What defines a great record label? Is it the artwork & branding? Is it gathering together a roster of big names? Is it breaking fresh artists and pioneering new sounds? Although all of the above are clearly important to a greater or lesser extent, I’d argue that two factors stand head and shoulders above the others.
Firstly, it’s that elusive “X Factor” which causes us to describe music in terms of labels. It becomes part of the language of music: “You heard that new track by blah blah? Yeah – sounds like some old Strictly Rhythm.” Sometimes it goes beyond straightforward genre definition, as in the case of Buzzin’ Fly or Warp, but as soon as someone mentions these labels in reference to new music, we know exactly what they mean. It’s a feeling, a sense of quality, a trusted brand.
Secondly, whether we’re talking about Derrick Carter or Derek Smith who works an office job and produces tracks on weekends, it’s vital that the label builds strong, long term and fruitful relationships with its artists. Those relationships ensure that the label has access to the very best work from each producer, and beyond that, certain artists will help define the label’s sound over a period of years.
Vancouver’s Nordic Trax may not (yet) be an iconic label like the ones mentioned above; in fact it’s probably a label the “Hipster House” generation will only pretend to have heard of. However, over the last 18 years, this little imprint has more than earned its stripes in the Deep House community. Consistently putting out subtle, deep and understatedly melodic music means that DJs like myself breathe a sigh of relief when we see an NT promo in our inbox: we know we’re about to listen to something good.
At this point, dear reader, you must be wondering when the “review” part of this music review is going to make an entrance. So let’s talk about Gavin Boyce (and hope I can tie this all together in the last sentence). Gavin’s first release on Nordic Trax came in 2007. An unknown producer, “Sometimes It’s Me” showed great promise but has, at the time of writing, still only had 40 views on YouTube. Not exactly an auspicious start. Three more solid releases followed on the label, each more accomplished than the last. His most recent offering, “Divine In You” started to make some underground noise and pick up support around the House community.
Which brings us to the present day. With his first full length album soon to be released on Nordic Trax (where else?), Gavin has given us a taste in the form of Haboo, a three tracker scheduled for release in early April. Although I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve heard from Gavin so far, it’s difficult to communicate just how much of a step up this record is. Opening track “Delta Sleep” is simply mesmerizing, gracefully walking the messy line between House and Techno and keeping its balance perfectly while doing so. Title track “Haboo” is almost equally brilliant, and a demo version of “Delta Sleep” is also included, which only seems to have 808 claps in common with the final version.
A perfect example of an artist and label working symbiotically, this record still sounds like Nordic Trax, but perhaps Gavin’s is going to be that iconic sound which defines the label in future years. In these digital days, labels spend such little time on developing long term relationships with artists; precious few producers are given a proper home, as well as time to grow and finesse their sound. This release is a wonderful example of what can happen when these two simple things are taken care of.