"House music is a broad art-form"
The comparitively new London-based imprint Meda Fury has been getting us pretty hot under the collar since its inception last year.
Distributed by the mighty R&S Records, its mandate was to "explore the infinite possibilities within the genre of House" and it's safe to say it has stepped well outside of those boundaries already. It was Damon Bell's incredible Hue-Man Made' EP which really hooked us in;
With that in mind, we thought it about time we went and had a chat with the ears of the label, Nick Williams - he also kindly gifted us a live record of influences recorded at the Meda Fury launch party back in February this year. You can hear here.
So I had a stomp on, on the way to meet you - my bike's out action at the moment and my oyster card didn’t work on the bus on the way here. Walking through the city with my cans on listening to the whole back catalogue via the wonder of the cloud and what I notice is there’s no real defining sound to it – which is great.
That’s kind of deliberate! But there are a few loose key rules that guide it
Which is what I think is amazing. It’s like Optimo or whoever it is playing records.. it’s the best of everything.
Well those guys, especially Optimo, are just massively into their record collecting and that’s probably led them onto DJing because they’ve got such a ridiculous amount of records that they want to just share with people. I’m guessing – I’ve only met them once.
How do you actually translate that onto a label though? We all listen to loads of music but I find it incredibly difficult to think of it in terms of a label. It can't hurt that you work at Phonica.
Yeah, I’m neatly placed but the label has been a bit of a weird one. I’m quite glad about that because it wasn’t going to happen unless there was some sort of miracle to kick it off.
How did it come about then?
Well, I was doing some work for R&S, talent scouting on the side to make some money and learn a different part of the business, I’ve always wanted to see what it’s like from the other side because I’ve always been buying and collecting. Then I started working in music from the retail side, whether that was at distribution or with actual retailers. I’ve always been into labels – so it was cool meeting the R&S guys in the shop – they were looking for more people and having a bit of a restructure. Anyway I’m always looking to do something interesting and find out more about the tangled mess that is music.
I’m really happy with the way that it’s gone so far. The way that Meda Fury came about through R&S was I was feeding them tips and interesting music. They were then acting on about 20% of the stuff I put across, that was the stuff that I thought was a great fit for them, the other 80% they really liked but it just didn’t really fit the label. That went on for 6 months or more and Andy was the one that suggested that I do a sub-label, and start acting on the other 80%.
So is Andy kind of a silent partner?
Yeah, he definitely is. He’s the one that suggested an outlet for my tastes. And I couldn’t run the label without him.
It’s distributed by R&S is it? How does it work?
Yeah, it’s a sub-label, like Apollo is.
It doesn’t sound like a sub-label at all - aurally I mean.
It is a bit different. But It just keeps itself to itself. I see it as when a larger label picks up a small independent and presents them to the public, it’s kind of like that. They really want to support it via their distribution and their audience. It’s a bit like the old dance 12’’s where you get a name producer and it’ll be ‘so and so that nobody has ever heard of, presented by Steve Poindexter' or whoever.
I think that’s nice in a way.
It’s like 'here’s a new protégé and I’m telling you to listen to it because my name’s on it'.
It gives you good exposure doesn’t it.
Yeah I'm honoured. And I’m very grateful as its a massive accident, I’ve got a few mates that started labels from nothing, which is harder and harder to do these days, money-wise. So this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. It was the kind of thing that I’d have been stupid not to take it, as this rarely ever happens. It coincided with at a point in my career where I was getting a lot of music sent to me and all I’m doing is sending it this way or that and telling other people to check it out.
With the first release, I actually gave some of those tracks to other friend's labels and although they really liked them they didn’t end up doing anything with them, maybe because of their schedules or something but then I heard back from Renaat [R&S label head] and he was just like "Why don’t you head up a label for us?' I thought it was a joke email at first so I was like "Yeah I’ll definitely do that" and then it turned out he was serious and it all started to come together rather rapidly.
