Radio Slave Interview
Radio Slave has become somewhat of a household name in the world of Techno over the past few years. Releases such as the No Sleep and Tankatan series, as well as his prominence in the Berlin club scene have consolidated him as modern-day figurehead in electronic music. We caught up with him to talk Rekids, relocating to Berlin, and his latest mix for Balance that spans all manner of house, soul, funk and rare oddities…
SL: I guess we should start with what you have been up to these last few months. The new Balance CD that you have mixed is out on the 27th – what was it like working on that?
R: Well it took some time to complete and the process started around the beginning of last year as my label partner and I had been planning some kind of compilation to celebrate my 20 years of Djing and in the end we decided to go with Balance. James Masters (Rekids) has known Tom Balance for some time as we’ve licensed tracks for previous editions and I was on his list of compilers so it kind f made sense and of course I’m a huge fan of the series. From there I went about compiling a track list and originally the release date was planned for March 2013. But with all these things, there are delays and I was super sick in January after a minor operation and this also pushed the compilation back to May. It’s been a tough year for me so far but getting this compilation done and now seeing the finished copies really brings a smile to my face.
SL: Your new CD sounds more similar to something we might hear in Panorama Bar, if only for its length. Do you prefer playing long sets? Is it a completely different approach?
R: I love to play for a long time if the environment is right and it’s great to play a wide variety of musical styles and this can really only happen when you have the time and freedom to express yourself and I guess with the Balance compilation, CD 1 is definitely a snap shot of the me DJ’ing at somewhere like the Panorama Bar.
SL: So is the selection on here representative of what you would normally play out? Any personal favorites on here?
R: For sure this is exactly what I’m playing out and I’m really happy that so many of the labels agreed to licensing the tracks as many are vinyl only and haven’t ever been used for a compilation. And I’m super happy to have been able to use the Melchoir Production’s track “Desendents” and also tracks like Vadim Sovoboda’s “Pattern 18” as this is unreleased and I’ve been playing it everywhere for months.
SL: The two CDs certainly have a different feel to them. Was this intentional?
R: Definitely and It might sound kind of cheesy but the whole concept was to take the listener on a journey to the club and back home and I really wanted to create a very personal vibe.
SL: Who’s been your favourite person to play alongside? Who would you most like to play with in the future?
R: I’m always happy to DJ with Marcel Dettmann. He’s a great friend and we’re playing back to back in Detroit this weekend. I’m also a big fan of my good friend Spencer Parker and of course I always have a lot of fun playing with Nina Kraviz.
SL: Do you play with both Vinyl and CD? Is there a preference? Do you play differently when using one versus the other?
R: I actually only buy the music I play in clubs on vinyl. I’m not a digital consumer and it just doesn’t appeal to me. I love to go record shopping and it’s great to have that social interaction with the people who work at record stores and also I’m always dropping hard drives or laptops so for me storing digital information is a nightmare.
SL: What are your thoughts on the recent resurgence of vinyl sales? Do you think it will be short-lived or this is the beginning of some kind of vinyl revolution?
R: Personally I think it’s a fad and like most things it will come and go. Most of the DJ’s I see outside of Europe are using Tracktor and it’s actually really hard to buy vinyl in a lot of countries. But saying this, I believe vinyl will survive as a format and I still love it.
SL: I understand that your background is in graphic design and art. How important is artwork to you for your releases? Is it auxiliary to the music or do you feel it’s an important aspect of the whole experience?
R: As a physical format enthusiast I’m all about creating a complete package and the artwork has always been a crucial part of releasing music. It gives the music an identity and can create an illusion or be very natural depending on the artist and type of music and we’ve always tried to give our artists an opportunity to express themselves through the artwork.
SL: To what extent does the software you use alter the way you make music?
R: Well i don’t really think it matters what software you use. You just need ideas! Anyone can replicate any musical genre these days with a computer or even a phone but being original and having fresh ideas is what you’ll need if you want to standout.
SL: You’re big on remixes. What attracts you to it? Do you think there are parallels to be drawn between the philosophy of remixing and sampling in hip-hop? What do you enjoy about remixing pop music in particular?
R: I guess one of the best parts about remixing is the fact that you get sent all the individual or separated tracks that make up the song and I find it fascinating to see how songs are stitched together. And I love listening to these songs broken down into their parts and I really learned so much from this when I was starting out making my own productions. These days you can find the stems or parts online for so many tracks and I think as a producer it’s a great way to really study what makes a song work.
