Unknown To The Unknown is lots of things at once. It's a YouTube channel, it's a web portal, it's a secondhand store and yes, it's a record label. There's no obvious thread that connects Unknown To The Unknown's endless stream of records from the likes of Legowelt, Marcus Mixx, DJ Stingray, Photonz and DJ Octopus, but if there is something that defines UTTU, it's humour. Cogan is a goofy guy. When I met him for Turkish food one overcast afternoon near his home in North London he was all laughs. Calm and confident with a bit of a dad vibe, he's the kind of guy who chortles after everything he says, or sometimes in the middle of what he's saying. In other words, exactly the sort of person you'd expect to run a label that's serious about not taking itself seriously.
Unknown To The Unknown stands out in a scene that often fetishizes authenticity or mystery. The releases come fast, usually with no promotion, sometimes too quickly to keep up with. There are out-of-nowhere record drops, free-download EPs, sublabels that come and go with little fanfare. Everything is adorned with outlandish, vibrant artwork. The label's approach and aesthetic matches its music, which is a kaleidoscopic array of raw and jacking sounds that encompasses electro, Chicago house, techno and UK garage. But for all its antics, Unknown To The Unknown is truly a dance floor force to be reckoned with.
Cogan works a day job in entertainment PR, but his involvement with dance music goes back to the mid-2000s, when he and Benjamin Keen made bouncy house and garage together under the name Hot City. Their records were alternately candy-sweet and hard-edged. Eventually Cogan's attention drifted to his solo projects, one of which was Unknown To The Unknown.
Cogan has used the name for a few different things. First, Unknown To The Unknown was a party he threw in 2011 with DJ Stingray and Dopplereffekt. He thought the name sounded spooky enough to soundtrack those dark Detroit electro artists. It stuck with him after the party, and eventually he adopted it as a recording alias, releasing what would become the first record on his new label. In fact, the first Unknown To The Unknown release was initially a radio rip on a YouTube channel, before Cogan slapped some artwork on it and made it a digital-only download.
That YouTube channel was where Unknown To The Unknown began and where its aesthetic was fleshed out. At first Cogan thought he'd use the channel as a repository for music he enjoyed, including rips of old records. He liked that he could upload videos and imagery to go with them. The uploads reflected Cogan's wide spectrum of taste—everything from Rashad & Spinn to KMA Productions. His following grew. Friends like Mumdance and Slackk sent him their tunes, unreleased dubs that Cogan uploaded as exclusives. YouTube also became an informal platform for records no one else wanted to sign.
The first Unknown To The Unknown release was a corker, exposing Cogan's techno influences after years spent developing a flighty 2-step sound. DJ Stingray's magnificent remix of "Assassin" established the label's loose ethos: banging-but-smart dance tunes delivered with exaggerated artwork and aesthetics. It didn't take long for people to notice. Jackmaster heard the first EP and immediately offered Unknown To The Unknown vinyl distribution through Rubadub, where he worked at the time.
Cogan used the label's next few releases to illustrate his interest in raw sounds. The most audacious record came from Marcus Mixx, a Chicago house veteran, though not the kind we're used to. Mixx is maybe the perfect Unknown To The Unknown artist. Like Cogan, he's been quietly doing his thing for a long time and he also has a wicked (and less than proper) sense of humour. The two tracks on Mixx's first release for the label, still among the best in the entire catalogue, are rough and crude—what else would you expect from a track called "Use Your Mouth 2 Love Me (Teeth Mix)"? Mixx made wonderfully low-budget videos to go with his tracks, a long-running hobby of his, which fit nicely with Cogan's love of YouTube. If Stingray put Unknown To The Unknown on the map, then Mixx helped make sure it would stay there.
Cogan released music from Alias G, a friend of Mixx's who owned a barbershop in Chicago and made house that was arguably even more trippy and unhinged. Other early releases came from New Yorker Dubbel Dutch, bassline producer DJ Q and Slackk in his pre-Boxed days. Cogan's rapid-fire approach started to clash with the more considered and slow-moving vinyl market. Slackk's Polar Bear EP, from 2011, was one of the label's finest and most adventurous early releases, but it was also grime-influenced, meaning that Rubadub didn't feel comfortable releasing it after a string of house EPs.
"There was loads of stuff I wanted to do that Rubadub weren't up for doing on vinyl," he says. "Because they probably couldn't sell it—like, the bassline stuff, or whatever. So I was like, 'Why does it have to be a normal label? Why do I have to think of PR campaigns and spend two months planning? Why don't I just get tunes, slap 'em up on YouTube.' People like DJ Q, Slackk, Spooky—I'd get tunes from them and be like, 'You're not doing anything with this tune? I'll make a cool video, I'll get my mate to do some sick art and we'll put it on Boomkat.'"
With releases coming from all angles, Cogan started getting more DJ gigs, and he had landed his own EPs on labels like Clone and Crème Organization. Spending more time in the club and working on his own music, Cogan found his interests increasingly aligning with straight-up house. He began to think of the label as an outlet for club records he would play, rather than just music he liked.
"If I'm not going to play it out in a club or put it in a mix, then I won't do it," he decided. "Then I was like, 'Who do I always play out that I would love to do stuff with?' I hit up Willie Burns, Legowelt, quite a few of those people. And they were up for doing something. When I moved into that world, the momentum started picking up. I met these guys from Utrecht, Locklead and Wouter S, and a guy called Nelson [Yogh] from SlapFunk. They were doing this really great... kind of like deep house, but really fucking jacking hard. Kind of like Jeremy Underground, Lauer. I was just like, 'Wow this is amazing.'"
