RECORD LABEL / 002
FEAR OF FLYING
Record Label is the next slow burn feature we have nurtured on the site and we lit the candle with Boe Recordings in the first instalment which was an eye opener looking at the wider electronic community and also a dope ass mix from Ben Boe himself. Next up we will open dialogue with Fear of Flying Records and its label heads Jay Massive and Ben Micklewright aka BLM.
Fear of Flying are another London based project started by Jay Robinson & Ben Micklewright with its first release in 2006 by BLM & Marc Ashken Break Up EP and now have releases by artists including Nyra, Leif, Pawas, Tim Gregor and more recently Drake & Griffiths & Schatrax. Jay & Ben provided the dialogue stretched over various emails with a healthy dose of humour painting a picture of the past including working in local record stores, its demise, the labels inception and to more recent times with Jay having a prominent management position at other London based record labels including Murmur, Fuse, Alive Recordings, Sudden Drop, and we also dissect the labels matured artwork and the cats provide a very special Fear of Flying Vol 1 mix which was intended for release but instead we get to present the body of work on K / D.
K / D – Label name and where it came from?
Jay – Fear of Flying – It came from my subconscious in that I do have a fear of flying, or at least a very strong dislike of flying (I still think it’s unnatural). But I can’t really say that that was foremost in my mind when I chose it – it just kind of’ flashed in, I asked Ben what he thought and he agreed that it sounded decent.
K / D – Your background?
Jay – Dance music wise I worked in and later managed a record shop in Oxford called ‘Massive Records’ (Hence the Jay Massive tag), I started working there in ’99, when dance music vinyl sales were pretty much at a peak. Even though it was a fairly large shop it was packed, especially at weekends – so busy that I wasn’t able to get a lunch break. I didn’t mind though as it was such a BUZZ! I worked there until mid 2004 by which time a lot of record sales had petered out in favour of digital d/loads.. it closed shortly after I left. A real shame…
K / D – After the record shop closing mainly due to 12inch sales on the decline, did this totalitarian wider issue not make you think twice about setting up a label, can you give us some detailed workings on the creative elements/factors and also the financial breakdowns to make it viable?
When I first heard the news about the closure, despite not leaving on the best terms with the owner, it was like a punch in the chest. I had a lot of good memories tied up in that place but things can’t just stop can they you know.. stiff upper lip and all that! The reasons behind Massive closing, as far as I know, weren’t purely and simply down to the decrease in vinyl sales – rent on the space went up and there were a couple of poor business decisions on top of that also. I think the record store closed in Feb 2006 and we started the ball rolling’ with the label in April the same year.
Ben – Whenever work experience was in school is when I started properly getting into music. I did my work experience at the record shop where Jay was working and later managed. I was offered a job after my work experience, so was working the weekend shifts as shop bitch and 2-step specialist. Once I got old enough I left leafy Eynsham (6 miles outside of Oxford) and moved to Nottingham to study Music Tech. I did my time there, moved to London and am now here to stay.
K / D – Idea / inspirations behind the label?
Jay – I’d always wanted to start a label but getting that first track was a bitch. I didn’t produce and when I started asking around I was just running into dead ends. People were more than willing to provide a remix but of course I didn’t have anything for them to work on. As it happened, whilst working at Massive, Ben (BLM) started work experience and joined us properly after he’d finished school. He was influenced by the sound we were pushing in the store I guess and he got his head down and started learning how to use Reason. We kept in touch after I left and one day he sent me his track ‘Break Up’, I thought it was pretty cool and saw the opportunity to get something going. I got in touch with Jeff Samuel who was a favourite of mine at the time through his Trapez releases, he agreed and here we are now.
K / D – Labels graphics / artwork what is the direction?
Jay – Hmm, yeah. Problem here – I’m one of the least creative people in the world, my artistic flair amounts to a stickman holding flowers, that is my greatest artistic endeavour so far, so coming up with artwork was problematic.. I couldn’t really afford to pay anyone to do it so I ended up typing ‘fear of flying’ in Google and browsing the images… our initial logo came from a course dedicated to people trying to conquer their fears. It kind of worked though but at the same time I was aware that it had a certain cheapness about it that didn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t until release no. 10 that I found someone to change the logo for me – and I’ve got to give him a huge big up here as he does the majority of the design work for free – so take a bow, Dan Hayman. Other labels please note – I had to give him sexual favours, you do not want to go down this route (joke).
