WORDS

The Story Of Jazzsticks

Jazzsticks: 10 years old, 50 releases deep but only 5 remixes to their catalogue. Until now…

Released this month, 10 Years Of Jazzsticks marks the Vienna label’s anniversary with a collection of remixes of the label’s repertoire. A vibe hurricane of hazy horns, big Rhodes ripples, wah wah guitar shimmers and hip-spinnning breaks, not only does it up Paul SG’s label remix-count by a cool 30, it neatly captures the label’s spirit and MO: Jazzsticks is dedicated to unabashed funk, soul, jazz inspired, sample-based liquid drum & bass.

We’re not talking light and floaty, or deep and minimal, or emotional and vocal, or song-based and mainstream liquid here; we’re chatting raw, dirty, warm drum & bass that owes just as much to the 60s and 70s as it does labels such as Goodlooking, Creative Source and early Hospital Records from whom they take their cues.

It’s the sound the label has been championing and chiselling since 2009 when Paul SG – then under the wing of Professor Bukem – set up a label for his tracks that weren’t signed to the seminal Goodlooking imprint. Two years later in 2011, Paul levelled up in earnest with the recruitment of friends Flowrian, Pulsaar and Decon to form the label collective who still exist today… And can be heard at their very best on 10 Years Of Jazzsticks.

Taking the label’s signature jazz spirit further than its usual perceived D&B boundaries – and featuring the label’s full extended family with the likes of MC Conrad, Madcap, Clart, Soul Structure, Kenobi, Malaky and more – it’s the broadest sound the label has showcased to date. Yet it remains unapologetic in its funky, grainy and ultimately warm aesthetic. As one of the longest standing bastions for this style of D&B, it’s something they’re inherently proud of… And are likely to continue for another 10 years and 50 releases.

Here’s where Paul SG is at right now…

10 years and 50 releases. Very convenient!

We didn’t plan to do it this way. It’s not that many releases over that amount of time really. We have always been about quality over quantity and a year ago I could see it falling into place. I think it’s cool. Plus I quite like even numbers.

Who doesn’t? You’ve never just flung stuff out for the sake of seeming active.

Very true. We came from vinyl days and started with the first release on vinyl. So, from the beginning, we thought even if it’s digital it still has value and needs time to breathe. It’s something special; the artist invests time into making these beautiful tracks and I want to do them justice. We try to give every release and artist time to shine. I say we, it’s actually just me in terms of the day-to-day running and owning the label but everybody tries to help.

Haha but you’re definitely a collective aren’t you?

Yeah it’s definitely a ‘we’. I couldn’t be doing what we are doing if it wasn’t for all the artists on the label. Everyone contributes. Not just with the music but everybody is contributing with discussions. Being around each other, communicating, it all feeds the spirit.

You’re not all local though are you? This isn’t a strictly Vienna thing…

We get together when we can. Label nights in various countries, things like that. I often invite people to come over, it’s a beautiful city, we hang out and make music. Like a long distance relationship, it’s it’s intense when we hang out. Modern technology helps. The core is me here, guys in Switzerland and Germany, a few in the UK, Greece, Japan and of course a neat circle of people in Vienna. With exceptions, we’re all in the same or similar timezones. Sometimes I think we could be stronger if we would be more closely located, they’re some of my best friends, it would be nice to have them in my life more regularly, but it’s all good. The cool thing about friends in different places is they have different experiences and things to bring. You can’t all stay inspired if you do the same thing in the same place together all the time.

Amen. The label was a bit of an accident, wasn’t it?

Yes. It was quite a random opportunity. I was just starting to release with LTJ Bukem on Goodlooking and he put some tracks on his Fabriclive mix. A distribution company got in touch, they could see I was playing at Fabric, Bukem was playing music and they saw something promising and offered me a deal. We did two vinyls and then they just disappeared. I couldn’t get hold of them anymore. I often wonder where the backstock went, but I couldn’t get hold of them. I was left hanging. It was odd – things go bankrupt in all industries, it’s not pretty but that’s fine. I wish I was spoken to more. I was in my mid-20s and didn’t have much experience.

You must have thought ‘fuck running a label!’ after that?

Certainly I did. I stopped it for two years. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do that. I didn’t know how to take care of vinyl pressings but vinyl had stopped being a thing so I thought ‘well let’s do this.’ I was kinda tied to Goodlooking with so many tracks under contract but that didn’t happen in the timeframe I was hoping for. I was sitting there with a label that kinda existed but nothing was happening, so why not explore this? I asked Triple Vision to claim the rights to the previous releases and went digital only. That was 2011.

