Originally born in the shadow of Glasgow’s mighty Soma Records, Silicone Soul’s Darkroom Dubs label kicks off their 10th anniversary year with the release of Vol. 3, a recent retrospective that epitomizes their trademark mystical yet very musical approach. Silicone Soul’s Craig Morrison checked in with Data Transmission to reflect on the label’s early influences and inspirations and also to offer a preview of a year that will see a 10 year anniversary tour along with new music from Freska, Of Norway and of course Silicone Soul themselves.
Your Darkroom Dubs Volume 3 mix is apparently just the beginning of your celebrating 10 years of the label. How else will you guys be commemorating your anniversary this year?
It's good times, definitely. We are just working on the 10 Years tour and parties. It’s the first time we've really attempted multi-artist events, so admittedly it's a bit of a sharp learning curve but we’re getting there. The main release of the year is the 10th Anniversary CD compilation. With ten new tracks from mainly artists who have been involved over the years like Antonio Olivieri, Gary Beck, Los Suruba, Simon Garcia, Freska, Uner, Jairo Catelo, Of Norway & Ryan Crosson and a new one from us. We've got a live Of Norway album too, a mix compilation of Darkroom Dubs tracks by Nadja Lind/Klartraum and Freska's brilliant debut, Wrong Songs. There will be a couple of retrospectives and the odd surprise too. There are some nice 12"s as well. I just hope we can get everything out in time!
Silicone Soul has been one of the cornerstones of Soma Records since 1998. Was Soma a major source of inspiration which led you to start the Darkroom Dubs label?
I think Soma was the only inspiration really. From a local Scottish perspective, they pretty much wrote the manual on how to be an indie label and release quality electronic music.
Who were your primary music influences when you started Darkroom Dubs in 2003?
It was all about sound really. We just loved electronic music that had dub, house, disco and tribal elements but in a combination that gave a really tripped-out feel.
The US West Coast sound was a big influence- like the Siesta Records crew: Hipp-e + Halo (H-Foundation) and Dano. We'd asked H-Foundation to remix our “Chic-O-Laa” track a couple of years previously so we'd been on that vibe a while before the label, and we hung out a lot together. In fact, on our first release, the "I Need to Freak" refrain was Eric [Halo] recorded on a mini-disc. The phrase had been the call to party on our first trip to the US and the WMC. It just didn't sound as good in a Scottish accent for some reason. Roughly at the same time we'd started remixing under the Darkroom Dubs & Hypnohouse names- more stripped-back club mixes instead of our deeper album material, using big 909 sounds and other synth fx, vinyl samples and droning Juno basslines. So everything kinda came together. Some of the other US house labels that were a big influence were Yoshitoshi and the early NYC "Red Zone" sound and also a lot of old Strictly Rhythm tracks like Van Helden's Mole People and Hardhead releases.
Why did you continue to release your music through Soma even after Darkroom Dubs was up & running?
It's something we get asked a lot but it's an issue we've never given much thought to. Now it's pretty much the norm for artists to release on multiple and increasingly higher profile labels in order for their music to reach a wider audience, but in all honesty things were really different back then. When we signed to Soma we were barely out of teens- 20 or 21, and coming from a rock band background signing a proper multi-album record deal was everything we dreamed of. So there was never any question of leaving Soma. We already had our own Depth Perception label going for a couple of years but our main focus was to produce music that was of the standard that Soma would sign. At the time, artist like Funk D'Void, Maas (Ewan Pearson), Envoy and Daft Punk were making their early releases so the bar was set high as far as quality.
Also there was no social networking and hardly any internet use or email. So the only way you knew about other labels was through what you bought in the record store or through a faxed reaction sheet. Everything was done by phone. So the only idea you had of other scenes or even countries was through the music as we weren't Djing internationally at that point. Sure you could post your DAT to another label in another country, but coming from Glasgow the only label you wanted to sign with was Soma. They have been a big part of our lives, and we've helped each other out in every way. Of course, you get older, even move country and you are not involved so much day-to-day but the bond is still strong, and the friendships are the most important thing.
What were your goals when you first launched the label? Did you see it lasting 10 years?
We didn't really have any real goals as such. We just wanted to start up our own label really and put out good music. The impetus behind starting Darkroom Dubs was probably a bit reactionary to our situation and the state of house music at the time. The way that our early track, the vocal version of "Right On, Right On" really blew up commercially took us by surprise and we found ourselves in situations that we didn't really feel comfortable in, and it did have an effect on our creativity. It's hardly surprising in hindsight, when you are brought up on the attitudes of labels like Underground Resistance and the notion that electronic music/DJs and pop culture are mutually exclusive. A lot has changed in 10 years. Darkroom Dubs was a bit of a catharsis- just getting back to basics- releasing straight club music and our favorite tracks by other artists we'd found in record stores on our travels. It wasn't until the fifth release that we started to receive demos.
