The label was founded in 2004, years before Flume or Chet Faker had even finished high school. McLay was working full-time as a digital specialist at Inertia, the Australian distributor for labels like Warp, Sub Pop and Ninja Tune. He was DJing in Sydney regularly, and realised that Australian artists were mostly absent from the global dance music conversation. Championing local acts was important from the onset, which was reflected in the label's first releases. Deepchild and Jamie Lloyd, two artists who were integral to the Sydney scene but had little overseas reach at the time, were among those who signed on. "I was in love with German house and techno," McLay begins. "It was about finding Australian bits and pieces that I could slot into that world."
Aside from the usual US and UK pop exports, Australia's music industry is dominated by summer-friendly local rock acts like Gotye, Angus & Julia Stone and Tame Impala. The few home-grown electronic groups to have recently snuck though—Empire Of The Sun, The Presets, Cut Copy—have done so through big hooks, catchy lyrics and live shows befitting a festival main stage. The mainstream success of Flume's syncopated, hyper-coloured hip-hop was a definitive moment in Australia's musical history; the breakthrough of Chet Faker, an electronic musician and singer, is a little less surprising but nevertheless noteworthy. It's difficult to tell if either act would have risen to such heights if an open-minded yet focussed outfit like Future Classic wasn't backing them. Both were plucked from relative obscurity, and neither had a sound you'd expect to have mass appeal.
About half of Future Classic's catalogue is shades of 4/4 house. The rest is an assortment of upbeat and glossy nu-disco, future jazz, indie rock and bass music. McLay and Gillard deride the randomness of their early release schedule, but there's a common, easy-going aesthetic running through most of it. International contributions have come from artists like Joakim, Mario Basanov and Trickski, each supplying disco-flavoured 12-inches. A long list of overseas remixers includes The Revenge, John Talabot and Session Victim.
"I used to get hassled by distributors saying, 'You just put out that record and it was good—do another one like it,'" McLay says. "That's the way 12-inch labels worked, especially back then. It didn't work if we put like a jazz record out after a techno record."
Anyone who has run a record label for more than a few years is guaranteed to have a lot to say about what they've learnt along the way. This is particularly true of McLay and Gillard. Though their vision with Future Classic has always been fairly clear, years of trial and error has refined it. Being a multi-faceted operation—coordinating Australian tours for overseas acts, management, etc—the pair have been engaging with artists and the music from a variety of angles. Over time, developing long-term relationships with artists has grown more important and, as the pair explain, the benefits are obvious. "We've learnt a lot from doing artist management," Gillard says. "You get a clearer picture of what it really means to put out records, what it is for an artist to tour—all of the different things that an artist actually works on."
Future Classic has rarely been about releasing one-off records from artists. McLay and Gillard have thrown themselves into every artist relationship from the beginning. Back when they were more club-focussed, they would try to make a connection with the producers and the remixers they wanted to work with. "Our international touring activity helped out with the label," Gillard says. "We'd own a record from someone overseas that we really loved, and then decide to tour them in Australia."
"In order to get them to do a remix," McLay interjects with a laugh. "That was a counter-productive way to do it."
"The more long-winded, more expensive, riskier way," says Gillard.
McLay cracks up: "We'd risk all of our money and sweat for ages, then ask them for a remix. And then they'd say no."
Like many others in their position, McLay and Gillard used to see the label as a vehicle to further their own DJ careers. But in order for Future Classic to expand, they eventually realised it was essential to place themselves in the background. "We made that choice when we started managing artists," Gillard says. "We have to focus on their careers. The majority of Flume fans in Australia probably don't know—or care—what Future Classic is. This happens when an artist gets to a certain size."
"You have to be invisible," McLay continues. "Your job is to push an act's profile forward, so you need to step back. A lot of labels are vehicles for the founder. It's become less about us and more about the acts and their vision."
"It's interesting to look at a lot of the labels that we came up loving," Gillard says. "Running Back, Internasjonal, Innervisions— they're all labels that are run by a DJ or an artist who actually puts out records as well. Not like us."
