Label Love #15: Work Them Records
Work Them Records releases deeply functional dance 12"s somewhere between house and techno. Started by Spencer Parker in 2012, the imprint has really hit it's stride in the last year or so thanks to a prolific run including music from White Material's 909 hero Young Male, the illusive Pittsburgh Track Authority, two excellent singles from Radio Slave plus high grade output from Spencer himself. Add to this remixes packages from Rødhåd, Answer Code Request, Arttu and Detroit's Aaron FIT and you have a label that really means business on the dance floor.
Dan Beaumont, our surrogate love child and sometime R$N interviewer chatted through the label with 'the honch' Spencer Parker…
Why start your own label?
I have to be honest and say that I never wanted to start my own label. In the same way that I never wanted to produce. But, as with producing, very, very slowly, the idea began to appeal to me. The main element that was key to the birth of Work Them Records was re-connecting with my friend Spencer Broughton after a number of years, who, by now, was actually running Prime Direct Distribution with Richard Stewart. We were speaking at a party (of course!) and he was harassing me and saying I should start a label as he knew my history of doing A&R. We’d always agreed and enthused about what we thought were great records and he said he’d be into helping me with the label, and that was when the seed of thought was first planted.
If I didn’t work with PDD then I just wouldn’t have the label at all, its that simple. First and foremost I’m a DJ, and I’m lucky enough to travel most weekends to do this, so, the time and effort spent on artwork, getting something mastered, in the right stores etc. just did not appeal in any way. But, I had a meeting with Spencer and he explained how PDD worked and could facilitate everything I needed – and that was when I started to get excited about the idea of a label.
Spencer has made the mechanics of the whole thing absolutely effortless, he managed to connect us with the phenomenal Wally C who masters all our stuff (named as one of the top 3 mastering dudes in the world by MAW – who know a thing or two about sound) as well as getting us in the stores we want to be in. I take and make all creative decisions but it’s invaluable to have someone on the other end of the phone who can make it happen in the way it needs to happen, and thats exactly what Spencer does.
Can you name some key releases on other labels that were instrumental in you starting Work Them?
There was no particular “lightbulb moment” where I heard a track and it made me want to start a label. But i was certainly encouraged by some new labels that I respected who were releasing great material and seemed to have their own agenda. Labels such as White Material and Dystopian etc.
You take remixes pretty seriously with input from Rødhåd and Answer Code Request among others. Do you think the art of the remix is dying out? And what is your secret to getting it right?
I don’t think the art of the remix is dying out at all, there are great producers out there that are still doing great work in remixing someone else’s track, Robert Hood is just one example that immediately springs to mind. The problem is, as with releases in general, there is just so much music being released that it’s harder to find the good stuff – but it is still there.
For me, I take remixes incredibly seriously as it’s a way to further demonstrate what we’re all about as a label. A few years ago, when I first started working in A&R it was relatively easy for a label to sign an array of producers. But now, everyone has their own label, so, if they make music – they are quite happy to only release it on their own label – which i totally understand. After all, I pretty much do the same myself!
So, even though its unlikely that i can sign a Rødhåd, Answer Code Request or Arron FIT Siegel ep, I am able to get them involved by asking them to remix something for me, so thats exactly what i’ve been doing.
I don’t think there is a particular “secret” to getting it right, it’s just a case of working with like minded people, and, hopefully, there is a mutual respect so that, if I have a comment on the mix, I am able to voice it and we can have an end product that everyone is happy with. It can be hard to sometimes receive a mix that is in a different direction from what you envisioned, but if you are clear, polite and professional, then I find that it's possible to speak to the remixer and offer your opinion to make sure that all parties concerned, artist, remixer and label are all happy with the work and excited to release the record. I have voiced my opinion on some remixes in the history of Work Them Records but I am VERY clear in stating that the remixer has “final cut” as it were – as an artist myself i understand that it is THEIR name going on the mix, so they have to be 100% happy with it in every way.
I always say that I am allowed to offer my opinion, and they are allowed to tell me to go fuck myself.
So far it’s worked out pretty good… 🙂
Describe the label in 5 pictures.
Which record labels have been the most influential in your own musical journey?
Too many to name and for many different reasons. I’m a huge fan of an array of different labels from Prelude and Salsoul to Ost Gut Ton to Stablo to FXHE and UR. I don’t really buy tracks by label so much as by each individual record.
Work Them seems to have focused on a very specific sound over the last few releases – would you agree with that? How would you describe the label's sound?
To be honest the “sound" of the label has come about in conjunction with my own productions and DJing. By which I mean, with my productions I always used to make a lot of different styles so that I could play them in different types of sets – a deeper track for if I happened to be playing somewhere quite early or a more techno-leaning track for when I was playing a bigger room at the height of a night. But this approach can lead to a little confusion, unfortunately, so, to explain what I play exactly as a DJ – I started the Its Not Over project which recently culminated in the album “Its Now Over”. This was a snapshot of what I play as a DJ.
