“If I was doing everything then yeah I’d be six feet under.” Founding father of Lobster Theremin, Jimmy Asquith’s words ring all too true once you consider the prolific frequency at which his label releases. Couple this with the fact that 2015 saw them set up a distribution outlet that already has over 60 labels under its watchful eye. Still far from content, they also established two sub-labels: Mörk, which carries a similar dynamic and sound to its parent, and Distant Hawaii whose debut by Hidden Spheres took to the simmering summertime house territory. A multitude of projects still in the pipeline, and many more currently incognito, means that a Lobster year takes no notice of convention. We got a rare chance to sit down with both Jimmy, and Distribution Manager Joe Bush, to get a feeling of how the Lobster has come to rule the sea.
We begin by taking count of their musical educations. Taken literally, Jimmy happily recounts how he played the flute for six years but never got beyond grade one. He had his main introduction to music through punching in tapes on road trips to Blackpool in his Dad’s red Astra van. Anything from Pink Floyd to The Cars, “they captivated my imagination musically, though I might not have been able to express it.” Growing up in the obscure northern town of Brighouse meant the scene was quite limited, with the one club he was let into as a 14 year old having one room playing “new metal and grunge and the other room hard house and trance.” Despite an initial leaning towards grunge, and a small journey through various bands and strains of indie, once the electro-clash movement with Erol Alkan et al had come onto the scene this led to Jimmy fully immersing in the electronic scene, and would lead to him appreciating the full spectrum of electronic music.
Moving down to London after finishing university in Newcastle, Jimmy started a series of nights called Streets Of Beige. “That’s where I met Jay – Palms Trax – and me and a friend did an all-dayer called Binnacle Festival where I booked an artist who turned out to be Joe Bush.” A solid friendship grew between the three of them, built on shared interests and a humour to match. One that would see them all, at different stages and in varying capacities, become key members of Lobster Theremin.
As we chat, their determination and diligence are all too apparent. Who can honestly say that, as a youngster, they self booked a DJing tour of Columbia and Chile. Jimmy on the other hand…. “It was really weird, I booked it through Myspace, literally just sent this mixtape to these clubs and the money paid for my flights there and back. I played to 800 people in Bogota for four-and-a-half hours, drinking loads of Pisco, in full fluoro gear, massive Asics basketball trainers and a big cap that said ‘BOOM’ on it. There are photos of it.” True to form, Jimmy’s Facebook does verify this stylistic masterpiece.
We’re talking five or six years before the Lobster was born here, which, in itself, is an interesting story worth recalling. During an all-too-often mid-week drinking session, Jimmy and Jay are listening to music:
Jimmy: “What is this?’”
Jay: “Oh it’s something I made”
Jimmy: “This is fucking unreal, like incredible!”
That track just so happened to be ‘Equation’ and in the coming weeks, as Jay sent over more productions, the basis of the first EP was born. This seminal record would set out their stall in terms of the quality of music that they would become renowned for.
Similarly amusing was to learn that the name came about when Si from Deep Space Orchestra jokingly told Jimmy he’d like Lobster Thermidor for dinner when he was playing Streets Of Beige. “I mentioned something about a lobster theremin, we were chatting and I said he should name his next EP that, and he said I should call it the name of the label I was going to start”. Likewise too for the infamous lobster logo that seems to crawl up everywhere. “I ended up drawing the logo to show a friend what I wanted them to draw and she was like ‘No use that!’”. This was at a time when other labels were, as Jimmy puts it, “a bit too branded and cool, a bit too formalised. It was nice to do something a bit different”. Their identity then is one that doesn’t take heed too closely of what has come before. In actively going against the grain though they’ve managed to create their own distinctive brand, albeit not as formalised as most.
These insights capture a lot of the light-hearted nature of Lobster Theremin that so many have come to love. A disregard for what is perceived to be the way to do things, but all the while backed up by a catalogue of undeniably impressive music. Yet don’t let these amusing anecdotes fool you into thinking that Lobster was built on matters of coincidence. From when Jimmy came up with the name and drew the logo it was another 12 months before Lobster officially came to our shores with Palms Trax’s EP. At that point Jimmy already had a further ten releases ready to drop, so it seems the prolific nature of the Lobster output was clear from the beginning. “I was always keen to release at least one record a month, but now it’s more like two or three”. And there’s no sign of them slowing down either.
