5 Mag’s Label Profile series continues, with curiously in-depth overviews of some of our favorite House Music labels and the people behind them. This month we’re featuring Mazi (aka Audio Soul Project), Nathan Drew Larsen and Chicago’s Deep House label par excellence, Fresh Meat Records.
We’ve been huge fans of Fresh Meat – personally, I think it’s the worthy inheritor of legendary Chicago Deep House labels Prescription – and we’ve reviewed damn near everything they’ve done the last couple of years: EPs from Hans Thalau, Nick Harris, Audio Soul Project & Ron Carroll and of course Audio Soul Project’s latest album Hip Shake Heartache. There’s no logrolling here: regardless of the city we’re based in or the artists they feature, Fresh Meat is simply the one label you can’t afford to ignore.
In addition to our usual curiously in-depth interview, Mazi and Nathan also put together an exclusive mix – a sampler, so to speak – of selections from Fresh Meat’s back catalog. Download or play it here, and check out the words below.
Updated: The playlist has been added at the end!
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I know you guys have been in the scene forever – Freddie Bain actually mentioned off-hand to me awhile ago that he remembers Mazi coming into… maybe Foxy’s or someplace like that… with vinyl for him to check out. This is sort of the cliché opening question, but where do your roots start in the local Chicago scene?
Nathan: For me, it was a progression from listening to House Music on the radio as a kid, getting into Waxtrax and going to Medusa’s. In the early to mid-’90s I spent a lot of time dancing to House DJs like Mystic Bill, Diz, Traxx and Justin Long at raves and loft parties and Derrick Carter at Shelter. I was playing in Industrial bands in the very early ’90s and started DJing at small parties shortly thereafter.
Mazi: My path was similar to Nathan’s. I went to Medusa’s in high school, starting around the age of 16. Went away for a few years to college and when I came back it was all about loft parties, rave parties or a few clubs around the north side. I loved going to the Wednesday night “Rear” parties that happened at the back of the Riviera – I think that might have been where I gave Freddie a copy of one of the first things I ever had on vinyl. My first musical productions were collaborations with Jonathan Monteiro, Freddy Montanez, Ernie Perez and later on with people like Mark Almaria and Nathan.
You guys had been collaborating for years with the stuff on Gourmet and 20:20. How did you originally meet? and how the heck are you still working together 11+ years later?
We were introduced by a girl we both knew because we were both DJs who loved house in 1994. We shared some very particular mutual interests at the time like acid, Ron & Chez, early Touche Records, Blackwiz and New York dub. We would play records together sometimes at places like the Paladrome (Mazi was a resident) and loft parties.
We are still together 16 years later because our friendship and love of music sustains us. But also we work hard. We both stayed passionate about the music. And both of us go out of our way to be kind and support each other.
You were both involved with releases on Gourmet back in the early ’00s, and Fresh Meat seemed to grow out of that. Or at least that’s the perspective from the outside. What led to you starting up Fresh Meat?
Mazi: Starting Fresh Meat was the result of a combination of events. In 2005 I separated from my wife with whom I ran Gourmet; my heart wasn’t in the label anymore. I had a distribution opportunity through David Duriez’ company MDLM out of Paris. He picked up distribution for Gourmet and in various meetings asked if I ever wanted to start a new label. “Fresh Meat” was the name of a two part series that had come out on Gourmet a year prior to this. We had toyed with the idea of making it a label on its own but had never executed any of the plans. I asked Nathan to come on board as part owner of the label and with Duriez’ as distributor we started as a vinyl label in December 2005 with Nathan’s House of Black Dress “No One To Care For” as our first release.
One of the beautiful things about vinyl is the physicality of it. Art creates an emotional visual environment to contextualize the music. It is one of the few ways to connect a digitally download song to the sense of authenticity and permanence you experience owning a physical recording.
I probably don’t need to state explicitly that partnerships of any sort are becoming increasingly rare, and the low cost of starting a label and releasing music has lead to tons of labels with just one voice calling the shots. How do you split the work of A&R, say, or the business end (which is far less fun)? What’s the division of labor?
Having each other is very important. The most intimate work is A&R. We do it together. Strategy is set by both of us and we both work on artist development and promotion. We also do the podcast and plan our Fresh Meat club nights in close coordination. Mazi handles the mastering and delivery of masters. Nathan handles licensing and finance.
