The influential Canadian label kicks back to life in September with a new EP from Jonson, followed by a digital reissue of his first record, New Identity.
This September, Mathew Jonson will relaunch Itiswhatitis Recordings, the Canadian label that released much of his early music.
From 2001 to 2007, itiswhatitis played a big role in shaping the sound of minimalist house, mostly through releases by Jonson and Cobblestone Jazz (including recent classics like "Typerope" and "Freedom Engine"). Contrary to popular belief at the time, the label was not Jonson's creation: it was founded by Spencer Drennan, a staple of the rave scene in Victoria and Vancouver who started IIWII as an outlet for music by Jonson, himself and a few others. Ten years since his first release, New Identity, Jonson decided to buy the rights to the label and rerelease its catalogue bit by bit. Most of the reissues will be digital—only about half of the IIWII catalog was ever available digitally—and all will be remastered by Jonson himself.
Reached at his studio in Berlin, we chatted with Jonson about his decision to relaunch IIWII:
You were often mistaken as the main man behind IIWII. Why is that?
itiswhatitis will relaunch with a new EP, Panna Cotta / Passage to the Other Side. As Jonson said, both tracks were originally produced around the same time as "Typerope," and stayed in obscurity for years until recently, when Marco Carola started playing "Panna Cotta" in his sets off a CD Jonson made for friends a decade ago. "Here at IIWII we believe heavily in synchronicity," Jonson says. "These tracks have found their place in time to be released." Panna Cotta / Passage to the Other Side will be followed by a digital reissue for New Identity.
The label was founded by Spencer Drennan, a friend of mine, we lived in the same city. We used to do a club night where Cobblestone Jazz were the residents. He started the label as a way of promoting Cobblestone Jazz and my music, because at the time we didn't have any outlet for it. So the label was started around that, and because of so many of the records were mine and he wasn't really a producer himself, and I guess because we were so detached from the European market in Canada, people presumed it was mine.
How exactly are you involved in the relaunch?
I bought the rights to the label, so it will be mine to continue now. I'm not taking it over as a way of changing it to something else. When I bought the rights from Spencer, the reason was to keep the label in its classic state... I want to keep it as special thing it was back in the day. Even though i'm releasing a new record on it, actually it was written at the same time as "Typerope." The reason I didn't release it was because I thought it sounded too close to "Typerope" or "Freedom Engine." So it's kind of nice, because it's ten years later and since there's been such a large break, it finally makes sense to release these tracks. I'll also be doing some remixes. A lot of it will be remastered as well when it gets released again. There might be a new track from time to time if it's the same feeling. I'm doing the label by myself, I don't have any staff, aside from the art designer, his name's Ross Payzant, he and Spencer were the main people in the beginning. Relaunching itiswhatitis is gonna be something fun for me, no stress, so it will be a slow process.
10 years on, how do you feel about those early tracks? Do you feel confident about them being rereleased?
Yeah. I'm not going to release 100% of the catalog digitally—some of the artists I'm not in contact with and I don't own the rights. But because 75% of the music is my own or Cobblestone Jazz, that will be mostly what we release. Most of the music is still being played by DJs, so yeah I'm happy with it. There are some that don't get played as much but, yeah, it seems the music itself has held its moment in time, which is nice because so much electronic music just gets lost. There are definitely some key tracks that are still relevant, "Typerope" probably being the main one, and "Freedom Engine" from itiswhatitis #5. Also "Followed by Angels" still gets played a lot as well.
You said your goal is to maintain the "classic status" of itiswhatitis. How does releasing digitally fit into that?
Only about half of the tracks were released digitally before because we wanted to keep the music special on vinyl. At the time the vinyl industry was quite good. But now, if you didn't have those records, then that music gets lost. So the goal is one: to remaster them with better technology and two: to have the catalogue out digitally. There's a whole generation that didn't have access to those records, because the digital was taken down seven years ago. When I got the masters, a lot of them sound like they were recorded straight off the vinyl. So yeah, I'm gonna remaster them one-by-one, and release one every month or so. Then also have some re-edits, and maybe do some re-presses on vinyl but change it up a bit, do different sides.
I feel like a lot of vinyl purists would probably think you're diminishing the label's mystique with all those digital reissues.
I understand the collector's point of view, that certain records have collector value, and that's why I'm not going to release more copies of original records. Like IIWII001, there were only 500 copies pressed of that, and people have been selling that on the internet for 50 or 100 euro per record, so to do a massive repress... I don't know. The digital side though, to have the music available for people to listen to at home or on their phones, for me, I think that should be possible, I have no problem with that. I did have a problem with it ten years ago actually, and that's why we only released half of it on digital, to keep it special for people who have vinyl and because we wanted people to buy vinyl. But unfortunately with the reality of today's record sales, most people are only pressing 500 copies per release, maybe 1000 if it's huge. So for a younger generation of kids who don't have the money to buy vinyl or get into it in that sense, I just want them to have the music, the music is what's actually special overall. The medium of course is important, I pretty much only buy vinyl, that's how I prefer to listen to it, but that's me. In the end I just want to the music to get out there.
01. Panna Cotta
02. Passage to the Other Side
itiswhatitis will release Panna Cotta / Passage to the Other Side on September 3rd, 2012.