Houndstooth is an in-house venture from fabric, the famous London nightclub. Booth runs Houndstooth with Leo Belchetz (label manager) and Rob Butterworth (label director), who also take care of fabric's long-running mix CD series. Fabric had made small-scale attempts at releasing original music in the past, but, after taking control of the label in early 2012, Belchetz and Butterworth sought to establish a concrete offering. "We thought, 'We've got this platform,'" Belchetz says. "It seemed a no-brainer to want to provide a platform for artist album projects and single projects."
"We sat down with the owners and basically said, 'Look, this is what we'd like to do going forward,'" says Butterworth. "'We'd like to start an artist-led label,' and convinced them that was the way to go to expand the label beyond the mix series. They were convinced, and then we started looking for people to take on the A&R role."
Rob Booth's CV begins in the early '90s. He got his education on the Birmingham techno scene, raving at events like Atomic Jam and House Of God. In '97 he began religiously following Mary Anne Hobbs' Breezeblock show on BBC Radio 1, and, after contacting her on a whim, wound up working at Somethin' Else Productions, the company that produced her show. Booth was always a big advocate of radio, and in particular its power to deliver new music. Sensing that the electronic music scene needed more outlets for underground sounds, in 2007 he started Electronic Explorations, a regular podcast series that shone a spotlight on forward-thinking dance music. It quickly became a hit. Booth was lauded for his keen curatorial ear, as he helped give early exposure to artists like James Blake, Pearson Sound and 2562.
"When I went to the interview I went with certain artists in mind—this is how I would envisage the label," Booth says. "With the greatest respect to labels that are tied to clubs, I just didn't want to be a techno label."
"We wanted to create an entity that was separate from fabric," Belchetz says. "But at the same time very much recognized that those were its roots—that's what it was born out of. We couldn't just be a techno label because that would only represent what happens on a Saturday night. We actually wanted to encompass the range of music that is played at the club because that's where we come from; that's what the label grew out of."
Booth presented hundreds of artist ideas to Butterworth and Belchetz, which the trio then gradually filtered until an identity began to form. They agreed that Houndstooth should be an "artist-led" label that would focus on releasing albums. They also wanted to work closely with artists on all aspects of the process, forming a sort of family unit around the label.
Houndstooth's first release came from Berlin-based producer Call Super. The Present Tense was an intelligent amalgamation of house, techno and bass music that gently messed with established rhythmic forms. "It had parts that were dance floor friendly and then it had experimental parts, so it seemed to fit everything that was a statement of what we wanted to be," says Butterworth. "It seemed the perfect place to begin."
As if marking their territory, the next few releases shot off in disparate stylistic directions. Truth & Loss by House Of Black Lanterns, a new alias of Ninja Tune artist King Cannibal, had a knock-out 170 BPM lead track (with a similarly pacey Fracture remix) next to The Bug-style dub and rolling dub techno. Snow Ghosts, a pop-leaning collaboration between Augustus Ghost and Throwing Snow, released "Murder Cries," the striking first single from the project. And after a seven-year break from production, Dave Clarke stepped out as _Unsubscribe_ alongside Mr Jones for the pounding techno EP Spek Hondje.
Houndstooth continued to introduce new acts in the following months, and by July they'd established their roster. Akkord, a techno-focussed project from Manchester producers Synkro and Indigo, came on board after the success of their white label series. Al Tourettes introduced a new moniker in the form of the stylistically rich Second Storey, and the label scored a coup with the signing of Special Request, an alias Paul Woolford established to explore his love for the sounds of pirate radio.
The two poles of Houndstooth's purview are represented in the Special Request album, Soul Music, and Snow Ghosts' full-length, A Small Murmuration. In the case of Special Request, you have an artist producing arguably the best music of his career on a record that captures one of 2013's key underground trends in its use of jungle breaks and hardcore tropes. "It's in vogue and I think we've got the best on our label," says Booth. "I don't really brag about stuff but I do really want to brag that we've got this album because it is fucking good."
The satisfaction over such successes has only been magnified by the way in which Houndstooth works with its artists. "It's very equal," Butterworth says. "I think we consult them a lot more than other labels might do because we want them to be as happy as we are. So we get them involved to quite a detailed level." Booth says that almost everyone who's on board will record an album at some point, and the idea of creating a familial identity around the label is mentioned frequently.
In the nine months since starting out, Houndstooth has had 13 separate releases, which, in addition to Special Request and Snow Ghosts, has included a House Of Black Lanterns album. This rate has been vey much in line with the team's initial vision, but Booth is aware that for some people it's been too much. "Some people say—on RA comments, which obviously everyone does read—that maybe we've done too many, but when you look at our schedule over the basis of a year I don't feel so. The quality is very strong. We believe that—we're biased obviously. But when you look at it spread over time, the schedule I think is really good. Every single artist we concentrate on 100%."
Akkord are next in line for an album release in late November, which will be followed next year by full-lengths from Second Storey and Throwing Snow. The most laudable aspect of Houndstooth's approach has been its focus on new artists and fresh projects from existing artists, something that Belchetz says was in place from the beginning. "I think there was an element of us, particularly in our first year, wanting to establish our own identity rather than come into the scene and start snapping up other artists who have got track records. I think we wanted to announce ourselves to an extent, as a new label."
"Some artists come to me—they've released four albums—I'm not interested," says Booth, encapsulating his and the label's spirit. "I want something new. I want something fresh. I want to challenge people."
Download: RA Label of the Month 1310 Mix: Houndstooth
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Akkord - Undertow [Forthcoming]
Special Request - Descent
Ghettozoid - Boy Toy (House of Black Lanterns Remix)
Special Request - Deflowered (Kassem Mosse & Mix Mup Remix)
Call Super - Black Octagons
_Unsubscribe_ feat Bear Who - Vox Spek Hondje
Tessela - Hackney Parrot (Special Request VIP)
Akkord - Navigate
Second Storey - Still Seas / Just Mortal
Special Request - Capsules (Lee Gamble Remix)
Snow Ghosts and Blue Daisy - Covenant
Snow Ghosts and Dahlia Black - Covenant VIP [Forthcoming ‘Houndstooth’]
House Of Black Lanterns - Truth & Loss (Fracture's Astrophonica Remix)
House Of Black Lanterns - Truth & Loss
Special Request - Black Ops
Special Request - Broken Dreams
Snow Ghosts - And The World Was Gone (Roly Porter Remix)
Throwing Snow - Linguis [Forthcoming]