Throne of Blood Records was started way back in Dec 2006 as a collaboration with The Rapture and James Friedman. It has since grown into a digital and physical imprint.
Releasing everything from early output by Bicep and Daniel Avery through to excursions from Mugwump, Clouded Vision, Ford Inc (Paul Woolford & Mat Playford), Harkin & Raney, Cosmic Kids, Waze & Odyssey and Bohemian Groove the label saunters through life with an effortless- if slightly seedy- air of sophistication.
With a slew of releases upcoming this summer plus their almost wholly beat-less ambient compilation Moon Rock dropping this month, we caught up with Throne of Blood's guiding musical light James Friedman to talk our love for his label.
Can you tell us a little bit about Throne Of Blood and what the label's original blueprints were?
So Throne of Blood began quite humbly as a means of releasing vinyl singles and an LP edition of The Rapture’s second LP, Pieces of the People You Love. The Rapture were good friends and we had worked together in a very tangential way when Echoes came out because I was running the US office of Trevor Jackson’s Output Recordings at that time. Output had licensed all the vinyl rights for Echoes and the preceding singles like “House of Jealous Lovers,” “Olio,” and “The Killing” from DFA for all non-US territories. By the time Pieces came out, The Rapture were no longer on DFA and there was no provision in their deal for releasing vinyl. So they asked me to help start a label with them…
Our first four releases were the LP edition of Pieces and 12”s for “Get Myself Into It,” “W.A.Y.U.H.” and “The Sound.” By the time “The Sound” was set to come out, our distributor went bankrupt and all 1500 copies (it was a long time ago!!!) were locked inside the warehouse.
It took a year or so to work out our next steps and by then the band was on a hiatus to write a new record and that’s when we started signing other artists. Pretty quickly I went from being a label manager to being the creative driver behind Throne of Blood, signing stuff I liked, and forging an anything goes vibe that saw us moving from italo throwbacks (Zombi) to crystalline techno (John Selway) to gritty analog jams (Populette) and beyond. Eight years since our first release and that’s pretty much how things are running still.
Has the development since the label began been what you expected or has it differed in any way to your original plan of action?
We really didn’t have a plan at all and I’ve always had very modest expectations for the label. That said, I’m quite surprised at how low Throne’s profile is outside of the DJ community. We’ve been releasing a record a month for years now, including some early singles from big name artists like Daniel Avery and Bicep and we seem to stay under the radar in ways that a lot of our friends and peers haven’t. But I would like to see more folks supporting the artists we champion. It’d be nice to make enough money to really share revenues with the artists and to generate broader interest so some of our artists (and myself) could tour more as DJs.
What has been the best happy accident in the label’s history?
The best happy accident was definitely sending a slightly crabby email to feelmybicep.com asking them to check in before posting mp3s of our releases. That led to a really amazing set of releases from Bicep and a close friendship with Andy and Matt that means a great deal to me and the Throne of Blood fam. I knew early on that they were going to be much bigger than we could support but we’ve remained close friends and they are working on something for one of our Moon Rock releases. I couldn’t be prouder of how far they’ve come as DJs and producers. Most of all I respect their humility and humor in the face of absurd success.
How do you go about sourcing material? Are you active in seeking out artists or is it more a case of sifting through what is sent to you and deciding which records you think would work best?
It’s a bit of both honestly. We get a lot of demos from randoms. Most are not so dope. Some are killer. We also get a lot of demos from artists we know and like who respect what Throne does and how we do it. That’s my preferred way of working. Having artists I respect reach out because they sense a kinship of purpose or spirit with the label and express an interest in working with us. That said, I also do a fair amount of pestering people I like to make me tracks and remixes. I’ve been fairly successful in getting some of my favorites on board in one capacity or another.
You've just released 'Moon Rock Volume 1' please talk us through the album tracks and went into choosing exactly what would appear on the album?
