Steered single-handedly by Vinita Joshi since 1997, Rocket Girl has evolved over two decades to become one of the UK’s most innovative and eclectic small independent labels, providing a home for a whole spectrum of alternative artists, new and established: Television Personalities, Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, Füxa, A Place to Bury Strangers, Piano Magic, God is an Astronaut, to name just a handful. Rocket Girl has no house style, no dedication to one particular genre, but there’s an ever-present mingling of melody, melancholia and mind expansion that seems to flow through her discography, and that seems to stem from her early teenage tastes growing up in Rugby, Warwickshire (Spacemen 3, The Smiths, Suicide, Nick Drake…), discovered while she explored the airwaves at night in her bedroom.
2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Rocket Girl’s first release proper, A Tribute to Spacemen 3 (also thirty years since Vinita’s first foray in the music industry: a Loop/Telescopes flexidisc released on New Year’s Eve 1988 on Cheree) and her staying power alone is worthy of its own tribute, given her label is still going strong amid the sales-strangling battlefield of free digital culture, major label monopolisation, and the increasing homogenisation of the indie music press.
While many long-running indie labels have a dominant male at the fore and employ numerous staff, Rocket Girl feels especially unique given Vinita has piloted her label on her own all this time, released over a hundred ear-tingling records, and still retains full control of her small but perfectly formed empire, refusing to sell-out to a major or share the (albeit astronomical) workload with someone who might try and twist her original vision, as has happened in the past.
Rocket Girl emerged after the disbanding of Ché Trading, a label she ran with Nick Allport after their previous venture with Paul May, Cheree Records, fell prey to a pair of crooked financial backers, resulting in its liquidation. Ché and Cheree were responsible for putting out a slew of sell-out singles and seminal LPs in the late 80s and early-to-mid 90s (by acts such as The Telescopes, Bark Psychosis, Disco Inferno, Urusei Yatsura, Lilys…) but, as Vinita became increasingly frustrated over artist signings and her diminishing influence, she set up Rocket Girl to ensure she had full creative control going forwards.
A Rocket Girl Compilation, a double-CD album released in 2001, shows off the initial explosive honeymoon period of her label: the analogue-synth-soaked instrumentals of Füxa, the Sixties-spiked psych-pop of Mazarin, the Victorian-doll-narrated swish-scapes of Piano Magic. Rapidly her releases would attract fans like John Peel, Andrew Weatherall, BBC 6Music’s Lauren Laverne and Gideon Coe, XFM’s John Kennedy and Keith Cameron, and at the turn of the millennium Rocket Girl would win one of four Young Music Professional Awards and have an episode dedicated to her (‘I is for… Indie’) on BBC Wales documentary Hit and Miss: An A-Z of the Music Industry.
Today Vinita continues to add to her impressive roster – most recently releasing records by neo-classical shaman Pieter Nooten, Bell Gardens, White Ring and Jon DeRosa – as well as reissuing lost classics like the debut Disco Inferno LP of 1992 In Debt and a long-overdue compilation of Peel Sessions You Are My Urusei Yatsura by the eponymous Glasgow indie-popsters.
Vinita’s work has always been driven by love and generosity rather than egoism or money-hunger. Though her label duties are mountainous, she still finds time to run the mail order catalogue she took over from Ché Trading, as well as manage artists such as her new charge, Mercury Music Prize-nominated singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams, and look after the interests of noise innovators The Azusa Plane after the tragic passing of founder Jason DiEmilio. Never one to rest on her laurels, Vinita has also in the past held a weekly DJ slot on Resonance FM, spun discs centre-stage at Benicassim Festival in Spain, worked as a consultant at Bella Union and One Little Indian, and she was responsible for running PASK, the label she set up in 2008 on behalf of Kevin Shields and Patti Smith to release their aural homage to Robert Mapplethorpe, The Coral Sea.
The Times has described Rocket Girl as providing ‘a home for music from the margins’ and, as Vinita points out, ‘I know it’s quite niche what I do, but I don’t think it’s so niche that it can’t sell more’. Now is the time to give these records the praise they deserve – and, as much as the records, to recognise Vinita as a heroine of British indie music: a champion of the underdog, an underdog herself, a relentless worker, a fan, a carer, a catalyst.
So many indie labels and outlets have perished since the 1990s, unable to compete with majors and the wayward digital marketplace that arrived in the 21st Century, but more than ever we need people like Vinita to guide us through the confusion of seemingly limitless choice. We have everything at our fingertips now but, with so many clashing voices online, it’s important to hone in on voices like Vinita’s, indie stalwarts who have years of experience behind them, who have a track-record of creating communities among like-minded artists, and who develop a roster of bands with the utmost care and attention, not than the haphazard abandon of the SHUFFLE button. Like all the best record labels, if you see Rocket Girl emblazoned on an LP sleeve, you can’t easily pigeonhole the contents within (it could be Krautrock, baroque pop, psych, indie-pop, spacerock, slowcore, experimental noise, electronica, or any combination of the above) but you can guarantee as much love and dedication has gone into it by the label boss as by the artist.
And long may it continue. In Rocket Girl we trust.