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Annelies Rom

Q&A

Abyssal Music – 4 Years In

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Abyssal Music – 4 Years In

From starting out as a one-man team in 2020 to growing to a team of eight in 2024, this isn’t the only growth Abyssal Music is currently going through. The Antwerp-based label is doing a Rampage Showcase, they’re playing Tomorrowland twice, have planned a lot of label showcases, and might throw a label night here and there. The sky truly is the limit for them. 

When Blanko started out the label four years ago, he found the underground scene in Belgium seriously weakened. This had to change, he thought. He started up Abyssal Music with a small team, signing tracks ranging from halftime and 140 to deep, gritty, dark, and techy drum & bass. Fast forward to 2024, and he has now taken on six other friends to help him carry out this message.

We had the chance to catch up with Blanko and recent recruit Chompz. We talked about their passion, future plans, and love letter to the bass scene that is Abyssal Music. 

Congratulations on the four years. Looking back, did you ever think it would turn out this way?

Blanko: I didn’t think it would turn out this way. I knew we were going to go on for a while. I did expect us to exist for four years and longer because I know it takes a while to get recognition, especially in the underground scene. We’re just doing it for the love of the music and to put Belgium on the map. I’m glad we get all of this support. We’re very thankful for that.

Did you step into it four years ago because you wanted to support smaller artists?

Blanko: I just saw so much talent in Belgium. People were self-releasing sick tunes and barely getting any plays. I wanted to provide a bigger platform for them. We’re trying to combine more prominent artists with upcoming talent; that way, the label gets more attention, and that trickles down to the smaller artists. For example, the VA we’re doing now has Atmos on there. If someone sees him on the release, they might click on it because of his name and check out the rest of the tunes, too. Smaller artists get more attention and more fans this way. They can grow each other’s fan bases.

Antwerp, and Belgium as a whole, is known for its jump-up. Is that why you want to push the wider underground scene with Abyssal?

Blanko: Yes, with Abyssal, we’re trying to push the deep sounds, the more minimal, techy, darker sounds of the spectrum, in both drum & bass and 140. We felt like that was dying down a bit. We plan to throw a strictly 140 event soon, but we like mixing both genres. Whatever we’re feeling, we want to put out, and we want to promote. It’s not limited to just minimal deep drum and bass, techy drum and bass, or just jump-up.

Chompz: It keeps things interesting as well. Every time you come to an Abyssal event or listen to one of our releases, you know you’ll experience new sounds and textures. 

Blanko: Every release from us can be completely different. We can put out a complete five-track EP with only minimal edgy drum & bass tracks, and the next one can be a whole 140 EP, or it could be a mix of both. It keeps things interesting for everyone. We try to keep on expanding, and we keep pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. If we feel a tune, we want to sign it. People evolve, tastes evolve, you know. We like all kinds of drum & bass. If we like a track, we’ll sign it regardless of the subgenre. If it makes us feel something or makes me want to smash my computer screen the moment I hear it, I’ll sign it.

Chompz: This happened with Fiishy‘s track ‘Anxiety’. It doesn’t have that typical Abyssal sound, but it’s so heavy and so good that we thought, “We need this on the VA.”

Blanko: If it bangs on the sound system and people go crazy, that’s our goal. To pick tunes that stand out from the rest. I think it’s nice to evolve as a label as well. We can’t stay in the same corner and release the same stuff because people get bored after a while. We don’t want to get stuck in the loop of doing the same thing repeatedly. We like to keep ourselves and our listeners on their toes.

Chompz: We want people to think, “I know that I could go to Abyssal to find these different types of tunes that I wouldn’t usually find at other labels,” because most other labels do have a type of sound they put out. Critical is a very good example of that. Hospital Records, In The Lab Recordings… All of them have their own sound. We want to be the place people go to for new flavours.

But you still target the underground scene, right?

Blanko: We envision keeping it dark and gritty, but we don’t want to limit ourselves to just one genre. 

Chompz: I think one of the things that we’re always going after is the instant bass face. We like introducing new artists for the label because as these producers grow, they’ll make new sounds constantly. Atmos, for example, constantly renews his sound, which is very inspiring. It’s very refreshing to come across these things instead of constantly being hit by a foghorn. It breaks the mould.

Blanko: I also think it’s important for artists to feel comfortable trusting us. That way, they’re not afraid to send their weirdest tracks. For example, Skinzano made a 140 track, and he texted me how he didn’t know what to do with it or didn’t want to send it out to anyone because he thought it was too weird and people would not like it. He sent it to me, and we signed it because it was a sick tune. 