Ok, the long story short is that Moon Rock emerged out of a series of conversations I had with Ron Poznansky and Daniel Terndrup aka Cosmic Kids as well as our mutual buddy Oli Isaacs, who manages Simian Mobile Disco, Bicep and does bookings for Windish Agency. All of us share a love of the more lysergic strains of instrumental chillout music, from kosmische to new age to deep deep dub techno. Ron had been working on a mix of ambient
and we decided it might be cool to do something along the lines of Kompakt’s Pop Ambient series but without the pop. Little did we know that Gerd Janson’s Music For Autobahns compilation was in the works and a full blown ambient revival was in the works… great minds think alike I guess. Anyhow, we started asking friends for tunes and very quickly amassed a LOT of amazing stuff. And more kept coming as we met new folks and got introduced through people that initially contributed. So what had started as a lark became a really ambitious and exciting project. Within a few months it became apparent that a single Moon Rock wasn’t going to cut it so now we are nearly done with Volume 2 and Volume 3 is well underway too. If they are well received, I’d like to keep going…
As far as choosing what to include and what not to, Cosmic Kids and I kicked tracks back and forth mostly. I ended up taking the lead since I had more contacts with artists than they did, but we swapped tracks and gave feedback until we got to a place where I felt like I could assemble a sequence for volumes one and two. It then took ages to get stuff mastered, during which time, a few artists dropped out. A few more delays and finally we got it all done. But by then we had to contend with delays at the pressing plant due to Record Store Day. That’s why a project we began in September of 2012 isn’t seeing the light of day until May 2014.
What made you decide that the time was right to put a compilation of this sort of music out into the ether?
I wish I could say there was some sort of marketing calculus that goes into how Throne operates. I’m a marketer in my professional life, so I’m reasonably savvy about this sort of stuff. But honestly, I run Throne in a very un-calculated way. We are releasing it now because its ready now and this is the kind of music that excites and inspires me, as does all the other stuff I put out, from harder, bass-heavy house from Curses to EBM-inspired drug chug from Hardway Bros or some straight ahead house from PBR Streetgang. Without humble bragging, this sort of operational formula (putting records out as quickly as I can when they are done) is reflective of a broader philosophy behind the label: I hate all the crap labels have to do to thrive, from hounding retailers to stock your titles to blitzing social media with announcements, forcing artists to shamelessly promote themselves for my benefit and so forth. Throne is designed to let the music do the speaking and we have structured our deals to maximize the benefits to our artists should that music find a large audience. Those factors combined with the fact that I refuse to do digital-only releases, which has cost me an enormous amount of money over the last 8 years, has helped demonstrate that our heart is in the right place to a lot of artists who might have been more demanding or fussy otherwise.
You've even managed to get a teaser video thanks to David Hasert, how did this decision come about? Is it something you'll look at repeating in the future?
David is one half of DAMH, who have a great new record on Kompakt I might add. I met him via Jorg Burger from Kompakt, who really got a lot of the Cologne scene involved with Moon Rock. David and Ada’s track, “Seebestattung” was an early favorite of mine so when he wrote me asking if he could use it to soundtrack a little film he’d shot on holiday, I got very excited at the prospect of using that film as a teaser clip. Unfortunately, it took a very long time to get the artwork together for Moon Rock and my idea meant David couldn’t share his amazing looking holiday film with his friends and family for a while. Sorry about that David! I hope it was worth the wait to have your film live as our first proper announcement of Moon Rock!
How do you think you stand out from the crowd given the current wealth of independent labels operating?
I don’t know that we do stand out really. I have a really terrible perspective on Throne. It’s been my passion project for so long that I’ve got zero objectivity. It is almost entirely a reflection of my tastes and my relationships in dance music. I don’t do it alone. I’ve had some incredible help from my designer (and member of Populette and Pleasure Planet) Andrew Potter, from my label manager (and other half of Populette) Max Pask, and from three really awesome vibes coordinators, Fred, David, and Nicole. But more than anything any of us have done, Throne is what the artists have created. And I think that might be something that makes us stand out from the crowd. Throne feels really familial. The NYC crew is all quite friendly and the same goes for our LA-based artists. Our European roster keeps growing and growing but as with Bicep, they have become dear friends for the most part. The community around the label is just incredibly meaningful for me and it makes it all worthwhile to me no matter how much money it costs to keep Throne in business. We’ve never sought to have a particular sound or capture a specific scene, but I do think we’ve tried very hard to gather artists with a similar outlook on life and creativity. I don’t know that the same can really be said about a lot of labels, particularly the ones that just jump from sound to sound or churn through digital-only releases.
If you could release any record from musical history on Throne Of Blood, what would it be? Is there anything that you'd like done differently with the record?
Fuck that’s a tough question. It’s one I’ve never contemplated either. There are some records that we nearly released that ended up coming out elsewhere. For instance, Throne nearly released “Township Funk” by DJ Mujava before my dear friend Stephen Christian, who is Warp’s A&R snapped it up. If somebody I didn’t love like a brother had snagged that release, I think I would have been super upset, but in this instance it worked out well. I’m not particularly oriented towards championing curious bits of electronic music from the developing world anyhow.