So yeah, it happened at the right point. I went back to Massi (Hazylujah) and said "Look, I really like these tracks, I’ve been trying to get other people to do something with your tracks but now I’ve got this opportunity so why don’t you be my first release?" So I went for something really different and unusual for the first one as it just happened to come to me.
It feels really natural. I think a lot of people try too hard with labels and are a little bit unrealistic. I’m a great believer in coincidence, and it’s the number one guiding force for Meda Fury.
Everything is just a brand these days isn’t it, music almost gets lost behind these brands sometimes I think.
There are always scenes and good stuff does come out of that, but at times there are a bit too many. Scenes within scenes.
They blow-up too quickly too.
They’re too exciting too quickly. It’s just like bad sex! It seems like a really good idea at the time but you’re never going to go back there. Well not too many times! I could never have envisioned this. A lot of the best things happen to people out of coincidence and happy accidents and I'm fully going with that. It’s a great and valid way to do it. You can have masterplans and stuff like that but you can then get really upset when those things don’t work out. So the way that I work has kind of dictated the vision or remit of the label and it happens to chime with some of my beliefs. There’s nothing fashionable about this label at all. I really don’t want it to be like that. I’d rather it had a bit of longevity rather than being too high up with the other trendy releases. Admittedly there are some labels that I like that everyone else loves at the moment but I do worry about some of them.
Things like L.I.E.S., where does that go now? That was and is a fucking amazing label and then it suddenly got so hyped, where does it go now?
I mean, things can get hyped for good reason. Ron's a great guy and runs a tight ship, he will never have been able to control that amount of press. It would have been a big surprise for him. They are one of my favourite labels of the last few years, big inspiration, the timing was great for him and he has very individual taste, the house and techno scene needed something to shake it up a bit and he definitely did that. The press in the UK do go overboard though sometimes.
I guess that’s why they started up a sub-label or something to take a bit of the heat off of it.
I dunno about that, but they’re still putting out great releases.
I guess that’s the thinking of Renaat in a way because R&S were the hyped label again a couple of years back…
Yeah, about three years ago I think. I dunno about hyped, they had a whole new roster and sound. It was quite specific in the range of artists and styles.
I think with me doing this label as he can just forget about it, and let it happen. I’ve been lucky to start it, but I’ve also been lucky in that they don't interfere in the artistic direction of the label. But also, it's another string to the R&S bow.
I guess if someone trusts your tastes enough…
Yeah, I mean it’s just a different way of doing it as otherwise having another label can just add another load of stresses and worries. So he just lets me do it, if I make some big fuck up it’ll just be all on me. It’s probably for the best! If they doesn’t get involved they can be quietly surprised or if there’s a mistake it’s not down to them.
It’s better to give some autonomy with something like that sometimes.
It enables me to really get into it. Instead of trying to second guess stuff I just get to immerse myself – and I appreciate that greatly.
Back to the fact that about the label not having any discernable sound...
There are tenuous links. And... It is a House music label, very broadly speaking.
You could definitely play them all together but they don’t sound the same.
It’s weird working in a shop selling them as well. There was no way I could just sell them all to the same people, but I like that challenge.
So you’ve got all of that, and I could imagine someone playing some of it out, but then you’ve got something that’s straight up techno and the same people wouldn’t pick it up. Then you get some people that would pick up both things, there’s so many possible combinations.
You’re right. Apart from my friends who are really happy that I’m doing this, they’re probably going to buy each one. Or my girlfriend. Ha! I mean, it is a house label. I had to set up some sort parameters between everything when I was first offered the label, because I wasn’t given any rules about what I could or couldn’t do, but obviously there has to be some sort of vision. At the same time I’m trying to be as broad as possible within those rules so some creativity starts to naturally happen. Maybe then that comes from me liking lots of different music and working in the shop. I get exposed to every type of music there, maybe bar Drum and Bass.
No Drum and Bass at Phonica?!