The unit they now rent to facilitate the label and the distribution is a far cry from Jimmy’s third floor flat where, “12 massive, 25-28kg boxes would arrive and I’d have to one by one carry them up three flights of stairs.” Or subsequently, in his friend’s mezzanine where he used the exhaust of a tumble dryer to keep warm as he packed stock. Nowadays they’ve expanded to a team of five and, considering their lofty ambitions, that’s only set to increase.
Lobster Distribution as a viable commercial venture then began to develop, in part due to the help of artists already on their roster. “Imre Kiss had a friend with a label who thought, because I released Imre’s record, I might want to distribute his. It was just near Christmas and they had 160 records and they all sold in about an hour. I just mailed round the stores and the response was great.” As simple as that? Regardless, it does prove the direct and pragmatic approach Jimmy takes not just to the distribution but also Lobster Theremin as a holistic entity as well.
The next few months saw the interest in the distribution grow and, with more labels being taken on, Jimmy asked Joe to help out one or two days a week. “Then on the third week after you’d started we thought ‘ohh lets make a [Lobster Distribution] Facebook page’ and then it was just like BOOM literally like a nuclear explosion” As Joe puts it, “I went from working one or two days a week, to working five”, and that was almost an overnight success with them taking on 30 labels in a matter of weeks. That number now lies at around 60, with 100 set to be the figure by the end of the year.
For every label they choose to take on though, many enquiries fall by the wayside; such is the sheer amount of requests they receive. We move onto how they make these decisions. First and foremost, it’s clearly got to be music they’re into, “within the realms of electronic music, maybe going as far as noise, ambient and new wave.” Their Soundcloud premieres this wide spectrum, from those distinctive synth/soundtrack works of Panoram on Wandering Eye, to the cosmic dubbiness found on the first release from Peckham label Bokeh Versions via Seekersinternational, and the distinctive vintage house works of L.B. Produce. It truly is a treasure trove of artists and labels freshly discovered from the depths.
Joe reinforces this distribution diversity – “I think we’re open to most stuff, it doesn’t have to be established labels, we’re interested in people that are starting out that are exciting.” This is a pertinent point as many of the labels they take on are far from established. Jimmy recounts how a label had recently set up a crowd-funding for 100 people to commit to buying their record so they could afford to press it. As it happened he had just been approached by them. “Ten minutes before the artist weirdly enough sent it to me, I clicked on it, listened to it and then mailed the guy from the label and told him to take the page down, we’d press 300 of it.” That efficiency means that many of these labels are newly caught from the sea of Soundcloud and Bandcamp, and delivered straight onto your plate.
Making these quality decisions at speed is what Jimmy and Joe are masters of and goes some way to explaining how they can release so frequently, but at the same time maintain such high standards. Joe helps sum this up. “It can be a very quick process for the labels we distribute, which is nice because you capture their excitement and they’re still really up for it.” This is where Lobster appears to run things differently to most. An ability to act quickly, along with the relationships they hold with their chosen mastering and pressing outlets, means they can sidestep the protracted experiences that many people have with distribution and the injustices they can feel. Albeit on a slightly smaller scale than other distribution companies, it gives Lobster an edge and excitement that spreads fast.
A&R for Lobster Theremin as a label differs slightly to that of the distribution. There’s not the same prerequisite for impulsivity with such decisions. Jimmy outlines that, for the label, his process is very particular yet “when we do things together for the distribution you’re thinking in a different context, but you are still looking for distinctive things that are engaging.” This engaging nature breeds excitement in the office too. It appears to be a regular occurrence that the iTunes will fall on a track that makes everyone in the office sit back and take stock. Joe illustrates, “we’ll be like, what the hell is this?! And it’ll be something we’re distributing and it’s coming out next week. That happens really regularly and that’s when you’ve got something that’s really exciting.”