McLay and Gillard now play out much less than they used to. Gillard co-hosts a weekly show on community radio station FBi with former Future Classic staffer James McInnes. But most of his and McLay's time these days is devoted to A&R and management. Despite bringing on several extra staff members, things haven't quietened down, which has a lot to do with their increased management workloads. "Managing an artist is a lot more work than just putting out their record," Gillard says. "They're both challenging, but there are things that you do as a manager that you can't plan for—something like a visa not coming through can take up your whole week."
Label manager Ed Scholl and licencing manager Jarrod Bird became two key new staff members. Both were brought across from Universal Music Group, so have major label backgrounds. Their combined experience has clear benefits. "Universal is a big machine," McLay says. "So there's a focus on doing things really efficiently. With the general nuts and bolts of running a label, it's stuff like scheduling, manufacturing, briefing press teams. It's super time consuming. Having those guys on board has massively helped."
McLay references labels like Warp and Beggars Group as inspirations. During his time working in distribution, he saw how these labels operated—they retained a DIY edge even after turning into large, professional organisations. "I always saw these labels doing everything under one roof," McLay says. "I loved it. There's something special about going into the Warp office, where they have their warehouse underneath and everything is basically happening in one room. Conversations with iTunes or whatever other bits and pieces are happening in one place, which is the same way Future Classic is evolving. The team is getting more specialised, so there's one person that will do their own thing really well."
Gillard continues: "Growing the team has also allowed us to do bigger things. We now have a level of specialisation where it's not just Nathan and me being pulled in a million different directions at once."
These bigger things include releasing two of the best-selling Australian albums of the past two years. Flume's self-titled debut, released at the end of 2012, and this April's Built On Glass full-length from Chet Faker both went Gold (35,000-plus units sold). Robbie Williams, Skrillex and Madonna are among the acts with similar Australian sales figures. For a label that spent years losing money on deep house 12-inches, it's quite a step up.
"I had a moment in New Zealand last year," Gillard says. "I was on tour with Flume, and my parents happened to be there on holiday. He was playing to 4,000 people one night and I invited my parents to the show. It was a really nice moment. They'd never come to one of our work gigs in nine years. We also won the Australian Independent Record Label Of The Year award that night. I remembered all of those times when I'd had conversations with my parents that went, 'Is this what you're going to do with your life? You can't really afford to live. I'm sure you're having fun with this music thing, but is it actually something you can sustain?'"
Future Classic is in the strongest position it's ever been in. They've just released a lauded album from Sydney three-piece Seekae and a successful debut full-length from Sydney duo Flight Facilities. Chet Faker has also been nominated for nine ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) awards. McLay and Gillard will continue to develop as music industry professionals, as they've been doing for nine years. "It takes a lot of time to learn how things work," McLay says. "We're making mistakes all the time. I think that's healthy. You learn from them. Sometimes you'll go down the wrong path, but next time you definitely won't. Experience is the main difference between our early projects and our projects now."
"I'd be very curious to see what would happen if we released some of the earlier stuff now," Gillard concludes. "Who knows how it would've gone if we put it out with all this experience, knowing what we know now."
Chad Gillard mixes an 80-minute selection of sun-kissed disco and house drawn from the Future Classic catalogue.
Filesize: 193.3 MB
Thrupence - Don’t You Mind
Chrome Sparks - Goddess
Kidzen - Um Ah (Betaville Orchestra’s Cryptography Parts 2 & 3)
Joakim - Labyrinth (Lone Remix)
Flight Facilities - With You (David August Remix)
Seekae - Boys
Mario & Vidis - Changed (John Talabot Private Mix)
George Maple - Talk Talk
Flume & Chet Faker - What About Us
Karma Kid - Intro feat. Andreya Triana
Flight Facilities - Two Bodies (HNNY Remix)
Tigerskin - Lied
Panama - It’s Not Over (Kölsch Remix)
Jimi Polar - Nightlite
Charles Murdoch - Dekire feat. Oscar Key Sung
Karma Kid - No Qualms
123mrk - Secret Secret
HWLS & Noah Breakfast – 004
Gung Ho - Twin Rays (Worst Friends Remix)
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