If I could actually just have been in the right time and a place to discover and release a record, I think I would have really loved to have been involved with, I would love to have been the first to bring Another Thought by Arthur Russell to the world. It’s a record I’m utterly in love with and it remains far more obscure than it should be despite several reissues. Another record I wish I could say I found is “Love Is A Hurting Thing” by Gloria Ann Taylor and Walter Wisenhunt. It’s a gajillion dollar private press cover of an old Lou Rawls song that trades for literally hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. It also happens to be one of the most gorgeous and heartbreaking bits of disco weirdness I’ve ever heard.
On a more dancefloor-oriented tip, I wish I could say I put out “Maria” by Closer Musik. It’s probably my favorite techno record of all time and a favorite of a few DJs I really love, like Prins Thomas.
What does the name mean?
Gabe and Vito from The Rapture were the ones who came up with the name. “Throne of Blood” is a great reggae song by Prince Jammy. It’s also the English title of Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. They love Jammy and Kurosawa. I do too, but I really love how Throne of Blood sounds like a totally intense metal band, but here we are releasing music for weirdos to dance and take drugs to.
Do you do vinyl runs of every release still?
Yes. And we always will. Some of our catalog is out of print on vinyl, but I will never do digital only releases. Without calling anybody out in particular, I think digital-only releases aren’t good for artists, for record shops, or for the community in general. They also don’t feel real to me since they disappear even quicker than a limited release 12” does.
Is anyone from The Rapture still involved with the label and are there any new TOB Rapture releases on the horizon?
Gabe Andruzzi and Vito Roccoforte are still involved and have an EP due out in June with remixes from curses and PBR STREETGANG.
You’re also involved with Let’s Play House. For fear of stating the obvious,how does this label differ to TOB?
In all fairness to my partners in Let’s Play House, Nik Mercer and Jacques Renault, I’m barely involved at this stage. Back when LPH started, I helped them get the label off the ground, negotiated a worldwide distro deal, helped sign many of our first releases and generally helped the label find its legs as a business. Nik didn’t have much experience running a label and Jacques is busy touring and producing, so that was really useful then. But three years in, Nik has it well in hand and I’ve stepped back to allow him space to be the true leader of LPH. As for how it differs, Let’s Play House is really a house music imprint. Throne of Blood is generally less housey, though we’ve certainly released our share. But more crucially, LPH reflects Nik and Jacques’ tastes while Throne is really more of a reflection of where my head is at. We have the same distributor, and use the same promotional apparatus, but the two labels don’t really cooperate in any other ways.
What are the long-term plans for Throne Of Blood? Do you have a 5 year plan or are you taking everything as it comes?
There is no plan. I would like to continue doing Throne as long as I have the strength and time to do it justice. If that ceases to be the case, I hope somebody else will step in and continue putting music out without regard for sales potential or licensing opportunities. Throne is a space for artists we love to make the music they love and share it with an audience that cares enough to work a bit harder to find the good shit. And that’s what we’re going to continue doing.
Do you think the current climate within the music industry helps or hinders independent labels?
I think the music industry is pretty terrible for the most part. I haven’t made my living in the industry for nearly ten years and I’m happier and better paid as a result. Throne is a business, but as I suggested earlier, it’s not run in a way that confers great benefits to me and my partners. It is a vehicle for delivering our artists’ music to the world. The fact that stores struggle and costs rise and everybody has zero qualms about stealing music they like make that harder, but that’s well beyond my control. I’m sure its making things harder for artists and that’s something that bothers me. Same for true indie labels. But the fact that Universal Music, WEA and Sony are hurting doesn’t really keep me up at night…
What did record store day mean to you this year? How do you feel the majors have affected what was initially a great way of highlighting local independent record stores and labels?
I didn’t go to Record Store Day this year. In fact I’ve never gone to Record Store Day. I think it’s a great concept, but at this point in my life, I’m buying much less vinyl than I used to. I also have much less free time than I used to. Going to stand in giant lines with obsessive LCD Soundsystem completists at Rough Trade NYC didn’t sound like a fun way to spend my Saturday…
What can we look forward to hearing from you in the next few months?
Well Moon Rock is out this week on 2xLP and digitally. Later in May we have the amazing End Scene 2xLP from Jokers of the Scene, which we’re releasing on a new collaborative label with Adam Marshall’s New Kanada imprint called Throne of Kanada, and a killer 12” of dancefloor business from Curses. Forthcoming we’ll have a couple more editions of Moon Rock as well as singles from Hardway Bros, Richard Norris, Luca Lozano and Mister Ho, Man Power, Pixelife, Nautiluss and Vin Sol, a new sublabel, and loads more great stuff on Let’s Play House too.
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