Hideous Mink's Grassroots Spotlight: Spela Cedilnik
Words by Ursa Gregson
Spela Cedilnik is a photographer, band manager and founder of Isolar Records, a burgeoning young label currently home to South London's irreverent upstarts The Children of The Pope and South London's very reverent upstarts Bishopskin. Her dynamic, up-close-and-personal style behind the lens has borne witness to countless twisted happenings around South and beyond and her photos can be found populating the promo packages, article features and social media accounts of bands on every rung of the ladder. As well as standard gigs, she plumbs the depths of this Southern rockpool to bring us gems from jam sessions, improvised backroom shows and general behind-the-scenes brilliance. Exemplifying a certain devotion to the groups and communities that make a 'scene' or cultural moment so potent, Spela is firmly posted on the front line and bravely reporting back to the masses. We briefly captured her for an interrogation over a pixelated chamomile tea.
1) Hey Spela - who would win in a fight between the bands currently signed to your label, Isolar Records?
I reckon that would be a pretty comical situation, with all of them just trying to turn the other cheek and the like.
The Christian theme of the bands signed to Isolar Records is purely coincidental btw.
2) Now we've cleared that up, please tell us a little more about the birth of the label, the reasons and ethos behind it, how it's going, future plans…
I first got the idea after talking to James and Tiger from Bishopskin about the pros and cons of labels for emerging artists, especially considering James’s experience with a giant like Sony, as well as an indie label - from his journey with HMLTD. In the beginning I wasn’t even thinking of it as a label but in the end I realised that’s essentially what it was. My focus became enabling the recording, the distribution and the promotion of new and exciting music by emerging artists who have the vision, the skills and the maturity to produce something good and different. The agreement we’ve reached through conversation is that the bands have an obligation to recoup the money that’s invested in them but beyond that, they are only expected to give back to the label if they achieve a certain level of success, which we define together and on an individual basis. I would only feel comfortable taking a cut if there’s substantial money coming in. If we’re talking minimal fees from streaming etc. it should just go straight to the band until they can afford to give something back. We’re in this together.
So for this year the focus is on Bishopskin recording their debut album and Children of the Pope releasing their debut EP.
In the future I am looking to collaborate with other artist-friendly labels, develop our roster, our visibility and promote our values within the industry.
3) When did your photographic odyssey begin - were you always drawn to capturing live shows? What came first, music or cameras?
For many years I was just an anonymous gig-goer. I would take a few snaps with my phone and that was that. But like everything else in my life that feels right, my odyssey as a photographer began very serendipitously and I have Lou Smith to thank for that (and for many other things while we’re at it). I was handling social media for London Gig Weekly at the time (live-streamed shows during the pandemic) and Lou was the head videographer. Since he was busy filming he couldn’t take any stills of the performances which we needed for promotion so he handed me one of his cameras, gave me a 2 min crash course and the rest as they say is history. I used his camera for two of the shows and then I bought my own for the third one - coincidentally that was with Bishopskin and Black Bordello, so the first pics I ever took with my own camera were of Bishopskin. This was a couple of weeks before they asked me to manage them.
4) I've just purchased a small, irritating dog, and I already hate its guts. What's the worst possible name I could give it, out of spite? Help me out.
Maybe Boris? Or Rishi? Nigel even but that’s an amazing name for a dog. You will fall in love with it though so expect some emotional confusion if you go down this route.
5) Do you have a favourite moment you've captured that you could describe or point us towards? What comprises a perfect gig or gig moment for you?
A perfect gig is when I leave the show feeling in love. The bands who make me feel that way have a very special place in my heart and while I love many bands, there are only a handful who have that kind of effect on me.
As far as photography goes, my favourite moment I’ve captured wasn’t at a gig but it was with a band. Bishopskin played the last show of last year at the Albion rooms in Margate and half of the band decided to go swimming in the sea, in the middle of December. Somehow Matt (bass) managed to catch a fish with his bare hands while he was swimming and I took a very quick pic of them posing excitedly with the little fish before it was released back into the sea. That’s probably my favourite photo I’ve taken so far. Three shivering boys I love standing naked on the beach holding a fish they’d caught with their bare hands in the middle of winter. Very Biblical.
Gig-wise it’s usually something that captures the spirit or the ethos of the artists the way I experience them but very often it’s something very personal to me, something that reminds me of why I love that particular artist.
6) What does the underground music community in London mean to you, personally? Has it done you favours or tested you to the limit or both?
It’s very much the centre of my universe and this is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I truly belong somewhere. Everything I now do on this scene has developed completely organically, I could even say it’s more or less fallen into my lap, so it feels right in ways that I’ve never really experienced before. This community has, to borrow from Hemingway, gradually, then suddenly become my home, my family, my mission, and the origin of almost everything that brings me pleasure, one way or another. The lifestyle is a bit of a killer (when paired with a full-time job) but it’s non-negotiable for me.
7) Please invent, describe and name a cocktail that completely encapsulates everything & everyone you've ever been and ever will be.
It would probably be a weird and unexpected mix of ingredients. A shy, socially awkward introvert who loves being alone. But also someone who knows half the people on the London indie/underground music scene and makes new friends almost on a daily basis. Either insanely driven and committed or completely indifferent. A bit intense probably lol. I’d call it Fantastic Voyage (a Bowie reference is a necessary ingredient as well).
Thank you, Spela. See you in the trenches.
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