Label Spotlight: Huntleys + Palmers

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A party outfit, label and DJ, Huntleys + Palmers is somewhat of a self-standing institution eight years down the line. Balancing line-up curation between Glasgow and London, founder Andrew has booked everyone from Axel Boman to Veronica Vasicka, Four Tet to Silver Apples and hundreds of others in between, giving many their UK debuts. The label spearheaded solid trajectories for the plethora of talented artists on the roster, from Auntie Flo and Mehmet Aslan to SOPHIE and Alejandro Paz. Ahead of his sun-soaked set at Dimensions Festival this year we caught up with the one-man machine driving electronic music forward in every spectrum, alongside an off-the-cuff mix which you can listen to below.

Head here for information and tickets to Dimensions Festival.

Who is Huntleys + Palmers and how did you all meet?

The label was born out of parties by the same name. I’ve had some notable assistance with each along the way, but I oversee everything from the booking policy, A&R, artwork and general day to day.

The artists involved in the label have been either approached by myself or are friends / friends of someone who’ve sent me demos. Every so often a demo comes through from a random that is too good to ignore. I’ve spent time with everyone who’s released on the label thus far – which is maybe more of a big deal than it sounds, as they’re all based in different corners of the world.

How and why was the label born?

I guess it’s a natural progression from putting on parties. I’ve always been excited by the discovery of new music and running a label is the next step along. I’d wanted to start one for a while, but wasn’t keen on the idea of approaching artists who already had connections to bigger labels, so decided to let the music find me..

Then I started doing the Highlife parties in Glasgow with a guy called Brian and one day he sent me this album he’d made – I wasn’t really aware of him making music before then – which was AMAZING and encapsulated everything I was into at musically at that point. He’d originally sent it to me to get some help in sending it to other labels and folk I’d met / booked in the past and I talked him into the idea of doing it ourselves. The album was ‘Future Rhythm Machine’ by Auntie Flo and things began from there.

Do you think beginning as a party and bookers, gave you an advantage when turning to A&R and releasing music?

Only maybe in the sense that I’d been exposed to more folk who ran labels of their own and that began to demystify the whole process. From an A&R point of view, I guess by the point of starting the label, I had more confidence in my taste and a better idea of what I was/nt looking for musically, which I’m sure has helped.

Looking back, which were the best parties your threw and who were the best guests? What’s gone down in history for you?

I’m working that at the moment actually, as next year is the 10th birthday. I’d rather not get into specifics just now, but there’s tons of highlights, many of them with personal heroes who have came back to play repeatedly, so that’s probably what I’d remember most of all. The ‘never meet your heroes’ adage hasn’t held much weight in my encounters – I’m still as much of a music fan boy now, as I was before.

That, and booking new artists based on a feeling from one or two amazing tracks / a mix and then watch them go on to blow up and then sell out the next time.

Where did the name come from?

The name is so stupid really. I had booked the first guest without having a name for the party and around the same time, I read about the Wolfenden Report (around the time of it’s 50th anniversary) which famously decriminalised homosexuality and prostitution in the UK. Being the 1950’s, they used code names for homosexuals and prostitutes during the inquest. These were ‘Huntleys’ and ‘Palmers’. At the time, I like the slightly sleazy and egalitarian connotations attached and for want of something better, went with the name ‘Huntleys & Palmers Audio Club’.

What I didn’t find out until much later, was that the code names themselves came from a popular biscuit company at the time – they still exist now! I often get sent pictures of old biscuit tins spotted on someone’s travels, and the occasional complaining email about their biscuit game from some grumpy old lady.

With hindsight, knowing that I’d be here now, still explaining what the name means, I would have opted for something more snappy and immediate. But there was no real thought beyond the next party and now here we are. I’d like to think that the reputation has transcended the name over all this time. Maybe we’ll collaborate on a commemorative biscuit range for next year!

What’s the philosophy behind Huntleys + Palmers?

The main drive hasn’t changed from the outset – we’ve been championing new and interesting music, artists and labels since 2007. Regardless of genre – ‘a good tune is a good tune.’

What made you start your offshoot label Highlife, and can you tell us more about that?

