Artist To Artist: Dj Sprinkles & Hardrock Striker
Towards the tail end of last month emerged perhaps what will be one of the most definitive records in house music of 2018 – at least for those who follow closely that is.
Skylax House Explosion is made up of Terre Thaemlitz and Joseph G. Bendavid – both are perhaps better known under various aliases but the new release was as much a representation of their individual selves as it was of any alter ego or moniker. Skylax, the imprint run by Joseph G. Bendavid has always acted as a humble home for those who embrace the deep, melancholic ambience sometimes associated with traditional house music culture in New York City during another time. Throughout the album, there are notable points of reference to Paradise Garage, The Loft and the ballrooms of Midtown Manhattan. This is a focus of which Dj Sprinkles has often been associated with – both in terms of identity as an artist and as an individual. The pair have worked in collaboration across many years – they hold a deep sense of understanding and mutual respect. Individual sure… likeminded? Most certainly.
We invited them to talk through their relationship and the release itself.
Joseph G. Bendavid asks Terre Thaemlitz
1. First, where do you come from?
I currently come from Japan – I moved here permanently about 18 years ago. As an immigrant, I identify as coming from Japan – which is not always popular with the locals here, nor with EU organizers or journalists who insist upon identifying me as simply from the US. I can understand the thoughtlessness of that insistence in Japan, given the low level of immigration discourse here, but find a bit baffling when done by Europeans who live amidst more discourse on immigration and ethnic diversity. It's funny how so much of the rest of the world is so eager to go along with Japan's own myth of its homogeneity, erasing the fact that there almost three million permanent residents and other immigrants here. But maybe you just want to know where I grew up. I was born outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota, which is the Northern Mid-West of the US. My family relocated south to Springfield, Missouri, in 1981, and I consider that my "hometown." I lived in New York for 11 years, from '86 to '97. And I was in Oakland, California, for 4 years before moving to Japan…
2. How have you been introduced to house music & electronic in general?
I grew up collecting electronic music in the Mid-West, as an alternative to the rock and country soundtrack cherished by the fag-bashers I encountered. But my first real, contextual experience with house music was in '86, shortly after I arrived in New York. Some friends took me to a club – I want to say it was 1018 – where I remember they played LL Cool J's "Rock the Bells," followed by J.M. Silk's "I Can't Turn Around," some track by Joyce Simms that I shamefully forget the name of at the moment, and back to Farley with "Jack Your Body." A bassline track like "Jack Your Body" was what my life had been missing. Hip-House was also on the radio a lot, like Todd Terry and Rob Base. '80s house was much more about club vibe than one narrow genre. That strict division between dance genres came between '90 to '92 – including the wedge between house and techno, with techno becoming mostly for straight White guys.
3. What was the key moment in your life when you decided to be DJ Sprinkles?
Key moment in my life, huh? [Laughs.] I guess it was in '87 or '88, when my roommates were frustrated by my growing record collection, and in their kindness, they suggested I should either do something with the records or get rid of them. Of course, they were heavily implying the latter, but like most young people, I kinda heard what I wanted to hear. So I scrounged together some money, and went out and bought a mixer and two turntables. All I could afford were some refurbished Geminis. I mean, my roommates were okay with it, and we were all involved in some of the same activist groups, where I first started playing at benefits, etc. So hopefully keeping my records wasn't too much of an asshole move on my part. I still have one of those Gemini turntables, for digitizing badly worn records. The sound sucks, but the needle can plow through anything.
4. When & why did you decide to move to Japan?
January 2001. I had the chance to leave the US and took it. I never had work in the US, only Japan and the EU. Back then, Japan was the only country who had heard of my house stuff, and I had pretty good vinyl distribution. Europe was all about my electroacoustic projects back then. I had no options to move to the EU. I had the chance to move to Japan through a partner at the time. I got lucky to have that option. I remember my dad's first words to me after my move, "You escaped the US!" That was helpful to hear. Japan is no paradise, but it was culturally important for me to get out of the West.
5. You've been resident at Sally's, do you miss those times? Do you think things were more open?
Well, you know the terminally nostalgic themes of my house albums, so you can guess if I miss it or not. [Laughs.]
