The term ‘forward-thinking’ can often be used too much when it comes to drum and bass music that doesn’t follow the usual conventions – but with Alix Perez’s now iconic 1985 Music label, you feel the phrase is more than justified.
To mark five years in the game, the label that often tears up the rulebook when it comes to the nature of its releases, has given the back catalogue a refreshing new spin with a host of dynamic remixes from long-term collaborators and fresh faces alike.
Over the eight tracks on the anniversary project, tracks including Trinity, Inferno and Moving On are given a new lease of life from the likes of Skeptical, DLR and Break.
In the five years, 1985 Music has continually grown to now be at a level where, although they’re still very much an independent label, has gained prominence in a number of different genre circles due to their eclectic output.
Starting primarily as an output for Perez’s solo and collaborative work, the label has gone on to nurture and grow the potential of a host of names including Monty, Visages and Submarine.
Following Perez’s own ethos of pushing boundaries and experimenting, artists who come to the label are encouraged to extend their talents outside of the drum and bass realm and make music at a host of different tempos.
A long-term fan of the physical product, Perez and the label has drawn praise for its penchant for vinyl and the clothing line (all designed by Alix himself) that accompanies their musical releases.
The label’s journey has been far from smooth, negotiating factors including a global pandemic and Perez’s own move to New Zealand – yet still has continually grown and stamped its musically and visual mark on the underground scene. Despite all this, Perez is completely honest and open when it comes to why the label has seen the success it has – “the main focus has always been the music first and foremost.”
We had a long chat with the label founder to reflect on the past five years, as well as to hear what the future may look like moving forward…
The recent remix album celebrating the label’s five-year anniversary seems the perfect place to start – how was it curating the project? You must have had some fun putting it together…
Yeah, it was really fun. I was mainly working with friends anyway, so it was pretty direct. These kinds of projects can always take a bit longer because people take different amounts of time to work. Speaking from an artist’s point of view, doing remixes can be difficult as well. Sometimes you can just hit it off straight away and others you need a few goes, so in terms of deadlines, it was pretty stressful trying to get eight remixes at the same time. Like any longer project, it’s always more work than usual, but the overall result is amazing.
I gave the artists a choice of a few tracks and let them decide on what took their fancy. It was pretty straightforward in the end to be honest and I think it sums up five years quite well. I’m not a massive remix fan. I just like putting out original music, but for this project it made sense and was exciting to do. It refreshes the back catalogue and gives it a new spin.
I was going to ask, how did it come to selecting the tracks for the project? Was it your own personal favourites over the five years, or was it more to do with the ones that have garnered the biggest fan reaction?
It was more to do with the artists. For example, with the Trinity remix, I just couldn’t really think of anyone else that could take it on apart from Skeptical. Ash and I have a lot of similarities in terms of our sound – we both come from that minimal school and had quite a big influence on it. I was thinking what kind of remix I wanted for Trinity and I didn’t want anything too dance floor, so Ash basically just delivered exactly what I imagined he would do. I was saying to him it sounds like an underwater snorkel remix – it’s just real deep, low end. Quite a lot of the artists wanted to go for the same tracks, but obviously some were already taken. It was a pretty smooth process though – I just let the artists do what they wanted. It all came together naturally.
How did you choose which artists to have on the project? Obviously, there are some unfamiliar names to the label in Break and DLR, so how did you come to get those guys involved?
With Charlie (Break), I’ve been a massive fan of his music for so long. I’ve always got his tunes in my sets. In fact, I was thinking the other day, if I remove all the Break tunes from my sets I’d be in trouble because I play so much of his music. He’s really got his own sound – you just know when it’s a Break tune from the way he produces. I think that’s something that’s lacking a little bit these days. A lot of kids who are coming through seem to be influenced by the same thing which inevitably results in them sounding like clones. With Charlie, he’s a standout producer. You could same the same about Monty or Skeptical as they have a signature sound. Charlie took a more musical route on his remix which was really nice as I was expecting more of a Break-type drop and roller. He was quite adamant that he wanted to go with that style, so he really gave the track new life.
