45hz024 – Black Box Records
August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
During the last couple of years Black Box has risen from humble beginnings to become a power house within the Dubstep circles. Pushing music from the likes of N-Type, Cyrus, TMSV, Synkro, Dj Madd, Biome and Seven, Black Box records are a Bristolian tour-de-force coming straight from the warehouse of Chemical Records.
Over the past fortnight Arktrix caught up with Diccon via email and the end result is the longest interview we’ve done to date. Enjoy.
Easy man, how are things in Bristol today?
Hi! Yeah not bad thanks, hoping to have a chilled week before I go to Free Rotation festival this weekend.
For those who live under a rock and don’t know about Black Box, can you tell the readers how long you’ve been established and why you chose to start the label?
I started working on the label around the spring of 2009 so over 2 years ago, although the first release didn’t actually hit the shops until November of that year.
My day job is as a music buyer running the dubstep section at Chemical Records in Bristol – one of the directors here suggested I start a label in-house which I could spend part of my week working on and would have the backing of Chemical. Obviously in my job I have a pretty good idea of what
works and what doesn’t, so it was a great opportunity which I was keen to take.
Before you started, was there a vision for how things would pan out in terms of the sounds you’d be putting out and the design route you’d take with the packaging and merchandise? Were their specific labels you took inspiration from before you started it up?
I definitely wanted to build something that would become what I call a ‘flagship’ label – basically up there with the Deep Medi’s and Tectonics of the dubstep world. Obviously I wouldn’t say that Black Box is on a level with those labels yet, but I do think that I’ve achieved a lot in the space of two years.
In terms of sound, I wanted to maintain a high standard of music and production, and have tried to avoid releasing obvious jump-up tracks or anything like that – I don’t have anything against that sound, but it’s just not for me. Obviously I want my records to work on the dancefloor, but not if it means releasing throwaway music.
Ultimately my main aim has been to create a reliable, ‘buy-on-sight’ brand which people can trust, and to release records that DJs can keep in their record bag and return to again & again.
Visually, I worked with Chemical’s in-house designer Jamie to create the look of Black Box – I’m no artist but I knew I wanted something sleek and minimal – Jamie quickly turned a vague brief into a striking logo and we took it from there, with him helping me to design the sleeve and he’s also
created most of the merchandise.
You say you don’t want to release throwaway music, is that something you think the scene is being flooded with at the moment then? Too many freebies, youtube remixes and the like?
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to look at this really, simply pros and cons which currently we have to live with.
Yes, the tech-based world we occupy these days means anyone can instantly create, consume and share music (and other media) for free – there aren’t the cost-based thresholds inherent in physical hardware, media and manufacturing that in the past perhaps acted as a form of quality control.
It used to cost money to cut a dubplate or release a record – nowadays it’s literally cost-free to play or release a track in digital format, so people can afford to be a lot less selective.
Obviously it’s a positive thing that nowadays everyone is able to get involved and be creative if they want, but I think as a whole we’re lacking some new in-built quality control mechanism that helps to filter out the mediocrity than can sometimes crowd out the real creativity. Perhaps that will come about in the future, but right now it’s difficult to envisage what form it will take.
Is there a process to go through if producers would like to submit demo’s, or is the label at the point now where who you sign is based on the recommendations of who you already have on the roster?
I’m pretty pro-active in terms of searching out new artists – people like Lurka, TMSV and Kahn were on my radar and I knew I wanted to work with them if the right tunes came along. Also, yes I’ve been linked to new artists either by friends, people on the labels, or peeps on my mailing list.
I’m also lucky now that Black Box is becoming better known, as more established artists are up for releasing on the label. Still, the label has built from nowhere and this has been very much down to choosing to work with artists who had early potential – DJ Madd is a great example of this, in the last 18 months he’s really come into his own as an artist, his sound has matured and he’s getting major recognition as a result.
As a label, I think that your core artists define your sound and the musical directions you move in, and I’m really happy with the way the progress we’ve made to date.
