It seems this time of year brings many causes for celebration, and for Ultra Records that is definitely the case; 2015 marks 20 years since the global record label was founded in 1995 by Patrick Moxey, a London-born former Virgin exec and one of the 50 Most Important People in EDM as listed by Rolling Stone.
We celebrated Ultra’s double-decade birthday in New York last week at the famed underground Brooklyn venue, Output. Stepping away from the groovy sounds of Roger Sanchez, SNBRN and Louie Vega, UKF had a chance to chat with Mr. Moxey as he shared the secrets behind Ultra Records’ success.
Back in the day, you started your career by throwing warehouse parties in the underground rave scene in New York; was that the reason for wanting to celebrate Ultra Record’s 20th Anniversary here at Brooklyn’s Output?
I chose Output because it has the feel of the old school New York and the vibes of what old school clubbing was all about. Output has that real afterhours club atmosphere, and it’s a perfect place for us to bring it all back.
You’re celebrating 20 years of success with Ultra Records – a huge landmark for any label. Looking back on the last two decades, what have been your secrets to success?
Passion for music – number one. Getting the music right and being connected to the people who make it. And relentlessly promoting music – in the US, in London, Japan, Australia – it has literally taken us all over the world. Today with social media, we get music out so much quicker to a larger audience. But at the very beginning, I used to have to take the test pressing to the club and wait till the DJ walked out of the booth at 4:00am to hand him the test pressing, and that’s how we used to break the records.
It was that kind of perseverance that is what it takes to run a label 20 years. Between Calvin Harris and Sasha and Digweed, between Tiesto and Deadmau5, David Guetta, Kygo – I could go on and on. We love every minute of it. It’s a pleasure to work in this business.
Part of that secret sauce seems to be your ability to remain ahead of the curve by signing artists who were at the tipping point of the next big waves in electronic music, especially when it came to growing the North American dance music market. What are the artists and genres you’re excited about now?
What I love about dance music is every time something goes commercial, today’s underground is tomorrow’s mainstream.
Every time that happens, the beauty of this music is something else starts from the underground, so that’s what excites me the most. I’m hearing a lot of great music coming from the noisy sector where hip hop meets electronic – looking at Carnage, Flosstradamus, and Boaz – there’s tons of great producers there. Looking at the PC Music guys, their music is so creative and intelligent by combining J-POP (Japanese pop) and electronic beats. There are so many different sectors on the rise, so it’s very exciting just to know that we’re going to have a lot of great music coming for years ahead.
If I were to open your Spotify Favorites playlist, what’s at the top of the list?
On the historic side, you’re going to find David Bowie, my all-time idol as well as Kraftwerk and all the Chicago music. I started as a DJ in Chicago in the 80’s, so I love listening to all that music when I’m browsing on my free time. As for new stuff, I’m of course listening to all the latest in dance music.
If there’s one thing you want people to take away from this milestone and to remember Ultra Records by, even 20 years from now, what will that be?
We’re able to combine music in a global way. Some of our biggest hits have come from me finding a Jamaican song like Cheerleader and having a remix done in Germany [which went on to become Ultra’s first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100], or an Italian dance instrumental sent to Pitbull for I Know You Want Me, or Romanian dance hits. We’ve have music and influences from all over the world, and that’s something I’m really proud of. The fact that we’ve worked with artists from the Caribbean to South Africa, to the UK, France, Norway – it’s an endless mixture of influences and that’s where things can get really exciting – when you combine sounds and ideas from different places. That is what Ultra Records is all about.
Photo Credit: Daniel Leinweber, Razberry Photography