"We would try to pick stuff that's a little bit awkward, tunes that other labels probably won't want," says Ellis. "One of the names we were going to call the label was 'awkward silences,' but I think it had already been taken."
UntilMyHeartStops (or "uhms" as Ellis calls it) is fueled by this love for misfit tracks. "I think there's something ace about owning a record for two or three years before you actually find a place for it in a set," Ellis says. "You know, there's something about it that you like, but it could just sit there forever, and then one day you know how to play it. That's definitely what appeals to me and Leif. Leif especially has this knack for being able to play that stuff while keeping it totally dance floor. He's got a great sense of the right time to do things in a set, and his mixing skills are unbelievable so he can find places for those tunes which not necessarily most people can." He adds, a little shyly, "I hope that doesn't sound disrespectful."
UMHS's first release came about in a way that feels extraordinarily natural: Knowles and Ellis wanted to have more records from a particular artist, and decided that starting a label and releasing those records would be the best way to do that. The artist was Joey Anderson.
Since then, Knowles and Ellis have stuck with this approach: releasing records by artists they want to hear more music from. Sometimes these are friends (Juniper, October, Arnaldo) sometimes they're strangers found online (Area, Matthew Wieck). "That's a nice thing about living in the middle of nowhere is you get a hell of a lot of time to dig for music online, you sort of spend half your life on Discogs looking for music," Ellis says. "It struck me that it would be good to make that into something sort of positive—when you find someone good who only has one or two records out, try to release more stuff from them. When we first started off we said we'd only put out stuff for people who had less than 100 followers on SoundCloud," he says, laughing.
By "the middle of nowhere" Ellis means Wales, the largely rural corner of the UK where he and Knowles both grew up. "It's a big place, Wales, with a small population, so likeminded people find each other quite quickly," says Ellis. The local scene where he and Knowles discovered electronic music was exceptionally nurturing to heady sounds. There were no gigs in clubs or bars, just tiny house parties and secret open-airs where roughly half of the audience were DJs. Events would be few and far between—usually just a few each year—so DJs would spend months honing their sets. "It was a really hard group of people to please," Ellis says. "Not in a bad way, but they really know their techno, and there could be absolutely no fakeness about a tune. If you played a record and it wasn't good, you just knew straight away."
A key figure in this Welsh subculture was (and is) Steevio, the dreadlocked DJ, producer and modular synth freak who, together with his partner Suzybee, runs Freerotation festival. "Steevio had this mystique when he came to Wales," Ellis says. "You heard about these parties he was putting on in the hills, parties where producers could bring up their tunes to play for other DJs. The first time I met him was at a big open-air, just a circus tent out in a forest in the middle of Wales somewhere. Those parties were crazy; I was only 17 or 18 when I started going to them. There was a disused train line in this part of Wales and someone would just carry a soundsystem to the middle of this tunnel. Miles and miles of carrying speakers and stuff like that. You would walk down this train tunnel and walk into a big rave that was going on."
Knowles and Ellis both grew up around the town of Dolgellau and had known each other in school, but it was these parties that really brought them together. In a community mostly dominated by techno DJs, they were some of the only ones playing stuff at house tempos, even if a lot of it was still techno. "Early Surgeon, Svek, Jeff Mills and stuff like that, and obviously US house stuff like Yoshitoshi. We'd play that sort of thing with techno records at minus eight. That'd be a pretty standard set." Knowles, Ellis and Ellis's younger brother Tom have been musical partners in one way or another since then. Knowles and Tom Ellis released dozens of tracks together, mostly on a label they ran called Trimsound. All three have DJ'd together for years, and have been residents at Freerotation since it started in 2007.
Freerotation has a similar ethos to UMHS, and embodies much of what makes the scene in Wales unique. Held each year at Baskerville Hall Hotel, the 600-person festival is that rare specimen: an electronic music event that has nothing to do with nightclubs. The dance floors are in carpeted function rooms and an outdoor tent that looks better-suited to a wedding reception than a techno festival. Like the open-airs where Knowles and Ellis cut their teeth, the people are unassuming and a bit nerdy, many of them DJs and producers themselves. The party-rocking obligations that come with most festivals are conspicuously absent—or rather, replaced by a different, more considered standard. As a result, the music tends to be exceptionally deep and adventurous.
UMHS and Freerotation are deeply intertwined at this point. Knowles and Ellis DJ there every year, and the shadowy, atmospheric sound of their label is de rigeur at the festival. Most of the producers that have appeared on UMHS are regulars at Freerotation, either as artists or attendees—namely Anderson, October, Juniper and Arnaldo.
Steevio has also been a big influence on UMHS, especially the patience and scrutiny with which he runs his festival and his label, Mindtours. "There have been three years between releases on Mindtours in the past because Steevio will not put it out unless he feels right about it," Ellis says. "He is also happy to sit on a track for a year to decide if he really likes it or not. He's been a big influence on us in that respect. If it's not right, it's not right."
Taking things slow is part of why Knowles and Ellis adopt such a DIY approach to UMHS. "We don't want to pop out too much stuff," Ellis says. "That's part of why we self-distribute and do the stamping ourselves—almost because it slows the process down a bit. If we had gone with a distributor, we may well be three or four more records down the line by now, and I don't know if that would necessarily be a good thing. You know, there may be tracks which we were keen on, which we've since kind of cooled on. If we'd had a distributor who was just wanting tracks off us, we'd probably have put them out."
There's also a simpler reason Knowles and Ellis take such a hands-on approach to UMHS: they love every step of the process. "We have been offered distribution deals where all we would have to do is pick the tracks, which would be a lot easier obviously, but it just feels nice to do it all ourselves." Stamping the labels, as long as it takes, is a welcome excuse for Ellis to spend a weekend with Knowles in London, where he now lives. "The whole thing is a rewarding experience," says Knowles. "Especially when you walk into a shop like Kristina, Phonica or Hard Wax and see your releases on the wall—it's just a really nice feeling."
For Ellis, it's the simple act of curation, of finding and releasing music that may otherwise have never reached an audience, that makes the whole thing worthwhile. "Finding the tracks waiting in my inbox from Joey, and how excited we were about the Area track when he messaged back and said he was up for putting it out. Same with the Arnaldo and October tracks—hearing something that makes me think, 'I want to have this on vinyl' and actually doing it. That excitement, that buzz, is pretty hard to beat."
Download: RA Label of the Month 1403 Mix: UntilMyHeartStops
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Filesize: 159.3 MB
D'Marc Cantu - I Want To Ride
Marcus Mixx - Without Makeup (Ron Hardy Mix)
Iueke - Tape 4.2
Tames - Vivid Elements
Hakim Murphy - BBQ Knobs
Edward - Crossie Pennt
Just One - Revolution
Leif - Effervescence
James Din - A4
Hakim Murphy - Hyperspace Gate
Cyan 341 - Coal Train
Fran Harnett - Seven Pearl
Terrence Dixon - Parkhurst
K Alexi - Dance With Me
Ian Pooley - Flatlet