Labels We Love: Unknown to the Unknown
- Words: Shawn Reynaldo
Unknown to the Unknown wasn't supposed to be a record label. Originally, it was just a YouTube channel curated by London's DJ Haus, who's also one half of Hot City. "People were sending me loads of tunes that weren't being released," he explains. "I thought, 'I may as well put them up on the YouTube channel.' I called it Unknown to the Unknown and started posting people's tunes."
Around the same time, DJ Haus also started making some new tunes of his own, tracks he describes as "drum-machine jams" that he planned to release as glorified DJ tools. "I just put them out under the name Unknown to the Unkown," he says. "From there... people like Dubbel Dutch, Slackk, a couple of others, they had tunes just knocking about for ages and they said, 'Oh, just put them out.'" Clearly, Unknown to the Unknown wasn't launched with any sort of master plan, yet perhaps that's why its releases are often marked by a raw, improvisational air. Although no one sound dominates the UTTU catalog—releases have touched upon house, techno, electro, grime, garage, hardcore, rave, and more—the label does have its stylistic through lines. For instance, polished is not a word that would be used to described much of UTTU's output. "No one has gotten really noodly about their 'piece of art,'" says DJ Haus. "It doesn't always have to sound perfect. At the end of the day, it's usually just an MP3 that goes up online and people really dig it. The more you think into it, the more you take away from the rawness, which is what made those [old] Chicago house and Detroit techno records so great in the first place."
Although the first UTTU release emerged only a year ago, the label has quickly amassed an impressive label roster that spans the globe. This isn't due to any sort of elaborate A&R process, as DJ Haus explains, "The whole thing is purely organic. It's just people I've been in touch with for years." Contributing artists include the aforementioned Dubbel Dutch and Slackk, along with 5kinandbone5, DJ Q, Capracara, Palace, Nightwave, Marcus Mixx, Alias G, Checan, and LOL Boys. (Several of these acts were involved in the imprint's recently completed Ice Age Season, a series of releases primarily tied together by the fact that they all came out during the winter.) Another important member of the UTTU family is DJ Stingray, who seems like an unusual addition, but DJ Haus actually formed a relationship with the one-time Drexciya DJ after booking him for a party in London—an appearance which Stingray incidentally ended up cancelling at the last minute. Nevertheless, the Detroit veteran was surprisingly willing to contribute to the label, remixing "Assassin" on the imprint's first release and later collaborating with DJ Haus on the Stingray Enters the Unknown EP.
Speaking of the DJ Haus' output, he doesn't plan to put out any further artist releases of his own under the name Unknown to the Unknown—he admits it's confusing when the label has the same name—but he does intend to continue DJing extended sets with partner-in-crime Mackaveli as Unknown to the Unknown Soundystem. It's all a bit confusing, especially when the label boss is also releasing solo material as DJ Haus, including the next UTTU single, "Needin' U."
All that said, analyzing Unknown to the Unknown solely in terms of the music it's releasing omits a significant portion of what the project is all about. While UTTU has moved beyond its initial scope as a YouTube channel, inventive videos continue to be a key component of its output. DJ Haus—who puts together many of the videos himself—has kept the channel very active, throwing up an array of clips that includes mind-bending official videos, streaming previews, vinyl rips of classic tunes, and video flyers. While the videos vary wildly, they do tend to share a love for bizarrely juxtaposed found footage, bright colors, and a cut-and-paste aesthetic that's equal parts Tumblr, animated GIFs, and unbridled retro-futuristic nostalgia. The label's artwork often follows similar themes, blending sci-fi fantasy with unusual clip art and occasionally hard-to-read fonts.
Essentially, when it comes traditional marketing techniques, DJ Haus isn't all that interested. "I'm not looking at this in a traditional 'label' format," he says. "It's not like I'm trying to sell MP3s. I'm really excited by digital music. Everyone is saying, 'It's the end of the music industry,' but it's just a different way of absorbing sound, really." He continues, "This is just pure fun for me."
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