In Conversation: Chequered Wax
York based producer and DJ Louis Cann aka Eyerate joins the team of Halcyon contributors as he chats to the head of Manchester-based label Chequered Wax, Matty, to ask some questions about his experience running a label, and what he’s got in store for us in the future.
Having worked with Chequered Wax myself, it became apparent to me that these boys really have a passion and professionalism in how they go about running their label. Covering all genres of dance music, from Disco to Breaks, they’ve stacked up an impressive discography ranging from names like Rees and Popka, to newer entrants to the scene like SDS MAX and Frederick Ansgar, all whilst providing tracks optimised to work on all types of dance floors.
What became clear throughout the course of the conversation was a clear focus on helping artists establish themselves, even throughout the adversity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The interview provides an invaluable insight into the ideology and mechanisms of Chequered Wax, and so without further ado, lets see what Matty had to say.
L: Firstly, hello Matty! Where are you right now and what are you doing?
M: Afternoon Louis, and thanks for having me.
I'm currently sat in my apartment in a grey and drizzly Manchester city centre. Today I'm working through a combination of Label admin & my full-time job. Thanks to the current Covid ongoings, this is the sad regular reality at the moment.
L: Yeah man, it’s definitely been an incredibly bizarre year for everyone in the music industry... So as we come to the end of 2020, how do you reflect on the year for yourself and the label?
M: 2020 on the whole has been a bit mad. With this year being just our label's second year, the platform we've built is still very new and fragile. That being said, the first half of the year really did go well. Sales remained around their usual levels meaning we were still able to proceed behind the scenes in organising our forthcoming 12-month schedule.
The later half of the year however, has inevitably seen our sales drop significantly. Without the dance floor for our new releases to be played on, it becomes much more difficult to promo tracks designed for the club correctly. This has led us to put a short hold on things, and get ourselves ready for the much needed return of nightlife. When it does, we'll be back with more music and more events around the city, we really do have some exciting things just over the horizon.
L: Sounds exciting - I think we could all agree that ‘over the horizon’ can’t come soon enough! From the outside, you’ve had a particularly exciting year however, releasing 5 EP’s and an edit. In amongst your own busy lives, how do the Chequered Wax guys keep on top of running the label?
M: Totally agree, I think this year has definitely taken it's told on everyone, both within music and normal life. We've tried to keep our output ticking over however, and like you've said, we have released 5 EPs & our first Edit this year. So it's certainly not all doom and gloom.
In terms of label infrastructure, obviously our in person meet ups have taken a hit. Similarly to most, we've had to heavily switch to digital communications and organisation. We've found softwares such as Discord have proven invaluable to us across this time. Regular team calls and virtual beers have really been thrust into the forefront of our weekly lives. We're just keeping our heads down, scheduling releases and getting the ground work ready for the return of our events & showcases.
L: Upon a scan through your discography, the EP’s and VA’s belong to range of different electronic genres. How does being such a broad label affect the way you release music?
M: Yeah I think that's a fair evaluation, our back-catalog is fairly varied and spans everything from Disco through to Techno & Breaks. I guess this ties back to the ethos of our label, solely working with small and new artists who are producing music that gets us going. At the end of the day, if it sounds good... We want to hear it!
Whilst we haven't really placed a genre on our label, we do have a rough guideline of what we look for as a team in our releases. This allows us to help more artists from a variety of scenes as much as we can.
We've found spreading out our releases over a few months has allowed us to direct our attention and fans to each artist for an extended period of time following their release. This is extremely important to us as a label and always will be. As we're dealing with new artists, we want them to grow as much as possible and get to where they want to be as an artist.
Chequered Wax really is about helping artists, we'll never sign an artist exclusively and disagree with this common practise in the industry. When our artists go on to release on larger labels than ourselves, we couldn't be happier.
L: Thats really nicely put! In the spirit of supporting others or those who are trying to get into the industry, have you got any advice for those who might be interested in starting their own label?
M: Starting a label can really be a minefield, but obviously, it's very achievable with lots of work and planning.
For me, my favourite labels are those who stick to their original goals of putting out good music, and not focusing on making a huge profit. Whilst obviously turning a big profit is nice, saturating your discography for this purpose, in my opinion, is a waste of time. You've got to ask yourself, are you in the industry for the music, or to make money? If your answer is the later, don't start a label.
My biggest piece of advice for anyone looking to get underway with their own label, would be to make sure you have a goal or main ethos of your label, whatever that may be, and sticking to it. Things aren't just going to boom overnight with your first release, remain patient and remain true to your concepts. People will notice and value this, and overtime, you'll be rewarded for it.
Whilst our advice is not groundbreaking or something no-one else can tell you, we're always happy to help where we can, and reaching out to us directly is always an option for any budding label owners.
L: It’s really nice to hear that, and I think the idea of putting in effort with gradual reward is something that really speaks to both artists and labels alike. Finally then (before some exciting quick fire questions for you and the gang), what’s been the labels highlight of 2020, and what’s the most exciting thing in store for 2021?
M: As discussed earlier, 2020 has really been an unusual year for everyone. This year's highlight however, has undoubtably been several of our artists going on to release or work closely with industry leading labels. This is, without doubt, the most rewarding thing to come out of our label thus far for myself, easily trumping any label accolades or features we've received.
2021 holds a lot of new things for Chequered Wax, from events to releases, we're really pulling out the stops next year. We currently have agreements with several large headliners for our next events, allowing us to continue to offer gigs and opportunities to our signed artists. Whilst we won't name names yet, we do have some belter DJs on-board for our 2021 event series. We are also currently sitting on a 12-month schedule of releases, that we couldn't be more excited for, we're just waiting for the right time to resume operations
L: Cracking stuff - can’t wait to see what’s in store for us! To conclude, it’s time for some quick fire questions! All of you (Matty, Jamie, Josh and Harry) have to answer, one answer per question and no justification of the answer is allowed. Sound good?
M: Let's Go!
Q1: Favourite label of this year:
Matty: Portable Storage Unit
Harry: Unknown to the Unknown.
Jamie: Hessle Audio
Q2: Favourite song of the year:
Matty: Love Salad - Four Tet
Harry: Is it true - Tame Impala
Josh: Ultra - Hagan
Jamie: Like This - Pangaea
Q3: Favourite album / EP of this year:
Matty: Cosmic Transmission - Zenker Brothers
Harry: Gus Dapperton - Orca
Josh: Snake Dance EP - Al Wootton
Jamie: RePorpoised Phantasies - Machine Girl
Q4: Any New Years resolutions?:
Matty: Cut down on my Greggs consumption.
Harry: Finally get around to learning Ableton.
Josh: Finish everything I start.
Jamie: Learn more than a drum loop.
Q5: Best Christmas song:
Matty: Last Donkmas (I Gave You My Bass) - Tamot
Harry: Stay Another Day - East 17
Josh: Stay Another Day - East 17
Jamie: Holly Jolly Christmas - Michael Bublé
Big thanks for Matty and Chequered Wax for having a chat with myself, and definitely be sure to check out the title track from their most recent release: the “Unfied EP” on the Les Yeux Orange SoundCloud with none other than Sonic Juncture. Breaksy, melodic electro which is sure you get your feeting moving, personally, one of my favourite releases of the year: