Label Love #58: My Favorite Robot Records
My Favorite Robot is the trio of Jared Simms, James Teej, and Voytek Korab, three Canadian DJs & producers who back in 2008 also set up a label under the same moniker. With a strong family of artists and remixers, the label has a sublime and distinctive sound and has been a constant on the slower and throbbier end of house music and acid spectrum throughout this decade. The roll call of talent has included Tim Paris, Nitin, Chloe, Kenny Glasgow, Fairmont and Jori Hulkkonen, so we got the three friends to talk us through the key moments in the life of MFR and where the label is going next:
What was the main influence in getting in to music at the beginning, and your background ahead of the MFR act? What was the Canadian music scene like back then, or were you looking beyond borders for inspiration & excitement?
James: I have studied music since I was five, and began my journey through electronic in 1993-1994. I started DJing around that time, was into house primarily, deep, French and techy stuff. I was also collecting D 'n' B and some underground hip-hop, and listened to a lot of 90's electronica albums. During that time I was also into punk and classic psychedelic rock, which still to this day ends up being the biggest influencing music for me. Throughout my life I've been into and collected, and produced lots of different things. In the end, electronic music was what I gravitated to the most, and in those days and into the early 2000's, there was a lot of warehouse raves, after hours, small festivals, and I along a bunch of other artists ran a Thursday weekly for many years into the mid 2000's. My first experiences in Europe and abroad were my eye openers, but still have a place in my heart for those more innocent early days.
Voytek: I started singing in a band when I was 15. A few years later, around '93, I went to my first rave in Montreal and that got me started DJ’ing right away. Got a job to buy some turntables and the rest is history. I played some raves in those days but never really thought it would become my career. I started producing just for fun around 2002 but it only became serious when Jared and I started MFR and got the label going. That’s when everything really took off and I realized that my dream was realizing itself when I wasn’t even looking.
Jared: Ya, as Voytek said the club and rave scene in Montreal was pretty on point and inspiring and it was very long after hitting up my first parties that I bought turntables and started to want to hunt for music that I loved. Like most people in this scene, once you first heard it, you just knew that it was something would keep bringing you back for more.
So My Favorite Robot started out as an act in 2002 with Simms and Korab, before moving onto becoming a label in 2008. How did James Teej come into the equation and what was the reasoning behind starting up the label?
James: I had been working with Jared (who started the label in Toronto), and was contributing some releases, remixes, and mixed the first years compilation. As things developed I began to work more closely with Jared on the label side, through some A&R and planning/development. The music just organically happened soon after. The three of us wrote some music, and saw things synching, and ultimately we shared a collective musical vision together, so soon after the guys very graciously let me join and become the 3rd robot and form the band. The rest is history.
Jared: Things changed quite a bit when I moved from Montreal to Toronto. Originally it was just Voytek and I but when my move to Toronto happened and I met Teej, and well as Jonny, Kenny, and Nitin who were forming No.19 and Art Department at that time, what had been fairly small aspirations for what MFR would be really grew into a whole other thing. Thats when the idea of the label happened, and we got more into the idea of producing as MFR as well.
Who or what was the biggest inspiration for doing it for yourselves with MFR?
James: This has been grassroots from the start. I think ultimately, we've all worked pretty hard, and stayed very focused on what we have wanted to do with the output, both with the label and the band. We appreciate that people seem to have really understood this vision, and appreciate what we have to contribute to the electronic world. We've stood by that core vision, and have ultimately wanted to create a healthy platform, for musicians from around the world, new and established, friends and stranger, to be able to put stuff out that doesn't have to fit into any type of conformed sound. We have survived and have thrived by not cashing in on or falling for current 'trends'. We just want to put out what we think is good electronic music, plain and simple. The stuff isn't always for everyone, and that is the point. But with all the music that we do release and support, we believe that it has a "je ne sais quoi" element, a unique little spark, that MFR sound.
It was a couple of years before there was music from an artist outside of yourselves released with the Kenny Glasgow release, is that right? How did that come about?
James : Like most labels, you rely on your friends first. We were all lucky to be around a healthy crew of people, that all were really trying to do something relevant. It was an exciting time to see so many go on into the world, have visible impacts and reach amazing levels of success. The circle provided a lot of the basis of the early material, and as the exposure increased, as were our confidence to pursue producers we all genuinely were fans of. MFR core members like Jori Hulkonnen, Sid Le Rock, Fairmont, all of whom have released albums with us, are guys we became friends with, and so the whole thing is all pretty familial. There would be the odd random signing, as we don't limit ourselves in any way, but ultimately we've tried to build an extended family of amazing producers and grounded people from around the globe. The mixing of influences, and styles, personalities, etc. is an amazingly healthy breading ground for creativity, collaboration and focus.
How have things developed over the past 8 years? I see that you grew the artist roster considerably, and less of your own work on there. Was that intentional?
James: In the end, there has just been so much amazing music that we have come across that we have really wanted to put out. We are in the process of slowing down at certain points in the year, but we always have amazing music in the pipeline. This is a real passion for us, and as long as there continues to be music that crosses our path and inspires us, there will be music coming out.
Voytek: Although the label and act are obviously closely related, we still try to put out most of our original music on other labels so that the label and act keep their own individual identity. We did decide to put out our two EP’s last year on our label as at that time we just felt that we were due to come home again and the material really fit our label best.
How and where does the music for the label come from? Do you still get excited searching out new acts or does it come to you now?