I wouldn't say things were more open in the kind of liberal way that question typically implies. I would say there was an openness to the possibility of contradictions and perversions that were not PC, not harmonious. Open to tensions and sex. You have to remember, that was also the peak of the Identity Politics movement – there was a different wave of PC and anti-PC culture going on, and a lot of tensions and misunderstandings. One memory that kind of sums it all up was when the New Yorker magazine ran a cover for Valentine's Day with an illustration of an African American woman and a Hasidic Jewish man kissing in a passionate embrace. This was maybe around the time of Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing," so it was that kind of cultural climate. Both communities were outraged, protesting the cover as offensive, preposterous, impossible, etc. Meanwhile, one of the regulars at Sally's – which, you will recall, was a Latina and African American trans sex worker bar – was a really old Hasidic guy who used to always burst into the booths of the ladies room with his cock out, trying to get the queens to suck his dick while they were sitting on the toilet. Like, it was a totally regular happening. So the reality was so much more intense and problematic than whatever bullshit drawing people were acting so upset about. There were actually a lot of complicated subtexts to those protests, because it was well known that a lot of Hasidic men frequented sex workers who were people of color, so I think some of the Hasidic demos were really more about men saving face within their own community, and at the same time there were a lot of African American men speaking out against the prostituting of "their women," etc. Issues of race and anti-semitism were really convoluted. Meanwhile, the agency of women and sex workers was not to be heard. I mean, I wouldn't call any of that "openness" in the sense you asked, but perhaps there was a kind of cultural motion born of discomfort that is impossible in today's online-policing culture.
6. In terms of production, I've always been amazed by the building of your tracks (closer to ambient rather than proper so-called « house music », the way people perceived how it should be), it sounds like it's even maybe "against the dancefloor", can you explain?
That just sounds like you are describing proof that I don't know what I'm doing. [Laughs.]
7. What do you think about music & the industry in general today?
Like most everything happening culturally these days, we're fucking a corpse… Everything is like Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise." Have you ever really listened to that song, and figured out what it means? The "Pastime Paradise" is not something good. It's that fucked fantasy of whites for the good ol' days, with a willing blindness to the brutality underlying those times. It's exactly like Trump's insidious slogan, "Make America Great Again." As you know in France, too, that racist shit permeates the First World. Considering how electronic music in the EU is pretty much a straight white guy thing, it just doesn't seem like the site for cultural change people keep trying to sell it off, you know what I mean? It takes a lot of conscious effort to be doing something other than supplying the soundtrack to a "Pastime Paradise." I think, collectively, we are lacking that effort.
8. Is Music just a tool to express your opinions or you go beyond than that?
I'd like to think it is not just about "opinions," but cultural analyses – especially with my text-heavy projects as "Terre Thaemlitz."
9. Do you like who you are today? Do you feel accomplished?
Well, I know what you mean to ask, but in reality, we're all assholes – every single person on this shit-forsaken planet – so for me, it doesn't make much sense to claim to like oneself. Better to just set the judgments aside, and do one's best to minimize how one hurts others. The psychology of "accomplishment" is also tied in with all that shit, especially in relation to how we construct self-worth under capitalism, so it's kind of the wrong question for me.
10. How do you see the LGBT movement & the club scene? Is there as much interaction as there was or was this just a myth?
Well, I think the function of queer spaces has radically changed in recent decades. Especially with the internet. It used to be that a person had to really sneak around and take risks to find and enter real, physical spaces where queer things happened openly. More often than not, you were usually "someone else" when outside of those spaces. These days, I think more people go to queer or mixed spaces with a sense of being self-actualized and the "same person." On a kind of pop-psychology level, this sounds like a great thing. But from a non-essentialist standpoint, I think it also indicates a deeper indoctrination into singular and culturally sanctioned models of sexual and gender expression – even "deviant" queer ones. And this change in psychological outlook has also radically altered how queer spaces function, why they exist, if they even need to exist, etc. So, to answer your question, the reality that many cities have lost their old-school queer meeting points – sites positioned in relation to risks – is not a myth. There have been a lot of changes and losses.
