Over to the dark side

Interview with Audio Culture

Over to the dark side

25-07-2014 | 08.14

“When we started really hanging out, before we started the label, it was every single Saturday down at a record store called Killa Cutz, which is sadly gone now – it’s turned into a  bike rental shop. We used to go there every Saturday at ten o’clock – that’s when the boxes of promos would arrive – and we’d be in there listening to records all day. That’s where our love for this comes from.” 

It’s always going to be about the physical product for Audio Culture according to Simon Downing. Long time friend and label partner, Mike Patist weighs in with “That’s what a record label is.”  It was inevitable that we should eventually delve into subject of vinyl culture during the course of our interview. Audio Culture is a dance label to its core, and not having the physical product at the end of a long creative process is just simply not an option. It’s a milestone for the label and the artist in Mike’s opinion. “It’s like winning a trophy at the end.” With the ever-fluctuating debate on vinyl sales it was interesting to get a viewpoint from a pair of guys that have witnessed the ups and downs of the format first-hand. “It’s not about the music its about vinyl!” Simon yells from his comfortable chair on the other side of our Skype call. “I work for a record label, and Mike is a graphic designer, we both pretty much into the creative process at least. It’s nice to have that collaboration end in one thing that we can put on the shelf… and not touch anymore when we press play on iTunes to listen to it.” (laughs)
Simon and Mike have known each other since high school and started hosting Drum and Bass nights in Hilversum from a young age. “We used to do this club called Tagrijn and when that closed down we both left for Amsterdam”. It was in Amsterdam that the pair went through a slight phase of re-invention and started exploring genres and sounds outside of the D&B scene at a club called TWSTd. “I remember you (Simon) were playing some dubstep stuff and I was playing some more Techno and House kind of stuff. So dubstep and House kind of met each other. And there was this new thing – dare I say it – they called post Dubstep. That kindled a new fire. It was new and exciting and we just started playing that kind of stuff.”  It was when enthralled in this post-Dubstep phase that Audio Culture emerged as a label and carved out a distinct sound.
Amsterdam’s burgeoning bass scene at the time, saw Audio Culture become one of the leading lights in innovative electronic dance music, and alongside the likes of Colors and Boston Strip, they catered for the more discerning music fan. “We felt that Amsterdam needed a bit of its own home for that kind of music. There was quite a cool little scene going on.” Enlisting Pieter Willems as Presk a couple of releases followed from the artist on the Audio Culture label. The official release was a Cinnaman (Yuri Boseli) collaboration called Sweat, but it was the unofficial whitelabel, by an anonymous Presk, which served as the soft launch, that grabbed a lot of attention. “It started with Pieter and Yuri’s collaboration, but while we were trying to get that sorted out, Pieter had come up with this bootleg of Yonkers and it blew us both away. It was such a great thing and we just had to put it out.”  The timing couldn’t be better as the hype surrounding Tyler the Creator and OFWGKTA was at a particular peak. Besides launching the label it also initiated the Presk sound. “The good thing about Pieter, and unlike a lot of artists, is that he really has his own sound. So, after he put out one or two more releases, everyone could recognise a Presk release.“  And although Mike also believes that Pieter “wanted to keep it anonymous”, it soon became general knowledge and established the Presk name for a lot of people, including Ten thousand Yen founder Doc Daneeka – who also happened remix Sweat for the official Audio Culture release. The rest is history for Presk, but this was only the start for Audio Culture as a label. 
The releases followed, with the likes of South London Ordnance, Goldffinch and Tessela all contributing to Audio Culture, but the label adopted a reserved approach to the frequency of their releases. “We’ve been around for quite a bit now and we have 11 releases. We really proud that those releases are spread out.” The priorities of the label might have changed somewhat since it’s inception as Audio Culture have moved comfortably out of a predominantly Dutch catalogue, to incorporate artists from a far a field as Canada and Russia, but the creative process of the label remains the same. Their hands-on approach with their artists stem the tide of their releases and according to Mike, Audio culture is “not gonna release anything just for the sake of it.” “We don’t just pick up a track that they’ve already made and go from there. It’s a real process.” Simon remembers how they spent six months considering twenty tracks from South London Ordnance before they settled on the 5 that make up the Big Boss Theme EP from the artist.  I wonder if the title might refer to the label itself, especially when Mike mentions how the label can easily drop a release even after an artist has been thoroughly invested in the production stages. A process Simon thinks can be “cruel at times”. I don’t get a chance to ask them about that though. The interview is moving at a rapid pace and we’ve hardly touched on the Audio Culture nights 30 minutes into our conversation…