I’ve known James (DLR) for years and have always been a big fan of his work, so it made sense to get him involved with the Bredren track and get something more on the techy, rolling side of things. Again, he delivered a really great remix. We’ve spoken about making music for a long time and we’ve actually recently been working together and have a collaborative EP coming next year. As I said earlier, we’re all friends so it’s pretty easy to organise at the end of the day. Everyone was more than happy to get on board.
The label has reached its five-year anniversary which is a nice time stamp to reflect upon everything that’s happened so far. How would you assess where the label is at and how it’s grown in these five years?
It doesn’t feel like five years, but at the same time it really does. I primarily run the label myself along with Amy Jayne, our label manager, and Sara Reisinger who takes care of our social media and communications. Prior to that, I was working with my manager Matt Ryan and Pravin Mukhi who helped me set it up from the start and did a great job. I’ve had a lot of help behind the scenes in terms of the mechanicals and the less creative sides of things. In terms of the creative, from doing the artwork to making the clothes and the curating and nurturing of artists who come on board, that’s all my job and I love it. We’ve come a long way, but the main focus has always been the music first and foremost. People have recently been asking me ‘how do you run a successful label,’ and I just think the music should be the focus and then everything else follows.
I’m really proud of where we’ve got. I think considering we’re an underground label we’re quite prominent now. I didn’t think we’d get to this level when it started. I knew I wanted to build a little family around it and have a few core artists like Monty and Visages and then bring in others around it. I’ve never wanted to overgrow it because I want to give everyone the right attention and work closely with them. It’s really rewarding though, just trying to treat people well and offering them that platform while avoiding mistakes I’ve encountered in previous relationships with labels.
Why did it feel the right time in your own musical journey to get the label going?
I feel like I could potentially have started earlier than I did, but at the same time, these things take time. My motto has always been that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and my career has proven that. It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am as an artist and feel accomplished. It’s so accessible to start a digital label nowadays and I think a lot of artists are maybe peddling too fast and there isn’t the quality control. You have to remember what you’re putting out will always be out there and that will be the story of your label.
I felt that I was ready to have a platform where I could make the decisions and not have anyone trying to control me as an artist. 1985 is my vision and it allows me to control everything and display the best and most honest music I can find. I just think it’s really important to take your time and get to the point where you feel you’re ready for that. I learned a lot from other labels and I’m thankful for them working with me earlier in my career, but it got to a point where I had my own vision and wanted to develop that.
I’m glad you mentioned the labels you’ve worked with previously there, because a lot of your journey has been built around two big ones in Shogun and Exit. What kind of lessons did you learn from those two in particular that you’ve carried forward into your own label?
My first album 1984 was also Shogun’s first, so I think we learnt a lot together. I learnt a lot about the mechanicals of running a label because they’re quite focused on the business side of things. With Exit, I mainly looked up to their ethos that it’s all about the music and just not caring about anything else. If you’re running a record label, you should be putting everything into the music, and it should be your number one focus. They also aren’t afraid to put out different types of music which is something we try and do at 1985 as well. We look to explore a little bit and put out various tempos across the VAs’ and I’ve been championing 140 as well. It’s just putting out good, honest music that you believe in – not doing it for numbers or top 10s. If that’s going to happen, it will, but it’s never the focus.
With the label, you’ve obviously put together a really talented core group of artists who you’ve helped nurture such as Monty, Visages and Submarine. This must have been a completely new skill for you to learn as well…
Yes, it was. I’m probably quite annoying as a label manager because I’m so picky. Monty and Visages write a lot of really good music, but I’ll always try and water it down to the very best. I’d rather have one amazing EP than two that aren’t quite as good. It’s just really focusing on the best of those guys and having some variety in the music they put out as well. I’m at a point now where they send me music and I can just tell that it will make sense as an EP, but I can’t really explain why – it just feels right. It can probably be frustrating as an artist as you want to put out all of your music, but at the end of the day, it definitely works in all of our favour.