But I would also say that today's world is not as friendly as people want to believe. Acceptance – by others, as well as self-acceptance – seems to be the larger myth in operation. Like, I was recently back home to Missouri, and met with a dear friend who lives married and closeted. He identifies as 'homosexual,' but not 'gay,' which is a term he reserves for people who are living their homosexuality openly. We were having coffee at a fast food restaurant, out of a lack of other places to go, and our conversation was overheard by an MTF who felt compelled to introduce herself – which could have been something nice, except she turned out to be a transgendered Christian Fundamentalist preacher. Trying to kick her Jesus-freak ass out of our private conversation was a lost battle… Meanwhile, my friend had given me two books on transgenderism that fell into his hands – he hadn't read them, but just passed them on to me thinking they might be of interest. When I read the titles, it turned out they were also Fundamentalist books about "transgenderism and God." The summaries on their back covers read like they were actually trans-friendly, but when I got them home and had a closer look, they were actually full-on anti-trans rants – the caring and sensitivity expressed on the backs of the books being a lure to get Christians struggling with gender issues to submit to one more hate-filled tirade. Weirdly, both books which culturally resonated with that Southern US Fundamentalist bullshit were published in the UK. So, I mean, this isn't just Missouri hicksville stuff. Everywhere, people are still trapped in so much bullshit. And while all of that was happening, my dear mom was at home watching some drag queen on American Idol or some other bullshit TV show singing tasteless songs from a Disney movie, dedicated to her gay fiancé, and all is supposedly right with the world… Really? I mean, what are the real cultural myths we need to be concerned about? I think buying into the myth of our acceptance is a key factor to the closure and disappearance of historical safe spaces. Like, we are so damned convinced we don't need them anymore. It's sad.
11. You're probably one of the best (maybe the best in my opinion) electronic artists. Knowing your love for new wave, rock, proto-house & alternative music in general, do you think your music can stand the comparison with your "teenage heroes"?
Surely not – if only because that experience of fandom was about a struggle for access to offline and hard to find music that the majority of today's youth cannot understand. But in any case, that is not the point of my productions. I am producing from within media industries as a cultural critic.
12. Last question, what does Skylax Records means to you?
As you know, we are both record collectors. For me, my collection can feed into my productions as samples. But you're collecting on that level where it's not enough to buy a record, you actually want to license or buy the tracks themselves. I have mixed feelings about that kind of contractual exchange, but at the same time I know that business stuff is actually about something really personal for you. We've known each other for many years, but when we started working on this mix cd project I was still caught off guard by the amount of tracks you sent for me to choose from. Like, not just 20 or 30, but fucking like 680 tracks or something crazy like that. At first I was like, "What the fuck are you thinking? I don't have time for this! Nobody does!" [Laughs.] But then I decided to actually listen to them all, looping them nonstop for a few weeks, then narrowing the selection to 120 tracks or so, then 75, etc. It's a really impressive catalog. I mean, you know I'm not into the harder, more Euro techno stuff that is more relatable for you because you're French, but there are tons of great house cuts. So many that some of my favorite tracks didn't even end up in the mix, either because of continuity or you really wanting to use something else by the same producer in your mix, etc. Going through them all – years worth of collecting – I could hear you schooling yourself. I like that you often make label decisions based on what you want to know more about, as opposed to banking on what you are already certain about. I hope you'll take it as a compliment when I say I think it's what stops Skylax from really taking off commercially, which may sometimes frustrate you on a personal level, but it's also a big part of how the label has managed to "stay underground." Now don't fuck it up by getting your business priorities straight.
Terre Thaemlitz asks Joseph G. Bendavid
1. So, for the readers. Where did you grow up, and how did you end up where you are now?
Sincerely it has been such a very long road and the result of "maturity". I've always been a music fan since my early childhood. As far as I remember, I was listening to Depeche mode & Gary Numan when I was 10. At about 12 years old, I started to listen to Bowie (Ziggy Stardust was on heavy rotation back then on my turntables), The Velvet Underground and The Stooges (I was completely devoted to Iggy Pop because of his androgynous but very wild style … this has been a key moment I guess in my life & explains nearly 20 years later maybe the re-release of your album 'Routes Not Roots' with the explicit cover I suggested we should do). I am speaking about a time when this music was completely unknown for the vast majority. We were in the mid-80s & remember this music, especially in France & moreover in a dark ghetto Parisian suburb called Sarcelles… (Big up to my hood 95200). It was not really common to listen to.
