After a decade defined by legal battles and joint ventures, classic New York house label Strictly Rhythm are set to resume business as an independent label.
Originally founded in 1989 by Mark Finkelstein and Gladys Pizarro, Strictly Rhythm played a major role in defining the sound of house music throughout the '90s. The label's roster was both musically adventurous and commercially viable, with artists like Josh Wink and Satoshi Tomiie bumping elbows with the likes of Armin van Helden and Erick Morillo. In the early years of its existence, Strictly put out essential house records by DJ Pierre, Todd Terry and Kenny Dope, as well as gigantic commercial hits like Underground Solution's Luv Dancin' and Reel 2 Real's I Like To Move It.
Hoping to better penetrate the mainstream market, Strictly Rhythm entered a joint venture with Warner Music around the turn of the millennium, a decision that nearly spelled the label's demise. The partnership quickly failed, and Strictly Rhythm ceased operations not long after. Finkelstein spent the next few years wrangling with Warner in court, and finally regained control of Strictly's catalog and trademark in 2007. That same year, he got the label up and running again with the help of Simon Dunmore from Defected. The two labels have operated together ever since, and will continue to do so until September 1st, the official date that Strictly once again becomes independent.
Speaking via email over the weekend, RA checked in with Finkelstein to better understand what exactly this turning point entails.
Tell me a bit about Strictly Rhythm's relationship with Defected. How did they help Strictly Rhythm get back on its feet?
When I first approached Simon, we both believed it was important to begin the re-launch by collaborating with the old-school artists who made Strictly great. Erick Morillo, Masters at Work, Todd Terry all put out compilations to celebrate the Strictly revival. In addition, Simon began signing new tracks to start introducing Strictly to the next generation of fans and DJs. The Defected team would handle the promotion, marketing and press around each release.
What circumstances led to your going independent? What made this the right time?
In 2007 when I got my company back, the natural first-step was to do a deal with Simon and Defected. He and his team have done a fantastic job in re-launching the Strictly brand and signing records which carry on the pedigree. Simon and I both agree that Strictly has gotten to a size where it is necessary to bring on a dedicated staff to continue the kind of growth we envision. Strictly and Defected will still work closely together and on a personal level I look forward to continuing my strong friendship with Simon.
Having broken off from Defected, what kind of challenges do you now face? What kind of opportunities?
The challenges are the same as face any other music label today: the rampant piracy from the illegal file-sharers as well as the deterioration of the physical market. However, I may be in the minority when I say I'm excited about the opportunity and our future. We are a digital-first company. The elimination of the manufacturing costs coupled with the fact that our music is now available perpetually and globally allows us to tap into consumers and markets previously unavailable. Furthermore, dance music has always been a singles driven market. With music overall being purchased in this fashion, we are inherently well-positioned for this change in buying habits.
How will this affect Strictly Rhythm's output? Should we expect any change in the label's sound?
Absolutely not. Simon's A&R style has allowed us to stay true to the sound our fans have become accustomed to. Our A&R philosophy will continue to stay loyal to our brand's heritage.
What releases does Strictly Rhythm have in the pipeline at the moment?
Quentin Harris' album Sacrifice is set to release this week. This is the much anticipated follow up to No Politics and is our big artist album of the spring. In addition, we are excited about Osunlade mixing our first Strictly Ibiza compilation. On the singles front, we have new releases forthcoming from Roy Rox & Daniel Bovie, The Wizard Brian Coxx, and Yasmeen to name a few, as well as "I Like To Move It" remixes from Erick Morillo, Nicola Fasano, Klaas and Sidney Samson.