No. Or Trance, if that still exists!
Phonica doesn’t sell Drum and Bass?
No, but apart from that we have every other type of music. The choices of releases will end up reflecting what I get exposed to on a day to day basis. Some of those artists are ones that I’ve only ended up discovering through the shop or through people that I’ve met through the shop. Because it was all so accidental, that just seems to have stuck. Even the name was accidental.
Where does the name come from?
It was a name I had for a band that I never quite started. When I used to be in bands when I was a teenager. I think a lot of boys are the same, you end up writing down compilations that you never end up doing. Or imaginary bands that never even start. You start having all these flurries of creativity, especially as a teenager. So that was one where I heard someone on TV talking about something in Latin but I think I got it wrong in the way that I wrote it down. It doesn’t really mean what I thought it meant.
What does it mean?
When I first heard it I thought it meant 1,000 flowers. I just like the sound of it. I don’t think it really does mean anything, although you can transpose them between a number of different languages like Native American and Latin and it’ll mean different things, it can even be the name of a person. There was at least one person, that is no longer with us, who was called that.
Names don't have to have any original meaning - it's better that they don't. Over time your name will become what it is, synonymously.
I originally read it as Media Fury, but then I thought that it seemed a little strange and it didn’t really make any sense but then I realised what it said.
I don’t think you’re the only one. It’s quite easy to get wrong if you don’t hear or read it right. Maybe Meda is 1,000 in Latin, I’m not sure. Might be. I don't care - it's not contrived. I like the fact that it doesn’t really work or mean anything. I like the way it looks. When I had to come up with a name it was one of the hardest things to achieve.
I was stuck for months thinking about it. You could be stuck forever if you pick something shit. Like having a rubbish tattoo done. I think I came up with about eight names that I didn’t really like. Bizarrely they all had eight letters in, just another coincidence... I think I just chucked that one in there as well and I sent it round to the guys at R&S and two of the guys thought that it had to be the Meda Fury one. It was the only old name, all the others I came up with on the spot. So that was the first, kind of weird coincidence. I liked the way that process happened because it actually meant something to me as well. From that point, every release and every decision, every bit of artwork has been dictated in that way.
That’s exactly the best way of doing things though isn’t it. Me and my partner on R$N sit down on weekends with a few drinks and just chat about ideas. I much prefer these organic processes, rather than trying to sit down and force something.
Well both David Bowie and Jackson Pollock created some amazing art out of chaos. You can pull things out of the ether and that seems to be the way I’m going. At school all i wanted to do was art or at least create - that’s all I used to do. Now It has to be accidental and why not? I never planned any of this. I would feel really false if I was like ‘This is my label and blah blah blah…’ This is just as valid and an exciting way to run things.
The records are exactly the way that I want them and that’s just by letting things happen on their own. I am quite particular on the finer details afterwards. I’m not just going to write all the tracks down on a piece of paper and throw them in a hat, I can be quite particular about track-listings and stuff like that.
When it comes to artwork it was graffiti I see on a train door that I like or on the side of a building. I did also work with a designer for the front and the logo but it’s just a case of me describing things and then he’ll come up with stuff. That’s the kind of collaboration that can bring about really interesting results that neither of you may have ever thought about.
How do you split it then? How do you decide what goes out on Phonica and what goes out on R&S?
Well let me just say that the Phonica labels are nothing to do with R&S. Everyone at Phonica works on the labels suggesting ideas etc. That provides more possibilities. I think you just have to be really true to yourself and go, ‘I really like this but… what's best for the artist’ That’s what I’ve learned from being in this industry. The best decisions come from not being selfish but from being objective. You should feel good about that. That was something I had to do in a distributor job, the fact that you have to be objective about music you might not like but someone else will, is a big lesson to learn. Learning about your own tastes and the way things get consumed.