Even as he streamlined his main vinyl label, Cogan still had way too much stuff for one label to release. The solution? Start another one. Cogan launched Hot Haus Recs with his own excellent Thug Houz Anthem in 2013. The new imprint became a platform for strictly dance floor material (Palace, Chaos In The CBD and Photonz), while the main label handled the more "bloopy" and out-there stuff—like the records from Legowelt, who has emerged as one of the label's signature artists.
Meanwhile, Cogan decided to start giving away music again, moving away from Boomkat to a free download model. He could distribute music via his own website and with help from select blogs, websites and friends in the industry. For Cogan, exposure itself is as vital as selling records. The music trumps the format it's released on, hearkening back to the days when Unknown To The Unknown was just a YouTube entity.
"Why is releasing vinyl on Unknown To The Unknown better than doing a free download on Unknown To The Unknown?" he says. "Yeah, you get the record, but why is that better than anything else? We do really cool art for the downloads. We're trying to erase that factor—it's not on vinyl because music is better on vinyl, it's on vinyl because that music is better suited to that form.
The idea of free downloads done with care exemplifies the label's latest incarnation, a web portal that functions as record label, secondhand shop, mp3 emporium and blog. By now it's a well-oiled machine, pumping out records alongside web content, all delivered with the same charming visual aesthetic and presentation.
"I've worked in the music industry for a while," Cogan says. "I can see the way it works. You don't have to spend ages releasing a record. You get the artwork done, you get some good tracks, you send it out, that's it. That's really all you can do. I don't think of it as a huge deal because I understand the mechanisms of what needs to get done. This is my hobby—I'm not trying to make a career out of music. If I was, I wouldn't be doing this. I wouldn't be doing the music I like, I'd be doing drum & bass or something. This is an outlet for me just to have a really good time, and meet some really sick people, do some cool shit."
Cogan is at the point where he's DJing at least once a week, traveling the world and hosting a weekly show on Rinse FM. He's turned his label from an afterthought into a multi-purpose music factory through a good work ethic and word of mouth. He can fund his label endeavours because he works a day job, which he sees as more of an opportunity than a restriction.
"I don't want to rely on music to pay my rent," he says. "I've got no agenda. I try and keep this as fun as possible. When I get a gig, it's like, 'Sick!' I'm gonna play the music and then go home and play with my kids, rather than have three nights of gigs and be fucked when I go back to work on Monday morning. Then I'd hate my job and hate the people I work with. I try to keep everything in moderation. People are always like, 'How do you put out so much stuff?' And I'm just like, 'How does it take you six months to put out one record?'"
The other part of the label's approach is that Cogan is friends with almost everyone he works with. He's established a roster of like-minded people who are just as relaxed about the process of releasing records. "I've had one bad experience with dealing with managers," Cogan says. "It's like, 'How are you going to plan out the press campaign with the single?' OK, let's back track a bit. I'm just a dude having a laugh."
"I like UTTU 'cause it's not too serious," Danny Wolfers, AKA Legowelt, told me over email. "Infantile, fresh, colourful, straight from the heart, diverse. Rupert takes the waters of life freely and he's got this straightforward, no bullshit, no nonsense, just-do-it attitude, without being a wanker about it. Not that I am not serious—I am very serious about this stuff. But not being too serious about it makes it more serious."
"People like what I'm doing, and I like what I'm doing," Cogan says. "Or maybe even if no one liked what I was doing, I'd just do it anyway. I'd only have 200 views on my YouTube channel. I wouldn't be sitting here, I promise you that, but it wouldn't really matter—it's cool."
This jacking mix of forthcoming material and recent highlights showcases the breadth of DJ Haus's label.
Filesize: 200.4 MB
Baba Stiltz - Cherry
Igor Tripura - Dwams (Lauer Remix)
Deadboy - R U 4 Me ?
GNORK Presents DJ SHARK - Space Beach
Legowelt - Sampling Winter
Steve Murphy - Blood Cake 909
Mak & Pasteman - T2000
Innershades - A World That Matters
Mall Grab - I’ve Always Liked Grime
Stephen B.C - Functionz
Mall Grab - Menace II Society
De Sluwe Vos - Insert Track Title Here
DJ Octopus - Throne Keen
Chambray - Evenue
VRRS - Took My Life On The Dancefloor
Steve Murphy - Italo Luv
LA-4A - I Feel Lit (Alden Tyrell Remix)
Locklead - Deepcore
Legowelt - Institute Of The Overwind (Photonz Remix)
DJ Haus - Feelin’ Reel
De Sluwe Vos - Insert Track Title Here (Person Of Interest Remix)
Igor Tripura - Dwams
Playing Favourites: Lovefingers
Andrew Hogge is a seasoned digger. Aaron Coultate visited his Los Angeles home to hear the records he cherishes most.
Breaking Through: SØS Gunver Ryberg
We profile a polymathic Danish artist who is currently making some of the most powerful electronic music out there.
Top 10 May 2016 Festivals
Looking to cut loose in May? Here's what we recommend.
Machine Love: Handwerk Audio
Handwerk Audio is a Berlin studio that gives customers access to legendary synthesizers. Peter Van Hoesen, one of its founders, gives Mark Smith a tour.
Label of the month
Label Of The Month: Juke Bounce Werk
Kiana Mickles chats to the founders of a label that deepened LA's relationship with footwork.
Label Of The Month: Schatrax
Since the early '90s, Schatrax has represented a distinct UK twist on house and techno. In his first interview in 25 years, Josh Brent explains the roots of his sublime sound.
Label Of The Month: Mixpak
Vivian Host speaks to Dre Skull, the enigmatic producer whose ten-year old label is fanning the flames of the Brooklyn-Caribbean connection.
Label Of The Month: Nervous Horizon
Chal Ravens profiles a label on the front lines of UK club music.
Label Of The Month: SVBKVLT
Andrew Ryce profiles the Shanghai label leading the inspiring club music movement in China.