The main reason actually came from a legal position as it initially began life as an edits label and our distributer wasn’t keen on putting out edits, so we got another distributer involved. It made sense on a musical level too, as we concentrated on the sounds that we were playing at our Highlife parties and subsequently the artists who’ve released have all began to make a name from themselves beyond their edits. We’ve since began to release more original productions from the likes of CAIN and the collaborative effort on our Highlife World Series.

You’ve made a name for yourselves as being a label way ahead of the curve musically. What do you look for in the artists you release and how do you find them?

 

First and foremost is just good music – something that immediately grabs me and usually something I’d want to play out – or at least share with others. Having been a music lover and collector for a long time, I’m confident in my intuition and know what I’m not looking for more than anything else. Everyone has experienced that special feeling when they hear a track and they think ‘WTF is this?’, I now I experience this earlier in the process.

In terms of the artists themselves, I like to work with people I get along with and would enjoy their company while travelling and spending time away doing gigs.

Do you travel a lot? How do you go about trying to find new music and artists when abroad? Any tips?

 

Yeah, a lot more frequently now – this past year has probably been the most I’ve been away from home to date. I’m not in such high demand though, so I typically like to spend an extra day or two in a city, rather than do the whole in and out thing. This means that I get to experience more of the city / country itself and spend time making new friends. More often than not, someone will let me hear some work in progress, which has occasionally led to a release..

I’d like to say I dig in every record shop I walk past, but in reality, I prefer to enjoy the social aspect of being away and visiting record shops is something that I prefer to do on my own, ideally with a whole afternoon to spare – and that’s usually not feasible.

There’s also a small selection of music friends where we do folder swaps quite regularly. So we’ll put together a folder of music of the best stuff we’ve discovered lately to share, and that opens up a whole new world of discovering new artists and labels.

Do you have any good anecdotes about meeting an artist you work with?

There’s a few good stories actually – Alejandro Paz spending Christmas day at my parents house in Glasgow is one for the books! This is probably the most repeated one though..

So my flatmate in London at the time had booked this guy he went to uni with to play at a party and I’d been asked to do the warm up. I had to leave straight after playing, but had caught the tail end of this guy’s soundcheck – which I thought sounded really interesting. The label was in it’s infancy at that point – we’d maybe only put out the first record – so I asked for his contact details and approached him about doing a remix. This was the result – something I still really love.

Anyway, on the back of this remix, I invited this still unknown guy out to play at a beach party we were doing during the Sonar weekend. There was a problem with the bus service to get folk from the city, so as a result, he played to an empty beach. But the late buses also meant that some of the bigger names who were due to play couldn’t make it, so there became a gap in the schedule and somehow or other, this guy sneaked back on around peak time and absolutely smashed it to a full beach party! Someone best described it as ‘waiting to hear your favourite band play the favourite song you’ve never heard before’ and for the rest of the weekend I had these hooks stuck in my head. One of these turned out to be this and so began SOPHIE’s ascent!

Do you feel there’s a common tie that runs through the releases, be it in an attitude, sound, feeling or approach?

 

Yes and no. I guess with everything I do, it purely comes down to the fact that I love it and by that extension, would expect others to as well. So immediacy is important – that ‘WTF is this?’ feeling – but my tastes are pretty broad. I often consider reigning things in and focussing on one sound or style more – which would probably help journalists, shops or whatever get a better sense of what the label is about and create some short term hype. But I don’t want to run a label with that sort of motivation and ultimately know that I’d feel frustrated in not having that freedom to go with my instinct and release what excites me. I’m confident that over time, this will serve me well. I’ve been on Bandcamp for about 6 months now and it’s great to see folk buying very different records – which proves my outlook has some basis.

As for the artists themselves, what ties them together is having a distinctive approach to music. Any established artist I admire, has their own idiosyncrasies and this is exactly how I view everyone on the label.

Your label represents an amazing range of non-Western sounds, including Cain’s Indian influence and Mehmet Aslan’s incredible Turkish-folk roots. What attracts you to these kind of records?

 

Ever since returning from a summer in Berlin in 2006 and never wanting to hear another minimal record again, I’ve been interested in discovering dance records that don’t sound like anything else.