Then, of course, there are many other bands I've been into: The Clash, The Damned, New Order, The Smiths, post-punk and synth pop (Soft Cell of course!). I was reading religiously Les Inrockuptibles (the equivalent for you guys of the NME and for the US guys maybe Creem magazine when Lester Bangs was leading it) in 1987 – 1988. I was waiting for each release of this magazine for hours & days at the press store until they got it; because at that time, the musical press in France was very bad (after some kind of golden era during the 70s with rock'n'folk & best staring journalists such as Philippe Manœuvre, Philippe Garner, Francis Dordor, Patrick Eudeline & my favorite Yves Adrien who literally envisioned punk, post punk & early electronics, you should read his marvelous book 'Novövision' I am sure the french band Air got its concept from it). They were covering only mainstream artists like Prince, Madonna, Simple Minds, U2, Wham & so on (though today many of us would kill to have some kind of mainstream artists like this, the general music's level has never been so low). As you can see I was reading a lot about music, this explains I guess why I've always been so much into concepts, fantasy, imagination & that has been leading me finally directly to you because you are feeding the underground with it.
To follow, I was doing tapes (Memorex K7) for birthday parties featuring all the bands that I loved. And of course, listening to this androgynous & weird indie music in a small town, (in my case it was more like a ghetto where hip-hop started to boom completely), many people were thinking I was a very strange guy, to be clear many of them thought I was gay. So maybe your feeling about escaping from a little town in the US, I experienced it too, in my own way of course. And that leads me again to you.
2. How did those indie interests move from bands to club-oriented music?
At that time, at the end of the 1980s all the rap or hip hop started to blow up, especially in France & moreover in all the ghetto cities, we were all in love with Public Enemy & NWA, and that introduced my ears to the « art of sampling » (moreover when the gangsta rap appeared a few years later, let's say around 1991/1992, I remember telling my homies that the only one who could be elected as a mayor in Sarcelles with a 99 % score was Dr. Dre he was so BIG at that time but for the right reasons, in terms of production, he was clearly ahead of his time). Hip-hop has been so huge in our cities because for the first time black people & all that we can call immigrants (non-caucasian people. What an awful term to describe yourself) were at the top of the game, becoming literally heroes for us, they were speaking about what we were facing as a minority in our own country.
As you can imagine some of our school friends got into it, they created the now cult french hip-hop band Ministère Amer and Secteur A (for Secte AbdulaiI). I remember very well Gilles (later known as Stomy Bugsy) or Passy (Future Minister Amer Members) who were telling us at school "we are going to be stars and not to have a hard time as these whores of lousy teachers", we were laughing out loud, we could have never imagined that one day those guys would be stars in France.
3. Were you also thinking of doing something like starting a label?
In brief, my will to be involved in music came very late because by listening to all of these great international artists who had rocked my childhood (Iggy, Bowie, Joy Division …); I was at the same time stuck in France, where the people who were big at that time (and still are!) were people like Patrick Bruel, Johnny Halliday, Pascal Obispo or whatever. Of course, you don't know any of them & you are very lucky. To sum up: an interstellar disaster.
So the equation was very simple: how I was going to make some music, meet the right people, sell records all over the world & get out of this « boring » life. And the key was electronic music, no more words, language, race or nationality. I decided to make my own records (indie DIY style that is still the best way today) & fuck off. For that, I needed a blow of fate, at the death of my father in 2000… I kicked off my job & escaped to the US, in the city of angels: Los Angeles with a friend to start a rock band and live there. Obviously, the opposite occurred, my buddy knew somebody there who was into music (Peter Black who did the trance-house remix of hit single Sweet Drop by Human Nature on Strictly Rhythm) but he was into « house music » & then it hit me like the Big Bang. I discovered the DJ culture of the 12 inches. But this was nothing new to me in reality as I realized that those DJs (Peter in particular) I just met (they were all Armenians as I was living at Peter's flat in Glendale, he's Armenian too) had the same indie roots as me as I already was a musician, a guitarist, we were sharing the same LA teenage culture: The Plimsouls, The Nuggets, Lester Bangs, deviant rock, Roxy Music, 80s synth pop (Ministry, Tones on Tail), when going into clubs they were playing Razor Maid mixes & Disco Net stuff. So through this prism, I could understand better what electronic music could be, but I realized also that I've always listened to it without knowing it.
