Inside Mad World, the U.K. Record Label Championing Club Culture

Co-founder Thomas Gorton discusses the label’s roots, releases and relevance of clubbing in today’s world.

Music 
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In late 2019, London-based duo God Colony began thinking about establishing a record label, formalizing the ideas and projects they had been working on. Over the next few months, founders Thomas Gorton and James Rand were joined by producer Raf Rundell and art director Jacob Chabeaux, and Mad World was born.

Almost immediately, though, lockdown measures were announced globally and nightclubs everywhere were forced to close. The culture that had inspired Mad World suddenly faced a more uncertain future than ever before. “I think it made us more compelled to make it really happen,” Gorton tells HYPEBEAST. “Two years on Zoom and having your temperature checked at the pub drives a man mad – you end up doing totally unnecessary things like starting a record label. It was strange to start and then have a forced hiatus but it’s better for it and the experience has shaped the label in a good way.”

Although the club culture that Mad World now inhabits is very different to the one in which it was founded, the label is staying true to the informality at its roots. “We naturally gravitated towards starting a label through what we’ve always done with God Colony, collaborating with artists early on in their career,” Gorton explains. “Between the four of us we all have our own individual links to artists we’re working with, our own tastes, but we all see the label the same way, it’s democratic and we bring different things to do it. What comes out on Mad World might vary wildly in terms of genre but it’ll have the same point of view.”

“What comes out on Mad World might vary wildly in terms of genre but it’ll have the same point of view.”

This variation is central to Mad World. While in a traditional sense, it is best to describe it as a record label, Gorton also touches on another potential description for what he and the other founders are trying to do. “Mad World is just an ongoing art project in which we try to put things into the world that we believe should be in it,” he says. “I guess that is a large part of our lived experience – we’ve always been like this.”

While it isn’t easy to define Mad World, or to attribute a specific genre to it, Gorton is clear on the role that nightclubs play in the emerging label. “It’s where we all come from, even if we’ve done other stuff in our lives,” Gorton says of the collective. “Ultimately we want Mad World to be about a lot of people in a room, and people able to feel part of something. You can livestream a DJ set or post on Instagram all you want, but there’s no substitute for someone chewing your ear off in a smoking area and the distant din of banging tunes – we want the releases and the artists to have a life in the real world.”

What it means for this music to have a life in the real world is still uncertain. Even though lockdown restrictions have been lifted in much of the world – including Mad World’s home city of London – clubs face other pressures, including the threat of gentrification from overzealous developers, and licensing difficulties. At the start of 2022, a study found that the number of licensed clubs in the U.K. had declined by 30% since 2010, before predicting the country could soon have less than 5,000 clubs.

“I’m unsure what political power club culture in the UK holds, particularly as every club going seems to be fair game for being knocked down by developers in cahoots with councils, in favor of dire newbuild flats and tenants that seem not just indifferent to culture, but to actively dislike it,” Gorton says. “But in terms of what role club culture has in a post-Covid world I hope that it continues to foster global connectivity. The most exciting club music from the last five years or so has come from places like Lisbon, Durban and Kampala, and the hegemonic cities have ceded some cultural power, which is good and I hope continues. I think club culture’s role is to be as exciting and inclusive as possible in a world that seems to be increasingly allergic to having a laugh.”

As the world continues to emerge from the pandemic-induced lockdown measures, club culture is changing but it isn’t going away. “I think the underground, and club culture, will continue to be electric,” Gorton continues. “Everything is so exciting at the moment, everything is possible, there aren’t really rules. Even if every building is sold off, people will find their ways. I don’t believe that gathering people in a room and listening to music is going to go out of fashion anytime soon, it’s a fairly well established thing that human beings like to do, and one that always evolves.”

“I don’t believe that gathering people in a room and listening to music is going to go out of fashion anytime soon.”

It’s been a tough two years since Gorton and co. launched Mad World. Their only release in that time was God Colony’s CULT mixtape – which Gorton describes as a “Mad World mission statement of sorts” – but the collective is making up for lost time. Last month saw the launch of Mother MaryGold’s single “Gold in my Dome” with an EP to follow, while Mad World has also announced plans for a Carhartt WIP-supported night at London’s Corsica studios.

“To continue to put out music and art that we truly believe in,” says Gorton of future plans, before listing some upcoming highlights. “We were so proud and excited to release Mother MaryGold because we love her and the music. We’re releasing an album by a Manchester MC that’ll blow people away – it’s a hard-as-nails depiction of modern, multicultural Northern Britain. There’s a band from Thamesmead we’re working with that we’re mad into – their album has been recorded and mixed in the studio in Forest Hill. There’s more God Colony, Party Nails, Mother MaryGold. We want to continue to build something around the people that we know, and bring as many people into that as possible. I’d be a liar if I told you we have any ambitions beyond that.”

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