SL: How do you think the culture of downloading music has affected DJing? How do you try and get round the problem of file sharing when you release things on CD?
R: The downloading of music has changed the whole industry upside down and the reality is that most labels are losing money with each release. Digital sales are falling as most kids will just grab the files for free and it’s made running a record label a real labour of love and it’s incredibly hard to stop people from sharing files. Most vinyl only releases sold at Hardwax seem to be uploaded and available for free the day the record is released which is crazy, and with Rekids we spend a lot of time and money trying to stop people sharing music illegally but it seems impossible these days.
SL: I read recently that you didn’t want Rekids to be thought of as just a House & Techno label. Are you planning to diversify the label into more experimental areas?
R: I’d love to release all kinds of music and I guess with Rekids we have a great roster already of artists who’s main focus is the dance floor. So because of this we recently launched the “Pyramids of Mars” label which is much more experimental and earlier this year we released an ambient LP from Vincent I. Watson and the Joe Claussell remixes of my “Machine” project.
SL: How does your setting affect what you do musically? Moving from Brighton to Berlin, how would you compare the two cities?
R: Nothing compares to Berlin and I feel incredibly luck and privileged to live in the city. I don’t feel like England is my home anymore and I’m very happy living in Kreuzberg. This area of Berlin is still really very culturally diverse and we have the best club in the world just across the river. It’s also a great place to buy music with stores like Hardwax and Space Hall and there’s always something going on 24-7. For this reason the only down side is getting things done and I don’t think many people actually go to work on a Monday.
SL: Can we expect to hear more music under the Rekid moniker in the future? What are the important differences between this name and Radio Slave?
R: I’m actually in the process of putting together ideas for the next Rekid LP. “Made in Menorca” was released 8 years ago on Soul Jazz and its taken me a long time to come back to this project which is basically a mix of Detroit influenced beatdown house and hip hop with a splash of new age electronica. It’s a space between the club and home.
SL: I read that you hope to bring out a Radio Slave LP in the future. Can you tell us something about your thinking behind this?
I’m planning to get this done over the summer and it’s gonna be based upon traveling around the world, and I can’t give away too much but I’m excited about the whole thing and feel really hungry to get this project off the ground.
Tom Dicicco Interview
Tom Dicicco is an artist who seems to release cautiously, exercising an astoundingly high level of quality control over his own productions. The same can also be said of the music he releases as co-owner of Inner Surface Music (along with AnD), a label which’s short discography is wholly made up for by the quality of each release.
Dicicco’s latest venture comes in the form of a new solo fronted imprint entitled Run Out Run. With June seeing its inaugural release, we were given the opportunity to chat to the man himself about his new imprint, musical heroes, and how his time spent in Manchester affected his productions.
SL: So first off, how’s this year been going for you?
TD: I’ve had a great year so far thanks, most of it has been spent preparing the new label, I didn’t want to rush it so I’ve took my time making sure everything is right from the tracks chosen for the first EP to the type of sleeves I wanted to use. Everything had to be just right. It’s important for me not to overlook anything in the process from start to finish and I’m happy with where it’s at now with the first release ready to go.
SL: What was it that prompted you to set up your own label? Was it a case of wanting to release tracks you found it difficult to find a home for?
TD: It just felt like the right time to do it. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and after a discussion in Berlin with Carola and Philip at Pullproxy after my gig at Berghain in January I decided to start putting some ideas together and its progressed from there.
SL: Do you plan to use the label as an outlet purely for your own productions (similarly to how Perc Trax was conceived) or are there releases from other artists lined up?
TD: The first three EP’s will all be my own productions. That is what I have planned at the moment release schedule wise. After that I’m hoping to put out some collaborative work but I haven’t planned on putting any other artist’s solo work out, we’ll see what happens.
SL: I believe I am right in saying you are also co-owner of Inner Surface Music along with AnD, how do you think Run Out Run will differ in terms of its output?
TD: Yes myself and AnD run Inner Surface Music. We met while I was studying in Manchester. Andro worked at Eastern Bloc Records so I got to know him well through picking up records on my lunch break at university and at weekends and through Andro I met Dimitri. We were all into the same music and spent many evenings working on tracks at Dimitri’s house. At this time we were both thinking about a label and between us we decided to start Inner Surface. Run Out Run is a platform for my music as well as collaborative work, we set Inner Surface up to release other artist’s music we liked as well as our own so it’s more of an open label compared to Run Out Run.
SL: With releases on both labels coming up i’m taking it things are fairly hectic at the moment?
