State of Independents (Part 2)
Time to Play
Nottingham's Time Recording give an independent label's-eye view from the front line of dance music. Simon Trask checks his Swatch...
Nottingham-based dance label Time Recording have built up a strong reputation for releasing quality club tracks. But, as they tell Simon Trask, they're also setting their sights beyond the dancefloor...
You know where you are with a Time record. There again, you don't know where you are with a Time record. In their 18-month history the label have demonstrated an ability to combine reliability with diversity, a sense of consistency with a sense of adventure. How many other dance labels, for instance, would venture to bring in composer Michael Nyman and bhangra outfit Station K on remix chores?
Time Recording are based in the Square Centre, an artistic complex in Nottingham which grew up around Square Dance studios (recently renamed Square Centre studios); today the complex also houses another dance label, Strictly 4 Groovers, together with the DiY sound system and the Venus Agency DJ pool.
Time really started more by accident than by design," recalls label manager Chris Allen. "Some of us had been in the studio involved in sessions as producers, engineers, and management and A&R representatives, and we really liked the way the whole place worked. It was much more to do with enthusiasm and the fact that we were all just around, than any distinct plan like 'All right, he's managing director and this is what we're going to do in the first year.' We still don't have any great business plan for the next five years!"
"We're very much one of a new breed of label where the staff, the artists and the producers are often the same people in various combinations," says Dave Thompson, Time's licensing and promotions man - who, as if to prove his point, is also one half of label recording artists and in-house production/remix team Sine. "We now have two in-house 24-track studios and a video editing suite, so we can keep things on a fairly spontaneous level. Many of our earlier releases were a case of going out clubbing and then stumbling back here and working in the studio for 12 hours, and the results were often worth putting out"
Tim [Andrews, studio owner and manager] was very into it because it meant that anything we did was good advertising for the studio," Chris adds.
"The whole thing does reinforce itself," confirms Dave. "As the label becomes established it benefits the producers and it benefits the studio - which then becomes a cool place to record which in turn brings in outside people who may want to record for Time."
Time's releases combine a warm, uplifting New York-style club vibe with a blissed-out European trance sensibility, a rich, deep, enveloping sound with an attention to sonic detail which rewards repeated listening. A Time record typically works both on and off the dancefloor - a deliberate ploy from a label which wants to reach beyond the confines of clubland to a broader listening audience.
"From our very first release the listening element has been very strong," maintains Dave. "These things sound pretty hefty in clubs, but at the same time you can play them at home, you can play them on headphones. We've always tried to put in the kinds of layers and detail that reward that. It's a shortfall of a great deal of dance music that it doesn't stand up to being listened to at home; if it doesn't then there's no reason to buy it, and if people don't buy it then it isn't going to be around for much longer."
"We've become quite disillusioned with the way that dance music is going," Chris adds. "There seems to be an increasing accent on making everything sound the same. Dance records are now appealing to a shrinking audience because people will listen to two progressive house records and they've heard them all, there's nothing else to listen to."
Dave sees the current glut of dance releases, many of which are white labels, as a big problem - not least for labels like Time who are trying to develop their artists.
"I like the fact that technology has made it almost universally possible for people to make records," he says, "but the result at the moment is that every third-rate DJ and every third-rate home amateur is boshing this stuff out simply because they want to have a record out, not because they want to make music.
"Almost every UK DJ wants to put a track out, irrespective of whether or not they have anything to say. You find that however much hype a record gets, it may not exist in quantities of more than 500, 1000, 2000 - which really isn't worth doing. It's a hobby. The whole dance industry is in great danger of becoming a hobby for DJs to make records for other DJs. As a result, the shelf life of the average dance track is maybe two weeks. In two weeks it's almost impossible for a label to make enough money to pay the artist or to develop them, and as a result artist development is really being damaged."
Time's response to what Dave calls "the dead end of the whole white label thing" has been to put the emphasis on identity and value.
"As well as the music, people buy the concept of something," Dave maintains. "We very much try to make sure with Time that you buy our taste, you buy our attitude."
"That's why our packaging is so strong and distinctive," adds Chris. 'We've literally spent four months getting the packaging for our first compilation album right, because to us it's part of the ethos. We want people to know that we don't consider these to be just disposable tracks, we want to appeal to people's sense of 'Yes, this is worth buying because the people who made it took some time and some care over making it, they didn't just go in and bosh it out.' In a way that generates its own kind of success. I'm convinced that if people think you're doing what you want to do they will have more respect for you than if you're just trying to palm them off with something they want to hear."
"The whole dance industry is in great danger of becoming a hobby for DJs to make records for other DJs" Dave Thompson
Time's 12" sleeves are both consistent and distinctive in design, with their ® sign emblazoned - usually in glaring orange - on a black background. The label have adopted other deliberate ploys, too. For instance, from the outset they went with the idea of presenting their music in the form of a monthly EP, consisting of four tracks by various and varied Time artists, as a kind of 'magazine' - complete with a subscription option.
"We have calls from people just about the EP series who treat it like the next copy of whichever glossy monthly they get," Chris explains. "They actually say 'Is it coming out next Wednesday?'. It's kind of bizarre the number of calls we have like that. Which seems to show that people do view it as some regular document, which is appealing."
A third characteristic element of Time concerns their sound. Again from the outset, they have worked with Roland's RSS (Roland Sound Space) 3D sound imaging system - the sleeve of every Time record includes the legend "This record has been sonically sculptured in 3 dimensions using the Roland RSS system." In fact, RSS has become an integral if not, thankfully, an overstated part of their sound.
"As soon as we got it, everybody here fell in love with it," Chris recalls. "We've now settled down into constant use of it; we don't tell people they've got to use it, it's simply used because the engineers here have got into the habit of using it and are now beginning to become aware of the kind of sounds that will actually work through it.
"We think the RSS is a very important piece of technology; anything which increases the detail that you can put into how the music is being expressed is no bad thing."
The label's next step is to release their first albums - a Time compilation and the first in a projected series of ambient/listening CDs. Originally these were to have been out by the time you read this piece; however, fearing that they would get lost in the usual pre-Christmas deluge, Time have put their release dates back to January and February respectively.
So, to close, how do Dave and Chris see their position at present?
"We've spent a year defining the label and establishing that, and we seem to have a fair reputation for quality and taking risks," Dave replies. "We're not part of any fashionable label clique, particularly - which is something we're eternally grateful for. We're under no pressure to go in any particular way, and we want to take that further, we want to have the label as something you turn to and automatically pay attention to, and within that the producers and artists arise."
The final word goes to Chris: "What we're doing is very important to us, that's why we're doing it. We're not doing it to make cash as such - as long as we're covering our overheads, we'd rather do what we want to do than have what we do fit with anyone else's plans."
Feature by Simon Trask
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