We started to record our own tracks early 2001 via CU Base (some of them went out a little bit later in 2005, this is why I wanted to include the dream time track in the compilation as this means a lot to me) and 6 months later after the trip to LA I went back to Paris & created my first label Panasonic Records (with the now famous quote: "stay underground, it pays"). Our first release was 2 x 12 inches of Manu Di Bango remixes (extract from his 1975 album Africadelic) feat Slow & Local from Jazzed Co. (with a young windstorm on the guitar), Rob Mello, Tommie Sunshine etc … At the same time, I get introduced to the bootleg market via some illegal remixes (such as Prince's Work It, Controversy etc.) I learnt how to sell them, I was calling the distributors on phone & they were listening to the tracks telling me, I want 50 of this, 100 of that etc… I took the car & I was driving to Belgium or UK to deliver the goods. You have to remember that in those times, edits (because there was no software like Ableton) were much more complicated to create (time stretching, put the kick right on time…), we were able to sell sometimes between 5000 and 10,000 copies (that looks incredibly high today considering the market crash). I remember that one day I even called our distributor (Discograph, back then) to give us some explanations about why they only sold a mere 1000 copies of our last record! Whereas today, these kinds of numbers mean a record's got some real success. Hahahahaha. Our distributor was also the same as Ed Banger's one. I remember hearing the Justice We Are Your Friends track back in 2004, and I told them they were not good enough because back then they sold only 800 copies at that time when to me this song was clearly a hit.
In brief, we made a lot of trips to Paris, L.A… it allowed me to meet there the great DJ Harvey & Doc Martin; we had even signed one very big deal for Eddy Grant's Electric Avenue on Warner (thanks to Peter Black), we sold nearly four million copies worldwide, it was a major success. We even met through this David Guetta at the beginning of his career. He asked us for a remix for his future track …, we went in his studio (it was incredibly big. We realised that a lot of money was already involved since day one on this guy) & he asked us what version we preferred as an advice because he did a funky one & a kind of new wave one, of course, version two was fine, but we declined his proposal. One year later, let's say around 2002/2003 we started to manage all the best French DJs in Paris, the ones that would become a few years later some kind of French house godfathers: Dan Ghenacia, Ivan Smagghe, Jennifer, Chloe, Erik Rug, Djul'z, Jef K… At the same time, I was digging a lot into the Trax Records catalog & thought that it would be great for us to bring this music back on the scene (nobody was really doing it at that time), I found the owners, and boom. I started our sub-label, Square Roots. I licensed tracks from Frankie Knuckles: Your Love, Farley Jackmaster Funk: Acid Life, Ralph Rosario: It Ain't Chicago etc… Moreover, there was a UK band called Friendly Fires (quite known today. Same vein as Klaxons, mixing rock & electronic) who did a cover of the FK classic Your Love & put our Square Roots label on MySpace (they were at their early start) thinking maybe it was a brand-new track, & this proved to me that I was right to bring back to life those old school Trax tracks. Ivan Smagghe (a major French cult figure for the whole Killthedj generation) also compiled us on his brilliant Death Disco compilation (he was still in Blackstrobe), with our own Ralph Rosario – In the Night (Gusgus remix).
In this interval, we even managed to finally start this fuckin rock 'n' roll band we've always dreamt about. Peter had one of his best friend D. (we can't reveal his name) who had a very close sounding Dave Gahan's voice. It turns out that he was also at that time an undercover cop (arresting dealers etc …). I will always remember the first time he came into the studio, he had a very small aluminum case & I thought he got some mics. In fact, no, he had a battery of guns inside (ballets, 9mm, magnum, beretta etc …). We recorded few tracks (one of them still sounds amazing to me), driving the LA roads & listening to everything's gone green. But then due to some ego & money problems between the Parisonic records members (the typical spinal tap thing), we ended up this project. I had to leave my French partners & get rid of the company. It was Peter & me against the 2 others french guys. I went to the airport to take a ticket & come back to Paris. I got it very bad then inside the plane I saw the logo of the airport LAX and then when we landed off the SKY. It hit me like this: SKY — LAX so Skylax. I decided to create my own label & have no more associates. This is how it started, Terre.