Then came a flow of releases of you bringing your friends onto the label. Decon, Flowrian, Pulsaar. The founding elements of the label’s sound… 

100% It’s basically the same crew today. We all stick together. It was supposed to be a label around my music but then I got in touch with Decon, I loved what he was doing. Flowrian and Pulsaar were the same and it fell into place. We were all constantly writing music, about five or six tracks a week. We had this pile of music and thought ‘okay let’s show the world what we have’. It was cool because we had a bit of a niche. No other label was doing this type of sound. Or not many. It’s never been that popular or high demand but there was definitely a gap we were happy to fill.

You’re right. Certainly at that time liquid labels were chasing something either more mainstream or deeper sounds at the time…

That’s right and we’ve always been about those 70s funk, jazz and soul vibes. We’ve stuck to that because we love it and that’s what we do. We’re not jumping on trends or any hype shit. We make what we love. Being about the only label consequently doing this is of course a double-edged sword. It’s cool but extra hard work as we’re doing this on our own. We get a lot of love from artists that initially did what we are still doing, people that moved on because they wanted a bigger audience and therefore changed their sound. They know what we are about and they respect that.

Give me a key release that really reps the Jazzsticks spirit…

Yes, me, Pulsaar, Decon and Flowrian did an album called The Chalet in 2015 as The Jazzassins. All of us, the main four characters behind the label and what it stands for. We went away and hired a chalet in the swiss alps, took some machines and just wrote for a week. The album is the result and it’s got everything on it. It’s got the mellow vibes, it’s got those raging car chase scenes, it’s got the deep stuff. If any album sums up the label it’s that.

So does the 10 Years Of Jazzsticks album. The new remixes bring things full circle.

Well, I was thinking that so far we have only released five remixes in our whole label history. Those are included in the album. It’s 30 new remixes plus the five ones we’ve done over the years.

We often look over our back catalogue, as a collective, thinking that everything goes so well all together. It’s timeless and this makes us proud.

What’s your beef with remixes?

No beef whatsoever! We all try to do something new everyday. It’s boring to go back over old things. We’ve made tunes just to play out for our DJ sets and not released them. I love the interpretation of things and giving it a new edge and twist. But we’ve just never done that many.

I guess it goes back to the whole quality / quantity thing you mentioned at the start…

That’s a strong part of it for sure. Remixes are fun, we might do that more often.

And the album hints at the future of the label, too…

I think we’re always refining our sounds and developing. By default the sound is a bit dusty. We don’t like perfect shiny things, we like a bit of dirt. But there are different nuances in the dirt. For example 10 years ago our mixdowns weren’t as good as they are now. Everyone seems happy to try more things and do new things within the sound we’ve set on the label. And that’s what jazz means for me. Trying to do new things. Jazz is everywhere, it can have so many faces and varieties and nuances. And I think on the album you definitely hear some of us are trying new things and incorporate new sounds and ideas.

Jazz is about fusion and breaking formulas

It’s an interesting one. Sometimes the formula of drum & bass feels like a prison. What’s important for me personally is that this is the sound we make and love and enjoy – and people love dancing to whenever we play. But there’s always a danger of feeling we’re trapped in a formula. We’re not as experimental in this side of the genre because there’s a sound we’re being true to. So it’s a case of continuing to represent that sound, because we’re the only people doing this type of sound right now and it’s our responsibility to keep this vibe of what we do alive, but also make sure we’re developing it and not stagnating. It’s a responsibility. You just want a cheeseburger when you go to McDonalds, don’t you?

When you got 30 labels doing basically the same thing, it’s healthy and crucial that somebody moves on and does something different but around our sound, there aren’t really any other labels that have the same ambition when it comes to consistency and collectivism, with quality artworks and an overall professional approach. This is why we think it’s important to stay true to the initial idea. Music isn’t just a soundtrack for weekends for us.

Amen! It’s all about the cycles isn’t it? Liquid’s blatantly going to have another golden era, and potentially quite soon. When it does, you’ve been on it for years. Like a trusted source. 

Haha. I feel like an old man sitting on chair and seeing things come and go and people re-inventing old ideas and we stick to what we do. I love it. I’m happy to see the cycles, I’d love to see liquid funk have a comeback and we’d be in a prime position. But it doesn’t matter either way because we’re doing what we want to do and we’re doing it honestly.

Drum & Bass has always been strong with young people in their early twenties but as people are getting older, they might still love the genre but prefer something more vibey and laid back. Our biggest fans and followers are aged somewhere between 28 and 35 but what makes us really happy is when the new generation discovers our universe of sounds. I love that.

10 Years Of Jazzsticks is out now

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