Consistency in sound and quality. Respect for the craft and scene. A desire to nurture fresh talent. These have been the focusses for Stijn Van Buynder (SVB) and Tom Cools (Scepticz) in the past two years – laying a rock-solid foundation for the label they’ve co-founded, Midas Touch.
With years of experience in writing and releasing music themselves, Stijn and Tom entered the game of label-management with a sound understanding of the artist-label relationship – how to achieve that mutual benefit.
From taking the time to respond to all demos, to bringing end-to-end rigour around each release schedule – artists appreciate this attention to detail, even if they don’t get to the stage of inking a release. This pays dividends for the label, sealing a high reputation that has producers bringing their A-game when submitting work.
So what are they submitting, and what are Midas Touch selecting? Their sound sits around the darker and underground territories of neuro, minimal, techy, and rolling drum & bass. With names like OaT, War, and Submarine getting early and impactful releases. Now at the two year mark, they’re celebrating with a powerful VA compilation featuring a mix of newcomers and established names like Revan, FarFlow, Kolectiv, and Ninive.
With an impressive catalogue and strong roots in the underground D&B scene, Midas Touch are poised for an evergreen spot among the labels it was inspired by – Sofa Sound, Flexout Audio, and 1985 to name a few.
UKF were keen to understand more about what goes into creating and sustaining success as a drum & bass label in today’s bubbling landscape.
Hey guys – congrats on two strong years! How are you feeling about that milestone?
Stijn: Pretty good actually. It’s been a proper roller-coaster though. To start a label, be known across the scene, and put your stamp down – it’s never going to be easy. But I must say, in two years, we’ve done a pretty good job. I’m happy, and I think Tom is too!
Tom: Yeah I am! We were toying around with the idea to start a label together for a long time – and with how everything’s turned out so far, it’s much more than what we expected.
Was this the timeline you’d envisioned?
Stijn: Well when we started, we put down some milestones that we wanted to achieve, and for a lot of those four or five year goals, we’ve already checked them off in two years. Which can only mean that D&B fans like what we’re doing – and that motivates us to keep going. So I’m pretty happy with the results, and we cannot wait to jump into the next year and show the world what we have in store.
Love the enthusiasm you guys have. What was your original ethos behind starting the label?
Tom: It was years and years ago when we started to discuss it at a Star Warz night, I think? We always kept that in the back of our head from then on. Until Covid, when we had a lot of time to sit together and start brainstorming on how the label should be, and what the focusses should be behind it. We basically came up with: good music, good artwork, and a good brand. Stijn’s always been one of my closest friends, and he’s got a great view on marketing and branding – we knew from the start it was a good combination.
Stijn: Indeed. It was kind of an obvious choice to start something together. We’d already been in the scene for ten-plus years. We’d been through the ups and downs, and gotten a lot of experience and connections from both sides.
What sort of talent were you looking to showcase?
Stijn: Well another motivation for us was the idea to support Belgian art. In Belgium there’s not really a proper underground-alternative D&B label, which was an extra motivation for us – to realise this could really be something.
We wanted to push local talent, new talent worldwide, and also friends in the scene – to get everyone involved and build a proper community, with a platform to show their work to the rest of the world. And finally, for us as producers ourselves, it’s always nice to have your own platform to release your own music.
Tom: We also saw it as a jumping board for newer artists to go on to bigger labels. We try to bring out the best in our artists. Because me and Stijn have been releasing music for a long time now, we have a good idea of how you should support a newcomer artist to grow and become better.
Stijn: Exactly. When they start releasing with us, and we talk about the next release, it always needs to be a step up from the last – and when we feel like there’s a proper opportunity, we can introduce them to the right person on a bigger label. Helping people get a career in music.
It sounds like there’s a huge range of motivations for you both there. Were these all here from the outset, or have you discovered new joys of running a label as you’ve gone along?
Stijn: I think the main thread is still the same – but the music and scene evolves of course so you have to follow what’s going on, and push the things that are important at the time. But I would say nothing really has changed for us, we want to keep our focus.
Who’s been your inspiration?
Tom: When we look at labels who have good music and artwork, definitely Sofa Sound. Music and artwork are two things that are really important to us. Do you have any Stijn?
Stijn: Yeah I agree with Sofa Sound. It’s one of our biggest influences in how to run a label, the music and artwork really stands out and it just fits so well. That’s why we’re so thankful Christina is doing our artwork (Grizzlyarts) – bringing that something extra, something different that you don’t see that often in the scene.
Tom: Flexout Audio are also doing a really good job – who are a big part of our sound, and we’ve both released on. And 1985 of course – how he (Alix Perez) manages his label and the team he has, everything is on point.
Sounds like artwork and consistency are huge factors for you guys.
Stijn: Exactly. Especially consistency. There are a lot of new D&B labels around at the moment and I’d always advise them that, if you want to stand out, consistency is very important. If you want to support local talent and you’re not consistent – maybe you release once every couple of months – it’s going to be difficult. You have to be in the sight of everybody constantly really, and it’s not easy. That’s why we want to bring a combination of new and fresh talent, in combination with artists that are already known for their music, so that the eyes can constantly fall back to the label.
So do you have quite a defined rotation of: newcomer, established artist, newcomer, etc… Or does your demo inbox more dictate that pattern?