4. I had no idea about your experience with those kinds of scenes and deals in the past. I don't think we would have been friends back then. [Laughs.] So, what is the connection between Skylax and your productions as Hardrock Striker? I mean, is it like me and Comatose, where the label is a way to put out my own stuff that would otherwise never be released? Or are your label and personal audio productions more separate projects?
It's exactly that Terre. I think we are operating the same way & through what I've been going through, I guess you understand that now i don't really trust people, I have a little faith in human beings. I've been going through many different projects as Hardrock Striker & I think that one day it would be great to release all of them. I have a deep techno album almost ready (you remixed Motorik Life, the one where you inserted the MLK speech) but also another track called Nirvana which is more some kind of modern jackin' house, Masada that sounds like a crossover between italo & techno & tsadik. These are the templates of this album. But I have also another secret project I've been working on a few years. It's my new wave album, I am singing on it & playing guitars, one of the track has been out in 2004 & is called Control. I took some Ian Curtis lyrics & created entirely some fresh new music around it, there's a dub too (italo mix) that sounds really close to one of my favorite hero Shep Pettibone & Flood for the mix. I would love to release the entire project sooner or later, it's really another part of me & my work.
5. You know Haco and I had an old-school new wave project called Yesterday's Heroes, which was a deliberately non-updated and nerdy reaction against the trendy revivals of '80s music that make it "cool." That re-imagining of New Wave as something cool really upset us, since our entire connection to the genre was as "uncool" kids. It was totally uncool in the US and Japan, at least.
For sure, I used & still love to do edits but it has to be something that really moves me & speak a lot about me, my life & influences, I did, for instance, a disco one from the Sex Pistols as Black Arabs, Cetu Javu (a German 80s synth-pop band), M&G – When I Let You Down and many others. It would be great to compile them too in a very limited edition release.
I really miss doing long sessions in the studio, but I don't have the time right now because when I'm in; I cannot do tracks in a day or so, it takes me usually days, sometimes week or months, because I really want the production & sounds to be perfect. I think that today there are millions of tracks & to be honest sometimes it's really too much. The world doesn't need this. But what I really appreciate in the electronic music scene, though it can be seen as an avalanche as today everybody's a DJ-producer (thanks to Ableton), from my punk ethic I look at this with a very friendly eye. As a proof, I would say that I dedicated a big part of my life to discovering some artists (you're one of my favourites, as you can imagine) & try to give them, as best I can, some exposure. Sometimes I am just wondering why I put so much energy into others rather than myself. But I love all of those kids. It's more than a pleasure to me when I see that some of them have an international career now, it's an achievement. I consider them as my spiritual children.
6. In relation to the Skylax catalog that you own outright — so that's excluding anything by me, since I only ever license things — what is your most cherished track or project?
For sure the Jason Grove album '313.4.Ever'. I've been working a lot on it but I did it very quick at the same time. I wanted to bring back to the table, with the artwork, the black panther 70s statements as I've seen that finally, police brutality against coloured people still exists. I also loved the black aesthetics as you can imagine. The album is perfect from beginning to end. The aesthetics I've created have been copied so many times since then. Many pseudo-'underground' guys were very jealous about the label at that time, especially one, saying really bad things about it & myself. Behind my back, of course. But, we found also some great people to defend it, especially my friend & legendary DJ Move D, he picked it up in the Guardian in his favourite tracks of the year 2013 saying: "The most complete house album I've heard in years, and I wonder why it never became bigger — perhaps Jason doesn't have the right skin colour? It would be terrible if redundancies like this still matter today". That's the best possible answer I guess. There's also the fourth volumes from the Simoncino warrior dance sessions. Of course, I am invested one million percent on all the projects I am signing & working on, with all the financial risks there is as we are releasing vinyl only, you can imagine that I love all of them. It can be for the f-ckthegovernment album (what a name ! Haha), Lady Blacktronika or the Bleu Blanc house maxi single for instance, There are so many 🙂
7. You've released stuff by a handful of trans producers. There is a kind of stigma in the industry that "we" can be difficult to work with — once when I had a deal go sour, when I got upset with the guy who was fucking me over he actually responded by saying he had "been warned by friends that trans people are crazy and not to work with them." I don't know many non-queer-based labels that have worked with as many trans producers as Skylax, so I'm just curious if you have noticed anything "different" in how we do business — good or bad, undervalued or overvalued, easy or difficult, whatever…? Or just more of the same?
