“Joe Davis is the man who opened up Brazil to the entire DJ culture around the world. There’s no one else.” – Gilles Peterson
In what began as just a youthful curiosity and grew into a voracious interest in his teens, Joe Davis’ reputation as a figurehead in Brazilian music remains deeply entrenched in the work of his label Far Out Recordings. Marking its 20th year last year, Far Out has become a dominant presence in movement-defining releases from Brazilian artists, with the likes of Sabrina Malheiros, Milton Nascimento, Arthur Verocai and Azymuth to name but a few that the label have worked with to date.
Alongside providing us with a great mix of music from the label’s back catalogue and his own collection, Joe kindly took what we expect was a welcome break from sorting through a collection of over 30,000 7inch records to sit and chat one late afternoon in Spring. Whilst he insisted that these records weren’t in fact anything to do with the label itself, the constant firing of his mobile in the background was quite telling as to why Far Out Records continues to go strong after 20 years in the business.
Far Out Recordings’ brand new Brazilika compilation celebrating 20 years of the label and compiled by Joe himself is out now. Previous Brazilika’s in the series have been compiled by Gilles Peterson, 4hero, Kenny Dope and Andy Votel and have marked landmark years in the Far Out story. This truly special comp includes mixes from Theo Parrish, Paul White and Nicola Conte, be sure not to miss out.
In essence, Far Out Recordings was born out of “buying lots of records, record dealing and collecting”. Davis started going to Brazil in the 80s to buy records, and for himself rather than to DJ with. He did indeed play out in London with the likes of Gilles Peterson and Chris Bangs and threw a lot of his own parties. “It was kind of a bit before house music and after disco and you would either have really rank discotheques or you had really fucking super cool underground clubs playing underground music.” He spoke of the London scene back then being lots of jazz, old soul, modern soul music and rare groove. “They used to play a lot of latin, Blue Note jazz and 70s fusion in those clubs at the time which I particularly liked.” Having listened to radio shows when he was really young; people like Robbie Vincent would include a lot of Brazilian music on rotation. Artists like Azymuth, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Marcus Valle in the 60s and 70s used to record in America, and so through his listening to “black music” and soul music he had gotten familiar with the sound of Brazilian music too. “Along with that, the football and the women actually, I kind of had this urge to go to Brazil”.
So began a working commute to Brazil, enviable in its destination yet dismissible in its distance, where he would buy records nowhere to be found in the UK. Joe started to play these records out and sell them to collectors, friends and DJs like Gilles. Realising this endeavour was getting quite big Joe quit university to take it more seriously. However, after several years in 1993 he admitted to becoming quite bored, “I felt between ’87 and then I had kind of discovered all there was to discover; all the best components of Brazilian music that nobody knew over here”. So he started new projects, doing compilations for Blue Note and a compilation series called Blue Brazil, “we also did some stuff on Talkin’ Loud and then countless bits with Japanese companies”. By this point Joe had gotten to know Brazilian icons Joyce Moreno, Azymuth, Marcos Valle and the like, and having still felt that he was pretty much just a record dealer, he made the move to start his own label. “I had been in and out working at a few record companies doing internships and I thought it couldn’t be that hard to start your own, seeing the state of some of the bosses I worked for I thought fucking hell if they can do it, well I can do it with my eyes closed!”
“I remember going to Sao Paulo and I couldn’t believe the size of the city, and I thought to myself ‘Oh shit, where have I landed..?’”
Steering the conversation to the subject of Brazil, we wanted to know if he remembered his very first visit and what it was like. Joe enjoyed recalling memories as he went on to tell the backstory of how he’d met a Brazilian seller Eric at a record fair in Croydon when he was 17. One of the first records he got was [Eumir] Deodato – ‘Os Catedraticos 73’ after he told Eric of his love of Brazilian jazz. After keeping in touch over the next 6 months, a multitude of records airmailed back and fourth, and Eric eventually invited him over.
“I remember it was a massive culture shock, just so different. There wasn’t a McDonalds, I just didn’t see anything that I was familiar with, it was like being on another planet. I remember going to Sao Paulo and I couldn’t believe the size of the city, and I thought to myself ‘Oh shit, where have I landed..?’”
