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After Oasis, He Headed for Indie Ground

March 11, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN

You're the person who ran one of the U.K.'s coolest indie labels, discovered Oasis, sold 35 million albums worldwide with the group, and served as an advisor on cultural policy to Prime Minister Tony Blair, and now you feel it's time for new challenges.

What do you do next? Score a new mega-deal for your label? Take a top job at a major label?

Not Alan McGee, who dissolved his Creation Records last year when its deal with Sony Music expired. Weary of the way the major-label music world does business, McGee has a new passion. Rather than put music out via giant, global corporations, he merely wants to find cool sounds and play them for you himself.

To that end, the fast-talking redhead has been running a once-a-month club in London called Radio 4--and he's bringing the concept to Hollywood.

On March 31, he's inaugurating the venture at the Knitting Factory, reappearing the last Sunday of each month from May through October. The opening event will feature a performance by L.A. band Beachwood Sparks, with McGee and Tim Burgess of English band the Charlatans spinning records. He also promises surprise guest DJs at this and every Radio 4 night.

"I could have rode the good times for five years," says McGee, 40. "I got fed up. Wasn't that complicated. I thought, 'Get out now and reinvent yourself.' Creation was stuck in a corner. People expected white boys with guitars."

Radio 4, he says, is about turning musical corners rather than getting stuck in them.

"We're playing Guns 'N Roses next to Mirwais, AC/DC next to Grandmaster Flash," he says.

The London club, he says, has become the hippest local nightspot by being small and intimate, but not exclusive--there's no velvet rope or bouncer choosing who's cool enough to be admitted.

The L.A. opening will be one of three North America launches, with New York and Toronto branches opening in late March. He's also in talks for Stockholm, Melbourne and Tokyo locales.

And Radio 4 is just one piece in a new puzzle he's assembling. He started the independent Poptones label last year, focusing on new acts with a roster that features Scottish folk-rock band Cosmic Rough Riders, January and an album-in-progress from former Elastica member Donna Matthews.

Poptones (found at http://www.poptones.co.uk) is also the home of an online magazine and radio station (on which he hosts new shows weekly, in addition to deejaying Mondays through Thursdays on the Internet's XFM at http://www.xfm.co.uk). On top of that, he produced the androgyny-themed film "The Baby," which screened at Sundance.

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INITIAL INITIATIVE: Neither of his names starts with an A or an M, but Ron Fair isn't hesitating to make his mark as the new custodian of much-beloved A&M Records. The label--founded in the early '60s by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss and the home to a wide range of acts including the Carpenters, Cat Stevens, the Police and Soundgarden--had existed in name only since being folded into Interscope in the Universal-PolyGram merger two years ago.

But Interscope chief Jimmy Iovine reactivated A&M last month with Fair as president. As senior vice president of A&R at RCA Records, Fair helped turn Christina Aguilera into a hit, and now he gives the Interscope family a pop presence--the one weak spot in the hugely successful combine's roster.

Fair, 45, hit the ground running, taking the debut album by English teen Samantha Mumba that had been released last fall, and overseeing a revision and repackaging of the collection, which will be released in the new form March 27.

"Samantha is huge in England," he says. "And I got to the company and saw that her song ['Baby Come Over'] was doing well on the U.S. charts, but no one knew who she was. In the video, she was in the distance and it wasn't clear how vibrant she was. And she was just cast in the remake of 'The Time Machine' with Guy Pearce. I asked Jimmy if I could lend a hand using what I had learned from Christina to really make something big with this."

Fair took Mumba back into the studio to redo the vocals on the song, as well as record a new one, "Don't Need You To" (written by Diane Warren), and remake another song, "The Boy," with a hip-hop edge provided by Will I Am of the Black Eyed Peas.

Fair is also working with Sting on a Top 40-friendly revision of his song "After the Rain." The new mix will be released to radio March 19.

"Sting put a more aggressive, R&B feel to it now and some spectacular guitar parts," Fair says.

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MORNING MADNESS: Who needs coffee if you can have Metallica's James Hetfield barking in your ear to get your day started?

That's the notion behind the MP3 O'Clock. The electronic time-piece, being marketed by Internet music firm ArtistDirect, will allow owners to download digital audio clips to serve as wake-up calls, from their CD collections and hard-drives as well as custom recordings available via a special Web site. Dave Grohl, Mandy Moore, and members of Metallica, Backstreet Boys and Spinal Tap are among those contributing musical or spoken bits, including birthday and seasonal messages, with new ones added monthly.

Pre-orders for the clocks will be taken starting Monday, with April 2 the official on-sale date.

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