I’m always willing to lend my ear and give some advice, but I also don’t want to tell people how to write their music. I just like being clear and honest with the artist and saying yes or no if I want it for the label or not. I never want the artist to be left in the dark, so I always give a clear message. I think this helps on their side as well. This was an issue I had a bit in the past when I sent music to labels. You don’t hear from them for a while and it plays on your mind as an artist because you feel unsure whether they like it or not. In general, I just know with the music if it’s for 1985 or not.
What do you expect from any artist that comes to the label?
I’m just looking for potential that I can help mould into an independent artist with their own independent sound. With Monty, I knew straight away that I had that. An artist should always have a signature sound, as that’s how you differentiate and get to know what you like. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good drum and bass these days, but there’s also a lot of regurgitated sound. So many kids send me demos and they all just sound like they’ve been using the same sample pack. This isn’t going to help the sound move forward. That’s why I’m so picky about who I work with on the label. I look for an artist who will fall in with our sound but have their own touch. I’m hoping they’ll experiment with other tempos and I’ll always encourage that.
A personal highlight of mine throughout the label’s history has been the different VA projects. What do you look to do show when planning them?
The VA projects just encapsulate what we’re about. I curate them so they start at a lower tempo and they grow and the intensity and mood changes from light to dark, or vice versa. They need to move like an album as essentially, they are albums, just with a collection of artists. When people send me music over a period of time, I’m thinking about if it can be put away for the next VA release. Over time it builds up and I can see what sits here and what sits there – it’s like pieces of a puzzle until the image becomes clear. They’re quite demanding, but they’re worth it at the end of the day. I’m constantly working on them so they’re fun ones to do.
I suppose they’re also a good way to introduce new faces to the label as well…
Yes, it’s always a nice way to introduce new artists and then usually, not always, we try to work towards a full release. That’s always been a signature of the project and is a good way to give an image of what 1985 really represents. The next ones are going to get more and more experimental, with a good balance of club music and some less conventional sounds. A lot of the EP releases are quite functional as club music, so it’s nice to have these larger projects represent a more experimental side.
You touched on it earlier, but I want to return to the design side of the label that you’re in control of. Have you always seen a clear marriage between music and art and fashion?
Yeah, 100%. If you look at rap and hip hop from the 90s to now, it’s been so influential in fashion and art. When I was growing up the skateboarding scene was a big influence, and I was graffing as well. I then went and did graphic design at university but didn’t think I was ever going to use it. It’s been really nice to get back into it and to be honest with you, sometimes it’s even more fun seeing the results of a nice piece of clothing or a finished record sleeve. When the design translates how you wanted it to, it’s the same as hearing a tune in a club and seeing the reaction or hearing your music on vinyl for the first time. Seeing your work in physical form is thrilling so that’s really cool. It also gives me the chance to switch off from music and focus more on that side of things if I’m not feeling musically creative.
Are you always trying to create a visual representation of the music when it comes to the cover art?
Yeah, and with someone like Monty for example, there’s a certain style that we’ve created for his stuff. The same with myself or Visages. But also, sometimes when you’re writing music it’s just like you’re on auto pilot – it’s just art, it doesn’t have to be that thoughtful or deep, you’re just expressing yourself. It’s just fun to be creative and have an identity that sets you apart from the rest. I feel 1985 has a visual signature, just like its sound. At the end of the day, the point of the label is for me to carve our own lane, so I’m not looking at other labels to see what they’re doing – I don’t have any interest. We’re not dependent on anyone else – we’re just doing our own thing which is very liberating.
The physical product is clearly very important for you. Why was vinyl something you wanted to do from the start?
It’s definitely not easy being a vinyl label, especially at the moment with Covid. There are huge delays so we’re mastering a year ahead at the moment to avoid delays. I just feel that being a digital-only label is not that difficult these days and I feel because of the work that goes into vinyl, you have to be sure it’s a great record and that you focus more on the release and give it time. Some digital labels are releasing twice a week sometimes and I just think that dilutes the quality. I also love the physical package of vinyl – people have art and music together. People who do vinyl care about their product and as much as it’s a pain in the arse at the moment, I’m still going to push for it until it’s deemed impossible or non-viable. I feel every artist who we put out on the label deserves their own vinyl release because we love their music and think they’re worthy of that.
