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Go BackNOT THAT ONE, THE OTHER ONE - Dave Clarke, the MD of Glasgow's Soma Records, speaks out

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Scotland’s own Dave Clarke of ‘Soma Records’ boasts Glasgow is "second only to London" in terms of the UK music scene. It's not surprising with all the studying they do up there - the man behind Positive Education and ‘Soma Skool enlightens us.

Soma’s Dave shares his name with techno producer Dave Clarke, but what’s a moniker between two friends? This particular Dave Clarke grew up in Glasgow (Scotland) catching buses and listening to ‘The Clash,’ but winded up organising elaborate boat cruises for two hundred or so party people down the River Clyde. Dave started ‘Soma Recordings’ back in 1991 with some old school friends; and now the label’s an inspiration to many more beyond the border. A warming tale of triumph over adversity, Soma’s beginnings in business were humble, but they soon achieved global musical momentum.

Dave tells it like it is: “I am one of the Soma owners and manage ‘Slam,’ I also run the events in Glasgow like ‘Pressure at The Arches’ / ‘Soma Sessions’ and the Slam tent at ‘T in The Park,’ which is a huge annual music festival for Scotland and shows a new idea of positive education in Glasgow!”

So it seems the honourable Soma Records often gives back to the very city that created it. ‘Soma Skool’ is part of this generous ‘Scottish seed sowing’ by Dave’s Soma squad. A daylong exploration of the music industry, “Soma Skool was conceived to demystify the mechanics behind the processes involved in making and releasing a record, by educating those with a curiosity in the music industry and a desire to learn.” This event was held in association with Channel 4’s ‘Ideas Factory,’ who hosted a series of seminars aiming to prove that a career in the music industry is a realistic career option.

But enough of the introductions and on with the interview now as we converse with Soma’s socially conscious Managing Director, Dave Clarke about the important business of music.

Dave, is it difficult sharing a name with the techno DJ/ producer Dave Clarke?
”It’s occasionally funny, but I have been doing the club and label for so long now that no one important confuses us. Occasionally I get a record sent, or an email and I pass the email on and give the record to Stu and Orde. Dave is a kind of mate now and he is very popular with the Slam and Pressure crowd, having played more than a few great sets. We have now been photographed together at the Soma Skool to prove we are not the same person! He even had the same glasses as me at one point, but he definitely looks more like Funk D’Void.”

What does he say about it?
”He's amused, but he is very glad I don’t make any records. The reason David Bowie adopted ‘Bowie’ was to avoid confusion because his name was Jones, like the guy in the Monkees.”

Does the name 'Soma' actually mean anything?
Soma was the oldest recorded drug used by ancient Hindus and although no-one knows for sure what it was, from descriptions it was fermented from a plant in the same way as alcohol but with hallucinogenic potency – it was used in religious ceremonies and they had a god called ‘Soma-Indra,’ such was the importance of this drug. Aldous Huxley wrote about this in his essays, and later used the name for ‘panacea to the masses’ in his science fiction novel 'A Brave New World,’ which was written in the 1920s about a ‘mass-producing’ society. Soma was meant to be the music, which satisfied those needs in people to escape and also get closer to their spiritual side. We have since learned that there was an acid rock and roll label in fifties America with the name Soma, and there was also a Japanese football player with the name in the World Cup 1994. Sadly it’s also now used as a new pharmaceutical, which the Internet junk mail people sell like Prozac.”

Who is involved in the core business structure of Soma?
”I am the Managing Director, involved more in planning and with certain artists. Then there’s Glenn Gibbons who’s in charge of all artists and repertoire and new demos; then there’s Richard Brown who is the actual Label Manager in charge of the office and staff… We also have the Slam guys, Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle on board who are our business partners, although they don’t get into the office more than once a month. I myself tend to go to the studios a lot and especially at times like this, when they’re finishing a new album; Glenn, Richard and I will make most decisions. Jim does all our promotion and press and Charlotte is our marketing expert and also handle deals involving downloads. Caroline takes care of all Internet stuff, mail order, manufacturing and organisation of the office… Derek does the accounts and Paul runs ‘Fenetik’ our smaller leftfield off shoot label. I run the club night Pressure and organize the Slam tent at ‘T in The Park Festival’ every year with Crae who only works on the club stuff as part of Slam events.

How old is Soma, did you start out in 1993?
”1991 actually with Slam's ‘Eterna.’ Stuart and I were school friends from the days when we would get the bus into Glasgow to see The Clash and other great bands. We met Orde while working in a bar; they would fight over who put the tape on… I got roped into promoting their first dj appearance! Then we started ‘Slam’ as a weekly acid house night in Glasgow during the second ‘Summer of Love’ in 1988. Glenn had been in bands and had a studio, so we saved enough to pay for a thousand white labels, and sold them to shops over the phone. It took off and progressed slowly but steadily. In 1993 we released ‘Positive Education’ which was only our eighth release and really uncovered both Slam and Soma to the whole world. Because of this record Daft Punk tracked us down in Paris to meet up and play us some tracks!”

You enjoyed your 138th release just gone in January 2004 (Hipp-E & Tony present Soul Interactive – ‘Feel It.’) How’s bizniz?
”Challenging! We have high hopes for this year with Funk D’Void and Envoy both releasing albums; while Slam, Silicone Soul and Ewan Pearson finish theirs. We have brand new acts ‘Hystereo,’ who are two Dublin youngsters fusing disco techno and house; and ‘Vector Lovers’ who is an electro guy from York (UK), who is exciting too!”

