Andy Green in conversation with Jamie Bargeman (Exalt Records Interview)
There are cynics that believe the best days of techno music and culture happened at least 2 decades ago and stay bonded to the nostalgia, good times and inventive sounds of the early to mid-90s. Few would disagree this was, and remains, the zenith of techno music but for those soldiers still with an appetite for seeking and collecting records; I strongly believe deep techno music is in fine health and in the midst of a renaissance. Deep techno is still being lovingly nurtured by passionate producers and label heads from around the world….One might even be so bold to suggest we are returning to those halcyon years….Just reflect on Knoe/Boe, Firescope, CPU, Batti Batti, Perpetual Rhythms, Atmospheric Existence, Aesthetic Audio, ARTless, Soul Print, Tangible Assets, DMK, M>0>S, Inner Shift, AMR, Further Electronics, Verdant Recordings (clears throat), Distant Worlds, Where We Met, Weapons of Desire…… Labels both established and relatively new, consistently delivering essential music and eschewing the trend to milk the cash cow by churning out ill-conceived represses of ‘classics’.Getting to know the souls and heads behind these labels, one soon appreciates there is an honesty and a simple desire to curate relevant and high-quality music but crucially, consistent with the same artistic motivations of those doing the same 20 years ago.
Exalt Records is the ‘wont let it lie’ project of Jamie Bargeman and it, of course, sits amongst the labels listed above. An imprint first started 15 years ago with a small run of vinyl releases and special editions. Skip forward to 2018 and Exalt Records is proudly waving the flag for UK techno with a handful of top-drawer records put out this last year, and highly coveted by the deep techno cognoscenti. I met up with Jamie recently to ruminate on the current scene, the label, his most recent release and his plans for an end of year special.
This article arrives on the back on the latest EP (not released in catalogue sequence) by Future Beat Alliance (Matthew Puffett) who returns to Exalt after contributing to one of the earliest of the catalogue. Black Acid is a 10’ of contrasting but equally engaging tracks but both somewhat different from FBAs previous material. The title track is a playful 303 chugger but with 80s’ themes – I can hear New Order ‘Technique-esque’ tones behind the acid lines. Cloud Ten on the A is fast by comparison, but a mesmerizing and delightful track; Puffet’s ear for the ‘achingly beautiful’ (as displayed on Hidden Emotion) in full effect with a euphoric squared bassline working with soaring keys and pads. This is cinematic, sci-fi 80s heaven that shouldn’t fade out. Black Acid is now available directly from Jamie and the cool Exalt Webstore – don’t miss this.
As this article goes out, information about the next Exalt has been circulating. By the year’s end, Jamie hopes to release a special edition of a record held close to his heart. Look out for the collaboration between Theorem, Swayzak and, of course, Jamie himself providing the layer of magic dust and love that makes Exalt Records very special artefacts. Read on for my interview with Jamie.
After the early releases of the 00s Exalt lay dormant for some time but it is now in the middle of a gleaming renaissance. What was the impetus to resurrect it and what is your motivation to keep the label in such rude health now?
Hi Andy, hope you’re good mate. As with all the questions below, there isn’t a simple answer to this! Last year (2017) was a hell of a year personally – the perfect storm of study for a Masters in Autism, an extremely challenging time in my day job and then the emotion / financial cost of having a large bit of work done on our house. I remember one Saturday morning, sitting in the library and it was a particularly difficult time when all three things were underway. It was at that point I decided if I made it through the year alive and sane, I would do something just for me.
At the same time Philippa’s t-shirt business had taken off and I was also starting to think about how to combine screen printed products with music formats. I came up with the idea of offering limited records/t-shirt/tote bag combos to some of the labels we had been working with over the past couple of years. Jamie from Silent Season was the only one who was interested and said he had an album upcoming and that the concept could work with some additional tracks produced by the artist. However, when I started looking into pressing small runs of 7”s, the options were few and expensive.
