- Rob Day
Label Spotlight: Dansu Discs
Born out of Leeds in early 2017, Dansu Discs is record label that has been making huge strides in recent years. Now based in London, Dansu Discs has grown significantly, with releases from artists including Subjoi, Interplanetary Criminal, and Chrissy under their belt. We had a chat with label founder Nick Howsley in order to get an insight into past, present, and future of the label. From his experiences with lockdown to his label's work with mental health charities, Nick gave us a look in to how Dansu Discs first came to be, and what we can expect from them over the course of this year.
For people who haven’t heard of you, tell us what Dansu Discs is all about.
I set up Dansu Discs in January 2017. It started off in the early days as an online digital record label that was putting out music that I was into at the time. It then developed into a more established label with the vinyl releases and different distribution methods alongside Bandcamp. Dansu Discs is a multi- genre label, and isn't restricted to one sound.
What led you to creating the label?
So there were originally two of us, but it’s now just myself. I went to Leeds Beckett University, and I was going out loads and enjoying that side of things. We had a few friends that ran nights in Leeds and at the time when there was two of us, we thought ‘Shall we set up an event?’. I’ve always thought that working with the massive artists shouldn't be the main goal of a label, and I really enjoy watching artists that are under the radar at the minute and watching them progress. There were loads of artists at the time self-releasing on SoundCloud, but they weren’t really getting out onto labels. I remember SubJoi, who has now had releases on Lobster Theremin and all sorts, released what I believe to be his first solo EP on Dansu Discs. I really like that side of things. I have worked with some big artists and have a couple in the pipeline, I love the bond you get with smaller artists when you are putting out their first release. We wanted to just put out the music that we liked at the time. We didn’t put music out to sell it necessarily.
What kind of music were you listening to at the time of setting up Dansu Discs, and how would you say your tastes have changed as the label has developed?
So at the time it was really quite Lofi stuff. At the time there was this big trend of lofi trend. That crunchy distorted sound, and it was massive. Everyone was making edits and making their own stuff, and at the time, that was the music that was taking my fancy. However I wouldn’t say I’m into mainly one genre. It fluctuates so much for me. One genre that has always been a set in stone favourite of mine is the garage sound, and that's why there’s quite heavy on the garage side at the minute, but I just really like the 130 bpm high-energy sounds. That’s how I’d described my taste; high- energy, and feel-good sounds.
How did your experience of being in Leeds assist in the setting up of Dansu Discs? Who are some of the key people and organisations that have been important to you in your journey to where you are now?
The biggest one is probably Limit UK. Matt Bowles gave me loads of opportunities to play and promote Dansu Discs’s name and sound. He’s now working for Distrikt in the booking section and have given me some opportunities there. In terms of other key people, although I didn't know them back then, I’m guesting on KMAH Radio for Spin City tomorrow. I’ve been talking to them a bit, and I wish I knew them back then. They are great guys, and you can tell they are purely in it for the love of music. There are some nights in Leeds that are largely commercial and are just booking the same artists and same warmup slots etc., and it’s all a big money ploy. But yeah these guys just love the music, and I would have loved to have known Spin City as well when I was in Leeds, as I really rate what they are doing.
How has lockdown affected operations at Dansu Discs?
You know what, it’s been quality for me. I’ve got to this stage where I’m being booked to play for Dansu Discs’ name and I’d had booking for different cities, but I lost them all. However, there a lot more important things than club nights at the minute, and, for me, as I moved to London last September and work full time, I’ve now been furloughed. I’m not going back until September, and as much as I love my job, it gave me the chance to sit down and think ‘What can I do to take this to the next level?’. Running a record label on your own its actually quite tiring and time consuming. It’s given me the time to refresh everything. With releases, I had the Chrissy record that came out in March. I did put that back four weeks at first as I didn't; expect lockdown to last this long. This record was made for the clubs, and there were videos of Ben UFO playing the Denham Audio remix earlier in the year, and it was a big room warehouse EP. When that came out I was worried as it was coming out when record stores were closed, and I wasn’t even sure if Phonica were operating online. However, we sold 80% of copies within 3 weeks. But I think lockdown made a lot of people a lot more connected. I’ve started using this slogan at Dansu Discs of ‘Bringing People Together’ as that’s sort of why I set it up; to bring these artists together, and bring everyone into one community. I think lockdown has enabled people to do that within music, and to support each other in difficult times. A lot of labels and artists have shown themselves to be really good people in these times. I’m sure you’ll agree that this year has been a bit of a shit show, but there have been plenty of positives.
Well we have definitely noticed that. There’s been a real surge in creativity, and people just seem to be getting on with stuff more so than ever. So you were talking about the process of running the label yourself. What advice would you give to people who are thinking of both getting in contact with labels to release music, or of starting a label of their own?
I always say is don't have an ego. Whether you’ve released on all the biggest labels, or if you have started, or if you know this person or that person, I think there’s no real places for egos in music. Whether you starting a label, or an artist yourself, be the type of person that you could see yourself working with. Also, don’t start out following someone else. Create your own sound and brand. Sometimes, people make the mistake of starting out to follow someone else. You want to have your own original brand that stands out.
What are some releases that you’ve been loving recently and would recommend?
Emotive Response – Love Exists
Restless Natives – I Wanna Know (Probably my favourite track of all time)
You’ve previously put out music raising money for The Mental Health Foundation. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Yeah sure! Well I want to be a label that gives back as well. Within music, the amount of people I’ve spoken to who have said that music has helped them to get over something, or to focus more, or to help them through personal problems. It’s great to see all this fundraising for Covid, but it’s good to make sure we are funding these mental health charities that are saving people’s lives at the end of the day. I did a couple of live streams with Dim Sum records, and we are doing another Dansu for Mental Health EP next year.
So you’ve mentioned your upcoming show on KMAH. What are some of the other things that Dansu Discs has got coming up?
So actually, it’s quite exciting times at the moment. I’ve just got a new monthly residency on Balamii here in London. I’ve done one show, and my next one is on the 10th August with Chrissy. It’s a monthly show, with an hour from me and then an hour with a guest from the label. I’m also doing the Rinse FM Garage Hour in Septemeber. In terms of releases, the next one coming up is one from Lavonz, It’s a 6 track EP, and he released music in the mid- 90s and early noughties, and hasn't really released much since. This one is called the ‘Uncut Gems’ EP, and it's a mix of reissues and material that was never released. That’s something different, as it's the 20th release, but it’s something I’ve not done yet. Then after there’s a few Eps from artists old and new, but I won’t go into those yet!