I'm surprised we've lasted 10 years considering all that's gone down. Everything was going well for the first couple of years then the vinyl market began to collapse. Two different distributors went bust on us, then all the illegal downloading and a warehouse fire! Something keeps you going- be it an obsessive nature or just a real passion for new music but you adapt. We've made a few mistakes along the way, but we released some strong tracks. There is only so much you can achieve running a label just by yourself so we're proud to reach this landmark.
The overall presentation of the music as well as the artwork for Darkroom Dubs is one that creates a haunting, foreboding mood. What inspired you to take the label in such a dark direction?
Definitely, though I wouldn't say the mood is too bleak, there's a bit of humor in those weird creatures and monsters. When we had our studio next to the Soma offices, the sessions were dusk till dawn, and we had the room blacked out during the day so it was a nocturnal life. Also, we've always been fascinated by Gothic literature so the Bram Stoker quote that has featured on each release really resonated: "I am beginning to feel this nocturnal existence tell on me. It is destroying my nerve. I start at my own shadow and am full of all sorts of horrible imaginings…" Nightlife and life by night is a strange existence. One of our early tracks was called, "Nosferatu" and featured on our first album. So, even the mood of that track was a catalyst. I think overall we've always been drawn to the dark side, the weird and the strange and that goes for our musical tastes too.
Darkroom Dubs Vol. 3 features music from Terje Saether, Los Suruba and Freska among others. Who are some of your recent signings to the label that may feature on the next installment of the series?
Sebo & Madmotormiquel, who are part of the URSL crew are about to release their "Don't Wanna Go to War" EP, and also Antonio Olivieri is finishing his new EP. Also a new act from Glasgow called Amstrad Billionaire have their debut EP. It's really deep synthesizer music with a bit of disco flavor. We're looking forward to hearing Los Suruba's new music as well.
The element of live instrumentation has been present in your productions since the beginning, and it’s represented on this compilation as well. “Smokestak” has a smoky, jazzy saxophone and “Time Mariner’s Mirrour” has that brooding flamenco guitar. Is that a priority for you- to include organic musical elements in your tracks?
Live instrumentation has always been an important element in our tracks. I can't really think of any we've not used: guitar, sax, trumpet, flute, strings, melodica, harmonica… It really raises the feel of a track up several notches. We would have to draw the line at bagpipes though. Don't get me wrong, I love straight up bass-and-groove music, but in the absence of vocals usually that main musical element acts as the hook and the focus. The same can be said for a great percussion part. It's all about getting something in there that's unexpected, un-programmed and hopefully memorable.
Which of today’s newer labels do you feel are making a real artistic statement?
Off the top of my head there are many- from the really well-known like Smallville, Visionquest, My Favorite Robot, Pampa, Supplemental Facts & 200 Records and then other newer ones like Steyoyoke and URSL. I think if you have a passionate collective combined with consistently good music and great artwork that give an overall sound and recognizable image, then you are on your way. I think all labels aspire to this. Quality over quantity too. Personally, Pampa is up there and the music's always mind-blowing. I’ve really loved the label from their first Die Vogel release.
The most recent Silicone Soul release was “Smokestak” released in late October of 2012. What have you guys been working on since then production-wise?
We are working on album number five now- just more at the jamming stage. The guitar player (our good friend Chippy) who has featured on all our albums is back working with us again. It's a great way to get into the swing for a new album. We've also been doing a few remix swaps recently- focusing on our Hypnohouse Dub sound for them. The most recent were for Nadja Lind on Lucidflow & David Durango for Perspektiv. Both will be releasing on Darkroom Dubs this year too.
Where will you be gigging in support of Darkroom Dubs Vol. 3?
We are starting off in Glasgow at Pressure of course and on to Snafu in Aberdeen. Then Watergate and The Roxy in Prague. We're just finalizing all the dates at the moment.
Silicone Souls Top 10 of the year
The Deadstock 33's - Magnetic (Barnt Remix) [Optimo Music]
Layo & Bushwacka! - Delta Ahead (Uner Remix) [Olmeto]
DJs Pareja - Saxo Temor [Comeme]
Lupo - A Piece of Love [Rebeat]
Canson - Kuma [URSL]
Greenville Massive - Bonum [Tenth Circle]
Robot Needs Oil - Mood Swings (Simon Garcia Remix) [Atreform]
Daniel Avery - Drone Logic [Phantasy Sound]
Axel Boman - Television People [Hypercolour]
Powel - Shake the Birds of the Tree [Wunderbar]
Darkroom Dubs Vol.3 - Compiled & Mixed by Silicone Soul is released on February 25th.