The label evolves with my own tastes – a few years ago I was beginning to be exposed to more Turkish and Eastern music, and shortly after that, I met Mehmet, who has done such an amazing job of marrying these traditional folk songs with contemporary dance music – without it ever sounding cheesy or bad. Likewise with CAIN, Alma Negra and Auntie Flo.

How do you feel about the “world” genre, is that disrespectful labelling?

It’s not my ideal choice of phrase, but it’s more for a want of something better. I have difficulty in describing music myself as I find it difficult to articulate how I feel about music – something which touches emotions that words couldn’t do justice. Now with more music and resources to discover music than ever before, I get the necessity to pigeon hole stuff, but it’s not especially helpful either.

Starting in Glasgow, how important is the city to what Huntleys + Palmers do?

 

I definitely owe a lot to Glasgow. I had a proper musical education going out to the Sub Club and Optimo, The Arches and elsewhere, pretty much every week from about 18-25. I was also discovering a lot of music and artists who weren’t really being represented at that time, so when I started to do parties, H+P was defined by doing something wasn’t really there before – booking a lot of artists who hadn’t played in the city and eventually making a bit of reputation this way. In a city so small, I didn’t find it necessary to start a party that was a carbon copy of another one in existence.

I’ve been asked before about how difficult it was to move to London and start promoting there, but really Glasgow was just as competitive – if not more so – in the sense that there’s even less people to compete for and there’s amazing stuff happening every weekend. This hasn’t changed at all – if anything, there’s maybe a few new venues who’re in the running each weekend now.

The competition is healthy though – rather than aggressive or nasty. It’s difficult to imagine a promoter in say London, allowing a rival to book the artist they are also after without at least getting into a bidding war. This happens pretty often in Glasgow. There’s much more of a community spirit with folk who support and help each other rather than the opposite.

From a bigger picture point of view, it’s a great place to have a base with a lot of open minded music lovers who are up for getting on it every weekend.

You’ve got to have one of the most striking and dramatic label images, what’s the idea behind this and all Huntleys + Palmers’ aesthetic?

 

The image was originally a poster that was designed for a party with Oni Ayhun and Veronica Vasicka. I really liked the spooky ambiguity and kept it. I never really thought about how it would appear to others, just liked it myself. That being said, until maybe only a year or so ago, I tried to remain out of the picture as much as possible and have the main focus on the music and artists / guests, so maybe there was something in that as well.

To touch on the visual element as a whole, like the booking policy, I was keen to present artwork on the posters and flyers which stood out from what other promoters were doing. The more events, the less I could use the one designer, so I got more involved and this approach has also continued with the label. If an artist has a certain designer they want to use or clear way they want to present their music, then I’m happy to allow them free reign in this regard as presentation. Otherwise, there’s a couple of regular artists I use; Anna Kraay and Fort Rixon. They both have their own very unique thing going on and each lends themselves to a different way I’d like to present the music. Anna’s work is perfect for the more mysterious or intricate stuff and Fort Rixon works well with maybe ‘warmer’ sounding artists / records.

What has been your proudest achievements?

I’m hugely proud of the artists I’ve worked with on the label. With a few exceptions, everyone has released their first or second record on H+P / Highlife and has then went on to either attract attention from bigger and respected labels and artists, to touring internationally on a regular basis. I’m sure in each case, this would have happened without my involvement, but can’t remove myself from the equation so I’m really chuffed to have been there so early on and see how things have unfolded. Very rewarding indeed.

What have been the greatest difficulties, as a label, and as individuals working within a label, you’ve had to overcome?

 

There’s been tons. The big thing that no one really tells you when you start a label is that you are left to figure it all out for yourself. There’s no course you can take or anything that will equip you with the knowledge you’ll eventually accumulate with experience. In itself this is fine, but without any real guidance, you have to encounter mistakes in order to avoid them next time and when working with new artists, who just want their music out there, the setbacks can be incredibly frustrating.

As such, I’ve also learned a lot about managing expectations. There’s this idea that once you have a record out, you’ll immediately start getting gigs and things will fall into your lap. Getting a record is usually just the beginning – not the end point and there’s a lot to consider besides this, especially now that there’s even more labels and ways to consume and discover music than ever before. The way you present yourself as an artist is just as important as the music itself nowadays.

