Triangle Music for Newbies

Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham music

Spotlight on Merge Records, “Our Noise” book

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Although this blog is events-based, there are certain building blocks of Triangle music that anyone looking to learn more about it just needs to know, like the history of a little Chapel Hill record label called  Merge Records and its impact on the local scene. However it isn’t just important for the Triangle, it’s a staple in talking about indie rock in general, from Neutral Milk Hotel to The Magnetic Fields to Spoon. MergeRecordsLogo

Listen to an interview with founders Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance by Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal about the label’s impact and success.

The now Durham-based label kicked off its 20th anniversary celebration this summer with the XX Merge festival at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro and Memorial Hall at UNC-CH. Tickets for the July 22-26 festival sold out immediately and sad ticket-less locals (like me) were forced to constantly refresh a Twitter search for #xxmerge instead. But now other kindred  spirits can find solace in this performance and interview video archive on Babelgum.

Performances included 33 bands from Merge’s two decades, including The Rosebuds, Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band (Oberst’s otherwise known for his work in Bright Eyes), Telekinesis, Polvo, Arcade Fire, She & Him (M. Ward and actress/as of recently Mrs. Death Cab Zooey Deschanel) and Superchunk, which kicked off the festival and includes McCaughan and Ballance.

The founders recently teamed up with journalist/Superchunk fan John Cook (of Gawker and formerly Radar) to pen the history of Merge in “Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small.” The 320-page book is packed with plenty of text in an oral history from the founders and others integral to the label’s birth, and is balanced out with coffee table-worthy images of concert posters, its first company invoice and enough behind-the-scenes pictures to fill several photo albums. The forward’s even written by long-time Merge fan/N.C. native/musician Ryan Adams. It’s available in stores and Merge’s Web store now.

But the  celebration doesn’t end there, “The Merge Records Companion,” a limited-edition picture book discography of the label’s first two decades is available for pre-order now and set to ship on Nov. 3.

Check out this UNC TV special on the anniversary

For more info on Merge’s anniversary, check out this Indy article by Grayson Currin, the accompanying links on the same page, and an interview with Cook and favorable book review, both by Marc Masters.

If you just happen to be in New York on Friday, Oct. 23, Mac and Laura will  read from “Our Noise” and perform some songs at Housing Works starting at 7 p.m. Check here for more info.

There will surely be many more great things coming from the folks at Merge, but not just musically. It seems that they have a knack for innovation as the label was the first ever to sell “LP3s” in 2005, which means that when a customer buys one of its releases on vinyl, he or she also gets a digital version at no extra cost.

For more general info on Merge, check out its blog and Twitter.

Expect future installments on other locally based labels.

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  1. […] in venues all around Bull City throughout three nights. Some local event sponsors include Merge Records, Duke student-run radio station WXDU and the Durham Performing Arts […]


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