The label Until My Heart Stops was set up by good friends Joe Elis and Leif Knowles a couple of years back and have quickly established themselves as one of the most exciting electronic labels around. They focus has always been on doing it right not doing it big, and they've been quietly championing artists like Joey Anderson, Steevio, Duckett and Arnaldo to name but a few. As big favourites of mine, I was more than a little excited to catch up with the guys to talk about Welsh raves, the inherent difficulty in names and the burgeoning Bristolian boule scene;
So we might as well start at the beginning. You guys both grew up in mid Wales right? I know this area quite well and it's quite remote but with a healthy rave scene. Was this how both of you got into electronic music?
Leif : Indeed - we both grew up near Snowdonia. I have no idea what the rave scene is like there now, but some of the free parties in Wales definitely helped switch me on to house and techno, as well as helping me develop a healthy dislike for hard trance eventually. I'd been listening to other electronic music as a teenager before discovering the outdoor party scene, but more ambient / trip-hop / downtempo stuff mainly.
Joe: It was really going through my old man's record collection that got me hooked on electronic music, he had a lot of Future Sound of London/Orb stuff which still sounds pretty mind blowing now. A friend of his ran a record shop in Liverpool, he would bring a pile of records down any time he came to Wales and I'd grab them as soon as he walked throught the door. Loads of early Sasha/Digweed/Oakey stuff. Those early raves were amazing though, we first started going at about age 16, watching some amazing DJs banging it out in a quarry in North Wales for a weekend. I was a proper geek, I'd just stand at the decks most the night trying to figure out what they were doing.
Do you think being part of a non-urban electronic music scene has given you a different outlook to others?
Leif : Perhaps... I guess it was quite a close-knit community in the Welsh party scene which was good in some respects. It's also a stunning place to party with that scenery as a backdrop. Also back then living in the countryside could make it quite difficult to remain on-trend with new music that was coming out, which could also be seen as a positive...
Joe: Difficult to say really, I used to live by Richard Brophy's reviews in Update Magazine as a guide early on which introduced me loads of my favourite records and then when Juno started it opened up the whole scene to anyone who didn't have a record shop for 100's of miles.
We were lucky in that we met a crew from the Midlands who would invite us down to play at parties with them.
There was a distinct difference in the records you could play in Wales or Wolves - you would get shot for playing anything with vocals at a party in the hills back then.
Am I right in thinking you guys both live in cities now but only moved to civilisation relatively recently and after your careers in music had already begun? What were the reasons behind the move and how do you feel the move changed your outlook on music?
Leif : I've been in London for 4 years now, I was spending quite a lot of time here before that so it made sense to move. I feel pretty lucky to have some amazing venues and record shops on my doorstep now which has definitely been inspiring musically... The weather's better down here as well. And there are more decent pubs.
Joe: I still live in North Wales but am on the verge of toying with the idea of moving to Bristol. Idle Hands records on your door step and a ton of good nights going on is a big factor in that, plus a thriving French Boule scene believe it or not.
How did the idea of starting a label come up? Tell me a little about the initial setting up of UMHS.
Leif : It's something we'd been thinking about doing for years - but a general lack of organisational skills on our behalf meant it took us a while to get around to actually making it a reality.
Joe: The boys had Trimsound going as an outlet for their own productions but it felt like a good use of all that time spent digging around for music to start a fresh label for other people's music. At the time there really wasn't enough Area, Juniper or Joey stuff on vinyl and Matthew Weick had put out just the one wicked record on AMR so just having the conversation about them and their positive response to us getting in touch helped push it into life.
Who came up with the name?
Leif : This was Joe's suggestion, after months of wretched deliberation - and it may or may not have been influenced by a great record from one of our favourite producers.