Stijn: That depends. Our demo inbox is always full, and there’s a lot of good stuff in there, but we are critical on these things. When the sound is there and we feel like there is something more, we try to get them into the schedule – but I’m not sure if we have a fully defined pattern, it more just depends on the vibe at the time in the year.
Tom: Yeah and what kind of release it is – because when we do our VAs, we often do them for more unknown artists. But then when we have our ‘Gold’ EPs for example, they’re more for established artists.
But mainly we like to work with newer artists. We check our mailbox regularly for demos, and we’ll have a Zoom meeting, or I’ll go to Stijn’s place and we’ll vibe on the new demos. We try to put in the work to check it, and give proper feedback.
Stijn: There definitely is a proper balance between newcomers and established artists, for sure.
And I suppose first and foremost, the tune needs to fit your label’s sound?
Stijn: Of course. If it’s not the sound we’re after, we’ll just say it honestly, and sometimes we’ll send them through to another label which we think they should try. We try to reply to almost everybody with honest feedback, and everybody appreciates it. That’s one of the main reasons our artists like working with us – we are honest with them. If it’s a yes it’s a yes, if it’s a no it’s a no, but if they want to release with us, they keep on coming back.
How are you finding balancing your own productions versus managing the label?
Tom: For me I find it a bit harder to balance. Stijn does a lot of the marketing and pushing the label to new boundaries. But we always plan to take time to work on music together, because when me and Stijn are in the studio together, it’s like magic happening. It all depends, sometimes it’s more label focussed, sometimes it’s gigs, sometimes production.
Stijn: It’s really hard though sometimes. When you have your day job, the label, your friends and other fun things to do.
So you two are in the studio together a lot then?
Stijn: Yeah! For me it’s been a while since I made any solo stuff. Usually I’ll send a project to Tom or the other way around and we’ll vibe, and see if it can become something. When we met up recently we wrote three tracks in a weekend, so that’s already some nice bits for Midas for this year.
Tom: It’s always better to sit together in the studio, more vibes. I try to avoid online collabs too much, it feels impersonal.
Speaking of collaboration. There’s a few people on the label who seem like usual suspects – are you consciously trying to build that roster of core artists?
Stijn: Definitely. FarFlow for example – they have a very particular sound, it’s fresh and something new, Tom and I both love it and we really feel like there’s something there. So of course we try to keep them a little bit close.
Felov, who did the ‘Another Time’ EP for us just recently, is another – a young dutch guy who has all the potential, and he’s going to do something again for us next year. Ninive, the guy from Hungary – he’s amazingly talented and does this proper mix of minimal and techy neuro – it’s not something you hear regularly when you’re looking for new tunes on Beatport for example. That’s the sound we want to push forward, so they have a place on the label every year basically – and also because they want to, they believe in what we do, they like the sound of the label and they feel like they fit.
That’s cool. I do feel like it’s essential to have a few core artists when building a label. So, two years in, what have been your highlights of running this thing?
Stijn: There’s been a few! We’ve been nominated twice as Best Newcomer Label at the Drum & Bass Arena Awards, which is a nice ‘extra highlight’ let’s say, but it is really nice to have the extra recognition. We’ve also done some label nights this year, which have been amazing.
Tom: Yeah those were absolute highlights. Getting to play festivals as Midas Touch sound-system – for me, that’s been one of the biggest ones.
Stijn: And of course our two year VA which is just coming out now.
Tom: There’s also a lot of personal friends we have on the label, so many stories we have with them, especially the Belgian ones we see quite often. The FarFlow guys, for example, will usually come hang out with us in a pub in Antwerp. We try to take as much time as we can for our artists, if we get the chance to see them or book them. It makes it so much more personal than just email chains.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to start their own label?
Stijn: You just have to start and do it. It’s not an easy road, but don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for feedback. You’re not alone, there’s plenty of people in the scene who are keen to make contacts and connections, and you can share things with each other. It’s a learning process.
Tom: Yeah I would say, take care of your artists. Take time to give an answer when somebody sends a demo, even though it’s not your thing, it’s always a piece of their soul that someone is sending you, and a small response can go a long way.
You never know when you have an unknown talent who sends four or five tracks that you’re not feeling, but then the sixth or seventh one is like… boomtings!
Yeah you guys have experience on both sides! Is there anything else you learned about being a good label owner when you were submitting demos and signing releases?
Tom: When I released that tune with Lavance ‘Flatline’ on 1985 – I was amazed by how structured and organised they were. All the assets organised nicely in a Dropbox folder, an agenda for posting things. This is something we took and applied to our label – making it clear for the artists what is happening and when.
Stijn: Yup. Transparency is super important.
So you guys handle all of this work between yourselves?
Stijn: It’s just us! And Christina of course, doing all the artwork.
Tom: And Haden at Height Sonics, doing the masters.
Do you see a time when you’ll be able to quit your day jobs and do this full time?
Tom: We wish!
Stijn: Not yet, but who knows what the future brings.
That leads to my final question – what are you bringing in 2023?
Stijn: I think we’re just going to continue what we’re doing. We’re ending the year with our VA compilation, and a lot of the artists on there are coming back in 2023. So we’re just going to do our thing, keep pushing the music and artists we love, and enjoy the process!
Tom: And trying to bring the Midas Touch sound-system to more countries.