How An Independent Self-Funded Band Got Onto The Radio 1 Playlist

Mighty oaks sprout from Southend attics...
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Photo c/o Kana Waiwaiku

Photo c/o Kana Waiwaiku

We have been running Asylums and our own independent label, Cool Thing Records, from my extremely messy attic in Southend for just under a year.

When we started playing together, there was no real agenda, just a sense that something exciting had been missing from our lives for too long. We all grew up playing in bands and thriving off of records, gigs, the music press, radio, record shops and our creative friends and communities.

Somehow growing up, our experiences in music had got sanitised, and it seemed far too much time was being spent on the wrong areas; running social media, emailing, trying to locate the last few quid left in the music industry in order to survive.

In order to move forward as musical creatives, our whole attitude needed to go back to basics.

All words by Luke Branch, guitarist and vocalist in Asylums

The band:

About 18 months ago, I booked a weekend rehearsal for two days with 3 of my best mates Michael (Bass) Jazz (Guitar) Henry (Drums) and took the best selection of songs I had with me at the time. We jammed, got pissed, jumped around like kids and put together some music. It was fun, it was private, nobody except the members of the band got to see it, and it felt special. When there is no expectancy, there is no fear of failure.

The next week, we booked a recording studio run by our Producer friend Thomas Mitchener with no further rehearsals and recorded what we had. From that session came ‘The Death Of Television’ (our first single) and a bunch of cool demos.

The label:

So what do you do with music when it’s finished these days?

We decided it was a bit dull to just bung it up on youtube or soundcloud for starters, and quite honestly we didn’t even consider trying to find an elusive record deal.

We decided that the only logical thing to do next was apply the same spirit we had with the music to the business.

I drew a logo in my lyric book a few weeks later and asked the guys if they were up for running a label to put out this music.

While we set about putting a label together we needed something to create some word of mouth. I had an idea to create a ‘Virtual Demo Tape’ for Asylums and spoke to a web designer friend of mine called Jim Harris and asked if he could build it. With the help of photographer, Kana Waiwaiku, and my Dad, we created the necessary graphics for the downloadable demo tape and made it available for free at I added my phone number as the only point of contact - it felt handmade and charming…post social networking?

Building a team:

They key for us in terms of working Asylums as a label collective was momentum and sustainability. We want to keep putting out good work musically and visually and a steady pace. In order to do this, we wanted to work with our friends and people who share our outlook.

We spoke to Ollie McCormack (Top Button Digital) and Rhys Bradley (Martian PR) about working together long-term on press and radio. Both of these lovely people had been friends with some members of the band prior to working together on this project.

When we launched ‘The Death Of Television’ in August 2014, to our utter delight it received support on Radio 1, NME, XFM and many more.

During this campaign our team grew to include Danny Watson (Asylums manager), Mel Young (Live agent), and Scott Bartlett (Print Pr).

Believe it or not during this first release, we had no Asylums Facebook, no Twitter, no tracks available on itunes or Spotify - just a website with free demo tape. I think for a period it helped to create some intrigue.

Eventually we partnered up with the brilliant people of Republic Of Music who started to take care of our digital and physical distribution for our subsequent singles.

By the close of 2014, we had a functioning label and a growing list of supporters across media. Around this time we realised that our social networking freeze was no longer necessary and with all the fun visuals we were developing, it would be MORE useful to use those platforms as a kind of daily Asylums art exhibition.


Asylums and Cool Thing Records has been 100% self-funded to this point. We have managed to achieve everything we have while still working 5 days a week. There have been lots of late nights and touch and go moments, but as tumultuous as it’s been at times, we have had total creative freedom and control……you can’t put a price on that.

Every video and record sleeve and marketing tool has been conceptualised by the band and our long-term collaborators, Kana Waiwaiku and Tony Branch (my dad).

Our live shows and release dates have remained fluid and instinctive, utilising the experience of our team to guide us, and fitting them in around our jobs.

With a huge amount of help from Thomas Mitchener (our Producer at Broadfields Studio), we have been able to keep writing and recording as our profile has built, knowing that we can record quality material on a realistic budget.

Because of this set up, we have managed to release four singles over 10 months with full campaigns to back them up.

Our fourth single, ‘Joy In A Small Wage’, was playlisted at Radio 1 and embodies many of the principles that have got us to this point.

The Future:

From our recent live bookings at prestigious festivals, such as Glastonbury, and media support, such as our recent Radio 1 playlist, it seems like there might be a bigger audience for our art which is a lovely thought considering what we are doing is extremely pure.

We are in the final stages of recording our debut album for Asylums which we are all very excited about.

As for Cool Thing Records, we are working with some really great new bands, helping them to develop and offering what we can in terms of support... just building a creative community. We plan to put out records by these bands in the not too distant future.

If you were to ask us, ‘How did a independent, self-funded band got onto the Radio 1 Playlist?’

I’d just quote a line from ‘Joy In A Small Wage’:

“There’s a purity you see in the absence of wealth”

Photo c/o Kana Waiwaiku

Photo c/o Kana Waiwaiku

Check out Asylums on their website  , Facebook and Twitter