I used to have to stand up in big meetings and talk about the merits of certain dubious albums but that’s a real challenge to someone that’s really into music. There’s millions of people out there that are going to buy it and you have to understand the merits and the downsides, it was really big distributor so you get the picture.
So to decide where to place some music label wise, you need to consider many possible scenarios - be objective and try to drill down into what's best for the artist and the label.
I guess the longer you go on with it the more we distill down and the more you understand these different niches.
You begin to understand more about what you really like and what other people like and want to buy. Though working selling music can help you to be more objective. I don’t really like music snobs. I mean, we all are to a degree and it depends on what you like but you don’t have to shout about it. Taste is very subjective and if someone likes something and it makes them happy, who am I to berate them.
Not to be rude but it's something that's often levied at the more specialist record shops like the one you work in...
Yeah, well some record shops. Not Phonica. 6 years ago when a load of record stores closed down, one of the reasons was because you could buy music from the comfort of your sofa, digitally, and not get looked up and down and spoken to rudely by some twat behind a counter who thinks he knows everything and owns music! Fuck off! Oh dear your shop closed down, because you were rude, you were living in the dark ages and now your customers have more choice of formats and ways to buy music. Bye bye see you later.
Things have turned around now, like today, we had some slightly older ladies in.
Yeah, maybe mid 40's or 50, they weren’t from London. They were just quite down to earth and lovely and they were doing it properly. They were just going ‘oh I’ll buy that’, they were looking at things and then going like ‘oh what’s that? What about that one?’ and then they listened to them and it was quite nice to see. They bought the Caribou album, and that was gonna be it - but then they started trying more things, some stuff you’d class as Balearic and some weird Latin artists you don’t always get to hear. They bought it all, and really enjoyed the old school way of discovering music in a shop. If I keep seeing stuff like that I know things are changing for the better. The more of a mixture of people the better. Not just hipsters - but we'll let them off, even they need to buy music from somewhere.. They'll grow out of it.
I think some people see record shops as this hallowed temple of wisdom where they think ‘Oh is he actually going to give me the best record?’ and ‘If I say the right thing will he give me the right type of record?’
What happens to the bigger picure? In London you’ve got like Kristina, Love Vinyl, Phonica, Rough Trade which are all amazing shops, but they’re all kind of becoming boutique shops in a way. Not to do them down in any way, as they’re very important institutions, but how does it spread out across the country?
Well it did spread out across the country many many decades ago... but then most closed down as we all know...
Now they're opening again.. 4 new stores in London opened in this year alone. Didn't Rough Trade open a new store up North somewhere? As well as the New York one...
Yeah, one of the guys Aiden who writes a column on the site called House Hunting, wrote about a new record shop that's opened up next to his flat in North London.
Things are constantly in flux. There are peaks and troughs and we’re definitely back in some kind of peak at the moment.
Andy brought back an album on a French label last week that I think you'd sold him.
DK? He’s French as well.
Yeah, absolutely amazing. Never heard of it before.
You’ll only get that kind of discovery from record shops. Rarely online.
I really like those guys. (Antinote label) They’re not limiting themselves to a genre, whereas I am. I have to put some little weird rule in otherwise there’s just too much to choose from. I find I work best, and this is probably equivocal to other people as well, if you put a couple of little rules in – not too many – for me, that really spurs on my creativity.
You probably wouldn’t focus yourself otherwise.
If they were just like ‘here’s a label do whatever you want’ I’d be there for months thinking about it. It’s the same as doing a DJ set. If you had Abelton, vinyl, and cdjs... there’s no way I’d perform a good set with all that. There’s just too much choice. Too many possibilities, by the time I'd finally decided what to play next the other track would have finished. You need to limit your possibilities and then you can get creative within that.
It’s not about having a pretentious set of rules, it’s just that people perform better under certain structures.
And you can stretch that out and apply it to the way we live at the moment. Sure we're lucky to have so much choice, when maybe our grandparents didn't, but it also provides more chance to get things wrong and start down a wrong path.
