All three artists have been central to Richie Hawtin's iconic imprint since its early days. Growing up in Detroit and nearby Windsor, Canada, Magda, Houle and Hawtin were friends long before the label materialized, and teamed up with Pierce not long after it launched. Over the next decade, Minus played a big role in defining the sound of minimal techno, eventually growing from an underground label into a global brand. In some respects the core artists acted like a band, frequently appearing together at Minus parties around the world, which ranged from club showcases to enormous audio-visual events.
"While we're sad to be leaving behind a big part of our history, we feel that we have reached a point in our careers where it's time to creatively spread our wings and focus our energy and enthusiasm on our own label, Items & Things," reads a written statement prepared by the artists. Reached by phone on Monday, Magda and Houle gave us the rest of the story:
In terms of style, how is Items & Things different from Minus? What can you do on Items & Things that you weren't able to do on Minus?
Magda: Well, first of all, we release what we want, and decide the direction of the label. The three of us have to agree 100% on each release. With Minus we were just artists on a label. There's always limitations when you're not the owner of a label. There's a totally different feeling to doing something on your own.
I wouldn't say there's one particular sound we're veering towards. I mean yes, we have a certain taste, but we're open-minded. The Madato release was more experimental, the Danny Benedettini one was more dance floor. It just depends, we don't have an agenda in mind. Whatever inspires us, whatever we love. Nothing specific.
Tell me about Down & Out, the events arm of the label. How would you describe the spirit of the event?
Marc Houle: When we first came to Berlin, we were playing all these weird obscure locations, not main clubs. You'd have to look up the address, go to an abandoned building, like with the Beat Street parties. It was really cool, you come to the city, explore different places. The past few years it's been mostly playing all the top clubs. We just wanted to revisit that old school feeling of exploring the city and playing in new spots. And the music has a similar feel, it's not the regular thing you hear at the main clubs, it's a little bit weirder, more off center.
Magda: Basically we play in smaller locations, to get back to the underground feeling we were missing.
Marc Houle: That's what the name means: down in the underground and out of the mainstream. [laughs] But also, we don't wanna get away from the main clubs, we still like going there, but we felt like we were only playing the big clubs and wanted something different.
Magda: Berlin has a great underground scene, and it's always changing, there's always something new popping up. Our first party was actually at a venue that doesn't have a name yet. [laughs]
How long has this idea been in the works?
Magda: It's been a slow process, but it really came together this summer. I think it just all made sense this year I suppose. We just all felt like it was time for change.
Is it hard to leave Minus?
Marc Houle: Of course. To leave an established label that the world knows and that you have so much history with is obviously difficult. But I think not leaving Minus would be more harmful, or more difficult than staying. Especially as we have all these ideas and plans in our head.
What will you miss about Minus?
Magda: Working with all of those artists all the time. But we'll still keep an open relationship, we're still friends—if I want, I can still release a single or an EP or something on Minus. It's not like we're turning our backs and not talking to each other anymore.
Marc Houle: Yeah, I mean Rich has been incredibly helpful to me and my career. But now I'm at a point where I have my own vision, I want to take my career into my own hands.
Why is it you three running a label together? What kind of artistic kinship do you share?
Magda: We can't really speak for Troy because he's in airplane at the moment. But basically we started Items & Things together, and I think it really worked because all three of us have very particular taste, so it really balances out when the three of us are involved and give feedback. Otherwise I don't think it would be the same.
Will it be difficult to rebrand yourselves as non-Minus DJs?
Magda: I think that's always a challenge, but that's not really something I'm thinking about.
Marc Houle: I don't feel like I need to run away from Minus, I'm very proud of my years there. As long as people keep an open mind and listen to the new sound, I'm happy.
If you'll still release occasionally on Minus, what exactly does it mean that you've left the label?
Magda: Well, there was no drama, we didn't have a big fight or fall out or anything like that. But the focus now is on Items & Things.
Marc Houle: Now for me, when I'm releasing records, I have 100 percent creative freedom to release whatever I want. If I do something weird or different, I don't have anyone to answer to, I can just release it.
So at Minus it felt like you had someone to answer to?
Marc Houle: Minus had a very distinct artistic direction, they still do. Rich always has these ideas for the future, and he gears the label toward that vision. Not having to worry about that stuff in the past was great. But there comes a point where you do want to worry about that stuff. And the new label gives us a chance to do that.
Magda: We want the label to be as uncomplicated as possible, and really serve as a platform to promote new artists. That means no exclusivity agreements—we don't really care if the artists release other places, because all we want to do is help them establish themselves, and get some good music out there.
How do you find the artists on Items & Things?
Magda: They send us demos, mostly through SoundCloud. Danny [Benedettini] was sending us music for years, and we always said, "mm, I don't know, it has potential, but not yet." But then after a while it was like "yes, OK, it's ready." So we're really happy to release him, and it feels good.
Items & Things has already drawn up a rigorous release schedule: the label will release one record per month throughout the next year, with new albums from Magda and Marc Houle on the way. Troy Pierce has a new EP in the works as well, due out in September. As for Down & Out, the next edition will take place in Berlin on November 3rd, during the Bermuda festival.