In 1991, Tim Gummer, Keith Hill and Steve Garden shared a vision for a label that would champion a diverse range of contemporary instrumental music unfettered by commercial pressures or constraints. Inspired by European label ECM and New Zealand's own Flying Nun, Rattle sought to create a empathetic framework for music that wasn’t adequately supported by major record companies ... and still isn't! 

Encouraged by the success of Pesky Digits (Gitbox Rebellion) and Songs For Heroes (From Scratch), Rattle worked with a number of composers and performers for its next release, the compilation CD, Different Tracks. This album set the tone and direction for projects that immediately followed, most notably Te Ku Te Whe, the seminal Rattle debut of Hirini Melbourne and Richard Nunns.

 

Few could have predicted the impact and influence of Te Ku Te Whe, a groundbreaking work that would play a major role in the revival of te taonga pūoro (the traditional instruments of Maori). Two weeks were set aside to record the album, but by lunch on day two Te Ku Te Whe was in the can. Awarded Gold status in 2002, it remains our best selling album.

Te Hekenga-a-rangi (2003) wasn’t a follow up to Te Ku Te Whe so much as a broadening of its themes and concepts, this time emphasising the feminine dimension of taonga pūoro. To this end, Hirini and Richard were joined by Aroha Yates-Smith, and the resulting work is one of Rattle's most emotionally affecting releases.

In 2005, Rattle approached some of New Zealand’s finest remix artists to interpret Te Ku Te Whe, in part to go some way towards realising Hirini’s hope that taonga pūoro would be more widely integrated into the broader musical landscape of Aotearoa. Voted Best Maori Album at the 2007 NZ Music Awards, Te Whaiao is a highly satisfying fusion of ancient and contemporary musical influences.

Richard Nunns features on numerous Rattle releases, each situating taonga pūoro in an increasingly broad range of contexts, from Gillian Whitehead’s Ipu, to improvisational collaborations with Judy Bailey, the Chris Mason-Battley Group, Dave Lisik, Marilyn Crispell and Jeff Henderson, Whirimako Black, and as a member of the group Nga Tae. With the recent release of Utterance, a collaboration with Natalia Mann and David Long, Richard remains one of Rattle's most vital and important artists. 

 

The inclusion of Matre’s Dance on Different Tracks was the beginning of another of Rattle’s most enduring and successful collaborative threads, leading not only to the recording of Dan Poynton’s You Hit Him He Cry Out (1997 Classical Album of the Year) and Michael Houstoun's Inland (2008 Classical Album of the Year), but also to a series of landmark albums by one of New Zealand's most revered composers, John Psathas.

John’s acclaimed debut, Rhythm Spike (1999 Classical Album of the Year), was followed in 2006 by the monumental View From Olympus (2007 Classical Album of the Year). The album, complete with a DVD directed by Keith Hill, was the most ambitious and expensive classical recording ever undertaken in New Zealand, holding the number one spot in the classical music charts for six consecutive months and one of the top-ten classical albums for more than a year. John followed this with Ukiyo (2010) and Helix (2011), both of which were Classical Album of the Year finalists. 

NZTrio have released five exceptional albums on Rattle: bright tide moving between (Classical Album Finalist, 2007), Flourishes (Classical Album Finalist, 2010), Lightbox (2015), and most recently Sway and Vicissitudes (a collaboration with the Mike Nock Trio). Although pipped at the post by Michael Houstoun's Inland as 2007's Classical Album of the Year, the critically acclaimed bright tide moving between is widely regarded as one of Rattle's finest achievements. NZTrio are, without doubt, one of the central stars in Rattle's crown. 

Michael Houstoun is a musician of extraordinary depth and quality, and has performed on more Rattle releases than any other artist. A classical pianist, Michael recently ventured into the world of big band jazz when he guested on Concerti with the Rodger Fox Big Band in 2015, and he is currently in discussions with saxophonist Roger Manins about recording an album of largely improvised recordings. Wherever Michael goes, we go! 

 

In 2009 we took a more active role in supporting improvising artists, with the intention of championing an eclectic range of performance-based recordings that offer a diverse overview of forward-looking improvised music by established and emerging artists. 

The initiative signaled a new vision for Rattle, one that saw the label's output increase from barely one release a year (from 1991 to 2009) to almost one a month since 2011, all strong examples of our commitment to challenge, re-define, and transcend generic boundaries.

Rattle was rewarded for its commitment to improvised music when all three Best Jazz Album finalists at the 2015 Music Awards were by Rattle artists: Dark Light (Jonathan Crayford), Nerve (The Jac), and the winning album, Dog, by Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Olivier Holland, and Ron Samsom. 

 

After 20 years of commitment to Rattle, Tim Gummer and Keith Hill bowed out as directors in late 2009 and early 2011 respectively, each to pursue their own creative endeavours (Tim as a designer, Keith as a writer/filmmaker). In April 2013, Victoria University of Wellington became the new owner of Rattle, with Steve Garden continuing at the helm with support from Victoria University Press.

However, a mere two years into its stewardship, VUW senior management called for a review of Rattle. Despite strong submissions from industry professionals, academics, reviewers, composers and performers, VUW chose to divest itself of the label. Ownership returned to Steve in December 2015, ensuring that one of the few artist-focused music labels in Australasia will continue to have value and purpose in the age of streaming.

While VUW's decision was disappointing in terms of losing what promised to be a stable longterm safehaven in which to develop our cultural mandate, the experience revealed an ethos that we are fundamentally opposed to and grateful to be released from. In essence, the label failed to pass a set of precise conformist criteria, a failure we gladly wear as a badge of honour.

A story: One day a father asks his young son, "What would you most like?" "I'd love a fire engine, Daddy." "Well, here it is, and look, it has a bell, a siren, and a ladder that goes up and down." "Thank you, Daddy! This is what I always wanted." The father then takes the fire engine and jumps on it with all his might until it's nothing but a pile of crushed hope and ambition. The end.

Thankfully there was no irrevocable damage, although it came close. Rebuilding the label will take time, but with support from our artists and those for whom music continues to have value beyond the dry and narrow scope of a ledger column, we will survive.

With a small but strong team of like-minded individuals at the heart of the label, and with new artists and projects perpetually coming into view, Rattle will continue to draw from a rich and varied pool of emerging and established talent, and to broaden its reach and influence at home and abroad.