TD: Yes it’s quite hectic at the moment but not too crazy. There’s never any rush to release anything and get it out there for the sake of it. There’s been a small gap in between the last release on Inner Surface and the upcoming release but that’s not a problem for us. The next release on Inner Surface is a Various Artists EP featuring AnD, Truss, Ascion and Sunil Sharpe. I’m really excited about this as we spent a long time deciding on the tracks and what we felt worked best and now it’s all ready to go we’re all very happy with it. The first EP on Run Out Run will be out in June and is Part 1 of a 2 Part series. Part 2 will be out later on in the year. I’ll also have a track on the sixth Inner Surface release, which will also be out later on in the year.
SL: Who would you say your musical heroes are? Although you are based in the UK, to me your productions seem more inline with a more European brand of Techno.
I wouldn’t say they’re my musical heroes but my biggest musical influences would have to be Levon Vincent and René Pawlowitz aka Shed. For me they are the most consistent producers around and both have a very unique style, a signature sound. I think that’s the most important thing in music, to try and be as original as you can be and maintain that for as long as possible. If people don’t like it then it doesn’t matter because you’re being true to yourself. I do love UK Techno and for me James Ruskin is second to none. As for musical heroes mine would definitely be my dad, no doubt!
SL: Most of your releases have been solo. Is collaborating something that comes easily to you, or do you find it easier to work in isolation?
TD: I definitely find it easier working alone. Sometimes when working with other artists I’ll be sitting there and it’s as if I’ve never made a track before. I just feel incapable of coming up with anything half decent and look like an idiot. For that reason I prefer doing collaborations online, sending projects and ideas back and forth and working on them in my own time.
SL: To what extent do you think the work of your peers drives your own ambitions? I have read that you studied in Manchester, which has a pretty impressive roster of electronic artists.
TD: Moving to Manchester to study was the best decision I ever made. Having met AnD and then subsequently meeting Indigo, Synkro, Szare and Arnaldo meant there was a great bunch of us around swapping tracks and getting feedback, going to gigs and hanging around at Eastern Bloc Records. Manchester is an amazing city and I definitely miss it! For the past 6 years I have sent everything I have ever made to Answer Code Request. We’ve been friends for a long time and he’s been a huge influence for me. I trust Patrick’s judgment and know he’ll be 100% honest with me good or bad, which I really appreciate.
SL: Gaining such impressive support (such as from Jonas Kopp) whilst still in University must have been pretty intense, how have things developed over the last few years?
TD: Yes it’s very humbling to receive support from artists and DJ’s you have a lot of respect for and Jonas has supported me massively since the baud release in 2010, which I’m very thankful for. Since the baud release things have developed at a pace I’m happy with. I’m not one to rush things so I’m quite happy how things have developed over the last few years, not too slow and not too fast.
I have all my releases in place for this year so I can start work on making new material for 2014.
SL: How much of what you write makes it to a public forum? Would you say you exercise a fair amount of quality control over your productions?
TD: Yes definitely. There are many many tracks on my hardrive that will never get released, as I don’t feel there anywhere near good enough to be released. Sometimes I come back to old projects that are finished but went in the rubbish folder and use certain elements from them to create new tracks that do end up being released so it’s all a work in progress. I’d much rather put out 2-3 great EP’s a year than 5 average EP’s.
SL: And finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year? Any exciting gigs coming up?
TD: The rest of the year will be preparing new music for next year, and focusing on my gigs. In June I’ll be at the first Contrast party at OT301 in Amsterdam and at Untertauchen’s fourth birthday party at GoetheBunker in Essen, really excited about both of those. Then after that it’s more gigs and new tracks while trying to keep up with Game Of Thrones haha.
Markus Suckut Interview
To those with even a cursory interest in the Techno, Markus Suckut is probably a familiar title - tracks such as ‘Hunt’ and ‘False’ proved more than strong contenders for 2012’s end of year lists. Having released for iconic labels such as Stroboscopic Artefacts and Len Faki’s Figure SPC, Suckut’s productions tread a line between gritty industrial sound design, and hypnotic, groove laden Techno.
Following an impressive slew of 12”s since his debut in 2010, Suckut has recently taken on the perilous challenge of releasing in the album format - however ‘DNA’ by our reckoning takes on this challenge with ease, and presents perhaps the most unique sound we’ve heard yet from Markus.
With the album’s release planned for the 20th of this month, we were given the wonderful opportunity to catch up with Markus, to discuss the new album, his own imprint ‘SCKT’, and the pressures of making music for your heroes.