Ben – I do like the new artwork, but I also liked the old stuff. It looked dated, which I liked. I like my black FOF one the most out of all my EPs to date (sorry Dan). There is something about that DIY approach that appeals to me. I remember our friend said she was going to do it at first, then I think we tried my brother but after both of them turned out to be letdowns Jay started to do it himself.
K / D – Artists you work with and how did you meet?
Jay – Ben’s release was the catalyst – after the first two releases by him we started to get demos, Pawas being one of the first who sent one through. Ben was also checking a lot of the net label stuff at the time and was into some of the stuff that Leif was posting up – we checked his Myspace and there was a track he’d made called ‘Commonplace’ that we were digging’, so we got in contact and signed him up. Those two guys along with Ben have pretty much been at the core of what we do.
Ben – Yeah Leif was on Textone, which was Jay Haze’s net label back in the day. I still play one of the tracks now, so was worthwhile trawling through all the not so good stuff to find the gems. If you search the internet you can find Leifs Textone still for free.
We had a brief encounter with SCSI9 right at the start too. We used to cane their album in the shop, so we licensed a track from it and Tim Gregor too who is Mark Henning’s brother did a release and a few remixes for us. Back then most contact was done through Myspace, but now its Facebook and Soundcloud. I used to browse Myspace each night trying to find new artists, but now we just get a ton of demos and have our own core artists making stuff so that not needed anymore.
K / D – it seems the numerous online mediums as mentioned above are the tools to finding new talent, but for those that don’t know how it works are your artists getting advances, a % of profits etc? im quite interested in seeing what the final outcome looks like the for the label and artist in these austere times?
Jay – Pretty much the standard contract these days is 50/50 between artist / label. We’ve given out advances in the past but it’s a rarity. I’ve seen the business model change slight in regard to remixes of late – more remixers are asking for 50/50 deals on their remix on the online stores with maybe a slightly lower fee than usual.
K / D – Any funny label stories you are willing to share?
Jay – Well, it wasn’t funny for me at the time but we can look back and smile at it now, we had booked Sascha Dive for a party in Oct 08, it was pretty much one of his first London gigs. We got the venue booked and ready to go. A week after we had agreed terms there was a shooting outside the complex the club was situated in and the whole complex was closed down. The club gave us promises that they weren’t affected, and not to worry because their license is still valid. So… fast forward a couple of months to the night of the party and I’m on my way to the airport to pick up Sascha when I get a phone call from Ben telling me that the club owners have phoned him and they can’t get a license! We had to find another venue with 5 hours left! We did find one but we had to hook up with a free party, which means we couldn’t charge what we intended to initially. I ended up losing £1200 in total – ouch!
K / D – Do you release vinyl and mp3, and how are sales looking, who buys your 12s?
Jay – We release both. Vinyl is our main passion as both my self and Ben are huge vinyl fiends. I have nothing against people who want to Dj digitally, I’m really not a snob like that, it just didn’t work out for me when I tried – I could never remember what anything was when I was looking at the list of names on screen, I need the tactile dimension that vinyl brings. I might try again at some point though. We have both digital only and vinyl only labels within the umbrella of Fear of Flying we see the two markets as being separate. The digital market for us is dominated primarily by the real club tracks, the more contemporary sounds, the deeper stuff has never really sold for us on the download sites so we tend to keep that for the vinyl market. We ran a coloured vinyl only label for a little while putting out really really deep stuff. The margins were so tight in that though and we had ended up losing money due to the extra cost of the coloured vinyl so that’s pretty much at an end for now.
People who buy our 12″s – not really sure, but people are as we’ve been selling out of all our latest releases pretty much. ‘Bigger’ Dj wise I know the likes of Efdemin and Rdnm do as I am on friendly terms with them and know they’re into the label – this pleases me greatly as those two guys are really doing’ it for me at the moment – Ben and I went to the Berghain just before x-mass and they played a really great 5 hour set.
Ben – People that buy our music? Who knows! Other then DJ charts I don’t know many people that play FOF releases. I have only heard them being played in clubs a few times. When I’m out and about partying people always comment on our digital only releases. A few people have said they like certain tracks from our mixed feelings releases. I think the digital only releases have bought more of a focus on us in the UK market. Ralph Lawson and Simon Baker put tracks from the digital releases on their mixes, which we don’t get a lot of.
