management company founded by Digby Pearson, based in Nottingham, England, with offices in London and New York. It helped to pioneer extreme metal by releasing early grindcore and death metal records between 1988 and 1994. The label roster has since diversified into more mainstream guitar music, working with bands such as Rival Sons, the Temperance Movement, Blackberry Smoke and the White Buffalo. The company also hosted the 'Earache Express' stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2017 and 'The Earache Factory' at Boomtown Fair 2018.
Earache was founded in 1985 by Digby Pearson who prior to launching the label proper had compiled 'Anglican Scrape Attic', a proto-compilation of early hardcore punk and crossover thrash acts which included Hirax, Lipcream and Concrete Sox. Accordingly, the first official Earache release on vinyl in 1987 with catalogue number MOSH 1, was The Accüsed's The Return of Martha Splatterhead. This was followed by a split LP by the crust/crossover band Concrete Sox and the proto-grind band Heresy. The label's first major release of note was MOSH 3, Napalm Death's Scum. Famously, John Peel was a champion of the band and supported them on BBC Radio 1. The record went on to reach number 7 in the UK indie chart.:143–146 Following this, Earache released music by many bands from the emerging grindcore and death metal scenes, such as Morbid Angel, Carcass, Entombed, Bolt Thrower and Terrorizer.
Although intrinsically linked with death metal, the label's catalogue is varied and also includes Welsh ragga-metal act Dub War, Birmingham's industrial metal pioneers Godflesh, Nottingham's Pitchshifter, hardcore techno outfit Ultraviolence, Mick Harris's industrial/experimental group Scorn, John Zorn-led experimental group Naked City and doom and sludge metal bands Sleep and Acid Bath.
In the early 1990s Columbia Records, seeking to break into metal, inked a deal with Earache. Columbia would license rights and market and distribute them in The Americas, with rights reverting to Earache upon completion of the deal term. It is widely accepted that Columbia failed to deliver the expected sales that they themselves had projected and thus they sought to prematurely terminate the agreement.:219–236 Barney Greenway of Napalm Death objected to the deal with Columbia (a subsidiary of Sony Music) on the basis that it was "selling out", although Napalm Death have since released music also distributed by Columbia parent Sony Music Entertainment. The rights to all Columbia-licensed titles have since reverted to Earache, who thereafter have been wholly independent, working with distributors as opposed to licensees.
The label has a number of subsidiary labels, including Wicked World Records, Elitist Records, Sub Bass Records and the short-lived Necrosis Records.
As with many labels, Earache has transitioned over time from its initial "extreme" output and now focuses primarily on modern, accomplished guitar projects. Rival Sons were the most notable of the modern crop of artists, before signing with Atlantic Records in 2018. Newer signings include Australia's Massive, Nottingham's Haggard Cat and Lancaster's Massive Wagons. More recent grindcore and death metal signings include Wormrot and Deicide.
Earache also signed the first independent label direct deal with iTunes shortly after the service launched.
Earache currently holds two Guinness World Records. The first is that of the World's Shortest Song, currently held by Napalm Death with "You Suffer" at 1.316 seconds long. The second record is the world's shortest full music video, a record held by Brutal Truth with their track "Collateral Damage".
In 2018 tech sitcom Silicon Valley featured "You Suffer" repeatedly in one episode. In response the label created a Twitter bot (@NapalmDeathBot) which sends an hourly tweet with the price of bitcoin. They also inserted "You suffer" into the blockchain, a first for a label.
To begin the new decade, Earache Records announced a compilation vinyl titled "The New wave of Rock N Roll" featuring a host of new acts.
In 2017 Earache were invited to host the first ever stage for heavy music at Glastonbury Festival. 'The Earache Express' was a recycled London underground tube carriage located in the 'Shangri La' area of the site. The stage featured performances from Napalm Death, The Dead Kennedys, Ho99o9, Hacktivist, Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols, Steve Ignorant of Crass and Wormrot amongst others.
Having been well received by Glastonbury Festival, Boomtown Fair (who are affiliated to Glastonbury) invited Earache to curate a stage at their 2018 event which took place in Winchester during August 2018. The stage (named The Earache Factory) was designed around the concept of a disused factory within a run-down part of a futuristic town. It featured artists such as Soulfly, Dead Kennedys and Enter Shikari not to mention a headline set by British upstarts Idles.
Over the years, the relationship between the label and some of its former artists have become fraught, and Pearson has made a number of disparaging blog posts about, among others, JS Clayden from Pitchshifter and Barney Greenway of Napalm Death. Greenway responded that Pearson "expects everybody to be subservient", while Clayden called Pearson "petty and vindictive" and criticized the label for not allowing fans to stream or purchase Pitchshifter's albums that were released on Earache. In the documentary Slave to the Grind, Scott Carlson from Repulsion accused Earache of not paying the band, adding "I'm sure they sold way more records than they told us they did." Former Iron Monkey drummer Justin Greaves accused Earache of refusing to support the band financially in an emergency when during a European tour, singer Johnny Morrow fell sick and needed to return to the UK, which the band couldn't afford to cover.