Mute Launches a New Label; Read Our Interview with the Founders
- Words: Shawn Reynaldo
- Photo: Erika Wall
Earlier today, the storied Mute imprint announced the launch of a new label, Liberation Technologies. Since its founding in 1978, Mute has been at the forefront of electronic music, releasing music from acts like Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Goldfrapp, and Moby, along with acts such as Plastikman, Speedy J, and Luke Slater via its now-dormant NovaMute arm. These days, it continues to drop forward sounds from the likes of M83 and Apparat. Liberation Technologies looks to expand on that, and plans to operate much more like a traditional electronic-music imprint, with a commitment to vinyl and a focus on EP and 12" releases. The new label's first release, the Spring EP, is slated for March 19 and comes courtesy of King Felix, a new moniker taken up by Brooklyn's Laurel Halo. To find out more about what the young imprint has in the pipeline, we spoke with Mute founder Daniel Miller and Liberation Technologies A&R man Patrick "Paddy" O'Neill, who shared some insights into their aims and aspirations.
XLR8R: Mute has been operating for more than 30 years. Why start a new sub-label now?
Daniel Miller: Well, since the mid-'80s, we've been involved with—I don't really like the word "sub-label," it makes it sound like it's beneath us, or something—associated labels. We worked with Rhythm King from the mid-'80s to the late-'80s, and that was [during] the beginning of house music and we had artists like S'Express and Bomb the Bass. Since that time, I've always enjoyed the concept of having associated labels. When [the relationship with Rhythm King] finished, we started NovaMute, which was an experimental electronic-dance label with artists such as Plastikman, Speedy J, and Luke Slater. That came to a kind of natural end a few years ago. I very much miss being in that world. When I say "that world," very broadly I'm talking about electronic-dance music. The time was right to think about starting again, and I met Paddy. I thought he was the ideal guy to run it, because of his knowledge, connections, and ideas. I got him on board, so that's what we're doing.
XLR8R: Paddy, can you elaborate a bit about your background? How did you meet Daniel and come up with all of this?
Patrick "Paddy" O'Neill: I've been working within electronic music for about five years now, with various people. The most fun I've had was working with Honest Jon's, where I signed Actress and worked with him on his Splazsh album. The label worked with Moritz Von Oswald closely, T++, and a lot of Berlin-based, Hard Wax-type artists, for whom I have a lot of respect and admiration for the way they work. So, I came out of that world and through that, I started putting on nights at places like Berghain and Panorama Bar. I was involved in a label called Doldrums with Joy Orbison, and I also managed an act now signed to Warp, previously to Hyperdub, called Darkstar. So, my passion has always been with electronic music. I came to meet Daniel just because Mute was pretty much number one in terms of labels that I'd love to work for. Two years ago, Daniel and I met for the first time, and stayed in touch after that for various reasons. It took a year and half for me to actually come and work for Mute.
Daniel Miller and Patrick O'Neill
XLR8R: Why start a new associated label instead of just putting out new releases under the Mute banner?
DM: I think it's important because Mute has a particular way of working with artists. We're album oriented, signing artists to fairly long-term [deals], [in a] career-path kind of way. [Liberation Technologies] is a bit more flexible. It's [for artists] who maybe put out records on their own label, or a couple of other labels. It's kind of a one-off, the idea of being a little creative space for people to do what they want that's maybe different from what they otherwise do. It's very much an EP- or single-based label—for the moment, anyway. It may develop into something else. Also, the way people would perceive a Mute artist is different than how they would perceive a Liberation Technologies artist. As the years have gone on, Mute has been quite [varied] in terms of genre, from electronic music to folk music, basically. We want [Liberation Technologies] to be focused, in a broad sense, on electronic music.
XLR8R: Daniel, you're in your 60s?
DM: I'm 60, so there's no plural there. (laughs)
XLR8R: Is the club still an environment you enjoy?
