A storming old-school electro session.
"God knows why I carried on," Phil Bolland says below about Cultivated Electronics, the label he's been running for the past ten years. Back in the early days, Cultivated Electronics was losing money, as Bolland just couldn't shift enough units. Fast-forward to today, and some of those same records are trading on Discogs for quadruple their original price. "It's crazy," he says. So what changed? The admirable thing about this story is that Bolland has been doing the exact same thing since day one: straight-up, no-nonsense electro. But as the winds of taste changed and more people discovered (or rediscovered) the sound, they stumbled across a label with years of history and a killer catalogue.
Bolland's own music as Sync 24 makes up a sizable chunk of Cultivated Electronics' output. He seems particularly fond of collaborations, so you'll find much of his best work in projects with fellow electro diehards like The Exaltics, Morphology and Carl Finlow, AKA Silicon Scally. Alongside the label, Bolland has been running a party, Scand, for almost as long. On the text for this weekend's Cultivated Electronics and Central Processing Unit showcase, Scand is described as "London's longest serving electro night." It goes on: "There has been no escaping the recent resurgence of electro and SCAND are excited to be showcasing the output of two labels that have been major contributors to its long overdue renaissance." We'd usually avoid reading too much into promo copy, but in this case it's undoubtedly accurate.
Given Bolland's long-standing relationship with electro, we asked him to focus his RA podcast on the past, and more specifically records from the early 2000s backwards. He responded with a blistering set that shows that, while electro's fundamentals haven't changed much down the years, it remains one of electronic music's most potent dance floor sounds.
What have you been up to recently?
I have had a nice string of shows, which is cool. I played in Russia for the first time a couple of weeks ago, at Propaganda in Moscow and Mosaique in St. Petersburg. It was really nice to see the electro sound thriving out there! Release-wise, I have just put out a remix for M-Twelve, which is a new collab from Billy Nasty and Nick Dunton on Electrix Records, and a remix for Morphology on the new Mind Stealers 12-inch on my Cultivated Electronics label. I have also been busy in the studio working on several collaborations with Alienata, Detroit In Effect, Stratowerx, Jensen Interceptor, DeFeKT and The Resonance Committee. I also have a full-time job working as a sound designer in audio post-production.
How and where was the mix recorded?
After many years of predominantly playing records I have just moved onto rekordbox and USB, which I am absolutely loving. The mix was recorded at my home studio on my Pioneer XDJ-RX2.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I was asked to do a pre-2000 / around 2000 electro mix. I focussed on mainly stuff from the '90s and early 2000s. This was the era that got me into the sound, and from which a large portion of my record collection is from, so I thought it would be easy for me. The reality was I actually found it very difficult. There is so much good music from this era, and it was really hard to pick what to include, or should I say what to leave out! I wanted to do a mix that represented some classics, a history of the sound, some more obscure stuff and records that were personal to me. I spent around a month selecting tracks. I got the shortlist down to around 80, then started playing with them. In the end I got the mix down to 32 tracks, and recorded the final version in one take.
As someone who's been involved with electro for a long time, what do you make of its recent popularity?
I think it's absolutely awesome. When I was 18 this was how it was for me. There were wicked parties like Wang and Haywire going on in London and tons of wicked labels. Electro was thriving, and all the artists I still hugely respect now were shaping the sound I love. It's great to see new people enjoying the music and being exposed to the sound.
You've now been running Cultivated Electronics for over ten years. How has running a record label changed during that time period?
Musically the direction of CE has remained the same from the start. There are core artists who have been with the label from the early days, such as Silicon Scally, Morphology and Matt Whitehead, who are all still putting out tracks now. The label is really a direct reflection of the music I produce and play and the sound of my club night, Scand.
The big thing that has changed is the record sales. When I started CE I wasn't breaking even on records. God knows why I carried on. I'm pretty sure I was making a loss for the first ten or so releases, so it was a real labour of love. Being taken on by Clone distribution at around the eighth release really helped, but it wasn't until the World Electronix series, which started at CE011, that I was able to sell enough to break even. That series was limited press so it just covered costs, but at least I wasn't making a loss. It's crazy when you see how much people are asking for some of the old stuff on Discogs now because at the time I couldn't shift them. At the moment sales are definitely the best I have seen on CE, and this seems to be happening across the board as friends are telling me that their labels are shifting decent numbers, too.
What are you up to next?
I have a good run of gigs coming up. This weekend will be our first Scand party of the year in London, which is a Cultivated Electronics x Central Processing Unit showcase. Then I'm playing live at Concrete in Paris before heading to Berlin this Easter for a massive 24-hour CE x Mechatronica party with Helena Hauff, Radioactive Man, Privacy etc., which I am really looking forward to.
Release-wise CE is stacked with forthcoming bits from Maelstrom, Jensen Interceptor and Assembler Code and new series I am launching called From The Dark, which will be five various artists compilations with tracks from The Operator, Zeta Reticula, The Exaltics, 214, Delta Funktionen, Alpha 606, VC-118A, Ekman, myself and a load more wicked artists, including some new heads.
Then solo and collab releases lined up with the Croatia-based label Inner-Space, Propaganda Moscow, Killekill and a string of remixes on various labels. I have also just started a new project with a classical film composer where we spent the weekend at Devon Analogue Studio writing non-electro-style tracks, which is really interesting. So very busy and exciting times ahead!