SL: I believe i’m right in saying that your not a Berliner, and are somewhat removed from the heart of the Techno scene in Germany, considering this, how did you first encounter electronic music? Was it part of the landscape for you whilst growing up, or was there a particularly pivotal moment?
M: Yes that’s correct, I’m not living in Berlin and to be honest I really enjoy that fact. Where I live is definitely not a huge space for a Techno scene in the clubs, it’s more about the house thing, may I say the more commercial stuff. I mean, I really like Berlin and try to stay longer when I play there to meet friends and to do some shopping. But for me it’s nice to have that contrast of being on the road and coming back home to have a chance to lean back and to relax. I guess if I would live in Berlin, the influence and the inspiration would be a huge difference, and I think it’s good that you don’t know all the time whats happening music wise in Berlin. May a few people recognize that in my tracks, that I do my thing without any influence of other Techno artists in my area.
SL: At what point did you decide you wanted to take a more active role, and begin DJing and producing?
M: There were no particular plans to do it professionally, it just happened somehow and I think that’s the way it should be, isn’t it?
SL: Judging by your DJ sets, and your choice to keep your own imprint ‘SCKT’ vinyl only, you have a real respect for the format, what drives this passion for you?
M: Vinyl was the first medium I got in touch with when I started DJing. For me it’s all about the feeling, to go into a record shop, spend a few hours and in the end you have something to hold in your hands.
It’s so nice to hold music in your hands, instead of just using files. It’s also about limitation for me, you are not able to have all your records with you when you play at a club.
SL: In a relatively short space of time you have managed to release on some of the most well respected labels in electronic music, how did your relationship with these labels develop? Especially Len Faki’s Figure SPC, who will be releasing your debut album in May.
M: Yes, everything turned good for me in such a short time. It’s incredible and still can’t believe that. It’s unbelievable to get the respect and attention of people who have been in the business for such a long time, and are kind of legends to me. Especially with Len it became like a friendship, we have fun together when we are on the road and have a chat more than once a week. I never thought about that album thing before and it just happened, cause I felt at home at Figure. Len gives me a lot of freedom and that is great, because it shows that he trusts me and and believes in the music I make. So I decided to concentrate just on Figure and my own label SCKT in the future.
SL: Is it exciting or daunting to produce music for your heroes? Is it something that makes it easier or harder to work?
M: It is exciting to me. It is great to get that kind of attention but it’s always hard for me then. I always think ‘oh i don’t want to fuck up in the studio’ and not disappoint.
SL: Having picked up a lot of attention for your early releases on Stroboscopic Artefacts and Figure SPC, you began an impressively prolific remix schedule. Do you think this period helped to develop your skills? Also is it something you will continue to do in the future? I read somewhere that you wished to focus more on your own original material.
M: Yes that’s right, I am taking time off doing remixes but there are still some to get released during the year. I came to a point where I realized that I don’t have the energy to focus that much on remixes anymore. Of course I think it helped a lot to get recognized out there, especially with remixes for Alan Fitzpatrick and names like that. But as I said, I’ve realized that it’s not the same, like in the beginning when I was doing less remixes. Thats why I’ve decided to focus more on my own original stuff now and I try to be very picky in the future with remixes for sure.
SL: ‘DNA’ is your first major project, and a brilliant one at that! It seems you have really found your own sound, and the album is a way of projecting that fully. Is this a fair assumption?
M: Well, I would say ‘DNA’ is my second major project, but I think that’s just my point of view in this case, cause it’s really hard to do a good job with your own label.
But I would agree totally by saying that I found my own sound signature. I’ve realized that more and more during the process of writing the album and in the end, it’s 100% me, as Len took it just like I’ve send to him - which is such a huge compliment to me. That’s why I wanted to call it ‘DNA’ - it’s me, what I like to do, what I like to listen to, what I like to play out.
SL: How long had you been working on the album, both as an idea for a project as well as the actual recording process?
M: To be honest, the first track ‘Path’ was done in 2010, even before any release on Figure. I had that track for a long time, showed it to nobody, because I was not sure what I could do with it at that point. After my first release on Figure SPC, the ‘J’, I had to play in Hamburg together with Len, for kind of the first Figure Night in 2011 I guess. I was so nervous, because I’d never met him in person before. We just had rare chats via email, to exchange music and ideas. So we met in his hotel room before the night started and talked closely about my future because he had a lot of unreleased material from me and also the ‘K’ with Jeroen was finished then.