Fresh Meat releases seem to come from people everywhere across the globe, but they’re always exceptionally well produced. There are some common elements shared by all of your releases, and that’s one of them. What does a track have to have to get your imprimatur?
There is no formula and experience changes us over time. We love creative dance music that feels authentic to us, which I think is a function of our connection to the creative approach of the artist. We have loved some very naive work and also some sophisticated productions. We believe in the power of House Music and are willing to curate well beyond the overly narrow and historically inappropriate caricature of “Chicago” House held by many – e.g., that of filtered disco and acid.
You mentioned in the 1-sheet for Giovanni Damico’s When It Was Fresh that he sent you the demo something like a month before you released it. Is this a rare occurrence, and what made you feel so strongly about When It Was Fresh? (Incidentally, I thought it was as close to an homage of Audio Soul Project as I’ve heard.)
We usually don’t release something that quickly, but his demo was that good and it just fit as the first release after Hip Shake Heartache. We think Gio’s tracks are direct and dry but also emotional and earthy. We naturally gravitate in the direction of these production values. The songs made us want to dance. And our friends loved the tracks immediately.
There’s been a recent trend of I guess I’ll call a musical quid pro quos (though it’s not as venal or sinister as that suggests). Producer A releases something on Producer B’s label; six weeks later, Producer B remixes something for Producer A. And it seems to carry beyond that, to even the “tastemaker feedback” and DJ charts, in which entire rosters of DJs all chart each others’ tracks. I don’t think there’s anything unethical about it, but it seems pretty inauthentic. I see almost none of this on Fresh Meat releases. Have you made a conscious decision to avoid it?
We approach things naturally. If a friend is talented, we embrace them. And barter is an effective way of doing business in situations like that because profits from the sale of music have almost been eviscerated. But we don’t seek out a quid pro quo. We base our decisions on what we’re into, tempered by what is possible and informed by a deep belief that we want to form long relationships with artists and continue to work to develop them.
We need to fight this deeply engrained notion that dance music is disposable commodity… For a long time playing Kerri Chandler records was considered decidedly un-hip and old hat. I am glad the culture is past that… for now.
FMR releases have some of the best artwork in the business. Who does your cover art and do you think it’s important today?
Chrissy Laing. She’s wonderful. One of the beautiful things about vinyl is the physicality of it. Art creates an emotional visual environment to contextualize the music. It is one of the few ways to connect a digitally download song to the sense of authenticity and permanence you experience owning a physical recording. Chrissy is extremely textural and she incorporates substrates into her designs, so her work is highly effective in connecting with people on this level. She designs our vinyl, website, flyers, slipmats and podcasts as well.
You know, if we make a sweeping generalization of the last decade or so… Deep House was something of a niche-within-a-niche in 2000. It’s now trendy in Europe, or at least among the European press. What are your thoughts on this strange resurgence? Does it seem like just the next phase in a fashion-of-the-month rotisserie, or does it appear to be more substantial?
It is both. The MK/Kerri Chandler-like tunes by young laptop musicians can only heat-up the Beatport charts for so long. But the willingness of dance floors to accept very melodic, R&B influenced and bone dry American-sounding House Music for the first time in more than 15 years feels like more of a broader movement back towards authentic machine music, disco and garage. Based on past cycles, this is a slow process that might take 10 years to unfold, reach prominence and provoke another reaction towards austerity. Then again, if Ray Kurzweil is right, the pace of change is increasing exponentially, so click beats and white noise might be the raison d’ete in two years…
Kind of on the same note… There have been tons of reissues in Europe, from Rush Hour and the like, and frankly just a ton of re-edits filling the charts instead of new tracks. Again: do you see this as sort of a good thing, expanding the base of folks into this sort of music, or just sort of a periodic “recycling”? More to the point: do you see it good for you and the kind of music that you promote?
It is mostly good. We struggle with what we consider to be an erroneously compressed sense of time in dance music. House is in its infancy as a form of music. If we view the cultural timeline more broadly it becomes obvious that dismissing a forward leaning Mark Bell track from 1993 is like throwing out the bread a day after you make it.
