It's a rare moment when all three of the labels team up, but this year at the Amsterdam Dance Event, the trio will present a massive showcase at Trouw. As part of our new series of roundtable discussions on Resident Advisor, we talked with Serge Verschuur (Clone), Marsel van der Wielen (Delsin) and Christiaan Macdonald (Rush Hour) late last month about their labels, ADE and the future of the record business.
It seems like four or five years ago things were really in flux with the record industry, and that maybe things have stabilized now. Is that your impression?
Christiaan Macdonald: I think a few years ago a lot of people fell off, and the people left have some clue about what they are doing. Maybe that's why there is less blood on the dance floor.
Marsel van der Wielen: Yeah, I don't think it's got much better or worse, but the ones who are left probably know what they are doing and the bad ones fell out of it by now.
Serge Verschuur: Yeah, the trend now is that the artists themselves are starting labels and cutting out the middleman. That's what I see happening more and more recently. People who start labels now might do it as a hobby and have a regular job.
The three labels that you guys run are examples of labels that actually do something for their artists, though, in that people actually aspire to release on Clone, Delsin or Rush Hour. Even though people are starting labels as hobbies, big institutions like your own remain.
Christiaan Macdonald: Yeah, I mean some artists do have the willpower to do it all themselves, other artists maybe need a label to assist them with the things they don't know how to do or want to do. I think all three of our labels have grown consistently and all three are known for what they do. So of course we can help propel an artist into the marketplace.
How do you see it Serge?
Serge Verschuur: I have to agree to a certain degree with Christian in that I think it's a plus if you do some extra work for the artist, but on the other hand hype is being made so easily nowadays. You don't need a big label for that anymore. If an artist is really strong, they can make it on their own. If the artist is doing a little more difficult stuff or not so much stuff for the dance floor, then an album on a label like Clone or Delsin might be a big help.
Are you doing many albums these days?
Serge Verschuur: No.
Is that a conscious decision?
Serge Verschuur: No, it was kind of a natural thing. I didn't enjoy doing albums, so when I changed the label's structure a few years ago I decided to stop doing them. I didn't enjoy working with distributors, marketing, promotion and stuff like that... But I must admit that after two years of not doing albums, we are slowly moving there again. Legowelt is ready for an album. We have some other things coming up. I kind of forgot the pain of doing the work for albums, so it's kind of like having a child: After a year you've forgotten about the pain and you want another one.
Is it a pain Marsel?
Marsel van der Wielen: For me, it's a bit opposite because I like to do the bigger projects. I'm not involved in distribution of the albums and the need to deal with customers because Rush Hour does my distribution. With a single you really just need a good single and good distribution, and it will probably work out. But with the album you have to do much more. That's actually why I like to do it. It's a bigger challenge.
Serge Verschuur: To just add something, that whole thing of the marketing, planning months ahead, doing interviews and stuff, that's exactly the part I don't like about doing albums. I know it's good for the artist if they want to have a profile and get gigs and stuff, but that's not the reason I started my label. I started a label because I enjoy putting out music that I think people should know about. Now we have a couple of albums coming out and I just keep approaching it as a single release. I said to the guys, "OK, I'm going back into albums, we'll do some projects, but I don't want to plan four or five months ahead and start promotion." We just got the album ready, spent a lot of time talking about music, getting the right songs on there, getting the right artwork, proper mastering. We'll even send out promotion stuff, but I'll approach it more as a regular 12-inch release.
Christiaan Macdonald: So you don't give a damn about promotion ahead at all?
Serge Verschuur: That's probably the right way to say it, I don't give a damn. And that's always my struggle with doing albums because I know it is good to do, and if you do it you should do it the right way. But, on the other side, I think I prefer to focus on the music and maybe sell less now, but still try to release an album that will sell over a longer period of time and maybe not be big in the first two months of the album release but still in ten years time. But I don't know. I admit I'm not the best label for albums. But I'm not the person who buys albums anyway, I buy 12-inches, I'm a DJ and if I buy music it's about a song and it's very rare that I buy a full-length album, especially in electronic music.
Dutch market, then probably all
three of us wouldn't survive."
I wanted to talk about the press in the Netherlands right now. What is there for dance music?