I’d seen your first release on Verdant and started to do some research on lathe cut records. I found a company in Manchester and after some time we came up with the Mystica Tribe lathe cut 7” / t-shirt pack. It was expensive and took quite a bit of work to get it right but I was very happy with how it looked in the end. This started to get me thinking about doing something similar on Exalt Records. I have been a long time admirer of the work of Gary Brackley aka G.R.I.T. and we met briefly at the first Bloc festival. We had also swapped records for t-shirts previously via email. I approached him with the idea of a lathe cut 7” with a t-shirt and the rest, as they say, is history.
I’d love to agree with you and say the label is in rude health, but as we speak I’ve gone all chips in and I’m about to roll the dice on our biggest release so far. I learnt the first time round that the label would never be something that I could make any money from, but I’ve spent most of my adult life skirting way too close to the edge – so it’s a case of watch this space on how it goes from here really.It’s great to see that you returned to the music of Matthew Puffett (FBA) on this latest release). Coincidentally we first met when I bought a couple of the Hidden Emotions reissues from you trading at Bloc. How do you choose the music for the label now?
I’m very fortunate to know a lot of heads from the old school days, I’ve been in or around the scene for nearly 30 years now. I’ve met a lot of people in those years and we’ve also made a lot of new and exciting links through the t-shirt side of things. I’ve developed new friendships and have discovered loads of new artists and music through them.
The label is certainly not based on any particular style of music. For example, releasing music by As If was based on me discovering and buying some self-made CDs from Kenneth some years ago. I could see the love put into the music and simple packaging and it came with a handwritten note – right up my street. Looking forward into 2019, our next release is by Steven Rutter, a truly inspirational person, musician and friend. He’s been instrumental in helping us get to where we are now. He was the first person to take us up on the offer of printing t-shirts for B12 and put us into contact with numerous people including Kirk, John Shima and our designer David Watson. We owe him a lot! I’m also excited to be working with Paul Mackie on something for the label. He’s a really good guy and has been on the scene for around the same amount of time as me (give or take a few years!!) and he’s producing some really exciting music right now. All the music for Exalt Records has been chosen by me and it’s music I truly love and believe in. What’s the point otherwise?The recent releases have a strong identity and design which is very much of its own. It certainly feels like a record with the personal touch, with love and passion invested in them. Can you say more about how you choose and create this?
Here’s a little nugget for you – I put all the records together myself and have done so since the beginning. I’m obsessed with the feel and look of the products we put out, as well as how they sound. From the very first 12” in 2003, the inserts were numbered and stickers put on by hand. The 2018 releases have all been put together by me, with help from the Exalt Records elves.
The design aesthetic is very much down to David Watson aka Grid Pattern. I’ve come up with an idea for each release and then he’s taken that and produced the most amazing sleeves for the records, in a very natural and organic way. The wrap around translucent paper sleeves came out of an idea and the fact that there were limited resources at my disposal at the time. For the first few 7”s I used the photocopier at work and unlike most labels, the artist gets the final sign off on the way the record looks. I know you’ve just used David for your upcoming release, I can’t speak highly enough of his work and he’s a great guy to boot – www.gridpattern.co.ukExalt chooses to operate very independently and you do your own direct sales and distribution. It’s hard for small labels that don’t get high profile media coverage (relatively speaking of course) to sell sustainable numbers of records. What are the challenges and advantages of this M.O.?
I’m unsure if there are any advantages if I’m completely honest, it’s just the way things have developed. I simply don’t have the money to buy in extra promotions from an external company. In theory, doing it the way that it’s been done, the money stays closer to the label. However, this hasn’t really come to fruition yet, as there’s always something to spend money on for the next release. I’m working directly with some key stores around the world and Japhy Turner is handling some distribution channels for me, which has been really helpful.