K / D – How actually does it work financially running a label as Ben from Boe in the 1st feature does have a day job and yourself?
Jay – Financially this is my day job, I run labels for a living – this isn’t a hobby for me, which is why (my bored friends will tell you) I get so pissy about piracy. As well as running Fear of Flying I’m also the label manager for Geddes’ (Mulletover) Murmur label, the new ‘Fuse London’ label from Enzo and Tony who run the weekly Fuse party down Brick Lane and also Tom Budden’s ‘Alive Recordings’ label as well as the label ‘Sudden Drop’. I’ve also got some newer label management projects in the pipeline. It’s what I know best and i’m happy to be doing it, the only downside is I work from home and cabin fever creeps in now and again – talking to virtual friends on Skype is only appealing for so long.
Ben – Yeah Jay deals with all the business things. I do have an interest in it, but I’m slow at doing things so it’s best if it’s left to Jay. I work with Jay on one of the other labels he mentioned too and it’s exactly the same setup for that one as it is with FOF. I have a job, which I do once a week just to make sure food is on the table, the rest of the time I look after my daughter and make music. I’m getting quite a few DJ gigs at the moment, which is helping out paying the rent/bills so all is good.
K / D – This is a clear trend of supplementing income as label income becomes minimised, which has stirred my thoughts in a few ways, are there to many labels / do labels need to get more creative with the projects they release and importantly how they get to market / is vinyl to nostalgic and expensive / if every label is in a similar boat how do smaller independents bridge/become a medium major independent?
Jay – The market is over saturated with labels, that’s for sure, especially if you take into account all the digital only labels also. But I think real quality will always rise to the top. Vinyl is expensive for sure and if you press 300 and keep artwork and packaging costs to an absolute minimum you’ll need to sell about 280 to break even! However, it’s the initial charge that’s the expensive part, the mastering and the cut. If you were to repress another couple of hundred the unit price per vinyl is about €.90, you’d aim be selling to the distributor for €3 so there’s profit to be made if you can bump up sales by another x100.
Taking your label from a small independent to something more substantial is purely down to the quality you put out, and I’m not talking just solid tracks that I think we release. Purely from the outside looking in, I’d say that instar:mental’s label nonplus+ is an example of this. Really really great music, with each release above and beyond the normal, more disposable clubby stuff – music that translates equally well into a home listening environment. I’ve no idea how many units they sell or how they feel about it themselves but the aesthetic is spot on for starters, each release has really high quality sleeve art which is very pricey to manufacture.
K / D – How do you see labels operating in the future with vinyl sales looking marginalised?
Jay – Personally I think there will always be a core group of people who want to buy vinyl, I think the two camps have pretty much split now and those that buy digital and vinyl have chosen their paths. Saying that, Im actually seeing a few peeps’ switching back to vinyl buying – Geddes for example, I know he was kind of having the same issues I was with digital Djing and he started buying from record shops again. He views it as a quality control thing, it’s too easy to slip into fodder mode with digital Djing I think as it’s sometimes almost too easy to get tracks and having to make more of an effort, for me at least, is a good thing
Ben – Agree totally with Jay. I myself fell into that trap of playing club fodder for the crowd rather then staying true to what I believed in. I get mixed reports now when I play; a lot of people have said I play quite moody or too deep. I have played at a popular event in London a few times, the last I played exactly what I wanted to play and they haven’t asked me back since. They asked me to pick it up that time, yet the times before they loved what I played and it was just club fodder. I think once you start playing vinyl, you are heading into underground territory which a lot of people don’t want to listen to in clubs (or at least that’s what people seem to think)
Vinyl will always be here for sure. I mean I’m not going to stop buying it, my father who’s now 50 still plays his vinyl’s and always prefer to hear my stuff on vinyl rather then me giving him the digital files. Like Jay said a lot of people have gone back to vinyl. I’m not saying its going to have a massive comeback, but I cant see it going anywhere. Our sales have increased slightly over the last few years and there are still some labels selling 1000 + units so it’s not that bad. I just read on RA that Planet E are doing a vinyl only party at Space in Ibiza this year, so there are plenty of people working hard to push the format.
K / D – which labels inspire you?
