“Wow. I wasn’t prepared to answer this question. I don’t know how to,” Spencer Williams of Kitty on Fire Records says when asked to give a summary of what the label does. And who can blame him? One glance at Kitty on Fire’s Bandcamp page can be jarring. It’s like an anime fighter had digitally uploaded several hundred albums—there are titles like NEGLECTED TOMOGATCHI, Super Duper Digi-Punk Split, L-l-l-lewd!, and CAT FIGHT (all of which are fantastic records, mind you).
Kitty on Fire—a dual effort by Williams, who handles most of the business side of the operation, and Henrietta Lockheart, who handles artist relations—isn’t just your run-of-the-mill cyberpunk/grindcore/digital hardcore conglomerate. There’s a plan involved, and so far, it’s led them to consistently blow their projected goals out of the water. Williams grew up working at his family’s bookstore and book publishing house in Canada. According to him, the publishing industry operates similarly to the music industry, and he runs Kitty on Fire like the publishing house he knew so well. He understands basic marketing tactics, the importance of brand, and how to get artists the royalties they deserve.
“I realized when I was younger that I wasn’t a great artist, so I decided that I wanted to facilitate it,” says Williams. “I had friends who were great musicians and getting ripped off by publishers, so I’m really passionate about raising the standards that musicians have for publishers. I do a lot of grant writing for local artists because they don’t have the time or training to sift through these brutal forms and go to meetings with the government.”
The Kitty on Fire roster is massive, and their back catalog is hundreds of records deep. Digitial harcore, cybergrind, grindcore, noise, breakbeat: If you can flail around to it in a Sailor Moon costume, they’ve got it. Roughly half the roster comes from tape submissions, eager musicians wanting to get in on the madness; the rest are personally approached by Williams, usually with an offer to hop on a bill at one of their shows, which sometimes leads to an album deal.
When asked if they could provide a few entry points into their massive discography, Williams points to The Ugly Art by Machine Girl, a snarling digital hardcore with wall to wall breakbeats; and Super Duper Digi-Punk Split Vol.4 : NXC Edition, the label’s compilation release featuring an array of wicked tracks from label artists like DMVGE and Senpai Suicide Club. “We have two types of fans: ones who like screaming, and ones who don’t,” Lockheart says.
Kitty on Fire’s events go beyond a simple artist showcase: they’re extreme anime conventions, rave crossovers, and safe spaces all in one. According to Williams, at a recent Machine Girl show in Vancouver, the venue was packed with 20-somethings moshing like a massive amoeba, sucking in even the shyest wallflowers and making them feel welcome. “The shows are mainly in basements and warehouses, and the people look like they’re straight out of an anime,” says Lockheart. “You wonder if they got dressed up for the show, but no, this is how they always dress when they aren’t at their day job. We get tons of mystical creatures in all shapes and sizes dancing in ways that you’ve never seen before. It’s pure friendship and no violence.”
According to Williams and Lockheart, the Vancouver underground faces two major obstacles: police shutting down venues and touring bands skipping the city altogether on their tours. Williams has taken strides to address the latter by helping potential Kitty on Fire artists find accommodations and bookings in the area, so they might gain a foothold on the local scene.
Williams’s advocacy also includes grant writing, a skill he mastered at his previous job. In 2017, the label received money to fix up a complete studio in Vancouver, a luxury many of their artists don’t have access to on their own. (Unfortunately, a robbery earlier this year forced them to move out of the space. In the meantime, they’ve partnered with a local university’s radio station to allow their artists a place to record.)
“We tell artists, ‘You can have the studio for the entire time you’re here and live in our basement when you aren’t recording,” says Williams. “It gives them a chance to try things they’ve never tried before, and we’re able to then pay them more royalties than they’ve ever received. So we’ll sign our musicians up for employee rights organizations, so their conditions are good and they’re getting tons of radio play and getting back pay for three years from radio play. We feel like good business practice and honesty has been working.”
Kitty on Fire’s upcoming endeavors involves an upcoming full-length by the Santa Fe gabber artist 99jakes, and a split release between lolicore artist goreshit and longtime Kitty on Fire artist Hitori Tori.
Beyond that, the label is interested in working in new mediums like graphic novels, comics, and soundtracks. Their most recent release Technotise: Edit I Ja OST by Slobodan Štrumberger, the soundtrack to one of the only feature-length animated films to come out of Serbia, is one of their first attempts at moving into the soundtrack field.
“I went on a spree of trying to put out old OSTs,” says Lockheart. “The thing is, everyone loves cyberpunk but no one brings up this movie. So when I looked into it, I found out that it was primarily made by one guy, and he pointed me in the direction of the composer, and we started talking to them. When I first heard the soundtrack, I knew it fit the aesthetic of Kitty on Fire.”
If there’s one definitive, blanket statement that can be made about Kitty on Fire, it’s that it’s a label for content creators by two people who genuinely care about the musicians they’re featuring. “The ultimate goal is to make sure musicians get more royalties than they’re currently getting,” says Williams. “Period.”