Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Bi-Bop (ReviveHER) had a little chat with Jmaes Friedman.

My first experience of James Friedman was meeting you at an after party in New York and being introduced to you as the label head of Throne of Blood, which I had been really excited about in 2010. However, there was obviously a life before Throne of Blood that those outside the US and NY don’t know about.

Can you let us know what you were doing musically up until now?

Ok… here’s a short story: I worked as a writer for a few years and that was really the start of it all and through magazines like XLR8R, Fader, Vice, Urb, and a few others I met many of the folks that helped make me who I am today. From that lowly start I got my first label job as Assistant Label Manager at !K7 Records in 2001 (that internship at Astralwerks in 1997 doesn’t really count, does it?). From there, I met Trevor Jackson, who I ended up working with by establishing and running Output Recordings USA for him for two years. During that time I also helped labels like Gomma, FINE, and Gigolo secure US distribution. During those years I also built a reputation for throwing parties in NYC and DJing with folks like Tiefschwarz, Ewan Pearson, Michael Mayer, Greg Wilson, Jackson and his Computer Band, Cut Copy, Soulwax, Headman, Kaos and loads more. From doing those sorts of electro/house/techno/disco parties, I built a following as a DJ which led to Go Commando, a mix CD series I helped launch. My Go Commando mix was very well received and suddenly I had a booking agent and was djing all over the place. I even got to do A&R for the label, signing JDH & Dave P to do the second Go Commando mix and signing Simian Mobile Disco for the third (which finally came out as the first in JDH & Dave P We Are Fixed series). I also helped my good buddies from The Rapture launch Throne of Blood, which I have overseen from the label management, distribution and A&R perspectives since day one.  Four years on, I still DJ, still thrown parties now and again, still obsess over music and still can’t believe my good luck for getting to work with so many amazing, hysterical, and ridiculous people all these years.

Who were you writing for as a journalist?

As noted above, I wrote for a bunch of magazines. Primarily though, I wrote for XLR8R, a brilliant magazine based in San Francisco. I started as an intern there in 1999 and was a staff writer until around 2004. I was also the hip hop 12” reviews editor there for several years. I was also a regular writer for the Fader for a year or two beginning in 2000, when it was just launching. I also wrote for Urb and Vice on occasion, as well as some other magazines, most of which no longer exist.

What did you do for !K7 and how did you meet Trevor Jackson and become US label manager for Output Recordings?

I met the woman who was running !K7 in the US because she had formerly done work at XLR8R’s offices. When she moved to NYC to take over the label, she contacted me and asked if I’d like to be her right hand. It was really just the two of us, though we had a lot of help from the !K7-affiliated Studio Distribution team. Together we were in charge of all aspects of releasing a busy schedule of releases including the DJ Kicks series, artist albums from folks like Swayzak, Earl Zinger, Tosca, Peace Orchestra and others, and working on hip-hop releases on Rapster Records. It was through that job that I met Trevor. I was product managing his Playgroup DJ Kicks mix, which I still think is the finest in that series. We got along fairly well and after I left, a mutual friend encouraged us to meet up to discuss working together to bring Output to NYC. I was in Germany to DJ at the original Cookies in the summer of 2003 and I popped over to London for a couple of days, met with Trevor, his staff in London, and returned to NYC to seek out partners to handle press, distribution, touring etc. I got things lined up, Trevor came and signed some papers and we were off and running for two years before I left to pursue other things and Output ceased operations.

I guess working with Output led you to meet The Rapture or did you meet them first?

Well I actually went to high school with former Rapture member Mattie Safer. He was a couple years behind me but we knew one another. I had not kept in touch after I graduated, but a mutual friend had told me his band was really incredible. I was really just hearing about the Rapture around the time “House of Jealous Lovers” came out on DFA, which was right around the time the Playgroup DJ Kicks was on my desk at work. I reconnected with Mattie and met his band through Trevor and the rest is history…

What is/was their involvement with Throne of Blood and can you tell us a little history about how the label started and what made you decide to do your own label?

Well, Throne of Blood really feels like my label at this stage because its really become a product of my blood sweat and tears. But that isn’t the whole picture. My partners are the members of the Rapture and it was their impetus to start a label that brought me into the picture. Due to the peculiarities of their record deal with Vertigo Records in the UK, they were free to either license the vinyl rights to their second LP away or to release it themselves. They chose the latter and recruited me to help. I helped them get a distribution deal and worked very closely with their A&R guy to figure out remixers and whatnot for the singles from that record (“Get Myself Into It”, “W.A.Y.U.H.”, “The Sound”) and did a lot of legwork to make that stuff happen. And that was really all Throne of Blood was supposed to be, a vehicle for Rapture 12”s with remixes. But then the band started working on a new record, and started discussing releasing other stuff. The first non-Rapture record we did, the Dances With White Girls “New Crack Swing” EP was something Mattie brought to me for release. After that though, I ended up taking the helm since the band was deep into writing and recording and all the drama that kind of creative undertaking entails. Gradually, the label started taking shape as a vehicle for me to release music from artists I admire and respect and that’s pretty much where it is now. The Rapture are still involved as my partners. Vito from the Rapture produced the AKA JK record we released last Spring. Gabe is working on a solo thing that is gonna be pretty mega-ultra-slamming if he ever wraps it up (hint hint). Luke is not so hands on, but that’s ok too. That said, the vast majority of the heavy lifting is something that I take care of. I do it for fun. It’s a labor of love for me and an avocation. Throne couldn’t be my career if I wanted it to be, so I treat it like a very expensive and time consuming passion project. I am a full time law student as well, so its kind of a means for me to remain connected to the music life as well.

