LWE caught up with Moomin to find out if we’ll be hearing more from Roaming, to discuss his own label, Closer, and how that will tie in with his love of hip hop. Charged with putting together our 170th exclusive podcast, he truly turned it out with 80 minutes of deep house classics and rarities.
LWE quizzed Steinhoff and von Ahlefeld about Smallville’s origins, its relationship with its sibling labels, and plans for 2012. Together as Smallpeople, they also provided Talking Shopcast 14 — an exquisite hour of house delicacies to start the year of right.
Smallville has long maintained a low key approach to releasing music, even when a critically adored album (Move D & Benjamin Brunn’s Songs From the Beehive) and gargantuan 12″ (STL’s Silent State, our top track of 2009) propelled the Hamburg-based label into the uncomfortable position of being the label for reduced house music. Not carried away with big names, one of Smallville’s charms has been their equal treatment of established producers as well as newcomers. Following a solid label compilation released last fall comes their eighteenth record from the team of newcomer and Smallville Paris clerk Jacques Bon and relative newcomer Christopher Rau.
Dance music enthusiasts are almost certainly the most label-conscious people in the record-buying world. How else can you explain the bickering over new Perlon signings, the ubiquity of the compound adjective “buy-on-sight,” or the hastily depleted stocks of anonymously-produced 12″s? We follow our favorite DJs and producers, naturally, but a record publishing operation with vision and taste is very often the best guide to the sounds we thirst for. 2009’s cream of the crop — labels like Running Back, Uzuri, Prologue, Dial, Sound Signature, Blueprint, Apple Pips, and Time To Express — did more than narrow the field of available records, but sharpened our expectations of what new music should achieve. And the mushrooming of secretive private presses (many of them fostered by Hardwax’s distribution) yielded results that were just as rewarding. But from where I’m standing, these five labels loomed largest.
Hype-mongers have been talking up Smallville Records recently as label of the year based on a mere two releases, “Silent State” from STL and “Touch” by Steinhoff & Hammouda. Not that they haven’t both been excellent, but it seems some are only just realizing what long term admirers have known ever since the first hand-stamped release in 2006. Unlike that other famous record shop cum label, Smallville haven’t embarked on the empire building Kompakt had achieved at the same point, but nonetheless they’ve left quite a mark on the techno and house landscape. With distinctive artwork provided by Stefan Marx and a quiet, unassuming air in keeping with their name, Smallville have steadily built up an extraordinarily back catalog that features, among others, Move D & Benjamin Brunn, Sven Tasnadi and Sten. Celebrating five years of the record shop, Smallville now showcase these talents across four slabs of vinyl and eventually a CD entitled And Suddenly It’s Morning. The compilation’s title gives a clue to its intentions — music so entrancing it becomes possible to lose all sense of time, until the dawn light begins to seep through the blinds. This split, between Lowtec and Dimi Angélis with Jeroen Search, is the first installment, and fully delivers on that promise.
As one of the founders of the Smallville Records retail store and record label, Hamburg’s Julius Steinhoff has a proven ear for quality when it comes to forward-thinking dance music. The same refined taste can be detected in Steinhoff’s handful of collaborations with Abdeslam Hammouda (and, in this case, Dionne as well). Last year’s “Tonight Will Be Fine” EP was built of cottony hums, cascading melodies, and patient grooves. Their sophomore EP offers warm, deep house to get lost in — a perfect compliment to the immersive, deep techno of the year’s other Smallville release.
Record nerds of the world are greeted daily by news of the music industry’s impending doom. Yet record labels — in dance music, at least — have refused to fade away. All profitability aside, might the concept of the record label in 2009 be as strong as it’s ever been? As record stores continue closing at an alarming rate (Manhattan’s Etherea Records, one of my personal favorite spots for dance vinyl, shuttered this past February), there exist less shelf space for the familiar sleeve designs and logos of your favorite imprints to stare down enticingly at you. But in this digital era, where dance music is more easily disseminated than ever before, the filter of a reputable record label has taken on supreme importance in separating wheat from chaff. Tellingly, some of 2009’s most exciting labels have de-emphasized genre affiliation in favor of amping up their reputation for quality output. Others, realizing how quickly novel sounds can weave their way through the scene via the blogosphere (ahem), are starting labels as incubators for daring new tracks that might not have found an outlet otherwise. And despite the seemingly endless tide of new music gushing through the cracks of record bags and hard drives, some of the best labels have resisted the urge to flood the market with their brand, releasing only the choicest of cuts.
As the owner and sole driving force behind the label Something, the enigmatic Stephan Laubner manages to freely indulge his prolific nature without sacrificing quality. In 2008 alone he notched up six well rated releases, three of which could be considered albums, only one arriving on another label (“Lost In Brown Eyes” for his friends at Perlon), and he’s already released a new 2×12″ in 2009. Laubner’s efforts also seem immune to easy characterizations. They stretch from massaged field-recordings to wistful deep house, caustic techno to more chipper tech-house treats, and that’s ignoring the many loops etched into most STL releases. What’s surprising, then, about STL’s debut for Smallville Records is not that it turns the page in the self reliant producer’s catalog, but rather its potential to loom large over what came before it.