Chompz: We try to give the artists their artistic freedom so that they can be comfortable in their creativity instead of following a strict regime of what we want as a label. We want them to be proud of the work that they put out as well. We don’t want them to feel restricted in what they do.

Take us back to the start of Abyssal Music. 

Blanko: I was doing everything myself, really. I had Twix (big shoutout to him) with me to help a bit with the technical stuff, and design the artwork. I was doing all the rest, like A&R, distributions… so I was constantly texting with people, my phone was blowing up every day. I’m trying to get everything sorted in time, and it’s very hard to keep track of everything on your own, you know? I was getting burned out when I met Chompz. It was very hard for me to give my baby away at first, but after a while, I trusted him enough to ask him to join the team. It’s hard to find people you can trust and rely on to meet deadlines, but thankfully, he never disappoints me.

Chompz, do you remember the moment when you thought, “I want to join this team”?

Chompz: Blanko and I have always been on the same page regarding music. We go to the same events, like the same artists… Once in a while, we do have a hit-and-miss where we don’t agree on a specific style or a song. I also saw how running a label solo was starting to take a toll on Blanko, and I don’t like seeing my friends in bad spots. From there on out, I was helping to make artwork. I have helped to hit up artists… I kept helping more until we did the same amount of work for the label. That was about one and a half years ago now. Since then, it’s just become more and more of a daily thing to be involved with. I’m happy with where we are as a label. We’re growing really quickly. I’m happy to be here, and I’m happy to help Blanko with these things. We’re meeting new people, and it’s a whole growth experience simultaneously. Over the last one and a half years, I’ve learned a lot about consistency. You cannot have a day that you do not look at your phone, or work for the label because then things pile up. And those are things that we’re trying to alleviate ourselves from now. 

What has changed for Abyssal now that you’ve taken on more people? 

Blanko: It was difficult for me initially because I was used to doing everything myself, but it’s also interesting to get another opinion. It’s nice to brainstorm about things. We can give each other new insights. I was so overworked with everything, combining the label with a full-time job and a relationship. I just didn’t have a single hour of the day to sit on the couch and relax. My motivation was getting lower and lower with each passing month. I also went through burnout and depression not so long ago, and while that was more work-related, it certainly didn’t help with trying to run a label. Chompz really helped me during all of this. I wouldn’t say the label would have stopped without him; I would still be doing it, but I would be in low-energy, survival mode. Now, I can also chill out some evenings and not worry about the label because I know people are busy working towards the same goal. 

Chompz: My experience comes in handy because I’ve been promoting before, and I had to lead teams. It makes it a lot easier to have that experience and apply it now. I’m grateful for having such a great scene that helps people support each other. It’s great that we can apply our knowledge from way back when to what we have now.

Who else joined the team recently?

Blanko: Apart from Chompz doing a lot of work for the label, I recently took on some more people to grow the team. Fiishy is helping us wherever he can with IT and is giving us some valuable input. Grintax is doing a lot of reaching out to première channels because he’s got a good network of artists and puts them through to me. He does distribution and a bit of A&R for us, too. We’ve got Milda for the visuals, and she’s a cinematographer. David is just new on the team. He does 3D modelling, sculpting… Laura is our new photographer for press pics & events, and she’ll also be providing us with promo pics for the new merch. Last up, we have Drumslave, who also does some A&R for us by providing feedback on demos. He also has a really good network of underground artists, and he’s starting up his own event, ‘Ready to Roll’, for which he has booked several major names. He’s trying to put those names through to us, which helps the label. It’s nice that our team consists of people we trust and know in real life. 

Chompz: We are definitely going for a family vibe. We put together a team of people who rely on each other. If you’re in a bad spot, we talk to and support each other. It’s not always about the music. It’s also about being great friends, which makes it all more worthwhile.

How do you see yourself growing in the next few years?

Chompz: We have a couple of big things on our list that we would like to achieve in the following year. This first one might not be happening real soon, but we would love to build an Abyssal HQ. A whole hub where people can come and create stuff. A place where people can connect with others, and follow workshops about themes like mental health… In that way, creatives can get together if they’re stuck in a rut. They can share their experience with others who most likely are going through the same thing. These are big projects for the future, but it’s a general direction that we’re going.

Blanko: I noticed that many artists are going through the same things, such as imposter syndrome or thinking your music isn’t good enough to send to labels. I’m just there thinking, maybe you don’t like your music, but if so many people around you say it’s such sick music, you should also believe in yourself. I think bringing people together and letting them talk about it will help… Just knowing that you’re not alone can do a lot. If you talk to people who also struggle with this or have struggled with it in the past, you can give tips to each other and encourage each other to become the best version of yourself.

