Press play at the start of “20 Years of Chérubin Records” compilation album, and you will find yourself shrouded in mystery.
The opening track, as the first official release from Cherub’s catalog, is courtesy of Kids Techno, an artist whose identity has been hidden in secrecy since the Richmond-based label’s founding in 2001. It’s a tone that sets the tone for an imprint whose slogan is currently “Celebrating 20 Years of Darkness”.
True to this story, founder PJ Sykes commemorates this moment by offering a deep dive of 30 songs into the multiple and sometimes murky musical universe he has organized, ranging from punk explosions of less than two minutes to discursive improvisation. And much more. between. Demos, live recordings, unpublished… it has it all.
“He kept it all,” says Tim McCready, who directs Timothy Bailey & The Humans and has two tracks on the 20th anniversary album. “It takes a fair amount of thought to do. ”
Sykes has long been a keeper of details, and the archive bug was a bit early. He didn’t just collect baseball cards, he studied them. He didn’t just play with his Star Wars toys, he photographed them. Most recently, in 2021, he landed a position with the Richmond Ballet which involves producing, archiving and restoring video content.
“It’s all about telling the story,” Sykes says of his passion for documentation. “What is life in Richmond like in [the year] 2000-anything? Guess what – I have some of this information that no one else has thought to follow.
While Sykes is known to many as a concert photographer, having taken well-circulated photos of Foo Fighters and several other rock bands, he has established himself as a versatile mainstay of the Richmond music scene with a full set. of DIY skills.
“I started to understand everything because nobody wanted to play with me,” recalls Sykes. “It all comes from this thing where if somebody says no to you, you’re like, ‘Okay, look at this. “”
Sykes grew up in Lynchburg, “a weird kid [in] a growing religious city, ”he says, recording with all available equipment and renting sound equipment to host shows in ad hoc venues. Despite the lack of a local scene, Sykes found a mentor in the form of fellow Lynchburg native Jeff Roop, who was in college when he auditioned for a high school-aged Sykes to play guitar. in a theatrical production.
“We had that musical kinship,” Roop remembers. “It was a lot of, ‘Did you hear that band? Did you hear this group? ‘ We discovered so many different types of music and the world kind of opened up a lot more for us around that time. ”
Sykes and Roop performed together full-time in the alternative rock band Angels VS Aliens, before Sykes moved to Richmond in the early 2000s. Sykes credits Roop with the inspiration to start a label, and there’s a sense of passing the torch in the fact that PJ distributed the first handmade Kids Techno singles at the last Angels VS Aliens show in 2000. Nonetheless, Roop says Sykes is the inspiration: “What I admired the most about PJ is that he’s never been afraid to take risks… He shares that enthusiasm with anyone who works with him.
For Tim McCready, that enthusiasm fueled a resurrection. McCready and Sykes met in the mid-2000s as employees of the Chesterfield Towne Center Barnes & Noble. McCready was just beginning to emerge from a long musical hiatus, reaching the point of exhaustion to pursue a career with the Richmond band of the 1990s, Schwa.
“He was so genuine and generously encouraging,” McCready recalls of Sykes’ reaction to the songs he was working on. “It gave me the means to try making music again.” A Timothy Bailey and the Humans album released by Cherub, titled “Listen!” Listen ! followed in 2006.
For McCready, Sykes’ creative drive was also uplifting. “You’ll see memes about making art,” he says. “‘Take it out, take it out, take it out’. And I don’t know a lot of people who embodied that more than PJ.
PJ’s projects appear throughout “20 Years of Cherub Records,” including scenic rock from A New Dawn Fades, punk rock from Hoax Hunters and a pair of tracks under his own name. It wasn’t until 2021 that Sykes released an eponymous album – one written and recorded almost entirely solo during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. Despite a coverage of crisp guitars, “FUZZ” is Sykes’ most transparent work to date. “If you put your name on it, there’s no denying that it is what it is,” he says. “Now you have to own it. ”
Much of the material on “20 Years of Cherub Records” goes in the opposite direction, reveling in the obfuscation. You could write a high-level thesis on hyper-prolific songwriter Matt Farley’s recording “Introducing Jandek’s Ready For The House Band” and still not get to the bottom of it. And we may never know who Kids Techno is.
But Cherub’s 20-year compilation makes one thing clear: Sykes’ devotion is one of a kind.
To learn more about Cherub drives, check out their website.