To answer the specific question about demo’s – I am asked (like every label no doubt) to accept demo’s every single day. I don’t think there has been a single one to date that has come unsolicited from a complete unknown and has been any good at all.
Considering what I said above about the ease with which people can make music, and the lack of quality control, I wish with all my heart that amateur musicians would spend a LOT more time developing their skills before they inflict their productions on the outside world.
This kind of discipline is the kind of quality control I wish for. There may be talented artists I overlook in the future because they sent me terrible demo’s in the past when they weren’t ready. The impact you can make by waiting until your music is truly great far outweighs the pitiful results of sending out underdeveloped crap!
Bristol is a city that is steeped in bass culture history, from the days of jungle to the blissed out trip hop and electronica. Do you think this has helped shape the wildly varying Dubstep sounds coming from the area?
I might be wrong, but I don’t think anyone has consciously gone about writing music whilst channelling the Wild Bunch or Reprazent! I do think, though, that Bristol as a city has always attracted and nurtured musicians that are happy to experiment.
A lot is said of the close-knit music community that exists in Bristol – not only does that engender a lot of collaboration and mutual support, but also perhaps it introduces an element of friendly competition which forces people to try new & different things?
Obviously a label requires a great deal of planning, but if you could share some tips for someone starting up in what are quite turbulent times for the industry, what would they be?
I know it sounds a bit hypocritical from a label that’s only two years young, but I’d say with complete honesty that now is not the time to be starting a vinyl label, UNLESS you have a major selling point – i.e. you’re an established artist yourself, or have some genuinely big tracks ready to release. Vinyl sales are getting worse every year, and it only takes poor numbers on 1 or 2 releases to bury a label.
If someone is dead set on releasing a label then I’d give the following advice:
Ask yourself why you’re doing it! Do you genuinely have something new to bring to the table? You’ve got to really believe you’re going to compete with the best labels out there, otherwise maybe you’re just cluttering up the market with mediocre content.
Get some feedback from objective, experienced heads. Don’t just believe your mates who tell you that their/your tunes are heavy and should get a release!
DIY at first: try and get the funds together for 1 or maybe 2 releases upfront, although be completely prepared to lose ALL that money if it goes wrong! Also DIY in terms of pressing the records yourself – it might be tempting to ask for a P&D (pressing & distribution) deal from a distributor, but you’ll learn a lot more if you have to take care of every stage yourself, and you might feel more motivated too!
Knock on lots of doors and ask people with experience for help/advice. I’m definitely not the most knowledgeable person around, but if someone asks me a question and I’ve got the time, I’ll try to answer it.
It’s difficult to give general advice, but at the end of the day, if you’ve got a great product and people have the opportunity to buy it, your record will sell. Enough said!
Why have you chosen to release vinyl when so many others are content with forever being in the digital realm?
Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I think that to be taken seriously you still have to release vinyl. I’ve said earlier that the cost of manufacturing a physical product is in itself a threshold of quality control, so the record-buying public can have confidence in my label – I’ve got enough faith in track X or Y to invest money in releasing it, so in turn the public can have faith in my label as one with high standards.
As I said above, vinyl sales are a shadow of their former selves, but for now vinyl is still a viable option provided you can sell out your pressing. There are enough vinyl enthusiasts that like the physical product, and also the collectability – I’ve tried to put some emphasis on the latter, with nice sleeves, interesting/limited pressings etc. Vinyl has become a ’boutique’ product in some ways, and I think this area of the market will survive for some time yet.
I’m sure that eventually we’ll see the death of vinyl as an economically viable format, but until that day Black Box will continue to release records as often as possible!
I think we can call it a day there, is there anyone you’d like to thank?
Yes! Firstly, everyone that’s supported the labels in any way. Our fan base is growing and it’s genuinely heart-warming seeing people get enjoyment out of what we put in. Also, people like your good self who spend their free time documenting and promoting good music do an invaluable job.
Secondly, all the artists that have worked on or supported the labels. Lots of people have put their faith in me, and in some cases have put their careers in my hands – hopefully I’ve been doing a good job! I’m very lucky to work with some great musicians, long may that continue!