How has the running of the label been affected over the past 18 months during the pandemic? You’ve obviously moved across the world to New Zealand during that time as well…
I think the label has been thriving if I’m honest. Obviously, events have been off the cards for the most part, but that’s never our primary focus. I feel like people have supported us more throughout the pandemic which we’re really thankful for. I suppose if people are cooped up at home, it’s nice to buy a vinyl or a piece of clothing. I feel like we didn’t get affected that much as a label, if anything it’s carried on as it was. In terms of me being on the other side of the world, it just means communication is a little more difficult, with us either having to do early or late calls.
I suppose it gives you the opportunity to fly the flag in two hemispheres with you being based in New Zealand and your team and a lot of artists being based in Europe…
Yeah, I’ve been working with people here as well. There’s a really good scene actually, especially in the slower tempo sounds. We’ve got Headland, Ebb, Epoch, Paige Julia, Texture – loads of good talent all in one area. We did a Keep Hush event with some of those artists and Headland has already released on the label and we’ve actually got a longer project together as well. I’ve signed some tracks from some of those other artists and am going to try and work with them and hopefully develop a relationship with them over here. 1985 is not limited to New Zealand though – it’s a worldwide thing.
In terms of touring, I’ve abstained from even going back to the UK yet because it’s not really viable for me to go. A lot of people are asking whether I’ll be coming back, and I will, but we’re still in a pandemic and the UK and US seem a bit like the wild west. The borders are still closed in New Zealand as well, so I’m going to wait until I don’t have to quarantine and it’s worth my while going back over. Once everything resumes, I’ll be back over regularly.
You gave an interview recently with Dynamics where you were speaking about inclusion riders and how you wouldn’t play unless there’s diversity on the line-up. Will you be adopting similar practices on the label moving forward?
I’m very keen to see the change that’s spoken about in that interview. I know questions were raised when that article came out as some people didn’t understand. There’s not much to understand though – I don’t think it’s asking much to have a little bit of diversity on every show I play. Having one or two artists from underrepresented groups really doesn’t ask much of the promoter and if they’re not progressive enough and don’t see the vision of trying to balance things out, then we’re not going to work with you. I’m not asking to curate their lineup for them – I’m just asking them to be mindful of it.
In terms of the label, it’s obviously very male-orientated at the moment and not as diverse as I said. We’re a very small family of artists and I am actively talking to female producers, but it takes time. I’m talking to people like Paige Julia and a couple of others, so hopefully it’ll get to the point where we’re releasing their music and we have more diversity on the label. We don’t want to tokenise things, though. I want to work with a female artist in the long run and built something bigger than a single booking. I want to try and make that change as much as I can.
Absolutely right. What does the 1985 release schedule look like for the rest of the year then?
It’s very busy. We pretty much have everything in motion up until late next year. There’s lots of exciting projects to come. The next release is going to be our first artist album on the label which will be disclosed soon. Then we have some new faces coming to the label, some more VAs’, and some more records from myself and the regulars. More events will begin to happen as well, especially in the UK and Europe. I’m looking to come over next summer and do a massive run so expect lots of label nights then.
If you could go back to the very start of the label knowing what you do now, what advice would you give yourself?
I’m not too sure. I feel like we’ve had a pretty smooth ride to be honest and I’m surprised how far we’ve got in five years. I suppose I can’t say it enough – just focus on the music and art. I feel people get caught up in the business and social media side of the industry, but just focus on your sound as that’s what makes you stand apart. Always look to carve out your own lane and focus on what you’re doing – not anyone else.
If we had a chat in five-years’ time to celebrate the label’s tenth anniversary, where would you like to be?
I just want continual growth and to hopefully keep establishing strong connections with new artists and being a good label for them to develop. Staying focused and keeping on is always the motto.