The Soma site's looking good, is this going to be a major part of the future for you - online business in a global music economy, rather than sticking 12”s in shops?
”A lot of people who don’t have a good shop nearby will get their choice of records and CDs mail order through the Internet shop, which is cool. We are digitising the catalogue at the moment into a high quality ‘Wav’ format, and we will be making Soma tracks available to buy as downloads with fan subscriptions on offer. It’s important that fans of our music pay something but get added value and quality and don't pay too much, then things can grow for independent artists and people can start their own internet labels without manufacturing until they are big enough.”

You have now built a great reputation worldwide, do you think that Soma has a recognisable 'sound' that's distinctive, or are all tracks individually unique?
”Both statements are true to some extent, although releases like Master H’s ‘Thirteen’ album are obviously very different to Percy X. All our artists have their own distinct sound and style from H-Foundation to Silicone Soul or Funk D’Void, there is a Soma feel and sound - we try and have a quality in production and something in every release which makes it unique!”

What's been your best seller, was it Silicone Soul's 'Right On'?
Right On’ was the biggest seller along with ‘Positive Education.’ ‘Da Funk’ could have sold more, but we deleted at 25,000 vinyl only sales to make it a collectable item for our early fans.”

How do you feel about "cutting edge" vs "commercial" approaches in music?
”There's a place for both, but most charts are very lame of course. We like good melodies and a good hook in a piece of music or a song, but it’s not always necessary. There are many different levels ‘underground,’ and ‘cutting edge’ doesn’t mean that a lot of people can’t eventually get into it. Although from time to time it takes something very different to come along and shake up producers, who develop a sound and style so much they don’t take any more chances.”

Dave, you organise and run many events up in Glasgow, what's been the best party of last year for you there?
”We did a boat cruise party for two hundred people down the river Clyde. Silicone Soul and Slam played, and we just promoted it through the site. It was also a friend’s birthday so we all let our hair down, and the party ended with everyone dancing in the rain on the deck as we came into land. On a bigger scale the Pressure 5th birthday was awesome at The Arches with a variety of styles including Garnier, Groove Armada, Kittin, Adam Beyer, the Silicones and Slam of course. Seven hours over three rooms!”

Congratulations on the most generous 'Soma Skool,' do you plan any more similar developments?
”Now we have managed to get it together, we are going to improve and evolve and plan another in October of this year…”

Is Glasgow a tough city to work in?
”No it's fun. To be honest 70% of the time you are in the office and on computer, talking to colleagues or using phone, and you could be in any city. For the music scene it’s probably only second to London, and the difference is that it’s small enough to avoid hassle whilst travelling to work or to the airport etc.”

How are the 'Soma Saturday Sessions' going at Mas, Glasgow?
”Great fun and low key, we get between 300 and 500 people in, depending on who is playing. The venue can work with either two rooms or in one room, so we adapt depending on who is around, it’s now Tom Middleton's favourite club in Glasgow! We get to try out new guys like Hystereo, Master H and Rolando like we did NYE and it was off the hook, very much a laidback night for us all after the drama of Pressure monthly - we couldn’t do that every week!”

Have you been out to Ibiza lately?
“I used to go. It was always mad fun and last time I went it was no different. Although at Space it’s probably too popular on a Sunday, if anything. Ewan Pearson has played there a few times after Manumission, and loved the Terrace!”

Is there any new/ 2004 Soma stuff to tell us about?
”Expect new singles from Master H, H-Foundation and Tony Thomas; and new albums from Silicone Soul, Envoy (doing the first of his new live sets on February 21st at Fabric, London) and Funk D’Void (‘Volume Freak’ out February) and Slam who haven pulled out all the stops on this new album which is getting finished as we speak… Slam will be dropping loads of new stuff at the next Fabric on March 20th, and then at Pressure on March 26th. Keep checking the Soma website to see which Soma artists are playing where –

Dave Clarke
Slam/Soma Recordings

2nd Floor,
342 Argyle Street,Glasgow G2 8LA
Tel + 44 (0) 141 229 6220 -- Fax +44 (0) 141 226 4383

Check out Soma Radio here
Thursday nights 7pm - 9pm with Jim Hutchison and Crae Caldwell

April 28: Envoy 'Shoulder 2 Shoulder' launch party, LONDON
Envoy (live)
Vector Lovers (live)
Ewan Pearson

April 30: Pressure / Triptych Festival, Arches, GLASGOW
Funk D'Void (live)
Envoy (live)
Vector Lovers (live)
Percy X

May 15: Smirnoff presents: King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, GLASGOW
Slam (live)
The Youngsters
Alex Smoke

June 5: Soma Sessions @ Coloursfest, Braehead Centre, GLASGOW
Envoy (live)
Silicone Soul
Ewan Pearson
Master H

June 17: La Terrrazza (Sonar fringe), BARCELONA
Funk D'Void (live)
Envoy (live)
Silicone Soul
Ewan Pearson

June 21: Circo Loco @ Dc10, IBIZA
Silicone Soul + usual insane clown posse

July 10: T In The Park, KINROSS
Slam (live)
Funk D'Void (live)
Jim Hutchison
Alex Smoke

Words by Lisa Loco