Several years ago you were also running your own parties and influential in bringing over more niche, leftfield dance DJs and live acts to your nights. A risky move back then (and even now). Can you describe your parties and drop a few names, who you’ve had play?

Well I hinted a bit before about those days, but sure. I started DJing a lot in the late 90s but nothing much was coming of it beyond the odd bar gig or house party. Then I met a guy called Ben Dietz, who was working at Sony or something at the time. He also did some freelance writing and was generally a hyper gregarious guy and a fast friend. Around 2002 or so, we started DJing together, doing funny little parties in the Lower East Side. He had found us a sponsor willing to spend $1400 a month on our events if we called them “REFUSE”, so we did. And we spent that money on the djs. The nights were free, really wild, and featured some terrible beer for free for 2 hours. Shit took off and suddenly we were booking really big djs. Then a proper club hired us on and REFUSE became an institution. We were committed to keeping things free with no guestlist and sacrificed a lot of opportunities to make money in order to play with folks we dug. We booked the debut US performances of Tiefschwarz, Ewan Pearson, Cut Copy (dj set ), Annie (as a live band), Paul Mogg (Psychonauts), David Gilmour Girls (live), Jackson and His Computer Band, Oskar Melzer, Greg Wilson, Black Strobe, Mu and a few more I’m forgetting. We managed to have Michael Mayer playing disco unannounced, did a free-for-all night during CMJ with Soulwax and Trevor Jackson, and did some brilliant collaborations with JDH and Dave P involving folks like Erol, Twitch, Headman, Tom Vek, Mylo and on and on…

Were these parties an outlet to profile yourself as a DJ? Or were you already known in your city as a reputable jock?

I don’t think anybody knew who the fuck Ben or I were before those parties. Well, everybody seemed to know Ben because he is the world’s most sociable guy, but I was younger, far less friendly, and a bit untrendy. I was really into what I was into and not tuned into fashion at all. Then suddenly, my tastes and fashion seemed to align. With Ben’s involvement, that synchronicity turned into effective promotion and we were getting press in local magazines and in I-D too. It was a really surreal thing and it by 2005 or so, I was really making money as a DJ, releasing mix CDs that were reviewed in bigtime magazines my parents might see and touring a lot. Then I decided that I didn’t want DJing to be work and put on the brakes. Ben had “retired” to spend more time with his wife and start a family, and I guess I was scared of getting lost in the life. I’m glad I did that because it allowed me to focus on the important thing, which is the music. Being a DJ is a privilege to me. Every gig out of town is a gift and is something I can’t wait to do. I don’t mean to sound dismissive or anything. I take DJing seriously, but I do it for the love, not to make rent. I think that keeps me honest and it keeps me from just chasing the next sound or whatever. And ultimately, I think those folks that have heard me play understand that. I really love this shit. I don’t need to do this. I’m an old fart in his 30s, a full time student and a business owner. But DJing is my favorite thing in the world and I think it shows. Hopefully that’s what I’m known for instead of being a jerk or something…

As far as I know you’ve only released one thing yourself, which was a mix comp in 2005 featuring the kind of disparate and eclectic collection of material that wouldn’t go amiss on a modern day Beats In Space mix from one of Tim’s well versed guests. Have you not wanted to release anything else or venture in to the world of production yourself? Now you have your own label, it would be a perfect time right?

When people ask me this, I almost always say “I don’t need another nerdy, solitary habit…” which is partly true but also only part of the story. The Go Commando mix is the only thing I released under my own name. I worked with some friends on a breakbeat/2step 12” around 2000 or so which did get a release and was licensed to a comp or two. But any credit I got was just because I was hanging around. I can’t play any instruments well and I have some real concerns about my sense of pitch. I am a music lover, but I don’t think I have any chops. And truthfully, I spend enough time obsessing over all the amazing music out there in the world. If I also spent my free time tweaking synths, I might not get laid ever again.

I think that fundamentally, I would really like to be a musician, a producer, a music-maker. But I don’t think I am. Or I haven’t found the partner that could help me get my ideas into Logic or Ableton yet. Maybe one day I’ll find that dude, and then my sexlife will be over. But until then, I’m gonna focus on being the behind the scenes dude at Throne, a DJ and a music appreciator. I have keys to Populette’s studio if I change my mind…

What would you describe as your current musical style and influences. What can we expect to hear from you on NYE?