The sound that underlies the label has its roots in the Audio Culture nights after all. “We both have an affinity with slightly darker, moodier music.”  Simon believes this stems from their Drum and Bass days and Mike suggests that even if its exterior might deceive its audience, “you can still feel some sort of struggle, or some darkness in the music.” It’s a sound that I always found at home in De Verdieping and Simon agrees to some extent. “The best nights I have had have been in De Verdieping. That’s the way I like nights to be.” The concrete expanse of the basement with its low ceilings and sparse lighting is where I first encountered Audio Culture –alongside their friends Children of the light – and although I relish to see them occupying the ominous venue again, they are quite adept at making a success of it in the main room, as the last Audio Culture event goes to prove. “When the night is good upstairs, and Trouw is lucky that it happens often enough, it can be amazing.” That event culminated in the crowd singing along to Attention Seeker as Iron Galaxy closed off the night. It was a label showcase in essence with Severn Beach, Nautiluss and Presk, filling out the rest of the bill, but the guys haven’t really maligned their priorities to just the label when it comes to their nights. There might be one or two of their artists present, but they are adamant that the two are their own thing. “The thing about our nights is that we’ve always avoided making it too much about the label. I think we are both people that look ahead quite a lot and what happens in clubs is the most important thing that influences what we do as a label.”  It’s this conviction at the heart of Audio Culture that always ensures a booking strategy, which completely embodies the current trend in innovative electronic music. Trouw has been the significant other in this relationship and it has proven itself to be a fruitful partnership for the venue and the regulars for the past three years. “We’ve settled into Trouw now, we love that place.“ A devoted audience can be found at every party, drinking in the atmosphere and the music, but even Simon still thinks Audio Culture has some further maturing to do on that front. “I think people know what Audio Culture is about, and I think that anybody that’s been to more than one of our nights understand, its not one thing, its not one sound. You can’t expect one thing. Its gonna be across the board and its gonna be dance floor orientated. I like to think that we have people that come back to our nights for that reason.” 
This strategy has brought the likes of Martyn, Redshape, Jimmy Edgar and Graze to Trouw and is set to include A Made up Sound and Genius of Time for the next event. “Olaf (Boswijk) suggested Genius of Time, for us quite a while ago.” Although Mike hasn’t met them yet, Simon has gotten quite acquainted with the Swedish, via Berlin pair and their music. “Their DJ sets; the variation is great and their own releases are awesome.” They will serve as an intriguing and exciting contrast to A Made up Sound, who himself is no stranger within the walls of Trouw. “We’ve met Dave on numerous occasions, and we’ve always clicked with him and had really interesting conversations with the guy.” His name is synonymous with bringing an edgier side to Trouw, one that doesn’t “placate the crowd” in Simon’s opinion. “He’s not going to play the easy shit that will make them throw their hands up in the air. Whatever happens before with Genius of Time, he’s going to take it all the way back and build it up for himself. He really has something to teach.” It steers the conversation back to the question of whether Audio Culture’s natural home is in De Verdiepeing rather than the main room, and although Simon has confirmed his affinity with the basement he does not believe A Made up Sound should be confined to Trouw’s subterranean space. “I think its cooler for him to do this in the upstairs room than to automatically being relegated to a smaller space.”  The last time A Made up Sound played Trouw’s main room the room half emptied according to Simon. “But the people that were left, were loving it. That for me is a good night. It doesn’t have to be several hundred people raving non-stop.”
The fact that they can realistically bring the ‘dissident’ sound they propagate to the main room of Trouw goes to establish how Audio Culture has garnered notoriety as an organization and a label amongst the music heads. If there’s one track that should be held accountable for their successes, it would have to be Iron Galaxy’s Attention Seeker, which Simon says “is arguably the most popular release on the label.” I was surprised to find it was almost brushed aside. “We were thinking about that tune for six months. I almost put it aside because I thought it was too like euphoric Ibiza House, which it might be, but it’s still such a well-written tune”. It might have been crowd pleasing, but beneath the shimmering peripheral it still supports Audio Culture moodier preference through a sluggish garage-like beat in a minor key, spewing out intermittent acid chirps. 
The label has recently had something of a hiatus after the closure of their distributor, ST holdings and a move to Clone, but Simon and Mike are continually looking to the future when it comes to music. “The change over between distributors just takes a while." They’ve used the time effectively however to re-approach some scheduled releases. “Its been one out of those weeding out moments where we’ve had a lot of stuff line-up, and after we’ve spoken to some of the artists we’ve decided that ‘the stuff they’ve been working on is probably not going to work for the label now.’” They’re finding that label regular Severn Beach is the man of the hour for Audio Culture at the moment. “We are just finding that we are really on the same page as that guy as far as sound and influences go. The next release is kind of done. Hopefully that should be out by the end of summer. “ Mike reminds his cohort that Presk will be in a near future release alongside the likes of Iron Galaxy again. “We are kind of turning into a family in that sense. We are definitely bringing back some of the artists that we’ve worked with.”
It seems that like so many other labels, Audio Culture is building up a core group of regular artists at its base. As we our Skype interview draws to an end, and we delve into the draw backs of staying the course when nights end at 7 the next morning, the Audio Culture guys look back on their fondest memories. Mike recalls; “ADE was probably one of the highlights.” Simon agrees and re-iterates the family aspect that’s become a big part of the Audio culture. “We flew over SLO and Goldffinch guys, Hackman and Tessela, who released one his first tunes with us, and Pieter, NTA and Cinnaman, and we had them all staying in one apartment in Amsterdam. We spent five days just going to parties eating dinner and getting drunk and it all culminated in one big party where it was just all of our artists playing.” Today these artists are household names to the listeners that follow a more innovative style of dance music. I was also happy to find out that they like to keep in touch and often collaborate as a result of this one event and that Audio Culture sits at the heart of it. “Its nice to think that it all comes from the Audio Culture family.” 

Text: Mischa Mathys