DM: If the music is really good. I love watching people enjoy great music. [I DJed at a Raster-Noton night last November at Berghain], for instance, which had brilliant music from 10 o' clock in the evening until 8 o'clock in the morning, all great stuff. It was quite experimental and leftfield, but people were totally into it and really getting off on it. Apart from loving to listen to great music, it gives me pleasure and hope and makes me optimistic about the future when I see that people are into that kind of music. I don't mind staying out late, I'm just not very good at getting up in the morning. Apart from that, I enjoy it. In London, you wouldn't see anyone who was 60 years old in a club, but definitely in Berlin, there are people of my generation, whatever that is, who are still really into that kind of music. So, I don't feel completely out of place.
XLR8R: Liberation Technologies, is there any particular meaning to that name?
DM: It's a name that's actually been around Mute since the early-'90s. When the internet started to become meaningful, it was '93, '94, around then, and other digital technologies like the early days of DVD and software synthesizers [were coming of age], we recognized the liberating possibilities of the digital world. So we had an umbrella name for all of our digital activities at that time, and that was Mute Liberation Technologies. As those digital formats diverged, it didn't really make sense to have an umbrella across all of it, so it became the group name for our website. Paddy, who's new to Mute, he'd never heard the name before. Someone suggested it, and he thought it was a great name for a label, so I went with it.
XLR8R: What are your plans for the label?
PO: The plan is to work with really great, pioneering electronic artists. We have a list of people that I really admire and love and, hopefully, we'll have an opportunity to work with over the next few years. That's the intention, really, is just to have a relationship and put out music by those brilliant artists.
DM: And to discover some.
PO: Of course. That's as important, if not more important. It will give us the opportunity to work with new artists that haven't put anything out previously, and that's a really exciting prospect.
King Felix (a.k.a. Laurel Halo)
XLR8R: The first release is from King Felix, which is a new Laurel Halo pseudonym, and the label announcement stated that many artists on the label might be working anonymously or under different names. Is that an important part of what you see Liberation Technologies being about?
PO: In a sense it is, because I think working under a pseudonym, particularly in regards to [someone like] Laurel Halo, it gives artists the space to do something completely different from what they're accustomed to. When Jan Jelinik releases music under Farben or releases music under Jan Jelinik, they are two completely different things. That's the approach to the label. That freedom of expression and being able to do something that's not tied to any one name or moniker or genre. That's keeping with what we plan to do.
XLR8R: So many labels are focused on a tiny portion of the musical spectrum or chasing a particular trend. How do you go about finding something that's more timeless, or is that even a concern?
PO: That's absolutely the main and most important aim of the label, that we work with the artists that really transcend those genres. I think they exist. There are so many of them now. Someone like Actress, he's a very prominent artist within every genre of electronic music at the moment. It's people like that who we absolutely intend to work with. Someone like Laurel Halo, who is not attached to any one genre of electronic music—she's very broad in what she does. Different artists in different contexts, that's really important. I think that's where we're different from other labels. We have the space to work with whomever with we choose, and those people will have to be of the highest quality.
Patrick O'Neill and Daniel Miller
XLR8R: Daniel, you've seen so many waves of electronic music and stylistic changes over the years. Do you feel like right now is a particularly fertile time for electronic music?
DM: When I started 34 years ago, I guess this is what I wanted [electronic music] to be. It's more universal now than it's ever been before. Electronic music was my first love, and I wanted to be a part of trying to promulgate that and to get people to understand it and enjoy it. It is a liberating kind of music. You don't have to play a musical instrument to make electronic music. You never did have to, really. You just have to have some good ideas and press a few buttons. Having great ideas, that's the most important thing.
I think it is [a fertile time]. There are loads more people making electronic music than ever because of the accessibility of the tools. With sites like Beatport and Juno, the music—it used to be very specialized in small shops in big towns. It was hard to get ahold of. Now, everybody can get ahold of it. The quality control is ultimately what it's all about. There's a lot of good electronic music around, but there's still not a lot of great electronic music. Great electronic music requires somebody with particular talent to do. That's what our goal is, to find those people, whether they have been around for awhile or they are brand-new artists, to find those special people who can make that difference.
The Spring EP will be released on March 19. The artwork and tracklist are below.
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