With the launch party for FABRICLIVE 77: Erol Alkan a little over a day away, we’re pleased to be able to present this rather unique three-way ‘In Conversation’ feature. After talking to Alkan and discussing the concept so began a conversation between the Trash founder and Phantasy label boss, Andy Meecham (aka The Emperor Machine) – an artist whose work features on the FABRICLIVE 77 mix who’ll also be playing live at the launch – and Ron Morelli, the label boss of L.I.E.S., one of the breakout record labels of the last couple of years that’s been something of an inspiration to Alkan. Handing over the reins for each of them to denote the topics, questions and direction of their discussion, what follows is an acutely interesting insight into all three individuals…
Erol Alkan: I feel that electronic music is the healthiest it's been for a few years; the variety and depth of various labels, artists, club nights and producers is nothing short of inspiring. My previous favourite year in electronic music was 2005: an era where you could cherry pick releases from such a wide and diverse span of labels, such as Playhouse, Dubsided, Kompakt and the early days of Ed Banger. I found that how those records were put together to be a challenge, and for me personally, the catalyst for what happened in 2006. It's something which I share in 2014. L.I.E.S. has certainly been a label which has kept surprising and exciting me since the very first releases. When putting together FABRICLIVE 77, some of your releases were first on the team list. Like all the best labels, L.I.E.S. feels like it was born out of the necessity to release the music which is directly around you. Ron, now that it's become as respected as it is, has there been a challenge to keep moving your own goalposts and what role you play within the great scheme of things? Where do you see L.I.E.S. in 2014?
Ron Morelli: Erol, in response to your question, L.I.E.S. was undoubtedly born out of a very close circle of people around me in Brooklyn and our desire to have our own artist run creative outlet. Next year I enter the fifth year of running the label and as the time goes by it's a constant challenge to keep things moving forward in a world of information overload where attention spans are quite short. First and foremost what has kept the label going is I always put out music I stand behind 100 percent, there is no real genre restriction and it doesn't have to be club friendly. When you step back and hear the music, it needs to have raw energy and emotion whether it's a 15 minute long guitar driven track or some jacking club stuff. As cliché as it sounds, it needs to move you. Also, there has never been any pressure to do one thing or the other, I’m just doing what I want when I want to do it. It's very loose and unorthodox and quite unprofessional, which is how the label should be in my eyes.
Also as time goes on I think you have to ask yourself questions constantly. Personally I'm never content with how things are and I always want to challenge myself. I think the biggest fear in running the label is to become "the good old standard" to me, that's very dangerous. That means you're cruising comfortably at one level with no variation, with no flux and with no change. To be at a constant is quite boring to me. So yeah, I just want to push forward with projects I think are interesting and make sense while also pushing the core group of artists who made the label what it is into new territories.
The Emperor Machine
Emperor Machine: I completely relate to Ron’s point about the fear of becoming “the good old standard”. My work seems to get referenced a lot by other artists but has never really smashed the collective consciousness. I don’t think that it being all about the music is a cliché at all, I can spend hours or days on one drum loop. Nothing leaves my studio until I am completely happy with it, whether it is for my own album or a remix or another piece of work, it all gets worked to death. Labels like L.I.E.S. and Phantasy are few and far between and I wish there were more labels with that ethos, but on the other hand perhaps being close and elite is essential for the survival of the label, by that I mean that it’s the credibility of the label that will keep it going and that a focus on commercialism and churning out what you think people want would be the kiss of death? Do you think this is accurate? It’s certainly how I feel about my music. I said in an interview recently that relative obscurity is a comfortable place to be, for me I believe it is. Erol you are in an enviable position, one that I know you have got to by sheer bloody hard work. To be able to play out and to be in such demand is miles away from my relative obscurity but I know that you still manage to evolve and lead. You have fingers in so many pies and Phantasy has got some really diverse artists on it, not just electronic. Is this deliberate or is this just how it happened and again, is it all about the music?
Erol: Very flattered you think so, Andy. It's interesting what you say about how much time you put into writing. I'm sometimes the opposite, if I can’t find something within an hour or two I get really bored, but once I have found it, I can agonise over it for months. My favourite reworks were all done within four or five hours: Franz Ferdinand 'Do You Want To' – four hours at the most --- Justice 'Waters Of Nazareth' – I’d be lying if I said I spent more than three hours on that - Connan Mockasin 'Forever Dolphin Love' – maybe five hours in total. The longest I won't name but it's my least favourite, and it took one month! My mix of your track 'RMI' took about seven hours, and I love that one… In terms of the artists on Phantasy, all I look for is if I believe it or not, same as what I look for as a producer. It needs to be something tangible, it can be anything. We just signed a new artist who I feel will make a great and important album in 2016, I'm always thinking ahead by two or three years.
Regarding 'relative obscurity' as a context, it's interesting as to what we measure success by. I always felt to be able to make music and have it flow through the channels required and be heard and enjoyed, was enough. What I love about electronic music right now is that the emphasis is on the DJ and their ability to connect with music, which has moved away from the DJ as the superstar who is stared at throughout a set. I have no problem with this and obviously this still goes on but it's undeniable that 2014 heralded the return of the DJ and it's craft, at least that what I can see and feel. There hasn't been a pressure to play 'hits', and some of the best sets have been the strangest. I suppose that's what our labels celebrate.
Ron: For me I think it's probably the most important thing to keep a close circle when running the label, as you stated. The labels in the past that interested me the most were labels that documented local scenes and were a local catalyst and rallying point for upcoming unknown artists, such as U.R., Bunker/Viewlexx, or even Factory. A lot of labels to me these days seem to be grabbing artists randomly from whoever is around. In 10 years’ time when you look back at labels with no local focus in many cases, the label catalogue will read as haphazard rather than people saying ‘this was that period in the Hague, this was that period in London when these guys were doing this sound’. To me it's pointless to start a label simply for the sake of it. It's tireless work with the end benefits being sparse for artist and label alike. Labels should be for artists run by artists or an outlet used to document a specific period in time for a group of related artists. If one starts a label to please the public's musical interests, regardless of the genre, in this day and age the endeavour will fail undoubtedly. I guess that is kind of stating the obvious though.
Erol: Ron, many of my friends who heard you play in London recently were blown away, do you feel your DJ sets are the testing ground for what you choose to put out?
Ron: I’m always playing unreleased demos and testing them when playing out, but I rarely use them as a gauge as to whether I’ll put out a track or not. Every DJ plays differently and has different tastes and ways of bringing records into the mix. What works for me may not work for someone else and vice versa. I might totally bomb a mix of a track where as someone else may be able to bring it in sweet and make it work. So I rarely make judgement calls on tracks I’ll release based on test runs in the club.