With well over a decade’s worth of releases and DJing experience behind him, Sub Zero has embarked on a new journey with his latest project: Propaganda Audio.
Not to be mistaken with previous collaborative label, Propaganda Recordings, ran alongside Original Sin, this label is fresh in 2020 to host both new and established drum and bass artists and their best tunes. It launched last month with Buffalo Stance, a powerful kick off release in collaboration with Miss Trouble, T95 and Genetics.
Sub Zero, real name Jake, has spent his lockdown creating a label that has been in the planning stages for years, until now. Set to welcome all genres of D&B, Jake hopes to create a diverse collection of music from artists that represent everything he loves about bass.
UKF caught up with the label owner to find out more about what is to come from Propaganda Audio…
Tell us about how the label came about – what made you want to create one?
I have been wanting to do a label for quite a few years, but it’s something that I have never really got around to doing. As a producer I write a lot of music and I’m also signed to Playaz. Sometimes when you write music it doesn’t always suit the label, so I end up sitting with tunes that don’t see the light of day. Sometimes I think some of my best stuff doesn’t come out, so I thought that I needed my own label and a place to put this music out. Through the first lockdown I had a lot more time on my hands, so I thought that this was time for me to finally get the label moving and get things together.
Do you think it was harder to set up because of the pandemic?
Not really, to be honest. If anything, it was quite a good time to do it because I had more time on my hands. A lot of the problem in the past was that I was so busy with the DJ schedule, writing and producing music and life in general, so I never got around to doing it. I was always saying that I needed to do a label, then I’d try and come up with a name and I could never come up with something that I was really happy with, and then it gets pushed to the back burner again.
With the lockdown, I knew I needed to get it done. If anything, it was the ideal time to get it moving. I already had the first tune done that I launched the label with. I think to launch a label you need a really strong first release with a good tune. I had this tune Buffalo Stance, which we made nearly a year ago, and I had been playing it throughout summer last year and it was killing it. On livestreams everyone had been asking about it and I thought it could be quite a big tune. Playaz didn’t feel like it fitted their sound, so I thought it could be the perfect tune to release the label with and the perfect time to do it. It came together nicely.
A lot of that has happened this year, weirdly. It’s been a hard time, especially for artists, but there’s been plenty of examples of things falling into place. It seems like a lot of producers/DJs are making this transition into label management.
I think COVID has exposed our vulnerabilities. I have been DJing all over the world for the last decade – it’s great and you earn good money. Then suddenly all of that was taken away and we lost maybe 80 percent of our income and we didn’t know what to do. It’s really exposed this weakness. It’s great being a DJ and making money from it, but if that is suddenly taken away, then what are you left with? I know a lot of people were in a similar situation, so I think it’s made a lot of artists realise that they need other things to be doing. There has to be other avenues of music that will make money and generate an income, and obviously record labels are a great one. Obviously, I haven’t done it because I think it will make me loads of money!
From a mental health perspective as well, I think everybody needs something to work towards.
Absolutely. That’s the other side of lockdown, you just want to keep as busy as possible, so having new projects to get stuck in to means you make time to try new things. It has actually been fun, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been nice to see this idea come to life and then getting the tune out there. The tune has done well, and people really like it, so it’s gone better than I thought it would! Every tune you release, you never really know what the response will be like. I think starting a new label, people have got to like it or else it will struggle to get off the blocks and get moving straight away.
Realising how quickly things can change has probably made a lot of people more equipped for the future – a plan B almost?
It’s exposed that it’s not a good business model to just rely on one thing (DJing). I’ve been releasing music for the last 12 or 13 years and I remember when we used to sell vinyl and record sales were so much better. The profit that we made from selling music back then was a lot higher as well. Obviously over the last few years that has completely diminished with the rise of the internet and streaming platforms. Most artists and labels don’t sell or make any money from vinyl. It transitioned from not making as much money from music sales to making more money from live music shows.
Now we have got the point where shows are such a large part of a lot of artists income – it’s not a good business model. If (when) that gets taken away, we’re kind of screwed. A lot of artists have had to re-evaluate that and come up with new ways of surviving and making money. A lot of cool stuff has come from that. Even though it’s been a bad year, it’s been a good year in the sense that we’ve had to expand and come up with new skills.
It’s like we’re in another new wave of the scene now. From the era of illegal raves and vinyl to the digital streaming age and now the COVID era. Everything has changed and this feels like another turning point.
It’s all changing again. Obviously, we are yet to see how things are going to be, we will just have to see what happens. Going back to the vinyl years, I remember when vinyl was dying, and we were transitioning from the vinyl to digital age. People were panicking, labels and artists, thinking ‘what are we going to do, we’re not going to make any money?’. We went from selling a record for £7 to an MP3 for a pound and splitting all of that across distributors, labels and artists. It was quite a scary moment, but we came through it. Then we started making a lot more money from live shows and shows became a huge thing. All of that is happening again now as things change, we’re just yet to see what will happen when the dust settles. I think a lot of cool stuff will come out of it.
