For me, over the past 18 months, one of the more inspiring label bosses and foresighted individuals working within the techno/tech-house realm of things has been Simon Nielsen, aka DJ Hi-Shock, who's based in Sydney, Australia.
He runs several labels including two I've worked with myself (Elektrax Music and Hypnotic Room) and two I haven't but which I really dig (Android Muziq and the newly-established Gynoid Audio imprint) - as do a lot of other people, if you check out their comments pages and the responses they're getting to their new releases.
Probably it helps that he's pushed through tracks, remixes and EPs by the likes of Dave Tarrida, Patrick Pulsinger, Luke's Anger, DJ Warp, Donk Boys, Steve Stoll, Wyndell Long, Ben Pest, Jammin' Unit, Si Begg, Shin Nishimura, Paul Birken, Orlando Voorn, DJ Wada, Captain Funk, Bill Youngman and V1NZ among others.
Hype, hyperbole and biased plaudits aside, you've got to hand it to Nielsen for his tireless perseverance in an industry that's pretty much flat-lined sales-wise over the past year, and in which he has to deal with Beatport on a day-to-day basis. Luckily for us he's currently branching out from digital download and back into the loving embrace of vinyl, with some killer wax out this year from Takashi Watanabe, Wada, Bitch Shift and Hi-Shock himself, and a lot more planned for 2010 - including some juicy mixes by Justin Berkovi and James Ruskin.
Nielsen is also a hard task-master to work with at times; he's not the kind of guy who lets inferior fodder appear in his catalog listings on Discogs, and if he thinks your latest demo is crap he'll let you know it - which means that some of my own inferior numbers were actually tweaked into far better shape than they would've been if I'd released 'em through IF?
Anyway, enough already. With the Naughties almost over and 2010 sitting on our lap, I decided to pitch a bunch of questions at this label head-honcho to find out things to come.
Over all, how was 2009 for you - for Elektrax Music and for its associated labels/artists?
"2009 was a really busy year for me and the labels - people think that running a digital label is easy, but believe me it's much harder and time consuming than it seems. The good thing is that 2009 was over all a positive experience and the labels and artists have started to receive recognition for pushing the sounds we believe in. Getting our tracks charted by guys like Luke Slater or Dave Clarke really means a lot and gives us the belief
that we are on the right path."
How many labels will you be running next year and how do you define each one?
"With 2010 you'll see five labels under the Elektrax Music umbrella, and we'll also continue to work together with the super-cool Tokyo label IF? Records." [nah, nah, I didn't bribe him to slot this in, honest.] "It's not always easy to put things into genres but I'll will try my best: Elektrax Recordings is hard-edged, funky, tribal, dark, heavy, acid techno with a typical BPM in the range of 130 to 140. Hypnotic Room deals with more tech-house, deep house, slower techno sounds, with a BPM averaging 118 to 128. Android Muziq focuses on deep, minimalistic, dark, futuristic, cyber, artistic, emotional and techno - typical BPM 120 to 128. Elektrax Progressive is progressive house, Goa, uplifting 'non-commercial' trance ranging around 120 to 135 BPM.
"Finally, Gynoid Audio will be dark, phat, dubby, dirty techno and electronica that ranges in BPM between 120 to 130. Yes, a new label is coming in 2010 - Gynoid Audio is the sister label of Android Muziq, but it's not as minimal as Android; instead it will be slightly fatter and dirtier in sound."
What would you most like to achieve in 2010?
"Continue on with where we left off in 2009, pushing the sounds we love and keep on supporting our supporters. 2010 will see the beginning of our artist agency Elektrax Bookings, so one of the big tasks will be to get this off the ground and get our artists some gigs! I also have a wish for 2010 - less music piracy!"
In which directions do you foresee techno, electronica and dance music in general taking itself over the next 12 months?
"Well, I don't see that much change and I'm sure the usual suspects will keep on appearing in the charts as they did throughout 2009. It is a bit disappointing that a lot of buyers and DJs don't spend enough time to search for their own unique sound, but just give in to whatever is right in front of them - and at the same time give up on being original. However, there's a vibe in the air that the serious, proper techno will be finally making a come back; the darker sounds are also being much more appreciated. This is
definitely something to look forward to in the next 12 months."
Who's lined-up for 2010?
"This year our labels did a lot of work with DJ Wada, Dave Tarrida, Roman Zawodny, Steve Stoll, Gayle San, Virgil Enzinger and Ree.K amongst others - so for 2010 we have a lot of fresh material lined up from the same guys, plus tracks and remixes from Chris Finke, Bas Mooy, James Ruskin, Go Hiyama, Glenn Wilson, Dave Angel, Ken Ishii, Space DJz, Commander Tom, Octave, Audio Injection, Pacou, Justin Berkovi, and... a few other surprises."
Who're the 'resident' artists you work with most and are keen to develop?
"The list keeps on growing but across all our labels the resident artists who release most regularly are Takashi Watanabe and Dich on Hypnotic Room, DJ Warp and DJ Hi-Shock on Elektrax Recordings, Stereo Underground and Nicky C on Elektrax Progressive, Virgil Enzinger and V1NZ on Android Muziq - and then there's of course the local [Australian] crew with guys like Little Nobody, Bitch Shift, Koda, Enclave, Alkan, Son Of Zev and Zen Paradox."
What do you look for in fledgling artists hoping to sign up with you?
"Firstly, quality tracks and top production skills; a good fan base and web presence is also a must these days for any artist, but also an awareness of the current musical trends, how the scene operates, and of course the right attitude."
Who were the real movers-and-shakers, musically speaking, in 2009?
"Takashi Watanabe was stealing the show for us in 2009 - he can turn any track into gold; same goes for his alter ego DJ Warp. Other highlights on our labels were the amazing production skills of Stereo Underground, the emotions found in tracks by V1NZ, the funky grooves from Dich, our latest discovery Raditz Room is top quality, and I can never get enough of the darkness produced by Virgil Enzinger! Finally, our own Bitch Shift [Ben Mill] also deserves a mention as he's really found himself as a producer at the end of 2009. Expect big things coming up from Ben in 2010."
Digital download vs. CD vs. vinyl. You're now doing all 3 formats. How do you differentiate between them, decide which releases appear in which format, and which one is set to be Number 1 in 2010?
"Digital will still be the main format for our releases. Let's face it, digital is here to stay and - the piracy aside - more DJs are trying out the latest gear and are falling in love with that format. We will still continue to push vinyl, mainly out of respect for the format and people
who still haven't abandoned wax. CDs are not doing very well - not many distributors are interested in this format - but we might still do a couple of DJ mixes and few promotional projects with our label artists."
What DJ Hi-Shock releases, tracks and remixes can we look out for in the new year?
"We're getting the remixes of 'Asama Express' released on Elektrax, so I will be working on a new version of that. I have also started on a collab project with Gayle San for her Equator label. I'm also hoping to finally finish off my new EP, and there're a dozen or so remixes to finish off..."
What keeps you motivated?
"I really enjoy seeing our artists go up in places and getting noticed for their hard work, having them as part of the 'crew' and exchange ideas and demos also means a lot... Then there is the music, music and more music... honestly, that's my main motivation."