The first limited release on Running Back, The Voice from Planet Love features a "slightly re-arranged" edit by Dixon of the Innervisions crew. It's a harbinger for a regular Running Back EP forthcoming later this year that will include the original by Danish producer Precious System, AKA Lasse Lovelace, with a remix by Marcus Worgull. In fact, it was the latter who tipped Running Back label head Gerd Janson to the potential of the release. When he heard the demo, the German was thrilled: "I'm not a fan of preacher lines... They tend to be embarrassing. But this one had me. It's so over the top."
Janson insists, in fact, that he is a "terrible business man," and he probably has a point. He certainly isn't Larry Sherman, as he jokingly remarks, referring to the infamous Trax label head who allegedly was more into money than music. What do friends and label artists have to say about Janson? Marco Niemerski, AKA Tensnake, who has an imminent release on Running Back states that "it's definitely passion and not money that counts with Gerd." Robert Dietz, who topped the latest charts of Groove with "Snipping Forward," testifies that "as an artist, he really makes you feel at home at Running Back." And both DPlay and Âme's Frank Wiedemann assert his super-lexical prowess in musical matters. "Gerd is a real gentleman and a very honest person. And for someone who doesn't drink or indulge in naughty stuff, he's one of the best people to hang out with in a nightclub," concludes Matt Edwards aka Radio Slave.
In the flesh, Janson comes across as a straightforward and modest person. He's full of wry remarks and quick to affirm that the label isn't about him, but the artists. But while Running Back is anything but the Gerd Janson show, he's a dazzling figure on the international electronic scene all the same: Holding a residency at Frankfurt's Robert Johnson, Janson has made himself a name as an excellent and versatile DJ. And, with Brontosaurus' Phillip Lauer, he recently completed a remix for Roland Appel as Tuff City Kids. A Red Bull Music Academy member and a writer for Groove and Spex magazines, his knowledge of disco legends, deep house spiritualistists or Detroit divas is impressive.
The story of Running Back began seven years ago, in a restaurant in Darmstadt. "Basically, it was a Schnapsidee, a crazy idea conceived over a couple of glasses of wine. Why not make a label to release stuff by our friends?" Janson's friend and DJ mentor Thomas Hammann then came up with the name Running Back, borrowing the term from American Football. "Going back and simultaneously rushing forward: I liked that," explains Janson.
Running Back essentials
Mark E - Slave 1
A mesmerizing downtempo disco-house pattern that just won't let go.
Tensnake - Holding Back (My Love)
Future string boogie from Hamburg: Marco Siemerski knows how to incite drama on the dancefloor.
Move D - Heidelberg Gals (Parts One, Two & Three)
Half exuberant, half melancholic ode to David Moufang's hometown girls.
Dplay - Tschaka
Dirk Gottwald has got 'em burning up: A slowly but steadily evolving killer groove.
Projam - In the Groove
LoSoul re-incarnation: One of two half-forgotten gems unearthed by this glorious repress.
It was around this same time that Janson discovered Mark E's disco-infected slow-motion house: "A friend in Birmingham pointed me to Mark. It's been always like this. You know people or you get to know them through people. And when the feeling was right, I went for it." True to this spirit, Janson has penned his "demo policy of truth": a witty if ineffective countermeasure against the flood of impersonal demos on MySpace. Addressing "young aspiring and old frustrated producers" the policy asks the crucial question: "The Team consists of close or far friends and their friends or friends of their friends. Are you a friend?"
Since 2006, the label has ramped up its release schedule and now its circle of friends embraces dance floor heavyweights like LoSoul, Move D, Radio Slave and Prosumer, as well as talented upstarts like Robert Dietz, DPlay and Tensnake. These acts have undoubtedly furthered the label's fanbase, but the varied output hasn't been to everyone's liking: "When [Radio Slave's] Sex Trax EP was released, some reactions went like: 'Are you doing big-room techno now?' Hm, that's a trench-digging mentality I can't relate to."
But while releases on Running Back may sound different from EP to EP, the imprint is far from hoisting the Benetton colours of downright eclecticism. Deep house is still the common ground, and there often seems to be an undercurrent of sparkling disco enthusiasm as well. More than anything else, though, the label is fond of telling stories: Of Chicago house (Brownstone EP), local club folklore (Cube EP), heralds of love (The Voice from Planet Love EP), DJ legends (Sex Trax EP) or football trainers (Huub Sand EP). A wax carving here, a cranky message there: Signs are plenty in the cosmos of Running Back.
Janson doesn't simply release new music either. As an avowed historian, it makes sense that he'd end up saving two timeless house anthems by LoSoul from near oblivion in 2006, and that the next limited 12-inch lined up for release would be a sound effects record complete with sirens, drones and children's laughter. Originally put out on Strada records in Japan, Janson explains it thusly: "I actually wanted to buy that record, but it was sold out. The label owner asked me if I wanted do a repress. Well, I said yes. Come to think of it: Maybe I should do a beats-only release after that?"
Ask him about further plans, though, and the man is pretty vague. "You know, I never had a plan for my label. Maybe I'll start selling washrags in the future over the web? They have sort of gone out of fashion. I could start a mini-hype, like Omar S. did with the coloured ice trays on the FXHE site." Depending on how the investment in Planet Love turns out, we may end up seeing the Running Back washrag sooner than you think. But, as with all Running Back merchandise, you can expect it to be of the highest quality: As Janson says, it's "either nice or not."