Something good has to come out of the bad times!
It will! It heightens your creativity as well, I think. It sounds obscure, but I remember hearing that Shakespeare wrote all of his greatest works throughout the plague while he was locked away. Good things always come out of bad situations, that’s just the way of life. When we are pushed out of our comfort zones, we come up with new ideas.
Is there a certain sound or style that you want to push with the label? What’s the brand?
I don’t think it’s going to have one particular sound – it’s just going to be about great music. As a producer myself, I have always produced a variety of different styles of drum and bass from jungle to liquid to jump up. It’s not going to be a particular genre of label. Whatever good music I make, or what I find from other artists, will end up on there. It’s definitely going to be reflective of the times and what works in my DJ sets, as DJing is obviously such a big part of what I do. I always feel like if a tune really works in my DJ sets and I love playing it, that translates well in to whether I want to release it. As long as it’s quality and people enjoy it, that’s the main thing. It will definitely still be orientated around tunes that would go off in a rave or a festival and tunes that DJs want to play.
I think there is definitely demand for more broad labels that covers all sorts, since people can have any sound at the click of a button and are always looking for what is new and fresh.
For me as a producer, I’m always doing that. I love that one week I can be writing jungle, and the next week I can do a dirty jump up tune or a roller, then the next might be liquid. All of my top tunes on Spotify cover a variety of different styles. I’m not just one thing, even though some people have said that I’m just jump up. I feel like I’m not like that now, and I would like the label to reflect that as well.
The first release Buffalo Stance is out now. Has it felt different releasing your own music whilst also managing it from a label perspective?
I think so. You see all the inner workings of things and there is a lot more to do in terms of promo, but it’s fun as well. I can come up with how I want to promote things and how I want artwork and all of these sorts of things. It’s nice to have full control over things like that, even if it is more work and time consuming.
You must have had to put on your business head rather than just thinking creatively. Did the first release feel even more like your own project since you oversaw every aspect from the production to the release?
Definitely. It’s a learning curve. There are a lot of things that I had no idea about, and you have to speak to people to find things out. ‘How do I figure out this and that?’. I have a lot of good friends in the scene, so there are plenty of people that I can get advice from in that respect. I’m sure, even on the next release, I’ll find it even easier and I’ll do an even better job.
Artists are increasingly getting involved in other aspects of the industry, surely this can only make for better music and more well-rounded artists?
Yeah. We’ve definitely had to analyse what we’re doing and come up with new ways to do things. I think everyone is learning from each other too as we see what other artists are doing. You might see someone else with a really good idea and then try it for yourself.
It feels like there is a tightening of the music community as artists are adapting to this new lifestyle. Before it was mostly shouted conversations in a sweaty nightclub, whereas now everything is online and support networks are needed a lot more.
Exactly. Interestingly, we have a WhatsApp group with most drum and bass DJs in, which accidentally got started around the beginning of the year. That’s been quite interesting! It’s good because people are being a bit more supportive of each other and sending music to each other or links for releases, even just sharing information about what’s going on. I think it has brought a bit more solidarity to the scene.
Can you tell us any other artists or releases that you have lined up?
I don’t want to say anything too soon. Sometimes you build up an idea and if it doesn’t go through, people will wonder what happened. There are going to be a lot more Sub Zero releases and there will be a lot of other artists as well. There are a lot of fresh up and coming artists at the moment that I think are really sick. I think it’s an exciting time for new producers. There are people like Warhead, Gino, Hexa that we want to get on board.
Newcomers are such an important part of labels as they try to break through. It sounds like this is something you want to incorporate to Propaganda Audio?
I want to help bring through some new artists. I think if I can help newcomers and push them with their sound, giving advice and feedback, hopefully I can help them to become better artists as well. That’s something that I want to invest my time in to. I remember coming through on labels when I first started producing, and there were bigger artists that would offer advice and feedback on mixdowns and technical help, which helped a lot. I think sometimes that’s what you need as a new producer – someone who will give you ideas on what changes to make or just small adjustments. If you are prepared to put in the work on the A&R side of the label with new producers, it can yield some great results.
There’s definitely a new level of responsibility as well when you take artists on to the label and start coaching them.
Absolutely. Also, in terms of how you promote music as well. It’s all about giving them a platform, so you have the responsibility to promote them well and invest money and time into them to make sure they do as well as they can. That should be quite interesting!
Are you accepting demos at the moment?
I’m definitely accepting demos. We’re in the process of setting up a website with a submissions section, so keep an eye out for that.