Oli Warwick profiles the immaculately curated French label that tries to programme its catalogue like a DJ set.
Two weeks later, Latency held another event in Paris, this time with Laurel Halo and the PAN artist Konrad Sprenger at the Eglise Saint-Merri, an atmospheric church near the Pompidou Centre. These two events straddled the exuberant energy of a club night and the solemn atmosphere of an experimental concert. Together, they sum up what Latency is all about.
Gerard and Said started Latency in 2013. The label began releasing records from artists on the outskirts of house and techno, such as Innerspace Halflife, Joey Anderson and Even Tuell. As it's grown, Latency has embraced more experimental sounds. Gerard said he's drawn to "in-between music that's really experimental but can also be played in clubs."
"We don't have a vast range of music we release," Gerard said. "It all has a really strong, late-night, B2 feeling. I think Paul David [Rollmann, AKA Even Tuell] said this a long time ago. We were always into the B-sides and the low-key, atmospheric tracks on the records we were buying."
The music on Latency is striking, but its artistic direction helps set it apart. The first ten records came in silk-screen printed black-and-white sleeves—tactile, textured prints of ambiguous photographs. Post Industrial, the Innerspace Halflife release, used a particular solvent-based ink, which meant the sleeve had a strong chemical aroma months after it came out. Gerard insisted that his copy still smells.
Latency's artwork conveys a certain gravity that the average club 12-inch lacks. The evolution of the label has been measured and coherent, but still it's hard to predict which way it will turn next. Each release has a sense of occasion, as well as a feeling that each artist is presenting their vision without compromise. The lineups for the Latency events, and even the artistic direction on the Latency website, are an extension of an ethos where attention to detail is key.
"You should see my apartment," laughed Gerard over dinner before the Concrete show. "Before I leave in the morning I have to make sure everything is in the right place, that the whole scene looks perfect."
The two freely admitted to their obsessive tendencies. "It's a kind of trauma," said Said. "The way we organise and name our folders on the laptop, or the way we write descriptions on Instagram. Placing a simple dot is subject to discussion. It's really fucked up."
After the label's tenth release—2017's The Pestle by Burnt Friedman—the label dropped the black-and-white sleeves and embraced a bolder, more colourful direction. "We thought it was time to get away from this black-and-white aesthetic," said Gerard, "because we wanted to surprise ourselves and start a new chapter." The three releases in this new era have been proudly experimental, from Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe's modular meditations to Bellows' instrument-led ruminations and an album of Yves De Mey's intricate beat deconstructions.
The sleeves for these three records were equally diverse. There was Misha Hollenbach's bold detail shot of a bronze statue (for Lowe), a painting by Maude Maris (for Bellows) and a sculpture by Jean-Marie Appriou (for De Mey). "Misha Hollenbach was the first artist who did something especially for the record," Said told me. "Maude Maris and Jean-Marie Appriou's pieces already existed, so we simply asked permission to use them as covers. Although it's not a commission, finding and deciding on a particular artwork is a process of hours and hours, especially for Sidney."
Where the black-and-white screen-printing created coherency on the first ten sleeves, the new palette reflects the unpredictable but heavily considered ebb and flow of the musical choices they make. "I think it's very important to renew yourself," said Said, "and the new chapter was fitting our lifestyles."
Their student days were behind them, and Said had moved to Copenhagen to work as Head of Design for famed Danish art collective Superflex. "It was bringing the idea behind the label further," said Said. "Before we were at school, collaborating with friends. Now we are more established, we have more contacts, so we can collaborate with established visual artists, and that was always the goal."
As you might expect, Gerard and Said both have a grounding in the visual arts. They met at the esteemed Parisian art and design school EnsAD. While holding a student meeting, Said asked the assembled crowd if anyone was a DJ, and Gerard was the only person to raise his hand. "There was a good energy that clicked and we just stayed in touch," recalled Said.
After Said moved to Copenhagen, the pair started organising small parties together in Paris, and soon the idea of starting a label emerged. Originally conceived around a collective of friends, it quickly became clear Gerard and Said were more serious about the project than the rest, so they forged ahead on their own. They signed the first Latency release after Said played at a party with Innerspace Halflife's Hakim Murphy. As is often the case, the label's beginnings were not so much a grand plan as a successful experiment.
For the second release they turned to Joey Anderson, the New Jersey producer whose strain of otherworldly techno was just coming to light on Deconstruct, Inimeg and UntilMyHeartStops. Two of the three tracks on the release had been sitting on Anderson's SoundCloud page with little more than 100 plays. "Press Play" in particular became a calling card for the label, but even at this early stage they were conscious to avoid limiting the label to a particular sound.
"Our tastes were evolving so rapidly," said Gerard. "So just after Innerspace Halflife from Chicago to a more New York, low-key atmosphere like Joey Anderson, a few months later we were really into the German, early 2000s sound like Workshop and Playhouse." The third record, Even Tuell's Longing Way, was a nod to Gerard and Said's shared love of Workshop Records. Tuell's sound shared a similar spirit with Joey Anderson, achieving the narrative consistency that has come to define Latency. At the time the pair were immersed in DJing and club music, and they said that the ongoing direction of the label is thought out like a DJ set.