Jay – Inspiration for me comes from older labels mostly – Mosaic being one of them, love that label… (more of that later..). I’ve just been flicking through some of my records trying to answer this question but as I suspected I don’t really play bunches of stuff off of any one label, it’s more of a disparate selection. The only label I can think of that I’m buying all the stuff from at the moment is Telrae, a dub techno label from Cologne – I think they’re affiliated with Traum Schallplatten really nice stuff on there.
Ben – Same as Jay, I don’t have big batches of stuff from labels. I think it’s quite rare if you’re going to like every single track a label puts out. Artists on the other hand I can really get into. Sven Weisemann for example I know I’m going to like without listening. If he puts out a two tracker I know I’m going to like 1 of the tracks. That guy has his own sound which I love. STL is exactly the same, even his weird shit I’m fascinated by. I’m really interested in sound, so my focus is on the sound.
K / D – Future label projects / releases / parties?
Jay – Label wise, our next release i’m extremely pleased with – it’s a vinyl only 4 track featuring a track from Schatrax called ‘Get it Right’. It was originally released in 2000 but if you didn’t know it you’d think it was made yesterday. It was available for a short while on the Schatrax members area but it was never given a vinyl release. I Google searched it the other day and noticed Lee Foss from Hot Natured was playing it, not a label that does much for me but I’d always suspected the track had that sort of appeal. There are 3 other tracks on there also – One from BLM, a nice dubby techno thing, one from Nyra and the other from Romanian duo Egal 3 which reminds us both of Soul Capsule stuff. Hopefully people won’t see it as too derivative of that sound though, I think it stands up in its own right.
Party wise I’m Djing at a FOF showcase night at The Nest in Dalston that was put together by Ben and Soho from Phonica. That’s on the 14th May.
About ‘Get it Right’ appealing to all them Lee Foss’s out that’s so true. A friend of mine who is into that sound said it sounded like a Jamie Jones copycat.
K / D – Do you think that actually having more physical label presence in the sense of parties, record release parties, and label showcases is a realistic license for revenue aside from the vinyl releases?
Jay – Yeah, it’s realistic, as long as it works out! (see above..) In regards to helping record sales, I’m not so sure, ‘brand awareness’ at best I suppose we both know that we need to get our arses in gear in regards to getting regular parties sorted, it’s something that we both want to do but Ben’s a Dad and I nearly am too (any time now) so time isn’t at a premium for either of us. It will happen though. Ben has put together a FOF showcase at The Nest on the 14th so we’ll see how that pans out.
K / D – If money or fame was no object who would you ask to release on FoF?
Jay – Well, I already have one of them – Schatrax. He was someone I admired for ages. Apart from that I’d like Steve O’Sullivan. I tried tracking him down for a while, lots of dead ends though. Even the people who used to know him had no idea what he was doing. Ben knows Yossi from Sushitech who had a released a couple of older Mosaic bits on his label, even he was saying he can’t get hold of Steve even to give him money that he’s owed.. so I’m guessing it wont happen. Apart from that, I’d really love to release something by Efdemin or Rndm (maybe Pigon??) as, as I’ve said before, I think those guys are ON IT.
Ben – Yeah Efdemin and Rndm would be great. I would like to put out something by someone like Joy Orbison though. That sound to me is fresh right now, I love how he crosses over and does the house thing. It’s an interesting take on things, which is really doing it for me.
Tracklist & Mix details?
Unusually for us the mix was done in Ableton. It was originally intended to be included in the ‘Fear of Flying Remixes Vol 1’ release from the tail end of last year, the idea being that you buy all 10 tracks in the pack and get the mix free but we scrapped the idea as we ran out of time. So a bit of spit and polish later and here it is.. comprised purely of remixes from our back catalogue which is the main reason we used Ableton – when you’re limited to such a palette of tracks the transitions sometimes don’t work, so we needed to edit and stretch certain parts and then glue everything together.
BLM – Believe In Love (Westpark Unit Remix)
BLM – Garage Is Back (Geddes Remix)
Leif – Designed With That In Mind (Two Armadillos Remix)
Leif – Designed With That In Mind (Martinez Remix)
Jozif – Tiger Tiger (Ekkohaus Deep Remix)
Pawas – Mac Dub (Chris Lattner Remix)
Leif – Priority (Daze Maxim Remix)
BLM & Pawas – Online (Cally Vinyl Remix)
Cally – Wake Oops! (Skudge Remix)
FEAR OF FLYING ONLINE LINKS