Few techno labels have a pedigree as respectable as Adam Beyer's Drumcode. This year the Swedish label celebrates its 15th year with a series of Drumcode blowouts in clubs and warehouses across Europe.
Considering the huge number of changes that electronic music and techno has seen over the past 15 years, it's amazing that Drumcode has managed to stay at the forefront of the scene.
How did it come so far? Some might say that it is the label's consistency and reliability that has enabled it to win over generation after generation of techno DJs. Others may point out that the imprint and its label head's willingness to explore new things - epitomized by the relatively young Drumcode Radio show and Beyer's new audio visual show Maze - has ensured it has remained relevant. But what would Adam Beyer say? We decided to find out.
Adam, when you first started Drumcode what did you want to achieve?
I wanted to create a platform for releasing my own music as I wanted more control over how my music was released. I was really productive at the time. Musically also, I wanted to do something really pure as a lot of the labels in Sweden were doing a mixture of different styles, like hard trance and other things. I wanted my label to be nothing but 100% pure techno and DJ friendly.
Looking back, how do you feel about the label's development?
I never really expected it to last 15 years. It's not easy to stick to a formula or an idea for 15 years, especially in electronic music which tends to move fast.
But really, since the very beginning the label has followed a path that came from an idea that I had right at the start. The only thing that changed is that the label stopped being solely a Swedish imprint. For the first 12 or so releases it was just Swedish artists, but then I introduced some Italians like Marco Carola and Gaetano Parisio, and then the label became more global.
I don't think I would have done anything differently, maybe there a few releases here and there that weren't the best, but no overall I'm very happy with how it has stayed true to itself.
What's the biggest challenge that Drumcode has faced?
There was a time, at the beginning of the 2000s, when I kind of put the label on hold for two or three years because I had become a bit fed up with what was going on in the scene.
The music had become harder and harder, and I just couldn't connect with it anymore. Techno had become too aggressive and I didn't like it. I needed to make a statement that I wasn't a part of this sound, so I put it on hold. We only put out about one release per year during that period.
Whilst Drumcode was on hold, I went a bit in the other direction by releasing some tracks on labels like Plus 8, Cocoon, Novamute and Soma.
That was a really important turning point for the label because I was able to take a step back and think about renovation. I decided to change some of the label's policies and the sound a bit, by moving towards more of the current edge of techno.
What are Drumcode's brand values today?
It's exactly the same as it has always been. Sure the music has changed, but if you listen to the label's first five or 10 records and then our most recent five or 10 records you can still hear a similar vibe throughout the catalog. The music might be better programmed today and have better sound, but you can still connect it with our earliest releases.
From a journalist's point of view, I can see how that might be a bit boring as there are not that many different angles to look at Drumcode from, but for DJs who want a brand to rely upon, I think we are one of the most reliable techno imprints around.
With what release would you say Drumcode first began to make serious waves in electronic music?
Actually, without wanting to sound egotistical - we got attention from the very first release. Before I decided to launch Drumcode, I was warned by quite a few people in the industry that the label was likely to fail and I stood to lose a lot of money. The most I could have expected from a vinyl release, they said, was about 1000 copies sold. That was quite a low figure in those days of vinyl.
But I said, to hell with it, and decided to do the label anyway. The first release sold about 3500 copies and DJs like Jeff Mills and DJ Hell played it. So truly, from the first release Drumcode made an impact.
What other Drumcode releases were memorable?
The first 10 I'd say were really memorable and important for us. And then since we restarted the label, Christian Smith & John Selway's 'Total Departure' was probably our biggest hit.
Jesper Dahlbäck's 20.5 remix of 'Remainings III' was a big, big seller on vinyl. I think that shifted about 30,000 copies. That track also crossed over which isn't too common for Drumcode - even Eric Morillo licensed it for a compilation.
Drumcode has always championed new techno talent. Why is that important?
I think it's important to give new people a chance and to throw new things in occasionally. It's good to have a mix of regular artists and new talent. From the A&R side of things, it has actually worked out really well.
A lot of the artists that we took a chance on have turned out to be just as good as I thought they could be. Like take Alan Fitzpatrick for example. From his early music I could hear that there was something different and special about him. He's doing really well now.