That’s why we have gatekeepers. We’ve gone from this world of all this choice, I remember when it first kicked off and I was like ‘Oh my god, I can get this and this, I’ve always wanted that!’
I’m sure all of us were the same. I remember when I first discovered Discogs. You're thinking, I wonder if someones selling that album I lent my mate and he never gave back - oh shit there's 15 of them for sale and most of them are £1.50! Yes! then 5 hours later you've built a 20 page wantlist ha ha!’ You can type pretty much anything in and it’ll be there. It's dangerous. I think it was the same for the general public when iTunes started or Spotify.
People either want to replace some album they lost, or test it with their knowledge 'oh this rare thing I only know about won't be on there.... oh, it is - ok'
I think people have got wise to the 'people who bought this album also bought this' when they get stung with something they hate, and had no relevance to their previous purchase.
Record shops can get that bit right more often compared to web-stores.
Yep for sure - interacting with a human, an enthusiast, not a piece of code that doesn't work.
Going back to why record stores (specialists) almost completely disappeared - supermarkets (generalists) and their stranglehold have a lot to answer for. Deliberately selling music at a loss is a truly disgusting tactic. It's really put a lot of major labels, and indies in trouble. God I could go on about this forever but i won't. It makes my blood boil.
Apparently shopping habits are going back to the butcher and grocers rather than going to the supermarket.
Yeah but we’re still in the fall out of that. Only a minority of people can afford to go to a nice butcher or independent bakery, people are time poor and money poor, and get squeezed from both sides. I know cos i've been experiencing it for the last 10 years. Anyway that was definitely what happened like 5/6 years ago. And that’s why a lot of record shops started closing. Things are beginning to plateau out a bit now. We have a lot of people that come in the shop that are like ‘I used to be a digital DJ but I got so bored of it.’ So some people are beginning to come back to the idea but there are so many different types of consumer now. You used to get some people that would buy digital, CD and vinyl. Maybe there are people that still do that. But eventually those guys turned down another path, like they’ll drop vinyl and just buy CD’s as they can listen to them in the car. Or they'll stick with digital, or just continue vinyl-only. For me, I’m beginning to see people making the decision as to which way they want to go in terms of the format that they buy. I get the feeling that a lot of people have begun to get turned off by the idea of buying music on your sofa in your pants. You can do everything like that now, from your food shopping to your clothes to your music. Buying clothes and music is about feeling good/special/sexy. Turning on a tap and instead of water coming out, music and clothes and films do.. That's just not a special feeling, it's too easy and its throwaway. Art shouldn't be as easy as that, do a bit of work to find it - they worked hard creating it for you to enjoy.
Artists put hours and hours of their talent into creating these things we want to own. So no - Tesco's - I don't want to buy a sandwich and a CD next to each other on a shelf, I hope you get your accounting figures so badly wrong you close down. And no - Spotify - I don't want to pay £10 a month for unlimited music and the artists end up getting paid a few pennies instead of pounds. Does that sound right to you??
Low and behold, it’s the age of saying of 'if it ain’t broke don’t fix it'. People are beginning to go back to something that isn’t broke. You go back to a market and you think ‘Oh wow this is actually really nice, ok I remember what this was like’ and it’s the same with record shops now I think. People are going back to it because it works. It's like riding a bike, you never forget.
There will still be people that think that the digital revolution is for them though. That's fine - just don't force it.
I think digital is still a really positive thing, just the internet in general is a nightmare. It’s quite a scary thing for me considering leaving London as I’ve been living here for nearly 20 years but then the fact we could now leave London and still be able to do the work we do is because of the internet. That's amazing.
True, but its a tool at the end of the day, to use for work and to share information, same as radio and tv. Lets just not put all of our most treasured eggs in one basket.
So you've moved away from London?
Me and my girlfriend are thinking of moving country in a couple of years. Ibiza.
I really like the idea of doing it in stages. I just want to try it out for a bit. See how it goes.