For your fourth anniversary, you’ve got a lot of things planned. Can you talk me through some of those plans? 

Blanko: First off, we’ve got a Rampage showcase coming up. It’s probably the biggest thing we’ve ever done so far. I got the invitation while I was at work. Right then and there, I told my boss I needed to smoke. I went to the car, opened it up, and started screaming as loud as possible. I cried that evening and thought, “What is happening?” I went to Rampage for the first time about ten years ago. I didn’t even want to DJ back then, but I was always thinking, damn, those people, they really made it. If you play on that stage, that’s one of the pinnacles of drum & bass. I think Rampage is also a good way to discover new music because they put so many different subgenres and genres on the lineup. 

For example, in 2023, Alix Perez played there, but they also booked names like Hedex, targeting the jump-up fans. The latter will most likely not like what Alix Perez is playing. Still, even if it’s 20 people who think, “That person behind the turntable is actually really cool,” that’s 20 extra people who might get invested in the underground scene. That’s also what we want to do. I won’t compromise my set and adjust it to the Rampage crowd. Maybe not everybody will like it, but in the end, you’re playing for yourself and those who like it. People might like it and think, “I’m going to look them up later,” and then discover other labels and artists.

Another thing you have planned for your 4-year anniversary is an upcoming VA with only Belgian artists. What’s the story behind this?

Chompz: There’s a lot of insane sound design on this album.

Blanko: For the 4-year anniversary, we wanted to show you the best Belgium has to offer. I think in the future, we will try to alternate one Belgian release and one international release each time because we want to put Belgium on the map, and link it with the other drum & bass countries. I just think it’s essential to support your locals, even if they’re not that famous. For many artists on the VA, it’s their debut release, the first track they ever put out.

There are ten tracks on the VA. First, we’ve got Arrax with ‘Surface’. It’s such a sick, minimal drum and bass track, and it’s been getting a lot of attention from people when we play it out. There’s also ‘Grappling’ by Mariana. This friend of mine has been working on production for years already, but he never really found his style. With this track, I was blown away. We’ve also got a collaboration between Drumslave, Hiraeth, and Frontline on the VA, which is more of a rolling, funky style. The cool thing about this collaboration is that they are all really good friends of the label. Frontline does the artwork for the designs of our t-shirts. Drumslave, as I mentioned earlier, does A&R, and Hiraeth is a friend of ours who also lives in Antwerp. 

There’s also a tune from Mono Black, ‘Square Core’, on our VA. We’ve just signed two new EPs from him. He’s a newcomer on the block who has been struggling to find his sound and his identity as an artist. I spoke with him about it, and he’s finally comfortable sharing his music. I think people are going to be blown away. Then there’s Rotor with ‘Screeching’. He has his own Brussels-based label, Constrict Music. There’s also Atmos with ‘MINIMUS’. He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s been popping off lately. He sent me this tune about two years ago, right when he switched his production style, and ‘MINIMUS’ is one of the first tunes he made after that. He didn’t want to put it out initially, so I’m thankful I could sign it for this VA. It’s going to be a free download for the album, too. Also, we’ve got Rubix with ‘Polo’ on the VA. He’s known for his liquid drum & bass but shows a different side of his productions with this one.

We also managed to sign a Whizz & Boycot tune for the VA, which we’re happy about. Boycot is a bit more famous because he released on Symmetry Recordings already. He sent me a couple of demos, and ‘Chosen Ones’ was the one I liked the most, so I signed it. He’s really happy to be part of the Abyssal family, too. He’s been producing for such a long time, and he’s finally getting that recognition. Last but not least, we have two tracks from within the Abyssal Family: Fiishy with ‘Anxiety’, and Grintax with ‘Money’. We wanted to showcase a taste of Belgium. In the future, we want to get deeper. So many more artists are producing quality music, which we also would love to sign, and they will release Abyssal at some point. But for now, this is what we can offer.

Chompz: For many people, when you mention Belgium and the drum & bass scene, their brain goes to jump-up, with good reason, of course. But together with Midas Touch, we really want to start pushing the deep drum & bass in this country.

Any final thoughts?

Blanko: I’d like to give Robitos, my brother, a shout-out. Whenever I feel down or need advice for the label, I go to him because he’s always there. He’s also been in the scene for a long time. 

Chompz: Much love to your brother, who supported you along the way. I also want to give a shout-out to my brother Lawrence. I couldn’t have done any of this without his support. I’d also like to thank everybody from all sides in the country and out of the country for supporting us. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves.

Blanko: And a massive shout-out to everybody who supported us throughout the years.

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