We were just kidding around and the idea of doing an album in the future came up somehow. I said, yes may we should try - I have that one track laying around at home which could fit on an album.
From there on I started to work on ‘DNA’ from time to time, as the idea was to have no pressure. We always said, it’s done when it’s done. In the end it was a good decision to have no pressure at all. At the point where I thought it was done I send it over to Len and it took a while until he got back to me, but the rest you can imagine now.
SL: I may be completely wrong but the album sounds less computer based, have you been working with much hardware in producing it?
M: I’ve bought more and more hardware during that period and of course I tried to include some ideas which I’ve created with my new things. But all the arrangement and basic sketches I’ve done with my computer.
SL: Some of the tracks on your album, particularly ‘Doomed’ and ‘Path’ demonstrate real musical experimentation for you, far beyond the limits of the dance floor. Is this something which attracted you to the possibility of an album? Also can we expect more leftfield leaning releases from yourself in the future?
M: I never had the idea to do that typical thing - like hey, i’m doing an album now, I have to do some experimental stuff. Those tracks just happened and it made a lot of sense to include them on the album for Len and me. I think there won’t be more things like that, as it’s not my idea of doing EP’s or something like that - I always want it to be danceable.
SL: I was surprised to see that most of the tracks on ‘DNA’ are fairly short when compared with some of your other material, is this a shift towards a more concise approach? Or was it an attempt to showcase more of your sound within the album’s time constraints?
M: That was also something which just happened to be, I never thought about a limitation of time on a track, especially on the album, but it was also clear that I didn’t want to have a ten minute track on the album or something like that. Also I was sure that we would do it on 2x12”. I think it would have been a bit sad to have just six tracks on the vinyl format, wouldn’t it?
SL: And to ask you briefly about some of your other activities, what made you decide to set up your own Label SCKT?
M: I was at a point where I had material that I had no idea who would like to release it, and it was always my dream to have complete freedom, in every point. Artwork and music. I think it was the right decision to go that way.
SL: At what point did you decide you wanted to have the remix series on the label? Does this mean that the label will begin releasing other people for full releases?
M: It never was the idea to do remixes and to be honest I don’t remember the point where I decided to do it. I just had that list in my head, if I would do remixes on my label, then just these few guys and I’m happy that it worked out like that. Everyone who I had on my list was cool with the idea doing a remix. The remix series is something special on SCKT, that’s for sure. Next year I will go on to release just my own material again. I have also had a few ideas for another project on SCKT already, and also to take it a step further, but these are just ideas. I really don’t know if that will ever happen. One thing is for sure, SCKT will stay my own little baby.
SL: It must be incredible to have someone who releases as rarely as DVS1 remixing for the label, how did this particular remix come about? Are you still a primarily vinyl DJ, considering the stresses of your hectic DJ schedule?
M: It was during last year. I’ve asked all the guys on my list and told them my idea. To do a different artwork and that it would just be a short series which I would do just once.
Also DVS1 was on my list. I knew that he liked my sound and what I do but never expected that he would do a remix for me. So yes, that’s something really special to me. It took him a long time to finish it, but in the end it was worth it.
I recognized that i play more and more CD’s at the moment, I always try to play vinyl but sometimes it just doesn’t work out in the club, and it’s also a pain in the ass when you take a flight, you never know if your records will show up at the luggage belt.
SL: Finally, what is next for Markus Suckut? I certainly hope it involves a trip to London at some point!
M: There are still some remixes to get released during this year, another remix EP on SCKT which I am also very proud of and of course something on Figure - surprise surprise!
Well Rounded Records Interview
Over the last past eight months Brighton’s once thriving vinyl trade took a few painful blows, with the closing of the much loved Rounder Records after fourty six years of trading, as well as the demise of Edgeworld Records, a haven for all forms of leftfield music.
Restoring the equilibrium however, Well Rounded Records openend their doors to their first batch of customers over the New Year period. In January we had the opportunity to chat with owner, and Well Rounded figurehead Ash Marlowe, as well as store assistants Dom Hughes (877 Records founder) and Chris Butler (Richta) about the opening of the new shop, and whats in store for Well Rounded as a whole over 2013.
SL: You posted a status from the Facebook page about the kind of excitement that you used to have about record shops when you were in your late-teens/early 20s and that you thought it was unrealistic to see that energy again, but I get a real sense that there is an increasing passion about record shops these days and this is reflected in the raise of vinyl sales. With the price of your vinyls, do you have an ideology about keeping it low, similar to say how Fugazi had a cap on how much their music would sell for this reason?