The challenges have been having to front all the money myself, and there are no reserve pots to dip into. As I’ve already said, it’s pretty much all or nothing at this point. I also find it frustrating when you walk into bigger record stores like Rough Trade and things have become so homogenized in the electronic music scene, there doesn’t seem to be any representation for smaller labels like mine or yours.In an age where everyone is a DJ (good or bad!) you’re not actually actively playing out or spamming the We’re Going Deep FB group with your latest mixes but please tell us more about your own taste in music. Do you listen to much new music or prefer to dig deeper into the techno archives for listening pleasure? Do you have any favourite labels or artists? If your dreams could come true who would you like to release on the label?
Haha, my DJing career happened in the time before social media, thank God! I was part of an art collective called OMSK, who put on over 50 events in interesting and unusual places like railway arches, a wood yard, boats and a disused bank. They were underground for the time and multidisciplinary, taking place mostly in London, However, we did take some of the shows on tour to places like Brighton, Cambridge and Oslo. I programmed the music for around 30 of the events, liaising with bands, DJs and live performers and I would DJ at events (sometimes quite badly) in between the acts. Playing Electronica, IDM and downtempo techno, interwoven with soundtracks and more experimental sounds my idea was always to sew the sound output at the event together as a whole. I got some other gigs, enjoyed playing at friends parties and actually quite liked trying to make people dance. The highlight of my illustrious DJ career was playing at Plastic People a couple of times.
However, I’ve always been much more of a consumer of music. I much prefer to be standing the other side of the speakers and when I go out (which is quite rare these days) I like dancing to techno and house music. At home, I listen to just about everything really – old and new. Whilst doing homework, I’ll listen to mixes or radio shows online – shouts out to Leigh, Rick, Damo and Paul, who always feature upcoming Exalt Records releases in their shows.
Wow, favourite labels/artists is a difficult one – Derrick May, Underground Resistance, KDJ, B12, Black Dog, FBA etc and more recently I’ve bought quite a few records featuring John Shima and Derek Carr. I’ve always been a big fan of Electro and I’m enjoying a lot of the newer Electro coming out by artists like Morphology. A difficult question that one!
I’ve ticked many of my dream artists off the list for the label. As I’ve already stated the next release is from Steve, which is going to be a big one for the label and pretty special for me on a personal level. I’ve always wanted to release some music by Nick Dunton, an old school friend of mine. We got pretty close last year, but it never came to anything. I’ve got huge respect for Nick’s musical tastes, his dogged determination to release a certain sound and what he has achieved with Surface, both with Rich and on his own. Nick if you’re reading this brother, 2019 is the year!
Where do you see the future of the label and deep techno music in general? It seems like Exalt and similar labels have a loyal following of ‘mature and discerning’ listeners and collectors but does it need to engage younger ears and minds? How do you achieve that?
>Another challenging question. Exalt Records is a niche record label, there isn’t a grand plan to go further or take over the world. Expanding into other markets requires investment and this simply isn’t an option for me at the moment. I do agree with the idea of expanding the listening base of ‘our’ music but haven’t had the opportunity to spend much time contemplating how this might happen. When I do, I’m drawn to the nostalgic notion that good music will naturally reach the right ears and great music will prevail. However, in reality, I’m aware that there are X amount of tracks being released every single day. I don’t know the answer sorry Andy!What happens after Exalt 001?
When we met briefly for a pint, I really liked your response to a similar question. So I’m going to steal it wholesale to answer the final question. Running a label at the level that we both do is not something done to make money, that’s very clear. I prefer to think of the mission statement of Exalt Records is to “draw a line in the sand”, I think you said ‘make a mark’. However small that mark is, it leaves a legacy, a reference point to look back on. The label is my own personal journey, done for me by me. Maybe one day I’ll look back and say I did that…. who knows?
The plans for Exalt 001 is to have every single artist featured on the label to contribute a track toward a celebration of the label. That’s if they are all still alive and talking to me by then of course. There’s no intention to stop at any point soon, so we will have to go into the minus catalogue numbers. Beyond that who really knows…?Jamie Bargeman & Andy Green for Timeline Music