Joe: We could have written several novels or become fluent in Japanese in the time we spent talking about a name for the label, most of them were absolutely terrible to the point were we just firing any two words cobbled together at each other via text by the end. I put that NWAQ record on one afternoon, the track means such a lot to us anyway, we agreed straight away it was a great name for the label and from that moment on Apples and Sausages Recs. was consigned to the dustbin.
Your music selections are relatively varied, ranging from the low-key funk of the recent Arnaldo 12" to the chugging, distorted sounds of Area on your second release. But there's always been a coherency, and a kind of slightly ethereal and other-worldly feel running through them all which obviously stems from your two's musical tastes. Where does this aesthetic come from and what draws you to the weirder side of this music?
Leif: I love house and techno but I listen to a lot of more abstract and awkward stuff too. In my view there are plenty of great labels out there putting out quality straight-up club based music - but we quite like having the freedom to sign music that we love, regardless of whether it's 'functional' or not. Ideally I'd like to able to release music that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. That's the main criteria I reckon.
Joe: Most of my home listening is not 4/4, I love a lot of old jazz and downbeat electronic and hip-hop stuff. The Type label is a great source of new music and the website also has a great blog on it where people swap artist names you would never have found otherwise..If I ever get stuck in a bit of house music rut sometimes it's good to cut off from it completely - listen to something totally abstract for a while and come back with fresh ears.
It seems like the collection of artists you've worked with come from a close knit group of friends that, I would hazard a guess, sprung up around the Freerotation festival. Am I right in thinking that and how important to you is it to work with people you know already?
Leif : Not really actually... We started the label as a platform to get music out there that we loved, that perhaps didn't have the recognition we felt it deserved, regardless of where it was from or whether we knew the artists. Our first 3 releases were from US Based producers (Joey Anderson, Area and Matthew Wieck) who's music we'd heard on Soundcloud and just really loved. It just so happens that some of our favourite music out there is also written by some of our mates, like Steevio and Duckett.
Joe: It is nice to reach out to new people and I still buzz off getting a message back from someone who is up for putting a track out with us but, as Leif said we're lucky to be surrounded by some really talented people at FR so it seems natural to put their music out as well.
How do you approach building a release? Do you just get artists sending their music to you and pick a bunch that fit or is there any back and forward with them creatively?
Leif : Generally it's either stuff we've found on Soundcloud or we ask a producer we like to send us some bits. It's all pretty easy going.
Joe: Yeah we've sat on some stuff for a long time, we had October's track and the Arnaldo realease sorted a long time before they came out, the Duckett records shifted and changed a fair bit, mainly because he has so much good stuff to choose from, we've also got some stuff of Tom's which we've had for a long time ready to go, the danger of that is the artist goes off it because they've (Tom) moved on to something new and you have to convince them (Tom) it's still brilliant.
You went down the road of hand stamping every record. Do you regret this and have you got RSI yet?
Leif : Yeah maybe a bit. When we first started the label we had this idea of embossing a sticky label for each individual record using one of those Dymo-label printing things with the scrolly wheel. Can you imagine?!
Joe: If you go at it you can get about 300 done in a day, really glad UMHS works as an abbreviation! If we'd done that dymo thing we'd probably still be doing the first one...
How do you see the label developing? Are you happy putting out EPs and VAs of artists/music that you love or can you ever see yourselves breaking out from this, perhaps with an album or other formats/platforms?
Leif: There may or may not be an album in the works very soon...
Joe: Yeah we've had these last 3/4 records and the next 2 in the pipeline for a while so it's nice now for the first time in a while having a look at what to do next..
What have you got lined up and have I missed anything?
Leif : Our next one after Duckett's 'Part 2' is a 12" from a brilliant US-Based producer called Lubin, who's released on the excellent Kimochi records in the past. After that, the aforementioned album, and then another V/A is taking shape nicely for the end of the year. Can't wait to get it all out there!
Joe: Freerotation festival comes this week, always a massive highlight, followed at some point in the future by the re-emergance of Apples and Sausages recs, most likely on pork coloured vinyl.
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