A: The only thought I’ve given to pricing was, well, there’s going to have to be a certain margin that we add on to the stuff we buy for to make it viable for us to sell the records at all. But you obviously keep that as low as possible so the retail price doesn’t become too high.
With domestic UK labels or European labels, you can get them cheaper than say if you’re importing records from America and Holland for example. A lot of domestic records now are somewhere between £6.50-£8 and imports can sort of start around £8.50 and go around £10.50 very occasionally for certain labels. That’s a rough breakdown.
Then there’s the second-hand stuff of course. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been putting in stuff that’s overspill from my own collection and every record that I’ve ever bought I’ve bought because I thought it was good or at least potentially interesting. We’re put second-hand records out in the shop after we assess their worth not just in money terms but also musically. We’re not putting anything out there that we don’t think is of a quality or standard, it hits it’s target whether it’s a dirty grime riddim based thing or a sort of dub-technoey thing from Berlin or something like that. Whether it’s a Villalobos record or if it’s a old garage record, we reacquaint ourselves with what it is.
C: We listen to basically everything that comes into the shop.
A: Yeah, so the prices for those, some of them will go out as cheap as £2 and we are selling a few that way which has been good to see. Things I’ve got at say a boot fair for a pound and I picked it because I could see it was clearly a vintage US house record just by looking at the labels and understanding what to look out for there, and then realising it had a couple of dubs by Murk or someone on the B-Side and thinking “Oh that might be good I’ll give it a punt.” We sold one recently that it was in that vein of New York garage-house from the early 90s. That sound has made a big resurgence through the clubs lately so it’s relevant to today again. I think, down south here anyway….
SL: So to what extent do you think that the shops popularity comes from your tastes specifically?
A: I can make an interesting point on this I think, which is that a lot of people were working at shops and then new genres evolved and they ignored them, and almost hated on them for as long as they could. I’m thinking of Dubstep in particular here.
There were dance specialists in Brighton and a few of us, including Dom here, were aware of Dubstep coming in, and were getting what we could but there were limits to that – we couldn’t get labels like DMZ and stuff, and I would go into record shops saying to them; “look, there’s me and a load of other people round here who really want to get these records on these labels, these are the guys who distribute them blah blah blah, could you just consider…” and they didn’t get it. But eventually they had such a demand coming in off the street that they did what I told them to do several months earlier and creamed cash off a style they didn’t have any respect for. They barely knew what speed to fucking play it on, trust me. It was led by the enthusiasm of the people, not the shop.
Because I’ve always been a punter and a fan and an avid collector, in my shop you’ll get that from behind the counter. I’m as excited about the new box of records as you are or should be, or I would hope you would be. The other day we had a couple of guys in when a particular box landed and it’s just a small shop, you know, but we had two guys there I was just like “oh hang on a minute we’ve just got a box, a few things here might interest you” and they each both bought a fresh, straight out the box, record that they had no advance notice of, and they also bought a record each that they selected for themselves.
SL: It was quite refreshing the other day where you were playing some Juke and I think a lot of record shops don’t sell any Juke or if they do it’s in a tiny little bit. I mean, it’s not as if Well Rounded are known for Juke necessarily but it was refreshing to hear something so different to what you’d expect to be playing.
A: You’ll hear a Grace Jones album or a Prince album from time to time as well. The whole thing about it is, as broad as we can be, we’ll go there happily. I don’t put any barriers on it, personal taste wise, it’s all elevated to an equal status. Garage, Dubstep, House, Soul – once a certain thing has been achieved in any genre it deserves level respect really. I’m saying this because I’m coming to these realisations – anyone who buys a record now deserves a pat on the back.
SL: What about the label side of Well Rounded? Whats going on this year generally?
A: I’m carrying on with the three labels, the schedule stretches out quite far already, and there’s a lot of artists to fit in, I’m talking to lot of different people but we’re at different stages.
I think we’ve got some fantastic music to put out this year of course. I’m also gonna be releasing more of our own producers, the actual family of people closely connected to Well Rounded, that have supported me or been there getting involved at different levels over the past three years or so. Chris works for the shop but will also release on the label as Richta.
SL: 877 have also released a remix by Donga & Blake in the past?
D: Yeah, on the first release there was a remix of one of my tracks, and actually probably more interestingly coming up is a various artists ep called Well Rounded Rebel Alliance. As Ash said it features tracks from Well Rounded in-house producers and friends selcted by myself for 877.
C: It goes off.