Understandably he confessed to being a little scared to go out, instead spending all day and all night simply trawling through records. “They must have thought I was really strange because I would wear these shorts, a pair of loafers, I had a pack of cigarettes and I was drinking this drink called guarana and all day long I was just going through records. It was kind of bananas really, a seventeen year old shouldn’t be doing that, he should be out there looking for ladies man!”
We then spoke of his views on the changes in Brazilian music over the last twenty years; “I think the poorest time was the 80s, the 90s were better and then they had a re-emergence of the MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) mainly due to what was happening outside of Brazil, that people liked all the 60s and 70s stuff. Artists started to record similar stuff, as we (Far Out) did of course but we recorded it with the original artists.” His preference was material from the 60s and 70s, for him having a “very special colour” in its sound and production. Brazil being so geographically huge and thus having a rich mix in cultures, people settled from all over the world and this can be heard in the music. The north is a prime example where a lot of Africans settled influencing Candomblé music, from which many strands of current afro styles now flourish.
Like Brazilian music, the vision of Far Out Recordings has also changed over the last 20 years and it has had to, “as we haven’t had money to produce like we used to”. By adapting to changes in the music industry the label now work with a lot of artists who produce their own records rather than putting the production together themselves, “because it is far more than the sales will ever commit you to”. Saying that, there were many upsides too, signing new artists who have “thankfully” been influenced by the music that Joe is into and as as result, “making some amazing music, samba, afro music and remixes too”.
This need to adapt to the industry wasn’t the main driver to keep going however; the biggest problem had always been finding ways for the label to make money. Far Out has reissued material but as a rule it is not the way they want to do things. “It’s not the thing of this label, because you just sit there licensing stuff and putting it out…great. Doing other record companies’ work for them basically, money is to be made of you to reinvest into other things.” But they are always looking for good opportunities to do projects with existing and new artists in new musical “possibilities”.
Asked if there were any landmark achievements he could pick out from the label over the last 20 years, the response was one we really couldn’t argue with; “yeah, to survive for twenty years in this shit hole! That’s a landmark achievement in itself.” A short face-palm moment. “I think genuinely, and I say it in a dry sense, but that has been the achievement, to actually survive. At the end of the day a lot of people don’t notice the effort that we put in, especially when we used to have to produce everything that we put out. It’s actually getting the music ready, then you have to manufacture it, market it, package it and put it out. It’s a lot of work. Like I say things are easier now because a lot of artists come to us but even so, to survive this long with the way the business has gone, for me is the achievement.”
Joe did make sure to add the fact that he has had the opportunity to work with some great artists and “absolute geniuses” in his time also.
We swung the conversation back round to music itself and in particular what he likes to listen to outside of Brazilian stuff these days. It was clear his heart was still with the music from his youth; “all kinds of soul music. Jazz, soul, funk from the 60s and 70s I love it yeah. There is such a history of music there and you can never get bored or even find everything, there is just so much to discover”. Amongst his likening of rock from the same era we also talked of Joes enjoyment of electronic music also. “I bought the new 22a record recently, so I’m still always looking for new and interesting music. Listen to that record however and it’s full of samples from the 70s and 80s anyway!”
Finally we got Joe to give us his tips of some artists to look out for. “In Brazil there are lots of interesting people and bands, some of which we are going to be working with anyway. A band called Iconili, Andre Sampaio, they are artist that we are going to be putting out; DJ Dolores who just had a record out and DJ Tudo another DJ guy; funnily enough they are all musicians not DJs!”
Joyce with Nana Vasconcelos & Mauricio Maestro – Banana
Ana Mazzoti – Agora Nunca Mais
UNKOWN 7” – Sounds like Joao Donato..
Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra – Last Carnival
Banda Black Rio – Maria Fumaca
The Friends From Rio Project – Fogo No Chao
Sean Khan – Samba Para Florence (Henry Wu Remix)
Dokta Venom – Space Dust?
Robertinho Silva– Falange Dos Tambores
UNKNOWN (Can’t remember/ can’t find it..)
Mereles E Seu Orchestra – Kriola
Apresentando Samba Show – Menina Boneca
Claudio Jorge – Capoeira
Evinha – Que Bandeira
Fabiola – Essa Marie
Elis Regina – O Meninho Das Laranjas
Egberto Gismonti – O Gato
Carlos Piper – Nanã
Claudia – Carolina Carol Bela
Chaino – The Spear Dance
Don Randy with Curtis Amy – Tropical Safari
Maria Crueza – Macamba
Marcal do Batucada…