If you make that big jump and then you’re like ‘Oh fuck.’
Yeah, instead of ‘I’m handing my notice in and moving to Ibiza’ and then you get there and it’s not working, you’re fucked and you have to start from scratch. We go every year and each time it becomes more of a thing where we really know this place and we love being there but I really like the idea of moving there gradually…
But you’re lucky to be able to have that choice. It’s more London that’s forcing you to make those decisions.
Yeah, it is - don't get me wrong I love London an my girl was born here, but it can be extremely stressful working here sometimes.
What was your entry into London?
I went to live in Australia to work and travel, the normal cliché working holiday. I did that about 10 years ago. I remember the rule was that if you don’t do it before you’re 30… you can't do it after that.
I knew the day that I left my town to go to Australia, that there was no way I was going back there. I knew that whatever I was going to see was going to be 100 times more exciting than my home town. A country where almost every type of living thing can kill you, and is the size of Europe yet has the same population as in Greater London living there.
I knew that when I was finished over there I’d come straight back and move to London. My girlfriend at the time left after 6 months because she had a job, and she was in the gab between finishing her degree and she said ‘yeah yeah I’ll come.’ But then she started to get interview offers and was like ‘I’m going to have to go home…’ and I just said that she should go for it because you only get one chance at things like that and there was no other reason for her to stay apart from me. It was difficult, but it was really good as I had someone to come back to. So I came back to her little flat and had to re-adjust to England.
And then that was it. The first job I got was in music. In 2005 I think…
What was that doing?
Working in a pressing plant.
Back when they used to do pressings.
Before Australia I used to work in precious metals, so I used to do precious metal plating and then refining. It wasn’t really what I was into, it was interesting sure, but very dangerous as well. Lots of chemicals and stuff like that. Turns out though, the way that you make a master is exactly what I was doing at the plating job. And that was bizarre. It was weird how that joined up on my cv with music.
There was Jeremy Deller exhibition when we were in Margate the other weekend and he’s obviously obsessed with music and British culture and it had this bit with his Acid brass band playing Voodoo Ray and there was one room with all the masters up on the wall. They were done in Vinyl Factory right?
He keeps them for that does he? OK.
Apparently so, yeah. So how does the plating part work?
Well it’s normally nickel first and then a silver coat and you Proper physics. It's an incredibly thin coat, You think like ‘wow they’re silver!’ But really, its so thin there’s barely anything there. The thickness is measured in microns, a human hair is about 100 microns so you get an idea.
It takes a lot of very particular science at an atomic level, you have to be incredibly skilled to do it. You can fuck it up so easily. I fucked it up royally a few times. Ha!
They all take such a long time and then when you fuck it up that’s like a whole week wasted. My career could have been so different if I'd have been a bit better at producing masters. I wouldnt be doing this now or working in the record shop. After making the masters the next stage was doing silvering, which has a real art to it. You have to spray a gun that’s got cyanide with silver suspended in it, and is charged positively and you have to get an even coat over the negatively charged nickel plated disc whilst it’s rotating. There’s a particular technique your arm has to learn, a very steady movement for the most even spread, and I was almost getting to that stage and then the company went bust. If it had of continued I'd have finished that and then moved to cutting the laquers. That really is a skilled job. You can probably count the number of cutting engineers in the country on one hand, that are still doing it anyway.
It’s a proper niche career! There a couple of cutters in Germany, isn't there and that one guy who’s so old, I can’t remember his name… that's getting so old that they’ve had to take someone on for him to teach and pass the skill on or it'll die. But yeah, it’s such an artform.
I might have gone that way, it would have been Interesting. You can relax about work because business will always be coming your way as you’re one of the only ones that can do it. You’d be one of 5 or 6.
Damon Bell's amazing 12" on Meda Fury has just been repressed... If you missed it first time around grab it now.
OL's Scape Border EP has just been released this week.