Honestly not at all. But I realised that this exists too. A few weeks ago, one guy I know tried to work with a trans guy & he told me exactly the same, "trans people are crazy!" Whatever, I don't think so at all. I do not take people as an entity but individually & on whether or not it works. I really don't care about who is who & what somebody does in their personal life. I've been working with a vast array of people & this won't change ever. If it's good enough & if I think i can do something positive with the artist then I sign it. No matter what.
8. Do you consider yourself part of a specific scene? If so, what are its characteristics?
Not a specific scene at all. I mean the Skylax catalog is so big that I've been across so many genres over the years. As you know now i don't own only the Skylax label but also all the sub-labels affiliated : Cosmic Club, Skylax Classic, Skylax Extra Series, Skylax Special Edition, Stay Underground It Pays, Warehouse Classics, Wax Classic & Mellah (this last one means a lot to me as my parents, who are originally from Morocco, used to go to the mullah in Marrakesh. I love the country). Maybe the best description of all these activities came from RBMA: "Trailblazing Paris label Skylax Records was launched in 2004 by DJ and producer Hardrock Striker. Constantly ahead of the curve, whether preempting the revival of Balearic, poolside vibes, or proto house and electro boogie, Hardrock Striker and the Skylax crew have cultivated a sound that looks forward with a respectful nod to the histories of Chicago, Detroit, NYC, and other vital dance cities."
9. What other DJ's or producers did you consider for mixing this compilation?
Nobody apart from maybe Move D, who's a real friend & that I really appreciate. But honestly you were my first & only choice. You know that I've been listening to these Deeparama compilations you did for years now & I've always had in my mind to do a mix, but with our catalog. I think the biggest problem for me in dance music now is what we can call « curation » because it would have been so easy for me to ask you to pick up some old school tracks, license it & get a mix. I know 100% of the reviews would have been top-notch (journalists are so lazy & now it gets worse & worse than there's no money in this industry anymore) & it could have been so much easier for me to sell it. But the question is: what about the times we are living in now? What does it mean about me & about the label? What does it say really? Is music dead today? I think it was much more challenging to do it this way. Who could have done that apart from us? I see today that a lot of DJs are releasing some compilations to legitimate their fees, with 70s artwork replicas & obscure tracks go for bananas on Discogs & build up their career on it. I am totally against this. What's the point for me to play some obscure discos or souk or whatever tracks if that does not have some real emotions behind it (sometimes when some tracks are obscure that means they were not good enough, let's face it!), if that does not really mean something to me & about my life. At the same time, DJs are doing curation too it's their job ; but I think today there is too much marketing involved & it's not so good; they just try to impress kids with their pseudo-knowledge & legitimacy with all those stupid Facebook groups saying "track ID?! Track ID?! Up, Up, Up…". Electronic music is turning into a museum & soon we will have some DJs star at Madame Tussaud's! These things are killing the punk spirit there is behind our music.
10. The cover has this slogan of yours, "Stay underground, It pays." There's a double entendré about both "cultural payback," and underground or culturally-minor-based economic payback. I think there is also a joke in that "keep underground" is around me in the role of a producer, and "it pays" is around you as the label money guy paying artists. I mean, maybe that explains it all, but could you talk about that slogan a bit?
Sure, we came up with this way back in 2001, we were searching for something like Nike's 'just do it', it went to 'stay underground it pays', and I kept it. I think there's a lot of humour behind it because of course if you stay underground it won't pay at all ! [Laughs.]
