Dirty Hit is a name synonymous with some of the biggest acts of the past five years. An independent record label headed by Jamie Oborne, the label is responsible for the rise of a number of big names in indie – The 1975, Wolf Alice and The Japanese House are just a few of the bigger names on their roster. The label has been lauded for its success, and has built itself massively as a band. However, the label has come under fire recently, and it’s clear that Dirty Hit can’t hide behind its most successful artists for much longer. There are deep-rooted problems behind the Dirty Hit brand, and these problems seem to finally be coming to light.
Until recently, Dirty Hit was the label everyone starting out in music strived to work out. I, personally, would have given anything to even be given a sniff at an internship there. Home to huge names in indie, with a branding of a small, friendly and independent record label, Dirty Hit looked perfect from the outside. The 1975 in particular were enjoying worldwide success a few years after the label’s initial break into the mainstream; Wolf Alice, Superfood, King Nun and The Japanese House were hot on their heels.
The cracks began to show in February 2019, when Jamie Oborne revealed in a tweet that Superfood were no longer working with Dirty Hit. Though no official word statement has been made on either side, speculation has been rife across social media that the band’s relationship with Dirty Hit ultimately led to their eventual disbanding in April 2019. This one-off suggestion of conflict was minor, and seemed to be forgotten about – until a few weeks ago at least.
Melanie Lehmann, the girlfriend of (now former) Dirty Hit artist Gia Ford, first spoke out on Instagram following a tweet front the label encouraging black artists to get in touch with them. In an Instagram post, she revealed that Dirty Hit had underpaid her for shooting artwork for the label, and that Gia had asked three times to be dropped from the label and was refused each time. This post was only the tip of the iceberg – Gia backed the claims made against Dirty Hit, and a day later fellow Dirty hit alum Caleb Steph also spoke out. Caleb outlined in a Twitter thread that he felt the label was not properly communicating with him and, like Gia, was refusing to terminate his contract. As Dirty Hit’s first black American artist, just 16 when he was signed, Caleb said that he felt the label was not understanding of his experience as a young black man and didn’t represent him as he wished.
Alongside these anecdotes from artists, fans have been offering their perspectives of the situation on social media. Many noted how the label is selective in its promotion of artists – it is clear that some artists are favoured over others. A trend I’ve noticed is that the label seems unable to promote more than two or three artists at a time. Whilst golden boys The 1975 are promoted near-constantly, I’ve only seen artists such as Boyband, 404 Guild, AMA, Rina Sawayama and King Nun given the spotlight sparingly – in fact, I had to turn to the label’s website to even name this much of their roster. Other artists like Wolf Alice and No Rome, who were previously two of the most well-known names on the label, appear to have taken a backseat to the likes of Pale Waves and Beabadoobee. The latter, in particular, went viral on TikTok recently; promoting her became the label’s new obsession as her Spotify stats rose and rose. Every other artist (apart from The 1975) was pushed aside at the time, even in the midst of album releases.
It’s not just the artists that are subject to lazy practice from the label. In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen three separate The 1975 fans complaining to Dirty Hit about merchandise. One received an empty cardboard box in lieu of a limited-edition vinyl. One received their vinyl, but found it bent and thus unplayable, and another received what looked like a pound-shop knock-off of the rose gold The 1975 necklace selling for £25 on their store. This is a historic problem with the label – even back in 2013, when I was a hardcore The 1975 fan, the t-shirts I spent all my pocket money on were paper-thin and faded to grey within weeks. It seems that, instead of investing money into supplying good quality merchandise, Dirty Hit are spending their lucrative royalties on paying certain music publications to give the new The 1975 album a 5-star review (because that also happened).
It’s evident that Dirty Hit as a whole needs to be reformed. Even the most entry-level of music enthusiasts can see that the label’s favouritism and disorganised approach to marketing is an issue. Since the first allegations of misconduct, the label has stayed silent – Jamie Oborne has seemingly adopted an approach of blocking anyone that criticises them. But there is a need for the label to end its silence. It’s not enough for Dirty Hit to claim it’s open to music submissions from people of colour; it needs to focus on the black artists it has already signed first, and promote them in a way they want to be promoted.
Gia Ford last week revealed her contract has finally been terminated – but this move only came after immense pressure was placed upon them. No Rome, who had enjoyed success off the back of supporting The 1975 on tour, today unfollowed Jamie and Matty Healy on Twitter, suggesting he may also be in a position to cut ties with the label. Though Dirty Hit has undoubtedly aided in producing some of the decade’s biggest stars, and that should be celebrated. But it also needs to acknowledge the problems its artists have, and address the institutional racism that runs rife through much of the music industry. Staying silent in the face of criticism and choosing to ignore it only brings about more issues. Without understanding its shortfalls, I fear Gia, Caleb and No Rome won’t be the only artists choosing to explore new avenues.