Around this time I started the same approach with the A&R of Work Them Records. In the beginning we released some slightly different sounding records, records which I stand behind 100% and am very proud to have released, but that were quite different from each other. The Sinob Satoshi tracks sound like the best records Ricardo Villalobos never made and Dana Ruh’s ep sounds like an amazing unreleased Nu-Groove ep from 1992, for example.
I quickly realised that it was important for the label to have a little bit more of a “sound”, so now my A&R instinct is pretty much – "this is what I play at peak time in my DJ sets". Thats it.
Playing regularly at the clubs I get invited to and seeing the reactions to the records I play is a massive part of what gets signed or who I invite to remix records, and, to be honest, I’m only really interested in signing records that work in those clubs. That’s no disrespect to other clubs, but I’m fortunate to play at some of the best and most prestigious clubs in the world, so they are the ones that I concentrate on. To put it more concisely – if I play something at 4pm at Concrete or 11pm in Panorama Bar and the people are bouncing off the walls – its a pretty good bet that a lot of other people at other clubs in the world may be into it too… So this all feeds in to the A&R process and the “sound” if you will.
Which labels still get you all excited when they release a new 12”?
Again, too many to mention FXHE, White Material, Non Series, Non Plus, M Plant, Mote Evolver, The Corner, MDR Records, ItaloJohnson and i’m a big fan of this new label out of Berlin called Midgar which is run by Jacopo Severitano.
If Work Them was a clothing label what would it be and why?
Lanvin… or Balenciaga… or Visvim… – we’re not obvious or in your face – but the people that REALLY know whats up are into us. And they’re the only people we care about pleasing.
We’re not a fashionable label, we’re a stylish label. Because as they say : “fashion fades/style remains”.
Are record vinyl labels more, or less relevant now that most people consume music digitally?
More relevant than ever. The simple reason is that it takes a lot more money, faith and time to release a physical record – you have to believe in that motherfucker and be prepared to put your money where you mouth is. Or get someone else to put their money where your mouth is ! 🙂
Without getting into the digital vinyl debate (yawn!), let me answer this question with another question.
“Would the quality of house/techno records released increase if EVERY time you had to release a digital track you had to pay the same amount of costs as you would to master/manufacture/distribute a run of 300 physical records….?"
Which artists would you most like to release on Work Them?
The list is long and distinguished… And for the reasons stated earlier, with everyone now having their own labels, many will remain dreams rattling around my cavernous and mainly empty head. However, the roll call would definitely include Galaxy To Galaxy, Robert Hood, DJ Richard, ItaloJohnson, Boddika, Shed, India, Chaka Khan…
Are you planning on revisiting your Itsnotover alias?
No. That project ended with the release of the “It’s Now Over” album. It was a project to simply show what I play as a DJ and in that sense I’m incredibly happy with how it worked. To hear the tracks I made played by DJs such as Ryan Elliott, Mike Huckaby, DVS1, Patrice Scott, DJ Deep, Nick Höpnner etc tells you everything you need to know really.
How has running a label affected the way you DJ and produce?
As a DJ it just means I have a few more secret weapons in my box, as a producer it means I have a home to release as and when I please, it’s affected me a little, but not too much to be honest.
The label has seen multiple releases from yourself, Radio Slave and Pittsburgh Track Authority. Any plans for an artist album on the label from anyone? How about a compilation (please)?
Maybe in the future, who knows…
What are your plans for the label over the next 12 months?
More of the same. We’ll also be doing a few “Work Them Records Presents…” parties. But not too many…
What is Work Them Records' mission in a sentence?
Work Them Records make you DANCE !
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?
I actively seek out artists and I listen and respond to every demo we get sent. It’s a continuous process with no real definitive “answer”, everything feeds everything else. I discovered Young Male because he dropped 20 copies of the first ever White Material release to Hard Wax, and I bought one of them. I then played the hell out of the record and charted/supported it and got in touch with him about working together. So record shopping leads to discovering artists early, hearing what other people you respect play piques your interest in certain other artists etc, its all intertwined.
What has been the best happy accident in the label’s history?
Mayashiba playing me some demos by Behzad and Amarou from Paris about 3 or 4 years ago. They were simply amazing techno tracks that totally blew me away. They were saying to us that no one in Paris really “got” what they were making but myself and Mayashiba adored it and encouraged them to keep doing their thing. A while after they were made residents at Concrete in Paris and now everyone from Ryan Elliott to Nina Kraviz is raving about them. They are 100% the real deal, dope producers and that rarest of things – great resident djs that can confidently hold their own playing with some of the biggest names out there – this year is theirs for the taking.
If you could release any record from musical history on Work Them Records, what would it be? Is there anything that you'd like done differently with the record?
Bronski Beat “Small Town Boy” but with Dan Beaumont replacing Jimmy Somerville on lead vocal duties… (Me replacing the bloke with glasses : TBC).
Joining The Circus
What to do for British politics?
Solidarity with Ukraine
URL vs. IRL
Do DJs Today Need Social Media to Be Heard?
I Hear (Borusiade Remix)
Mother of MarsShop Now
Hologram TeenShop Now