This is a tough question. Lately I’ve really been playing a lot of house music. Deep, but danceable house music. But NYE in London is a big deal and there’s no way I’m gonna out deep house Chez Damier, so I think I’ll probably be toughening things up a bit for Secretsundaze. I tend to wander around a bit musically, especially if I’m playing somewhere new. I will be trying to give folks what they want so more than anything I’ll be looking to the crowd to lead me. That said, I suspect there will be more than a few jams from my NYC brethren like Runaway, TBD, Dr Dunks and Wolf+Lamb. I’ll also probably play some older favorites from classic Chicago stuff to newer stuff on labels like Kompakt, Playhouse, Simple, Crosstown Rebels and Philpot. I often find myself contemplating “Mr. Kirks Nightmare” as well. I played it at a warehouse party in LA earlier this month and it went down quite well…

Can you hint at any forthcoming  artists/releases on Throne of Blood ion 2011 to tickle our tastebuds?

Well, there are two unreleased things in the mix I made to help promote NYE. The first is a brilliant track from Paul Woolford. It’s something I’ll be releasing in the late Spring most likely and it’s a deep, emotive bit of Detroit techno. It sounds a lot like early Mayday stuff on Transmat, but with a modern polish. I’m really excited to be working with Paul and I can’t wait for “Satire” to get a proper release. Another thing on the mix is a new duo from LA  I’ve signed called Cosmic Kids. They are super talented and their first single is represented in the mix with a remix by their friends Classixx. The original, “Reginald’s Groove” is simply amazing, and is already getting lots of support from folks like Ivan Smagghe and Joakim. The 12”, which I’m hoping to release in March, will also feature remixes from Juan Maclean and fellow TOB artists Bicep. It’s an absolute smasher of a 12” and represents the debut of an artist that will really be turning some heads in 2011 I think. Beyond those two, I am really excited about the next Populette 12”, Gabe Andruzzi from the Rapture’s solo 12”, the second AKA JK 12”, a follow up from Harkin & Raney, and a single by Master Khan aka Great Weekend. He’s been working on this record for a long time and it’s a pretty big departure from everything else on the label. It’s got some pretty soulful vocals, a mix so loose its somewhere between J Dilla, Theo Parrish and broken beat, and version aimed at the clubs mixed by DJ Spinna. My dear friends from the Culprit label out in LA are also working on a remix. I think that one will surprise some folks.

What have been your favourite artists and releases thus far on Throne of Blood and why?

This is a tough one. I love everything I’ve had the good fortune to release. But there were a couple early releases I really pushed for so they probably get this honor. Those would be Zombi’s “Sapphire” 12” and John Selway’s “Shake The Snow” 12”. Zombi is a band way outside my usual musical sphere, but they did this insane italo track and I chased down the artist and label to license it for my Go Commando mix in 2005. Then it never really got relaeased after that. It was on a comp Prins Thomas did, and a Japan-only 12” but that was it. So I nudged and nudged and gave “Sapphire” a proper release with a dope remix from Brooklyn disco supergroup Escort. The Selway single was something he had done ages ago and sort of set aside. I became obsessed and basically nagged John to release it until he dusted off the sessions, fine tuned things and did a completely new mix. To my ears, it sits comfortably besides things like Closer Musik’s “Maria” as a gorgeous bit of dancefloor melancholia I’ll probably love as much in 10 years as I do now.

You will be playing with label mates Populette and Bicep on NYE. Can you tell us a little bit about how you met them?

Well, I’m only playing with half of Populette. The French half. The Wiz is moving flats and couldn’t come. Max, on the other hand, will be in Paris visiting family and was easily convinced to come play. He and I met around 9 years ago when I had to give him promos of things I worked at !K7. He and I became buddies and he ended up as my roommate (along with The Wiz) in 2003. We lived together for two years or so and got in ungodly amounts of trouble together. Basically he’s among my best friends and closest musical co-conspirators on this planet. The Bicep guys are newer friends. I met Andy and Matt over the internet when they posted a track from the label on their blog. I wrote them a note and we started talking. They sent me music and it blew my mind. I signed them up quick and we’ve really just communicated over email, instant message and Skype. It will be absolutely gutting to find out they are actually 50 year old loners just pretending to be DJs to meet younger dudes online.

Finally, are you excited to be playing at secretsundaze / ReviveHER in London on NYE? Going to do anything out of the ordinary?

Hell yes I’m excited. This is a massive massive privilege and something I have been looking forward to for quite a while now. Beyond that, I have no particular plans. I want to come, take it all in, see a few old friends living in London, make a load of new friends, play some records, try and keep from embarrassing myself, and survive to tell everyone how great a time I had! That said, things tend to be out of the ordinary when Max and I are together. Shouldn’t have to try to hard before things get a bit weird…

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