Marsel van der Wielen: We have DJ Broadcast magazine which I think for dance is the biggest or one of the only. There is a public broadcast radio also, they have quite a big audience but that is quite Dutch-based. All Dutch people speak English, though, and they are kind of internationally focused in a way because the Netherlands is a small country. Everybody is reading RA or Fact. All the freaks are on Twitter or Facebook.
Would you say that's always been the case for the Netherlands, being internationally-minded?
Marsel van der Wielen: I think our labels, all three are pretty international.
Christiaan Macdonald: I think you can see it in the Dutch history. It's a very import/export-based country. It's quite small so you need a bigger picture if you want to operate on a level that Holland does. The economy is quite big. I think that translates into how we think and work. We A&R internationally and we sell internationally. If we were reliant on just the Dutch market, then probably all three of us wouldn't survive.
Marsel van der Wielen: The reasons why the three of us are still here doing our thing I think is that none of us focused on the local market. Most labels in that area or that time period when the three of us started in the mid-'90s all focused on the local club scene and that was probably a big mistake because the club scene was changing probably faster than a label could.
Christiaan Macdonald: I agree with that, but having said that, Holland still has a big market for clubbing and stuff. There is quite a lot to do. I know in Rotterdam there are so many parties and young kids coming up. When we talk about press, we can sum up the press which has been around for a while but there are a lot blogs coming up, kids below 25 checking things out and music is a big part of it. It's also about fashion and lifestyle or whatever, it's more than just the two or three music press things that we just mentioned.
Serge Verschuur: Of course, but I mean if you depend on a local scene... It's constantly changing, for example, here in Rotterdam. We have a lot of young people buying our records or coming to our parties where we play, but five years ago the local scene was fading away because everyone was having kids or a mortgage, a steady IT job or whatever.
From what I've heard Rotterdam is coming up again. Perron just opened a while ago. And there is Toffler as well. Do you get the sense that things are happening in Rotterdam at the moment?
Serge Verschuur: The two you name are probably the only ones who are doing good stuff. We did a label night at Perron, and we've been talking about doing something at Toffler as well. The main focus is having a big artist, a big name on the bill, and I'm much more focused on working with local organisers who are doing small parties for their scene. The vibe there is normally much better, they are friends from art school or friends doing their own labels. Perron is doing well, but the only nights that sell out are nights where you have Marcel Dettman or Joy Orbison or names like that.
In terms of doing nights at Trouw in Amsterdam, Christiaan, is it a similar situation where you have to bring a big name in for it to be a success?
Christiaan Macdonald: We've been doing parties for a long time, but always from the music angle. We're getting older, so we're not the best promoters out there anymore, so it definitely helps when you have a bigger name. I think now with our event at Amsterdam Dance Event we made a conscious decision to stay away from all the big names and bring in a selection of our artists.
It seems like there are a lot of artists playing. Is this a normal thing, or is this just special to ADE?
Marsel van der Wielen: This is a special one-off collaboration with Trouw. It's a kind of a showcase. Everybody is doing a one hour set, so it's kind of zapping through the labels for the foreign visitors, media and press.
How important is ADE to you? Does it matter for your businesses, is it a meeting place or does it not matter in your mind at all?
Marsel van der Wielen: Honestly, [it's] the last one for me. In my memory it was mostly a progressive trance organization in the beginning. It's nice to be a part of it, but I think for our own business it doesn't really matter. It's nice publicity in a way but...
Serge Verschuur: I have to agree with Marsel. When they started I didn't really have any feeling for the whole festival. I mean it's a nice thing, but we are not like depending on it. The bigger names which are getting a lot of focus there are still a lot of the more commercial dance music and trance.
Do you get more foot traffic in the store in Rotterdam? I know it's a little bit away from Amsterdam, but do people make a trip out there during that week?
Serge Verschuur: No. I mean it's Amsterdam, you know, we're Rotterdam. We're not far away, but ask people in Amsterdam when they last visited Rotterdam. I mean I'm sure both Chris and…
Christiaan Macdonald: I was there two weeks ago, Serge! …but that was pretty a rare trip. [laughs]
But obviously Christiaan you get a lot of people coming to the store that wouldn't ordinarily.