A: Yeah there’s some dancefloor damage from Klic & Riskotheque.
D: And a much deeper sort of housey track from Donga & Blake.
A: There’s another tune that features Richta here an’ all. ‘Skeleton Grin’ is this kind of odd techno track. It’s got a spoken word vocal by me which was a stream of consciousness thing I just wrote down at the time in the studio, which seems to basically be about people that deliberately present themselves one way when their real agenda is something they hide.
C: Unconsciously quoting William Burroughs.
D: I guess to bring it back the scene in Brighton, there are obviously examples of us doing stuff together but I wouldn’t say there’s like a real strong scene like there might be in Bristol or somewhere like that. But with the shop and the labels, and us doing this EP and various other things like that hopefully we’ll be working more in that direction.
A: I’m quite nervous about certain aspects of it, because the reason we don’t put loads of our own music out is because you think to yourself where does this fit in basically. Seems to me that a lot of stuff out there is quite conservative. I can only really speak for myself really, but I don’t go to make music with any idea about what we’re trying to do. I observe we’re just trying to find something to launch a creative process, and you never know what that’s going to be. So sometimes you’ll make a track but you’ll never make another one that sounds even remotely like it again. So that idea of there being like enough consistency to what you’re doing that you can almost ‘market’ yourself as an artist becomes really hard.
Even putting one EP together - we’ve had to do a various artists EP and come up with The Well Rounded Rebel Alliance concept so that three things that were conceived separately but deliver a considered diversity can come together on one record.
I mean it could be the best record of this year who the fuck knows. It’d be good to think that it might be. It might be the definitive statement and everyone just stops making music after that.
SL: Is that similar to how the Cash Antics series works? Whats the breakdown with Well Rounded between the Housing Project and Well Rounded Individuals?
A: I can go into more depth about the individual remits of each, but to be honest I just wanted to get more records out. Its not gone too badly but its not necessarily advisable strategically. I think I’ve probably put a lot more records out in three years than other labels have achieved, but that comes at a certain price I think sometimes. You find records coming out a bit too close to one another sometimes with ones that are delayed too long. In the record manufacturing process it only takes one break in the communication chain or one thing to go wrong sometimes and you find your release put back a month or something. Sometimes you get a project that just for some reason becomes the weird project that got away, and you’re almost tearing your hear out thinking ‘We cut it four months ago, where’s the fucking record?’
D: If your manufacturing vinyl, in my experience it never goes as straight forwardly as you’d like it to, there’s always a delay with something.
A: There are exceptions but when the easier releases happen you’re just like ‘This one went nice and easy, thank god!’. But yeah it was just a way to be able to put more records out and I’m still pushing for that subtly. I work with distributors and I’ve found that there’s distributors that definitely see potential in what we do, and I think we’re regarded quite well. So we’re not without people that want to distribute our label, but at the same time there’s only so much freedom they can afford to give me, so sometimes I have to be a bit more creative, like this thing with me doing these WR Edits 250 white label editions, that’s effectively launching another outlet to get more of these tunes out.
SL: Do you think artwork is important? What’s the concept behind the Well Rounded logo and labels?
A: The Well Rounded labels were something I asked a friend to do – I said I wanted something colourful and hand drawn, and I had something in mind that was a bit like an old Joe Gibb’s reggae label from Jamaica, but he just came up with what he came up with and I don’t know what it was that appealed to me about it, it’s weird.
With me there’s a lot of letting go and doing things instinctively, not over analysing certain aspects because I feel it’s boring – it’s more ‘why not, let’s go with that, fuck it’ than sitting around endlessly moving things round backwards and forwards to get the right precise fucking angle right – that wouldn’t have been something I was interested in.
Once we had the original label design, we just did a couple of slight deviations of the text on the first few releases. We hit Cash Antics 1 and we let Deadboy design that, gave him free reign to do what he wanted, and then when we came back with Donga & Blake we started experimenting with the backdrop to the logo, and as we went on further we then stepped outside of that with Submerse where we adapted the logo and made it look like a Moving Shadow label as that label’s output had been a big influence on him.
We started to look at our identity and then the concept of the record, and play around with certain things. The Kidcut 10” is luridly orange, there’s an implied acidness to the way it’s presented – as it’s essentially a rave record. But then you have another release, where maybe the concept of the art was developed separately from the music, where our artist has done something physical with crude prints of the logo, like screwed it up and unraveled it or folded it over and unfolded it, or cut it up, photocopied it and taped it back together – things like that.