James: We are fortunate that stuff comes in from all angles. We obviously want to first and foremost support the guys that have been there with us over the years. Other times its stuff that is sent via friends, social networks, whatever, we honestly check it all out. We have always found some gems that way, and look to sign stuff that will stand the test of time. Memorable music.
Voytek: I always listen to everything anyone sends me as I’ve been on the other side of that equation and I know how it feels. Listening to everything sent is really painful most times haha but discovering some new talent here and there makes it all worth it.
Do you consider the label to be a family? There are several artists over the time that have returned again and again, do you have any thoughts on why that is?
James: Again that is how the label has been able to organically grow, by supporting the people that have supported us. The label has grown tremendously, but we will always be there for our core artists. We have tried our best to really keep that going while being able to introduce other new members and music. People come and go, but we are always there for the MFR family.
Voytek: I think that the main reason for the “family” feel is that there is a lot of mutual respect involved. We work with artists that we really really respect and admire and who we feel respect and understand what we’re about as well. For some unknown reason, the MFR crew is very like minded from taste in music down to our dark dark sarcasm which makes for some pretty good times at label showcases.
Was there a moment when you felt things really move for the label, or a moment of pride, and if so what was that?
James: The entire journey has been a nice evolution filled with amazing experiences and memories. We have literally been taken around the world, and that in itself is really a very special thing to have been a part of. There are a ton of great memories and moments of pride, but I think fundamentally, the fact that we've been able to, out of our small crew in Canada, be able to expand the label and band outwards to so many people and places around the world, that is really the biggest reward.
Voytek: One thing that sticks out among many is the first live show in 2013 and the following live dates we did for our Atomic Age album. Going live was always my goal and I had such a great time doing it. Can’t wait til we do it again.
What’s your most and least favourite things about running a label?
Jared: I still get really excited when you hear something you love for the first time. Kind of like when you go into the record store and hear that amazing track and cant wait to play it. Testing out something new and playing it for the first time and knowing it potential is basically what keeps me doing this.
How important is the identity of the label, art direction and so forth, and what input do you have in that?
James: Ultimately, the vision has been simple. To put out interesting electronic music. Of all types. We ultimately have the same vision, and our tastes are inline with each other's, even though we have varying personal flavors. By keeping with this, the label has taken on a life of its own, and we feel at least that every release has that MFR touch.
How do MFR stand out from the crowd with a wealth of other labels vying for attention? And what do you think of the current independent scene?
James: The independent scene is very saturated. I think we were very lucky to get through our growing pains when we did, and we are thankful for that. That being said, it takes a lot of drive to keep a machine like this running for as long as it has. In our time, we've seen lots of other labels come and go, and some stay for the long haul. We continue to see the label expand, and until we see that stopping, we are going to continue doing what we want to be doing. We rely on the people that have come to know and support us over the years, and try our best in this very volatile independent scene.
Voytek: We’re known for offering something different. That’s what has kept us visible and despite temptations, we have always stayed true to the original vision.
Releases have generally been digital on the label, what is your reasoning on some coming on vinyl, and do you have a stance on formats?
James: The label started as a digital label, and its its certainly a challenge to move into the physical realm in that way, but we've put out CDs and Vinyls for certain projects we feel would really benefit from it. We are not naive to the vinyl market, the 3 of us come from vinyl backgrounds, so the physical aspect has remained important over the years, but we understand its place. That being said, we have seen much success with the digital side all things considering, so we aren't going to close that channel off any time soon. The current climate is about adapting, and as a grassroots label, we have done our best to be able to forge our own little place amongst the droves of labels and music that saturates the market today.
With the label at over a hundred releases, I guess there must be enough money in it to continue putting out music. If money was no object would the label be different, or would you guys do things differently?
James: Well, the climate is what it is. This isn't buying us porsches anytime soon, and the amount of blood and sweat that goes into this to keep it going is high. We are nearing the 150 mark, and have done so over the span of the 8+ years, but we have really pushed every solitary release that has come out, and have appreciated that the support for the music from fans has allowed that to continue. Every person that has contributed has been a part of this growth, so it goes back to the family idea. We offer a platform for musicians to promote their music and themselves, we offer fans with a variety of good music, and are able to share a collective vision of 'quality electronic music' with everyone.
If you could sign one artist from throughout time, who would that be?
James: I think the three of us can agree that Andrew Weatherall is at the top of that list.
Voytek: Yeah, what he said. How has the hell has that not happened yet?
Outside of your own label and productions, what’s been a favourite record over recent months/ past year?
James: I would say probably Tkuz's Calor De La Noche on Kezokichi's Blindetonation label. This has been creeping into our sets consistently, and we've been lucky enough to have been asked to remix it as well.
Voytek: Along with anything on Blindetonation these days, I’ve really been blown away by Skinnerbox’s next Darkroom Dubs which has remakes/edits of Bella Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus and Gouge Away by Pixies. Both cuts are crazy good. This vinyl only release is definitely worth looking for.
What is YOUR favorite robot?
Voytek: Marvin the paranoid android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Jared: The one that cleans my carpet.
Can you describe the label in FIVE words? Five images? Five other favourite things?!
James: Where is that oil leaking?
Jared: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Voytek: In the famous words of Tammy: Celebration, Penetration, Inthenation (that’s one word), and dance!
What is exciting you about the future, both for the label and yourselves personally? Are there things in 2016 that are making you very happy?
James: 2016 is going to be filled with lots more amazing music, from us, from the label, and individually.