Self-Portrait: Ken Oath

Self-Portrait: a series that dives deep into the sounds of some of our favourite producers and labels with a mix of 100% unreleased and forthcoming original material.

We’ve been keeping a close eye on Ken Oath’s output since they kicked off the imprint at the beginning of 2017. Their inaugural sampler brought to our attention a host of exciting new producers from down under, including the likes of riggles, Underground City Loop and Low Flung, and since then more local producers have been welcomed into the fold.

Co-run by friends Earl Grey and James Greville, they exercise an Oz-specific release policy, spanning slow acid burners from Adelaide to tropical-tinged 80’s boogie out of Sydney. Having given a handful of Aussie producers a platform for their sophomore efforts and with that five strong and diverse releases, we are very excited to see what 2018 holds for them.

As they reach a year in the game, we dive deep into the workings of the label alongside a mix of 100% unreleased and forthcoming material.

We hear a lot about the music scene flourishing in Melbourne, a bit less about what’s happening in Sydney. You guys have been throwing the Rimbombo parties there for a few years now, what exciting things are happening in the city?

EG: Yes, Melbourne is extremely cool and trendy. We often travel down to party with a greater sense of freedom and to hang out with our cool and trendy friends down there.

For a global city, Sydney’s legitimate nightlife is laughably bad. With some of the best weather in world, we have a surprising lack of daytime/outdoor party options. Since the lockouts came in to effect – there are only a handful of decent club spaces left.

What has been extremely positive and heart-warming though, is how the music-lovers of this city have embraced challenges and sought out alternative spaces for parties. Shout out to the crews doing parties in the park, under the bridge and in the warehouse spaces.

We’ve been trying for years to find a pub or bar that will let us play music on a Saturday arvo and so far we’ve come up empty handed. This weekend we’re launching our first cassette release by putting together a daytime jam in my backyard.

JG: Melbourne has a very large and healthy scene, no doubt, and they have the freedom and the interest to really flourish. After the lockout laws were put into place in Sydney there was a huge amount of negativity and the scene seemed to creep along at snail pace. Even before they were instilled there were only a handful of great licensed spots where we could experience a closer sense of freedom to that of Melbourne.

In retrospect, I think the laws may have had a partly positive effect on the scene. Everybody is thinking outside the box now, bending some rules and working hard to make sure our dance community doesn’t fade. Ghostly, Insert, Vibe Positive, Heavenly, Umami… they are all doing amazing events in interesting spaces with great people. Peter from The House of Mince always has and always will be doing wonders for our scene. Mad Racket. Picnic. Something else to keep an eye on is Jemma from Inserts new experimental baby, Soft Centre, that she runs with Sam and Thorsten. Definitely a highlight this year.

Ken Oath is a fairly new label; you guys clubbed together about a year go to start it up. What’s the philosophy behind it?

EG: Musically there are no guidelines. We both have very broad tastes and I think that’s been reflected in the output so far. Aesthetically, the whole thing is a bit of a sarcastic tribute to Australian culture.

JG: We love all kinds of music and we love to play this way too. We are open to release anything that moves us. We just try not to take anything too seriously or be too narrow-minded about what is ‘suitable’ for the label.

Every release is Oz-specific and most of the producers only have a few releases under their belt. Do you feel like you have a duty to showcase what Oz has to offer?

EG: I wouldn’t call it a duty, but I’m more interested in working with people who are a part of the same community. It has definitely not been very hard to find good music from around the island, especially from our friends in Sydney.

We love the label name. For those that don’t know the Aussie slang, can you let them into where Ken Oath comes from?

It’s Aussie slang – short for ‘farken’ oath’. It was also the moniker of a Aussie hip-hop artist, whose loyal fan base decide to send us hate mail every so often.

This year you’ve already had five releases, ranging from ambient through to acid flecked disco and deep melodic house. What’s your approach to A&Ring for the label and what do you look for in a release?

JG: Nik has a grade A internet game which has come in handy for finding music outside of our circles. From what I understand, he messages people on their Soundcloud, gives a few J, they send some great demos and then Nik and I will go through them and see if we should release it. We have met some amazing artists this way who we are now lucky enough to be friends with.

EG: Most of the releases have been by friends of ours from Sydney. That’s been the easiest and most natural way of ‘finding’ music. For the first VA release, I slipped in to Low Flung’s Soundcloud DM’s through his secret demo account – I have no idea how I stumbled on to that one. He was living in Canberra at the time and we only met properly months later. Now he’s living in Sydney and we eat Laksa on a weekly basis.

As a newer label, are there any labels that you look up to or have inspired you along the way?

EG: Efficient Space is my favourite label at the moment. The music is beautiful and there’s been a strong focus on hard-to-find Aussie music. I love the attention to detail in the packaging as well; the design by Steele Bonus is on point. Even the poly-lined inner sleeves get my juices flowing!

JG: Looking at the bigger picture, Peacefrog and Warp have always been two of my favourites.

Over the past year what has been the greatest difficulty you’ve had to overcome?

EG: Probably trying to keep patient while pressing plants take their sweet time. We just worked with the cassette format for the first time and it was a breeze!

You guys obviously have your finger on the pulse when it comes to fresh talent coming from down under. Who should we be keeping tabs on right now?

EG: Besides the artists that we’ve worked with I love Freda & Jackson, Hubert Clarke Jr., Warren Raww, River Yarra, Phil Stroud, Thomas Gray, Laila Sakini, Marco Vella & OK EG. Rory McPike/Rings Around Saturn/Dan White is probably my favourite producer at the moment. ‘Prolific’ is a word that is often used to describe his talent – I feel like I’m finding a new alias of his on a weekly basis.

We are lucky in Sydney to have some incredible local DJ’s playing for us every weekend. Adi Toohey, Lauren Hansom, Andy GarveyBen Fester and Max Santilli are worth listening to/having a beer with.

JG: DJ wise… Ben Fester, Adi Toohey, Lauren Hansom, Daniel Lupica, Pjenné, TGMN and the Sydney Pony Club guys all know how to tickle me!

Freda & Jackson and Hubert Clarke Jr. and their labels Moonshoe and OTIS. Paul Jextra, who is my studio buddy, is making amazing music. James I.V., Roza Terenzi and phile too. Of course, all of our artists we have been working with too!

This mix is comprised of 100% original Ken Oath material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

EG: At the time of recording all the songs were unreleased. Since then the Furious Frank record is on sale and the ambient tape ‘Breathing Space’ should be up on our bandcamp very soon… if we can get our shit together!

What’s coming up for you guys? Any releases we should know about?

JG: Plenty in the pipeline for the New Year. We are particularly excited about an album from Angophora, who are two lovely boys called Max Santilli and Jake Fugar.

Low Flung – Untitled
Soda Lite – Alcedu Azurea
Angophora – Untitled
Andy Rantzen – Untitled
Andy Rantzen – Untitled
Angophora – Untitled
Donald’s House – Untitled
Low Flung – Untitled
Midnight Tenderness – Untitled
Low Flung – Untitled
Midnight Tenderness – Untitled
Woorabinda Reserve – Furious Frank
Andy Rantzen – Untitled
Furious Frank – Dangerous Dancer
Liam Ebbs – Swinsuit

Ken Oath’s label artwork is by Kaspar Kägi.

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