The same chap also does Well Rounded Individuals, and on Individuals I guess for him it’s less about there having to be a particular link between the artwork and the record, but once again certain things have crept in, like there’ll be scribbles of pencil.
With Well Rounded Housing Project it’s a different design team – one of the guys who does it is a friend I’ve known for a while, I knew about his love of geometric shapes, intense technical illustrations – shapes, crystals, this that and the other and it was just something that we’d be babbling on about. I sometimes get from it a sense of locating a spiritual centre within the technical. There’s a lot of background to our daily lives that works in cycles, patterns and how things relate to each other. We are all our own planet in a sense….
SL: We were talking on the way here about the description of the label how that’s a really important part of whether you pick something up when you’re searching through a crate. At some shops they have these really lazy, wry descriptions of music that make them sound like they don’t care about what they’re selling at all. I saw a description the other day that said ‘the thing that all the hipsters went crazy for last year’ – why is anyone going to buy that if they read that?
A: I’ve found ways to deal with it, if you’re intelligent or creative enough you don’t have to lie. I’ve re-discovered phrases like ‘love it or hate it’. Certain records come out that you think that about, but you can still understand or appreciate what it is about it that’s drawing attention.
C: You can be respectful even if it’s not to your personal taste. You can still write something on that label that appreciates what is good about it to the people that like it.
A: We were doing some ordering the other night and I was showing Chris certain things. Some of those records would probably be records that would possibly be a bit more commercial or accessible, and you have to try and put yourself in the mindset of a young listener, a teenager – what would they think of this? What would I think of this? That’s just as important; not just being highbrow about it, don’t be snobbish about a record you’re stocking. You’re happy to take my money but-
C: –you’re looking down your nose as you do it.
A: I worked in a shop before this where staff put comments on labels like ‘ripping garage spuzz-punk’ or something. Somehow we ended up stocking a Franz Ferdinand album, and it took a while before I noticed that our description of their debut album said something like ‘complete fucking pile of total shit’. To be honest –
C: -they were right.
A: I was a bit like ‘well we probably shouldn’t be doing that’ but then again I see the writer’s frustration. I’ve had problems because I’ve always found that a lot of the music I’ve thought was really good was either overlooked or marginalized, and I think that’s always true. With bass music and contemporary dance music – often whoever is being the most loudly lauded you’ve already been following, and it gets a bit predictable like ‘well of course James Blake is fully singing now’, and it’s all become very ‘sit down at the Barbican’’. Fine, you know, I don’t care, because there are loads of new things – artists and people- emerging all the time. I think you can invest as much or as little into it as you want; I mean it’s there – there’s a lot going on right now.
C: I think the thing is, however broad any individual’s taste is - and Ash has got extremely broad taste - there’s still going to be stuff that’s outside of that and you don’t want to rule out selling that in the shop, because if that’s what somebody else is into then we want to be able to give them what they’re after as well.
A: Although I think I’ve just contradicted that a little bit, but yeah.
C: Only because you’ve given Franz Ferdinand as a very extreme example…
A: I think some producers go on a sort of trajectory as well; and it’s like OK, now you’re at this level, do you need my support as much as the guy at a lower level? If they’re still making music that challenges the stuff that you’ve appreciated in the past then you’re going to acknowledge that happily. But I just think sometimes it gets to a point where it takes on the shape of something that’s a lot more managed and promoted and actually marketed, rather than it just being underground music that’s filtering out into the natural network for it.
C: To take your James Blake example – I remember hearing some of his early releases towards the end of the Dubstep days. I heard you play them Ash, and we all agreed that they were really fucking good, I personally don’t know much what his stuff sounds like since then. If he was to tomorrow release something that we agreed was a deservedly big release then we wouldn’t hesitate to get it in – it’s not like we write people off because they get recognition.
A: No no no, but sometimes it does mutate into something that is so widely distributed that it doesn’t really need support from shops like us.
I am looking at domestic labels, I’m discovering some and I double back their stuff if I think it’s good, even though people may not have heard of it until they come into the shop. It’s going to take us perhaps recommending it to them, like these two labels Shifted Focus and Blind Jack’s Journey, labels like this, where because they’re manufactured in England they don’t cost us a lot to buy. Even though we haven’t sold out of the first Blind Jack’s Journey release I’m still totally backing these labels. I hope we can help to promote this music because it strikes me that it’s exciting on some level. It peaks my interest.
Update: Since this interview Donga sold out of Blind Jacks Journey ‘Dream House 1.1’ and is now happily selling ‘1.2’.
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