One of the few, if not the major d&b label out there that is continuously recognised both inside and outside of drum & bass circles, Exit has become much more than just a vehicle for White’s musical career; it’s evolved into his personal sonic calling card. With integrity at its very core, the label - which has been releasing music since 2003 - mirrors White’s personal outlooks with Exit essentially a physical manifestation of his own production work, far reaching DJ sets, friendships and A&R tastes.
Exactly how the label has achieved such a high level of prosperity can only really be fully explained by the man himself, so we sat down with dBridge a couple weeks back, in an attempt to fully grasp the scope of his vision - as a musician and as a label boss. In this, the first part of an extensive two part feature we discuss his label operation ahead of Exit’s takeover of Room Two on Friday 15th August…
I think the label would be the perfect place to start, considering that Exit are back and hosting a Room and all... So, what’s going on with the label at the moment, any exciting things coming up?
In terms of Exit, there’s a lot going on actually. We’ve recently left our distributors so we’re pretty much doing everything ourselves now. It’s a big step for us but it’s going well so far. Other than that, there’s a lot of music forthcoming including albums from Skeptical and System as well as EPs from Chimpo, Calibre and Fixate. I am also working on this HeartDrive project, which is a collaboration between Kid Drama and I, whilst working on this subsidiary label, Pleasure District, which I’m pleased to say is up and running now.
Why did you decide to self-distribute?
Well when ST Holdings didn’t want to do certain aspects of the distribution, we initially looked into going to other distributors but then thought we might try and do it ourselves. The market has changed which means the distributors have had to adjust and as a result we’ve had to change the way we do things as well. When they first pulled the rug from underneath us, we really had to reassess everything but I quite like it this way. It’s almost that question of ‘why didn’t we do this before?’ It’s still in its infancy but you really get a sense of what’s going on and you have a better connection with those that are selling your music. With a distributor we’re just giving them the record and waiting for them to tell us how many we’ve sold but now we’re able to see who’s really getting involved, who is buying our music and which country they’re buying it from.
"vinyl might have diminished as a market but it’s definitely still a medium we can sell and potentially make some money from."
And from a business sense, it’s beneficial for us because essentially we are cutting out the middle man. You know, so vinyl might have diminished as a market but it’s definitely still a medium we can sell and potentially make some money from. So yeah, everything seems to be heading in the right direction. It’s kind of funny because I think in some ways it has come full circle you know? When I first started producing jungle, you pressed the record yourself and dropped it off at the record shop. In some ways, I think it’s kind of gone back to process but its more stream lined.
When you look back at the last 11 years from the very first release to now, how does that make you feel? Is the label exactly where you wanted it to be or has it exceed your expectations...?
I’m definitely proud of the achievements. Obviously, I think in some ways it could be in a better position but the whole progress has been quite organic. For me, there’s a label here that people respect outside of the scene and that’s something I have always wanted; to be a good independent label that even though is predominantly drum & bass, it isn’t afraid to explore other avenues of music.
I think when Exit first started out, I always had this desire for it be something more, you know? A label that will hopefully one day be successful regardless of its genre. When I was with Bad Company, we always looked up to labels like Talking Loud, Ninja Tune and MoWax and I think I always just wanted to be part of that heritage. I mean, just look at labels like XL, look at how they started with releases like ‘Charlie Says’ and now they’re putting out Adele! You have to start somewhere I guess so I’m happy with the foundation as well as the direction that I feel like it’s slowly following. It’s taken its time but I like the fact that I’ve not really rushed it, and that hopefully there’s been no mistakes. We’ve never released something for the sake of it or because it was hot at the time. So as a result, I think I have a label that people want to release their music on and aspire to be a part of so I couldn’t be happier really.
Did I ever think it would start out this way? No I never had a clue.
Photos: Anna Mills
What do you enjoy most about running a label?
The music. For me, being a DJ and running the label go hand in hand. People send me music to play out and I think, oh actually I’d really to put this out. So I think I just like the encompassing of it all, from the process of the artwork to working with the artist. Generally, I let the artists get on with it – it’s their music so how it is represented is up to them so I tend to not get as involved with that aspect of it. I don’t really like to get too involved with the A&R either. I’m quite fussy in some ways. If I want to release someone’s music, I’ll ask if they’ll write a 12” or an EP because I’d like to think that most of the time, they’ll have an idea of what I might like and more often than not, they’re right. I just can’t stand the idea of people telling me how to make music so I wouldn’t presume to do it to someone else.
Do you think this has been key to the label’s success?
In some ways, yeah I think so. We let artists be themselves and let them take risks. I mean, if you look back at our catalogue, there are some risks there. There’s a fair few releases that I’ve lost money on but I don’t really care because I love the music. I’d like to think that there’s a pretty symbolic relationship between the label and the artist where everyone is happy.
"I could have written 10 ‘True Romances’ but all they would have done is slowly dilute..."
What keeps you motivated to stay fully connected with the label after so many years?
I don’t know what keeps me motivated, it’s just such a huge part of my life I just don’t think it could be any other way. I couldn’t imagine it not being there you know? For me as a producer, I’ve always had a close connection with the labels I’ve released on: Renegade Hardware started because of the music we, as Bad Company, were making so I’ve always had that close link with the label and I think Exit is just an extension of that.
Looking back at the releases, do you think there’s a certain something, whether it’s a certain sound or perhaps something about the artist, which correlates throughout?
I think that hopefully the common thread is me and what it is that I am into I guess. If you look at my own record collection, it’s quite vast and far reaching and I think what connects each release throughout is perhaps a sense of honesty in the music, where you can almost hear someone giving a little piece of themselves. I like to think I can pick up on that you know? Someone who is really making music for the right reasons. It’s a bit cheesy I guess but I do feel an emotional connection with it and because of this, I’m not bothered about painting by numbers. I hope that each record I release will be successful in its own way. I think some tracks have eventually done that, take ‘Marka’ for example. I was playing out that for at least a year and a half to not that much fanfare but it ended up making such a huge impact. So that release and a few others have really influenced other people in some ways and I think it’s just purely down to just the integrity in a tune.
Do you think this is why some of these tracks have been so successful?
Yeah, I’d like to think so. I think producers themselves can recognise what it is about what they do that I like. Like I said before, I don’t ask people to write a track that sounds like something else. I think it’s easy to get caught up in all of that. You know I could have written 10 ‘True Romances’ but all they would have done is slowly dilute, so I like to think that hopefully for some people, I’m catching them early on in their careers.
Part 2 of this interview will be published next week.