Saner men would see the figure of 100 labels on the distribution alongside everything else Lobster is doing as quite an undertaking. But both Jimmy and Joe feel there’s still room for growth from what they describe as a “manageable level.” As we talk about their output, Jimmy’s desire to expand really becomes evident. “There are another four or five outright projects and businesses that I want to launch in the next two years. They’re not just exclusive to music either.” What they are exactly, well we’ll have to wait and see. Rest assured that they’ll be executed with exactly the same high standards that have propelled Lobster to the lofty heights it currently holds.
This air of anonymity is already apparent in several offshoots, whose ties to Lobster will slowly come out over time. Jimmy for instance has launched four secret labels in the past three weeks. And yes you’ll struggle to work any of them out although, to Jimmy’s amusement, he has seen people posting about them unknowingly on Facebook. While this adds mysticism to those labels, it also allows Lobster not to overkill and saturate what it has expertly crafted thus far. Eyes should be peeled on the distribution page too, as between now and December there’s going to be a large haul of new exciting stuff coming out. As Joe puts it, ”all these super-exciting new labels that come up that haven’t even seen a vinyl release, they’re coming through us and it’s really going to help launch them.”
One on-going venture where the cat has been somewhat let out of the bag, is the knowledge that Jimmy, Joe and Jay make up Chicago Flotation Device, a three-piece live outfit who deal in pounding acid and techno. A project that the three friends started prior to Lobster Theremin and one that they’re keen to increase their output on, building on their live set and continuing a steady stream of releases.
So what future Lobster Theremin releases can be divulged? Firstly, Snow Bone is set to drop an LP under his alias Black Patterns, which is as adventurous as it is stimulating. Jimmy explains, “it is comprehensively one of the most riveting yet challenging sets of eight tracks we’ll ever release. It goes from edge to edge. It stretches the boundaries of what people have experienced in electronic music and challenges the way they think about it as being produced and how ideas are executed. Basically the album feels like someone steadily pulling cling film over your face and then occasionally beating you with a cricket bat.” Subtle then. The fourth track, they reveal, is a hip-hop tempo track made entirely out of static and noise, which gives you a small taste of what this record will bring to the plate. News too of a debut on Mörk for Nottingham-based producer Roza Roza that, as Jimmy outlines, “as a year end release it will absolutely blow up. It’s such a unique set of ideas and way of producing I think it really tees up the expectations of what we’re going to do next year now. It’s like giving a jazz drummer a drum machine and being like ‘make techno with it’”. Another one then to await with baited breath. As Joe recalls, “when we first heard it we both just stopped working and listened to the whole thing.” Alongside these two there’s also DJ Sonikku on Distant Hawaii and a mysterious DJ Wave 12” which sees Japanese house infused with references to Anime.
The duo’s passion for Lobster Theremin is visible to anyone who’s come into contact with them; you’ll regularly find them at vinyl fairs where test pressings and Bloody Marys go hand-in-hand. What’s interesting is the advice they would give to anyone wanting to start their own label, as the answer helps to shed light on what makes Lobster Theremin so unique. As Jimmy puts it, “Don’t be intimidated by old structures or what you think other people are doing. Do what works for you. And don’t have unrealistic expectations of what your decisions mean; if you’re going to be anonymous don’t think you’re going to get tonnes of press. On the flip-side if you push things out hard, don’t expect your music not to get much bigger if it has serious appeal”.
In this statement you see the way Lobster Theremin has hitherto developed. Their social media presence is engaging and suitably tongue-in-cheek, an approach that was created when many other labels were straight-laced and serious. Yet this takes on a new meaning as soon as you hear their music. “Don’t compromise too much,” Joe adds, “if you believe in something initially don’t change that to please someone else.” That belief has helped them build an active community of artists and labels with a shared identity. It’s tight-knit but international, not constrained by location but rather connected by a common philosophy. Lobster Theremin then has done what many before have tried and failed to accomplish. If you’re honest, informed and creative in what you do, without worrying too much about what others are thinking, then you have a chance of bringing something truly refreshing to the table. The world is your Lobster!
Catch Lobster Theremin at Studio338 in London this Friday, at Mad Ferret & Percolate: Attack at the Premiere. They’ll be doing a label showcase alongside Moodymann, Space Dimension Controller and Christopher Rau.
Photo Credit: Sam Bush.