So many great disco and edit labels have waxed and waned in the last five years. Lumberjacks in Hell has only grown stronger. The Amsterdam-based label headed by Marcel Vogel has released some of the best disco, house and soul records in the scene, beautifully pressed up and presented and usually with a wry sense of humor too.
What were your inspirations when you started? Did you have a model of another label in mind?
I get inspired every time I step into the record store. Stilllove4music and GAMM had been an inspiration at that time but also labels like KDJ and Philpot. Labels that you could trust blindly because their quality control has been always in check.
Disco was sort of in Lumberjacks in Hell’s DNA from the start, right? But you’ve pulled the microscope further and further back and some of the best tracks have been raw house, gospel house, etc. How would you describe the label’s focus in 2018 vs 2010?
Man, we started with edits but of course my taste has always been super eclectic. You do what you can when you can and then you refine it. And we are still very eclectic but if you listen to the last 5 or 6 records, you wont find any sampling in them anymore.
I still remember when Jamie 3:26 told me at the counter at Kstarke Records in Chicago that he had a record out on “Lumberjacks in Hell” and I thought it was the funniest name for a record label I’d ever heard. Did your early connections with people like Jamie from the “edit scene” that was blowing up back in the late ’00s and early ’10s?
I live in Amsterdam. Amsterdam has always been supportive of DJs from Chicago and Detroit. As early as 2004/05 I was hanging out on message boards at Bring The Heat and Million Dollar Disco where I first got in contact with people like Zernell and Rahaan. Through that I just kept meeting people. It’s a very small world once you are part of it.
It was Jamie, a Chicago artist, that turned me on to what you were doing but I suspect it’s the opposite for most: you introduced a lot of Chicago artists to a broader European audience. Was it coincidence? Was it something about the city’s sound – or these particular artists – that captured your interest?
Well Chicago always had the dopest sound and the best DJs and music and edits and-and-and… Chicago and Detroit, perhaps New York. I think we had this conversation a while ago already. Maybe it ‘s the size of the city but imagine if all the talent from there was living in Amsterdam? it would be off the hook.
But to me it seems that the Chicago scene as a whole has trouble standing together. There seems to be a lot of infighting and not enough space for everyone. The dopest DJs from there either spend most of their time on Europe or nobody really knows about them. It’s weird. A couple of years ago we had a little house party at Rahaan’s place and there were like 8 or 9 DJs playing hour long sets, and each of them was amazing. Every friend of Rahaan’s seems to be an absolute star on the decks. Maybe 20 to 30 people, maybe more. It’s in their DNA. But it takes them a long while to spill over here. Maybe it’s just not enough space for everyone. There are just so many of them. I suppose for me the best music, the best DJs and the best edits still come from Chicago and Detroit.
Let me ask about Karizma and “Work It Out.” You had a track that was one of the most successful underground tracks of the year (I thought it was the best dance music record of the year, period), and then it was used in a Google commercial. I wrote about it in both contexts and the huge traffic from people searching for “the google gospel track” and hitting our site (from Google, as it turns out. you’d think they’d cut out the middleman.) only recently subsided. What can you tell me about it?
From that I have learned to clear my samples before releasing a record. That’s what we are doing now. It’s a bit of a frustrating journey but an important one. “Work It Out” opened some doors and taught me a lot.
We’ve focused mostly on A&R here. I want to talk about the medium. It seems like there are a lot of people who put in the work to making a vinyl record that sounds good and we take them for granted. Any one of them not doing their job (the artist, you, the mastering engineer, the guy who cuts the lacquer/test pressing, the plant, etc.) can make a record into a terrible-sounding fiasco. Who are some of the unsung heroes that make your records sound so good? Did you know anything about the process before starting LIH?
Juno is doing my distro and they actually have in-house mastering that I have no complaints about. We had one record that was fucked up in the pressing. Obviously it’s down to the artists to come up with proper premasters. For my own music I work with mixing engineers I trust and the unsung hero in this case is Christopher Keyz who does most of the artwork. I don’t know what percentage of the success of the record is determined by artwork. But I always love a good looking slab of vinyl.
Lumberjacks is who I am. It’s what I do and how I present myself to the world. If you buy a record, you buy a piece of me and my beliefs and dreams.
You’ve taken chances on a lot of great records made by a lot of not-so-well-known artists. And you’ve done some double 12″ releases – with vinyl there is a non-trivial chance that you might lose your shirt and your baby’s Christmas presents if a record bombs. Have you ever worried about a record that might sink the label? There investment you’re making here is real!
Well I run Lumberjacks in Hell on a P&D deal with Juno. Even though I dont have the direct financial risk, obviously I need to sell records to stay attractive to them. Also my whole business is based on making good records. How many stinkers do you have to put out to lose relevance? So far I feel we’ve been constantly growing.
But Lumberjacks is who I am. It’s what I do and how I present myself to the world. If you buy a record, you buy a piece of me and my beliefs and dreams. I am still so connected to each and every release. Thats part of why I am working so slow. I need to think about them and let them sink in. It’s not just a product. And yes, I am insecure about making a wrong step. But I suppose as long as I keep my ear to the ground and trust my gut I should be fine.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
I am still learning to be honest. Every day. I probably would have started the label much earlier. Had less inhibitions. More releases. Be more aggressive. I tell people it’s more important to produce than to run a label. The label will take up so much time. But it’s a passion project. Another form to be creative. If you dont enjoy pushing other people’s music , it’s not for you. I suppose I am too humble at times. Very often I push other people when I should be pushing myself.
The things I would have liked to know when I started are more connected to the studio work I am doing. To simplify my workflow. The world now is very democratic. Everybody has the same chances. Just don’t doubt yourself. Just make sure your quality control is intact. Sorry if that sounds like contradiction. Sometimes your friends’ opinions don’t matter. Find people to work with. People who share the same passion as you. Don’t try to copy somebody else. And why are you doing this?
What do you hope people take away from this compilation of Lumberjacks tracks on BBE?
It’s funny. While I often assume everybody who is in this game must be aware of Lumberjacks, it seems a lot of people just dont know about it. There is just too much music around. I already had people reaching out and congratulating me on the new compilation but it turned out they didn’t know about the label itself. It’s an eye-opener of sorts. I never wanted to impose myself or the label on anyone but try to make the best possible product and let it speak for itself. I will try to put myself out there a bit more now. It’s just way too much music we are competing against it seems. And people dont pay enough attention. I don’t want to run the hottest label nobody ever heard of. I want all the releases to reach their full potential.
What is next for you, my friend?
I have two great releases planned for Lumberjacks and a few more with Intimate Friends. I am extremely efficient in the studio right now and trying to grow as an artist with each EP. It’s funny. Each EP seems a giant step for me. If you listen to them chronologically, I had to get a lot of music out of my system first. I believe I am about to really express myself. It’s a scary process. At some point you cannot hide anymore. At some point you put your true “you” onto the table. And I know there is some magic hidden inside of me. I wonder sometimes what I was scared of. But once it is on, it’s on…
Marcel Vogel’s Lumberjacks in Hell is out now on 2xLP, CD & digital from BBE.