Over the past 15 years, we've seen a lot of changes in the music industry. What would you say is the role of a record label today?
Now more than ever, a label is a DJ's business card. It says what your sound is, and what group of artists you identify yourself with. Labels have also become really important in the club scene, where label nights are becoming more and more common. Clubbers now seem to like branded nights, as they know what to expect.
On the promotions side, things have certainly changed. Online marketing seems to be the predominant way that artists and music are discovered these days, and we've invested a bit in that. We also have our weekly Drumcode Radio show which is getting bigger every week.
I think if you're a label that wants recognition, you have to do more than just release music. Sure there are still plenty of underground labels out there that only release music on vinyl, but if you want to be a big label fans probably expect more than just the music.
Your DJ show Maze will see its London debut at the Drumcode 15 Years warehouse party on October 29th. What exactly is Maze?
I'm really excited about it as I've never really done anything like this before. I only came up with the idea quite recently when I learnt what was possible to do with visuals today.
Maze is my attempt to express myself, my music, and my DJing through visuals. No one in techno has really done a visual show before, at least none of my DJ colleagues, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to experiment and to do something next level.
I worked hard with the visual company Immersive to come up with something that really matches my sound and the vibe we like to have at Drumcode parties, and it's great that the London launch of the show happens to coincide with our 15 year celebrations.
You've had a couple of test runs of Maze. How did they go?
The first two trials went well, and we learnt a lot about where Maze can have the most impact. You need a really dark room to fully realise its power, and the room has to be the right size.
At Glade Festival in the U.K., we did Maze outside and some of the festival's external lights lessened the effect of Maze. But at our London warehouse party, the venue and the room are absolutely perfect. I can't wait to see it in action.
How much were you involved in the imagery of Maze?
I was involved quite a bit, as a lot of visuals were sent back and forth. We had some meetings about what type of vibe I wanted to create and what I didn't want to see.
I wanted more of a psychological experience. Nothing political, I wanted something more abstract with shapes and moving objects that matched my sound. The visuals are quite technical. The Maze is a 3D structure which they use to map different shapes and forms on top of it, so it's pretty trippy and hypnotic.
Why did you want to do a visual show?
As an artist, I think it's important to try new things, and to take your work in different directions. It's also important to give your audience something new as well. With sound you can only do so much, but if you bring visuals or a special show to a party, you have the chance to create an entirely new experience.
Whilst we're on the subject of new experiences, for fun, let's imagine that we're living 100 years from now. What do you think nightclubs will be like in the future?
Hmm. That's a very good question. Firstly, I think people will always want to socialise. In some movies they depict the future as being mainly a machine-driven experience, like you'll be on your own with just a machine.
I think people will always want to socialise and party. And I think people will still want to play music. Maybe it won't be in stereo, but in 5.1 advanced sound, with lots more speakers. I can imagine them coming up with more experimental ways of using sound.
I also think that the visual side will become more important in nightclubs of the future. The technology is getting cheaper and more common, so I can see clubs putting more effort into their visuals to come up with a fuller experience. I can see perhaps, a big round bubble cocooning an entire dancefloor with sound and visuals.
Also holograms too, they might become more important. I played at the premiere of Eric Prydz' EPIC show, and that featured a hologram screen that makes images look like they are floating in mid air. I'm sure in 100 years they'll be able to project 3D images anywhere without any difficulties. That could be pretty crazy, imagine holograms right in front of your face or floating above your head. Things could get really crazy.
(Words: Terry Church)
Drumcode celebrates 15 years in London
On Saturday 29th October, Drumcode will celebrate 15 years with a big party at London's Ewer St. Warehouse (Tickets are available from ResidentAdvisor). Adam Beyer has hand-picked a selection of his favourite artists from the label to play, and he invited artists from Drumcode's sister label Truesoul to host Arch 2.
For one night only, Londoners will be able to see Adam Beyer's new Maze show, Paul Ritch (live), Joseph Capriati, Alan Fitzpatrick and Patrick Siech under one roof, whilst the second arch will feature Ida Engberg, Joel Mull and Alexi Delano.