Desert Island Disco: what three label releases would you take with to cover all musical bases, moods and occasions?

Auntie Flo’s Theory of Flo – hearing Auntie Flo develop his sound has been a real pleasure – I’m still in awe when he sends me a new track or remix he’s working on. Theory of Flo is maybe the best example of this – a real masterpiece.

Peter Scion – Through My Ghost – this is a different kind of record entirely, but one that I share a personal attachment to and it still excites me that that I managed to put it out.

Mamacita – No Eres Tu – I don’t like to single out one particular track over all the others, so I’ve chosen this at random; a straight up party anthem I’ll never tire of.

Could you tell us about the mix you made for us?

 

Funnily enough, I didn’t really plan this mix as a label spotlight – I’d already put the mix together before being offered to do this piece. It would have turned out slightly differently if I had.

I actually recorded the mix around the start of July – in the wake of Brexit and the ensuing mess that came afterwards. I’d played at Glastonbury just beforehand – which was a huge highlight to be looking forward to in my year and with that out the way and wave after wave of depressing news, so decided to record a mix with a bunch of records that were cheering me up at the time. More to get out the house and do something other than refresh the news and feel sorry at the state of the world. I usually spend a bit of time planning mixes in advance to make sure they are different than the others, but this was more spontaneous and I maybe more enjoyable as a result.

It was recorded at The Art School in Glasgow, (where I’ll play all night this Friday) and features some of the new remixes from the Auntie Flo album – by Mehmet Aslan and Mark E. Mark also sent me the new Mark Seven release on his label – which was brand new when the mix was recorded, and has rightly been getting caned since then. I’ve been playing it a lot slower lately and that seems to do the trick too.

There’s also couple of personal classics on there – one being a Glasgow anthem that I first heard back at an afterparty around 2003 and it’s never gotten old.

What DJs, artists and labels are exciting you at the moment?

 

There’s a couple of Studio Barnhus affiliated tracks on the mix too – a new remix by Kornel Kovacs whose forthcoming debut album is bound to get him a lot more recognition that he deserves. I’d say it’s one of the rare ‘dance album’s’ that actually works as a series of club tracks. Each track became my new favourite listening through it. Baba Stiltz is also destined for big things.

Abra can do no wrong, we’re sharing the same stage with her at Dimensions this month and I’m looking forward to that a lot.

Dollkraut and his various projects has been really smashing it. I’m surprised he hasn’t blown up more by now, although I’m sure it will only be a matter of time.

I’m sure these don’t need much introducing to anyone who has got this far in my ramblings though! So here’s a bunch of other notables –

Artists
The Modern Institute from Glasgow (and everyone who featured on Clyde Built)
No Zu from Australia
Marie Davidson from Canada
E. Myers from the US
Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe from the US
Air Max ’97 from Australia

DJs
Clara 3000 from France
Debonair from London
David Barbarossa from Glasgow
Calypso Steve from Red Light Records
Vladimir Ivkovic from Dusseldorf

Labels
Invisible City from Canada
Fleeting Wax from Switzerland
12th Isle from Glasgow
Domestic Exile from Glasgow
Multi Culti from Canada

What’s on the horizon for Huntleys + Palmers?

The immediate future has a bunch of fun parties, including Dimensions, where we’ll host a boat and beach party. The Invisible City guys are over from Canada next month – we’ll be hosting them in Glasgow and London.

Label-wise, the Theory of Flo remix package is well underway. The first one has been picked up by the likes of Dixon, Mano le Tough, Ivan Smagghe et al. There’s also a remix release package by Lena Willikens and then a series of 12’s by some of the usual suspects, and some new additions.

Beyond that, there’s a bunch of 10th anniversary stuff in the works to be revealed soon.

Where would you like to see the label in 5 years?

I don’t like to think that far ahead, but I expect there will be more of the same really. I’d like to see the presently attached artists going on to bigger and better stages in their work and expect to be involved with many newcomers who are lying in wait down the road. Anything else is a bonus.

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