Serge Verschuur: Is it the best week of the year for you?
Christiaan Macdonald: For us it's very helpful, I mean I go to the festival site sometimes to see maybe one or two people but mostly like Serge says 60% of the business is people in suits, and we're kind of not into that. We're not moving in those parameters. Most people that are interested in Rush Hour make the 500 metre trip to our store and that's it, y'know?
Serge Verschuur: Let's not be too negative. I must say, like Marsel, that it's changed for the better over the last…
Christiaan Macdonald: Oh, for sure!
Serge Verschuur: The whole city becomes more vibrant for the whole week, and a lot of good artists and good parties come for that week. So it looks good I must say. It's helpful. A lot of artists come here to network or pass by to say hello. Some guys email me and want to make a trip to Rotterdam.
Christiaan Macdonald: The big move was when they let go of the idea to hold it one place. Now there are 50 different clubs involved. The music is way more diverse than it used to be.
Has running the label changed much for you over the years in terms of its sound, Serge?
Serge Verschuur: Er, no. Not in the slightest. No.
So you're just releasing the same stuff that you always have?
Serge Verschuur: Yes, except I am selling it differently.
How are you selling it differently?
Serge Verschuur: Well, as I said, we changed the structure of the label. We made like six sub labels...well, I prefer to call it series instead of sub labels because it's still like one mother label. But we wanted to focus more on different styles instead of pulling everything under the Clone flag. The taste of a lot of the artists who I am working with, and my personal taste, is so wide at the moment. It's always been that way, but I noticed that a lot of people, especially vinyl-buying people and people who are listening to our music, are making their own trip or journey through music and discovering their own influences and own new styles and basically the same kind of thing I have been doing the last 15 years.
A lot of people don't understand it. They don't understand that you can enjoy Italo disco which can be very kitschy or campy and, in the same way, be the biggest fan of Drexciya. It is confusing to a lot of people who are, for example, listening to minimal techno or minimal house or whatever you hear at the big raves and warehouse parties with the big DJ names. If they buy one Clone release, and they like it, but the next one is completely different, they don't understand that. They don't understand that you can enjoy different types of music. So making those series was to help make it clear to people where to put it.
Have you had problems with that as well Christiaan?
Christiaan Macdonald: Sure, people get confused. We are all A&Ring our labels personally, so whichever trip we go through kinda reflects in the label's output.
You also have some sublabels. Why did you decide to cut those away from the main label?
Christiaan Macdonald: We had the Direct Current series where we released bass or post-dubstep or whatever you want to call it. But the need for treating it differently stopped because most kids moved more into house music or techno music, and we began to release it on the main label. With Direct Current we were addressing the times and that sort of has passed.
I find it pretty interesting that it just got to a point that you were already releasing Direct Current-style stuff on the main label. Serge, do you think that audiences are changing? Are they now able to accept that a label can release a bunch of different things?
Serge Verschuur: Let's not underestimate our listeners and our audience or the people who you release the music for. But still you know that somehow there is kind of a pressure or an expectation, especially if you put out records that are 12-inch and successful. People push in a certain direction even if you don't like it. That made me change the label a couple of years ago, and I think it worked out well because I feel more free and I'm being more risky with releases. I don't care if it's a little bit more obscure or if not everyone will like it because I just think "whatever." They can tell for themselves that it's not something they might like.
Christiaan Macdonald: And you have no problem keeping up with all the series you created?
Serge Verschuur: Sometimes. To be honest, that is part of the fun of it.
What do things look like in five years for Clone, Delsin and Rush Hour?
Marsel van der Wielen: I think, as you said at the beginning of the interview, that it seems like things have stabilized over the last two or three years. I'm really happy to see young people addicted to good music and vinyl. They want to collect stuff and I don't see any reason why that should fade out. I think it's going to stabilize... but I'm not sure. There might be some technological divide that comes up in two years time which will change the whole game again. I try not to look that far ahead as a music label. Things can change.
Christiaan Macdonald: This question you are asking us now is the same one that people were asking us five years ago, and we are still doing what we did five years ago. Sometimes your output is a little more in fashion, and sometimes you go through a tougher period, but as long as we just keep loving what we do, I think it will continue.