Also, we need to fight this deeply engrained notion that dance music is disposable commodity. Thus, the reverence for “old” music is healthy. When people repackage “old” music and it gets played in clubs alongside “new” music, most young dancers won’t know when the track was produced and will experience it as new music. This wonderful temporal obfuscation is something very particular to dance music and the DJ experience.
A lot of these re-releases have focused on important contributors like Virgo and Kerri Chandler. It is great to see these producers canonized. For a long time playing Kerri’s records was considered decidedly un-hip and old hat. I am glad the culture is past that… for now.
Recently a Friday night residency called Society of the Spectacle popped up at Martini Ranch here, and the DJs mainly appear to be from your roster. Can you tell me about it (and why the Debordian title?)
S.O.S. is an egalitarian association of friends dedicated to the preservation of Chicago dance music and culture. The group is Justin Long, Mazi and Nathan, Josh Werner, Samone Roberts and Sativa. We wanted somewhere we could play deeply rooted dance music on turntables for a small unpretentious dancing crowd. We found we agreed with the Situationist observation that “all that was once directly lived has become mere representation,” so a Debordian title felt right. We are not doing the night at Martini Ranch anymore, but we hope to find a new venue soon.
Okay, this is the part where I ask you to go over some classic Fresh Meat releases and give me any feedback, memories, trivia (hopefully no regrets) that you associate with the tracks..
FMR29: Gotahavejor Love Remixes (Nathan Drew Larsen)
Gotahavejor Love was the B-Side to Nathan’s classic, “No One to Care For” released as FMR001 under his House of Black Dress pseudonym. The original is raw and super lo-fi – posed as a strong counterpoint against the clean minimal of the time with its gritty shuffling drum machines, gristle-like organs and upfront male vocal. The sound sources were interesting and included found object recordings of things like tuned metal cages. As people started returning to House a few years later, the time seem right for a remix of this song.
Bearweasel were chosen because they write fun music and are among the very, very few modern tech-house producers that can work a vocal with some elegance. Wasted Chicago Youth were chosen because of their passion for the original and their desire to do a rework that hued close to the original – cleaning-up the rough edges and adding their modern flair.
FMR07: Hello Scarlett (Audio Soul Project)
Mazi had just bought an Arp Odyssey with a royalty check. This song was an experiment where Mazi used only the wonky Arp with no cv as his sound source. He’d just started dating Chrissy Laing – his red haired Scarlett and muse for the song. It is an odd tune, but we still perform the song live today and crowds love it.
Wasted Chicago Youth Live @ Smart Bar
Lots of work, but awesome. Smart Bar was very fun to work with and the addition of the actual crowd sounds in the recording adds a lot to the listening experience. We plan to do it again soon!
The focal point for all things Fresh Meat is freshmeatrecords.com. They also release the Fresh Meat Danceteria podcast on podomatic regularly, and you can check them out on facebook as well. And if you haven’t downloaded the Fresh Meat mix – scroll back up and do it! The photos used here are from the last Audio Soul Project live performance at The Mid.
01: – Giovanni Damico – Way Out – Fresh Meat Records
02: – Wiretappeur – 8 Days A Week – Fresh Meat Records
03: – Hans Thalau – And I (Nathan Drew Larsen) – Fresh Meat Records
04: – Audio Soul Project – Call of Grace (M A N I K remix) – Fresh Meat Records (Vinyl Only)
05: – Nathan Drew Larsen – Left There (Original Mix) – Fresh Meat Records
06: – Ruthit – I Feel (Kevin Obrien & Chris Luzz Remix) – Fresh Meat Records
07: – Audio Soul Project – My Bluff (Album Version) – Fresh Meat Records
08: – Giovanni Damico – Funkool – Fresh Meat Records
09: – Elef – Haus – Fresh Meat Records (Forthcoming Spring 2011)
10: – Florian Kruse – Shake It Off (Nathan Drew Larsen Remix) – Fresh Meat Records
11: – Audio Soul Project – Dancing on the Black Keys – Fresh Meat Records
12: – A Mr. Brazil Edit (Disco Unusual Social Club) – Harmony Lane – Fresh Meat LOVES (Vinyl Only) (Forthcoming Spring 2011)