At the same time it means that if you keep chasing your dreams maybe you will reach somewhere a point where you could have never imagined being. It's like in this rolling stones song: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need".
11. As a label owner, what kind of profit model can an underground label have? Like, how does it consciously differ from the strategies of a conventional label? How do you approach promotion?
There is no profit model, i mean you just have to put the records out & put as much energy as you can to sell it, if you think it's good enough, go for it, fight for it ; time will tell & give you the right balancing variables. I used to do a lot of promotion maybe 10 years ago but i realised that in reality, it does not help so much, if the tracks or projects are good enough, it will sell by itself. I mean we are selling small numbers, its not like we're investing in videos, radios or anything. I used to send promos of records 15 years ago, then changed to sending some digital files maybe 10 yrs ago, i stopped it completely. I don't care if dj this or that is playing our track, fine, but if not, i am not going to die. There's a lot of promotion going now through Facebook, i see this as a «disease». As long as it's to promote your projects why not? But people today are promoting themselves completely as individuals (even promoters!) when they have nothing to sell really.
12. I think a lot of consumers have misconceptions about the reality of the numbers involved. They don't realize how small our pressings are these days — like, today 1000 copies world-wide is difficult to sell. Many vinyls and CD pressings are only 300 to 500 copies. A lot of people complain online about lack of product availability, yet we can't even move 300 copies sometimes — like, for years idiots were buying my "Midtown 120 Blues" CD on Discogs at ridiculous prices, while I had copies of the first edition on sale for cheap through my website. I think it took me over two years to sell 60 copies through my Comatose shop. With that reality in mind, what would you do if a record on Skylax really broke big, in terms of sales? Like, I don't know, 20,000 or 50,000… Personally, I can't even imagine that, but is that something you think about? Or has the record economy shrunk so permanently that it's not even a meaningful question for label owners these days — like all the money really is just in performances and the random licensing for a movie soundtrack or some bullshit like that?
That's a good question, I thought about it because I already lived it in 2001. For sure the market has changed so much right now. The sales dived massively between 2006 & 2010. Then in 2011, it started to get better because of the hype that surrounded the vinyl industry, today's it's at its peak but for how long? Moreover, this sudden growing interest in vinyl is completely fake in reality. Why? I saw that from the US, back in the days in 2006 & 2007 when I was pressing my records there, majors started again to press vinyl because music was in a very bad shape (so any profit they could do was a good one, they started to invest in 'niche' markets) & they saw this thing happening way before (for once!). They started to re-press all the back catalog from their famous artists: Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, all in big numbers. The rock fans are the best ones because they are the only ones who can buy the same records 5 or 10 times, limited edition, new album notes, new covers etc… And when you're a small label pressing at the same factory as those major labels it's really hard, because how can you compete if they came up with, like, "we are going to press 10 000 units of this 20 000 of that, all of them with 4 colors covers, 180g, 4 color labels, liner notes, 10 inches extra inside" etc… Do the math, as a factory for sure you're going to work first for those people because they pay cash & right on time & they're doing volumes, big numbers.
So imagine all those indie labels who have literally supported the vinyl industry for more than 5 or 10 years, when they were close to bankruptcy, suddenly being told we will have extended deadlines to press our projects, low quality appears much more frequently & so on. So I moved back to France to press my records & then as it's always the case when something happens in the US, it takes the world by storm five years later. Today we are facing all the same problems at French pressing plants, thanks to those stupid majors. They are even doing vinyl now for new artists that don't really sell & the irony is that those artists are real copycats, their music sounds & look like 70s/80s/90s replicas both in music & design. The market needs a new purge & this is what's gonna happen very soon. So back on your question, i think that if something like that happened, it's going to be an accident. A joyous one. This will give you access if you play the game & have the right managers to an instant fame & at least five figures for bookings, and of course, licensing through media & advertising. Maybe this will happen one day, i have no idea & like you i never thought about it. I just want to keep releasing my music, push my artists & live on my music. I won't finish this by saying stay underground it pays because that would sound so cliché after all we have been speaking about. To the underground: we will never surrender. Skylax Records 4 Ever.
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