The UK has bass music, Germany had minimal, France gave us the French Touch, while Spain...well, it's hard to think of anything. There have been credible craftsmen bubbling under (Damian Schwartz, Dubbyman, Alex Under or Tuccillo come immediately to mind) but for a sizeable country they're remarkably few in number and largely indebted to trends of foreign origin. Indeed, Spain's malaise seems to be one of personality, or lack thereof, and it's against this effete backdrop that Hivern's achievement appears all the more salient.
The word's mention also carries a hint of irony, for this is a group fond of pseudonyms. Let vague introductions be made: Uri, Stainboy, Mouseup, John Talabot, Pional, Aster and Kresy. The masquerade is not so much about protecting delicate identities, though. It's more about focusing things squarely on the music. "In Barcelona, I felt as though there were a lot of people looking for somewhere to stay," says Uri figuratively. "A lot of people hovering between techno, minimal, disco and house. But there was no scene, so I decided to pick all the things I liked and turn it into something."
He's not kidding. The label has checked all of those styles, most often locking their arms on a single release. "If I buy the 12-inch of a disco single and the remix goes to another disco artist, I'm disappointed," he continues. "I want to hear different interpretations. I want to hear what the ambient artist would have done, how the techno guy would have approached it." That's presumably why Gavin Russom and Blue Daisy were recently picked to turn Pional's zestful pop-house tune, "We Have Been Waiting for You," into synthesised psychedelia and electronica respectively, with a bonus krautrock version thrown in for good measure.
"We have released really different music, but in some way it's all connected by a particular kind of gloomy-but-comforting mood," explains Stainboy, label artist and fellow co-founder. Personalities, plural, might well have been my better opening gambit. But the twining mood he mentions is unmistakable. If, even after hearing John Talbot's wistful "Sunshine", Aster's "Neon" jazz or Kresy's plaintively deep hip-house, you still can't quite put your finger on it, then a visit to their blog is recommended. This conscientious scrapbook, documenting their love of synth-wave, Ben Klock, Planet Mu, Kraftwerk bootlegs and Whitney Houston alongside a trove of limited- edition edits and forgotten disco curios, is similarly a map to the Hivern psyche. Clearly that psyche is more passionate than business-like.
"They don't do things for the sake of it to earn quick and easy money," replies Pional when asked what he thinks distinguishes the label that gave him his breakthrough. Uri backs this up with what sound like biting financial facts: "I've lost something like 200€ in every release we've put out." But there's a smile of indifference on his face. "I knew, for example, that Blue Daisy remix was never going to be a Beatport seller, but I love the dimension it gives to the music. For us it's not about selling lots on Beatport, it's about being able offer a complete package."
It's an idea that extends to the visual aspect, with each of the label's multicoloured vinyl releases adorned with eye-catching originals, often hand-stamped, by Arnau Pi, a close friend and exclusive designer to the group. Kresy expands on the importance of this artistic synergy: "Personally, I see Hivern as a guarantee of quality not only musically but artistically at the same time. Its music as well as its artwork transmit a sensation of intimacy and closeness, of something that is done for a love of art, something far removed from commercial tendencies." Toeing that line in a country that has "a serious problem with the mainstream," as Pional admits, is in itself a noteworthy feat.
So what exactly is Spain's problem? "Well, we spent most of the 20th century ruled by a Catholic, ultra-conservative dictatorship, so that made things hard on a cultural level," Stainboy reasons. It was only in 1978 that Spain made the final transition to a democracy free of censorship. This was just a year after Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" was first released, but there was naturally plenty of catching-up to be done. Phrases like "lagging behind" and "cultural delay" crop up as consequent explanations behind the imbalance between Spain's electronic scene and that of its European neighbours. Uri also blames an inherent prejudice in the media: "In Spain, if you are an electronic label, you are judged to be underground and no one in the media will give you a chance. People don't seem to realise that the mainstream hits of people like Lady Gaga or David Guetta are in fact super electronic as well. There is a barrier that I don't like and want to break."
Hivern seems to be doing just that, not only in their policy of diversity, but in a conquering of media acceptance. The enigmatic John Talabot was recently granted a feature in Spain's most widely read national newspapar, El País, which unequivocally tipped him to be the nation's musical success story for 2011. It's the kind of attention that just might galvanise the country's lackadaisical milieu. "For people in Barcelona and Spain especially, it is important to have a label that they can support, that releases strange, different things and encourages them to do the same," says Uri. "Before, local producers have always had to look elsewhere, like 'OK, I want to release on this label, I want to release on Poker Flat' for example, and you will only try to make music that the people from Poker Flat will like. So there was a moment when you didn't have any personality, which was a shame because there are talented producers in the area. They just need to trust in their music."
Fostering an environment in which people can do this is the group's sole preoccupation. When pressed on their future aspirations, none of the artists promote anything more concrete than a desire to continue "doing things from the heart," "to feel comfortable in what I do without external imposition" or "to find our own voice that is as recognisable and as honest as possible." There is no master plan, not even a release schedule. As Uri concludes: "I don't have clear intentions for the label. I only know what I am doing now. I want to encourage people to make music with personality, that they feel comfortable doing strange things without thinking about this or that place in which to fit their music. Because when you do that, it's when you limit yourself, and this is what we have to stop."
Download: RA Label of the Month 1104 Mix: Hivern Discs
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Memory Tapes – Run Out (Mistakes Are OK Edit)
Hype Williams - Businessline (Hippos in Tanks)
Aster – Neon (Hivern Discs)
Project Sandro – Blazer (SENTRALL)
Pional – In Another Room (Hivern Discs)
Protect-U – U-Uno (Future Times)
Aster – Polyphonic (Hivern Discs)
Eim Ick – I Need You (Salax Peep Show Remix) (Hivern Discs)
Kresy – Many Man (Hivern Discs)
Frank Ocean – Lovecrimes (Pional Edit)
Shakarchi & Straneus – Clinton Hill (Studio Barnhus)
Mario & Vidis - Changed (John Talabot's Private Mix) (Future Classic)
Omar-S – Here's Your Trance Now Dance (FXHE)
Tolga Fidan – Berg (New Kanada)
Basic Soul Unit – Night Heat (Mule)
Teengirl Fantasy – Cheaters (John Talabot's Classic Vocal Refix) (Hivern Discs)