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LABEL SPOTLIGHT

Label Spotlight: Deadbeats

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Label Spotlight: Deadbeats

Hi, Who are you? 

Harrison Bennett, label manager since 2016. The label was founded by Zeds Dead in 2016 and is based out of Toronto. 

What’s your ethos?

First and foremost, we are an artist-run label from an organisational and practical standpoint. So whatever we do is artist-led and in the service of their vision. We want to release the ultimate version of the project for the artist we are working with when it comes to the music and visuals. We also believe strongly in helping with the event side of things with the artist whether that is through our own label showcases, release parties or, providing promotional support for the artist’s tours or helping make connections with other touring acts to find support slots. 

Tell us your origin story...

This was an idea that Zeds Dead had for quite a long time and has always been kicking around. They had a long history of working with various artist-run labels like Mad Decent and Dim Mak, and when it came time for them to put out their first album in 2016, Northern Lights, they put that idea into action. They wanted to launch a space to support artists and sounds that they felt were under-served by other labels and provide a platform for these artists that put into practice everything they had learned through their dealings with various labels. The label launched in March 2016 with a single release by Zeds Dead x Freddie Gibbs “Back Home” and then released a number of singles ahead of their album release in October 2016. The first artist we released after that was Nebbra in November of the same year and then in February 2017 we released the first volume of our We Are Deadbeats compilation series. 

Where are you based? Tell us about your local scene…

Toronto! The city has always had a very strong underground scene that fosters a lot of collaboration between local artists across various genres. However, like a lot of major cities we’ve dealt with the loss of some significant midsize venues over the last decade which has put a bit of a damper on the weekly/bi-weekly event series that helped establish the dubstep and bass scenes in the city over the last 10+ years. Drum & Bass has a very storied history in this market with massive raves and events dating back 20+ years, probably even bigger than the dubstep scene. Recently we’ve seen a very healthy resurgence of underground events supporting bass music such as the DOCD series that has brought through acts like IMANU, Ternion Sound, Nikki Nair, Hamdi, and more. 

Do you have a specific sound or vibe?

We aim to support the entire spectrum of bass music, and really focus on what we consider to be the next up-and-coming genres and artists.  If you think of a festival with two stages; the main stage and the side stage with emerging artists stage, we are the side stage with a focus on the sounds that we think are going to be moved over to the main stage in the next 6-12 months. We don’t really lean into the side of bass music that has been influenced by metal and rock, and instead go for more of the stuff that’s got a bit more of a hip-hop or rhythmic element to it.  Very focused on groove. 

Do you have a regular artist roster- who can we see releasing with you?

There’s a pretty big scope of acts that we work with throughout each year but we do have a good cast of recurring acts that like working with us time and time again. We don’t sign anyone exclusively because we believe that artists need flexibility in who they release with, but we’ve had the honour of working with acts like Subtronics, Griz, IMANU, Peekaboo, Blanke, Tape B, Sippy, A Hundred Drums, Chee and more multiple times.  As well as legends like Rusko, Caspa, Coki, Emalkay, The Others, Subscape. 

Tell us about your A&R process…

We try to keep our ear to the underground both in emerging artists and sounds. We want to be signing stuff we think is going to grow over the next 6-12 months. Not really concerned with artist size or their social growth, it’s very much about the track/release and if we think our audience will respond. We do a lot of outreach ourselves to artists that we think could work well on the label, and a fair bit of our signings have been the result of Zeds Dead supporting another track by the artist in their sets.  

What makes you different from other labels?

We’re very genre agnostic in that we don’t stick to a specific sound or genre or bpm, we’re a broad spectrum bass label.  And we’re very mindful about putting the artist’s vision first. We want to put out the ultimate version of the project that the artist has in mind. I think it’s served us well and the people we work with. Our label events are also a big part of what has set us apart from other labels I think, since we do about 20-25 per year and always try to have a diverse group of acts on the shows as we curate the lineups to be unique for each city. Getting artists in front of people so they can showcase their music and selections really helps develop a fanbase and sets them up for long-term success. We also host the 3rd largest hot dog eating competition in America every July 4th in Denver and I’m willing to put money up that no other label can make a similar claim. 

What does it take to run a bass music label in 2024?

A passion for the music and artists is first and foremost since this is a job that doesn’t really hold normal hours and can take you on some wild twists and turns at all times. Being resourceful with your network of designers, promoters, other producers, and streaming contacts, and being willing to experiment with new promotional avenues is also very important as you never know what is going to work for a particular release so you need to be flexible with plans always. And finally just being a good person that’s easy to work with and dependable can take you a long way. Artists and their teams work a lot on their projects and they need to trust that you’re going to put in the same amount of work to release their music, you don’t need to be the best or most established at what you do to gain that trust but you damn sure better be dependable, willing to do the work, and able follow through on any promises you give. 

What have you got coming up we should look out for?

We just released a 15 track compilation in partnership with Brownies & Lemonade focused on Drum & Bass called Deadbeats & Brownies that you should absolutely check out. We’re Very proud of that project as it’s been something we’ve been working on for a couple of years and serves as a showcase of the different styles within that genre that we think are starting to resonate with North American audiences. Beyond that, we’ve got a couple EPs and albums coming out this year that I think people will be very excited about. Can’t spill the beans yet but I think they’ll make people very happy.

Deadbeats Website

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