Following on from part one of our interview with Artform Records head honcho Jamie Anderson, we discuss how the iconic label came together, the path that took him to Berlin, his current residence, and new and future projects.
Q. Where did the Artform name come from?
I was making quite a bit of music, and I couldn’t find anyone to sign it, so I decided to create my own label.
I was working in the shop one day, scribbling down some names, and then in walks Daddy G from Massive Attack. I told him what I was planning on doing, and that I was trying to think of a name. He picked up my list, looked at it, and said “Artform. Call it that. That’s the one.”
I responded by telling him the background behind some of the other names I had chosen, but he was clear – “No, it has to be Artform”. So he sort of blessed it, in a way.
Q. When the label got established, it seemed like you had the concept all planned out. You even had the Mondrian-style art on the record labels themselves?
I really liked modern art at the time; I was really into the simplicity of it. I saw the way that music was developing as well – specifically house and techno – that it was becoming more of an art form. So that made the label more meaningful to me.
When you are experimenting with music, you are creating a piece of art. So the whole concept was that with each release, the vinyl, the artwork, the music would be a self-contained piece of art.
Now, when I look back, I see it as sort of learning in public. Maybe, thinking back, I shouldn’t have released everything, and only released the really good stuff. But I really enjoyed putting new records out. Nowadays, you can put a track online and get feedback in minutes. But back then, you were out on your own.
Q. Do you think that back then, you had more freedom to be different – nowadays, you might be pigeonholed into one particular genre?
Somebody has to push the boundaries, yes. When Artform started, there was this trance sound developing in dance music that was very formulaic, it was very refined and wasn’t as experimental any more.
The same thing happened with house music – you had this US garage house sound with Masters At Work and all that, which became really refined and perfected. As a new producer trying to come in, you can’t really compete with that in a way, so it’s about trying to carve your own sound.
Take a little bit of this, and mix it with that, and be a bit of a nuisance.
Q. How did your ‘tech house’ sound evolve?
At the start, the only way you could do tech house was if you took a house record and pitched it way up, and then took a techno record and pitched it way down.
I used to go record shopping in Outland Records in Bristol, and there was a guy working there, Jerome Kwan, who knew Steve Rachmad, and was into that whole Dutch tech house scene, which was similar to the music coming out of Detroit at the time.
I think there was a real connection between that sort of organic sound and what was happening in Bristol. There was a London scene as well, but it was different.
I was DJing a lot with Jesse Rose [founder of Play It Down and Made To Play Records] at the time, and we made up flyers that said that we played ‘techouse’, combining techno and house into one word. We laughed when we saw it spelled out as two words. “Tetch house? What the hell is tetch house?”
Q. You’ve known Jesse for a long time, haven’t you?
I used to know him when I was growing up in London, then I moved to Bristol and we completely lost touch. Then, one day, I ran into him in the local park – I didn’t realise he had moved to Bristol too. We were neighbours again.
He was about four years younger than me, so I remember when I used to go off raving, I would call his mum to see if he was able to come along. Sometimes I would DJ and he would be my MC! After a couple of years, he started really getting into it, and I showed him how to make his own tracks.
He had the same ethos; he wanted to try to create something new, rather than just copy what other people had done.
Q. You kept Artform going for a few years, and then took a break, and then started it up again, and then took a break. Why?
There have been several ‘waves’ of Artform. The first was the experimental, learning-as-you-go-along phase, and from there, I got signed to NRK and started putting stuff out for them, such as the Blue Music album.
During that time, Artform got a bit neglected, so I came back to the label and relaunched it, signing artists such as Roberto, who gave the label a new lease of life with his sound. Then, it sort of ran its course again, and I moved to Berlin.
The thing with Artform, is that I’m not really running it as a label; it’s more the case that if I have something to say, I use the label to say it. Or, other artists might have something new to say, so they are brought into the conversation. But a time comes when the energy runs out, and you don’t want to push it.
Q. How did you end up moving to Berlin?
Before that, I had a house in the country, in South Wales because I fancied a bit of peace and quiet. When you are touring all the time, you think to yourself, “ok, it’s time to get away from it all, and have a nice studio in the country”. But then I started to miss the city.
So I looked at different places I could go – Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Berlin – and Berlin struck me as the most interesting. I had DJed here a lot, and I felt like it was a blank slate for me. It was a place with a lot more musicians; like when I was in Bristol. It seemed like everyone in Berlin was ‘doing it’ and it felt more and more like less people in the UK were.
Plus, I needed to be around other people that were on the same skill level or better, when it came to production. I wanted to be around people that were working on music full time, rather than it being something you do on the side of your day job. If I stayed in the UK, I felt it would become a side project more and more. I wanted to put some energy back into what I was doing.
Within a couple of months of moving here, things started to happen. I met Florian Mendl, and he invited me to share a studio with him. I also met up with Daniel Haaksmann, who I had been co-producing for.
Where I’m located, Richie Hawtin has a studio opposite, and within five minutes walk, you have half the world’s techno community.
Q. Berlin has a reputation for being a ‘techno’ city. Has that influenced your sound?
It’s not just techno. You have people from all over the world working here, brining influences from different countries.
When you think about it, making music is quite an abstract job. “What do you do for a living?” someone might ask you. “I produce dance music.” That’s a career path that’s completely alien to most people, so it’s important that you keep that feeling alive, that this is what you do, and it’s really important. In Berlin, people are living it and breathing it in the same way you do.
If I keep doing the same thing year after year, just to get DJ bookings, I would be completely bored. I would have given up a long time ago. There are people that focus on perfecting that one sound, and that’s what they do, and they love it. But I need to keep pushing myself forward.
I work with Robert Owens quite a lot, and we both have the same kind of thinking. We started out in music so that we could push the boundaries, and do something that hadn’t been done before. But then you have people that want him to do stuff like I’ll Be Your Friend, from, like, 30 years ago. It’s very difficult for someone like that to go from having a future mindset to a retro mindset.
Q. Can artists still ‘push the boundaries’ in the same way they used to many years ago?
There isn’t much reward for pushing the boundaries any more, which makes it quite difficult. If you’re putting a lot of effort into something and you don’t get anything back, you tend not to do it as regularly. Or, if you do something really different, someone might take it and tweak it, and then get all the credit for it.
For a lot of producers starting out, there isn’t much incentive to do something really new. For a lot of them, maybe they’re better off doing something simple, that fits in with an established form, rather than try to be the next Aphex Twin.
Q. What current projects are you working on?
Lots of different things at the moment. I’m making lots of new tracks and deciding what to do with them. I did a collaboration with Owain K recently, from Bristol, that was more of a deep house, Detroit sounding project.
I’m also working with Robert Owens for his album and with Roberto for Fossil Archive, doing collaborations with Dave Angel for Rotation plus releases on Alleanza and Florian Miendl’s Flash Recordings.
I DJ a couple of times a month in Berlin, and am doing a few gigs in the UK – there’s one in Bristol in April, and a festival in Derbyshire in June. These gigs come and go, I don’t actively look for gigs unless I have an album or a new record to tour. I don’t need to rely on them as much these days.
Q. What artists, or genres, do you think are really trying something new these days, do you think?
That’s something we probably won’t know until it’s gone, when we look back and think ‘such and such producer was really on point back then’. It will be exciting to find out..!
[Thanks to Jamie for the interview. You can find out more information about upcoming releases via his Facebook page]