20 years of Glasgow's Soma Recordings, we ask Slam

Words by: Polly Lavin
Posted: 5/9/11 13:59

SlamYou can count on one hand the number of labels, dance music companies and collectives that have weathered 20 years, DIY Collective, Ministry of Sound, Warp Records amongst the random bunch. Though most of these labels and collectives may have long since sold out their ‘underground’ status and went commercially over ground (Ministry even brands vodka now) to the point of irrelevance, Glasgow duo Slam and their homegrown label Soma somewhat straddle the grey area between cool and commercial in dance music.

Presently signing tracks by cutting edge underground talent such as Berlin’s ‘Hatikvah’ whilst also releasing French global dance aficionados ‘Daft Punk’ in the early 90s the label ran alongside Slam’s club night in Glasgow at Arches and Sub Club.

Of the 310 singles and 90+ albums the label has released over 20 years the hits include Daft Punk’s first 3 EPs, Silicone Soul’s ‘Right On’, SlamsPositive Education’, tracks by Sheffield’s ‘The Black Dog, tracks by Hipp-E &  Tony, Felix Da Housecat and remixes of Samuel L. Sessions by Holland’s pocket rocket producer Joris Voorn. They celebrate 20 years with a special release that includes a limited track from Daft Punk called ‘Drive unreleased 1994’.

We grabbed some time with Orde Meikle one half of Slam to talk about running a label in 2011.

You emerged at a time when Independent dance labels were DIY and on the fringe of the music industry what were the difficulties you encountered and how did you overcome them?
Starting a business is always difficult but a dance label in a “Rock City” like Glasgow in the 80’s it was impossible to get any local support. So we started Soma ourselves selling and promoting over the phone and using the entire profits to finance the next release – Soma is still a labour of love.

There will always be an underground in dance music. There are probably genres we do not know yet & techno we have not heard its always the way, but the real quality finds its way to the surface & gets to a wider audience...

Given we are back into a DIY/Underground cycle what concise advice for the international readers who are starting labels in their own countries/locales. What the standard percentages that new labels should be looking for and should contracts be in place from the offset?
Soma has always cut the same deal with all its artists 50/50 – contracts are essential for so many reasons. Starting a digital label is certainly easier than a full blown terrestrial one but you must believe in it and your music, because it’s going to eat up your time.

Key things that should be in place from the offset for record labels to do from point of signing a track?
Make sure you love and believe in the track you’re signing and releasing.

You’ve done some work through Soma school can you tell me exactly what you advise youngsters coming through in that initiative?
The Soma school was set up to advise people wishing to make a career in the music industry that it’s not just for musicians. Representatives from publishing companies, music software, management, universities and college courses and much more. All the information we never had.

What are your thoughts on all the crap music in digital format out there? Why is there no quality control going on at present?
There is a lot of “average and un-inspiring” dance music but usually the cream floats (not always)

20 years of Glasgow’s Soma Recordings

                  Soma 20 Years (Triple CD) - exclusive previews by soma
Should we take a note from producers who have said a ‘release strike’ is needed?  Where output is stopped until contracts are balanced between DJs who earn big fees and producers and other workers in the scene who are not being paid correctly due to downloading etc is corrected? The monies are not really being split properly in this industry are they?

The music industry has never been “fair” not sure a ‘release strike‘ would work. Illegal downloading is the biggest single threat to Independent record labels we all work on such slim margins. It’s slowly killing the smaller labels, don’t do it.

How do you feel about no exclusivity with producers who move from label to label? It doesn’t really give a chance for them to grow with the label does it?
Exclusivity is a thing of the past within the dance scene. The more freedom a producer has the better.

Competition and dealing with the competition what have you done to diversify over the 20 year period and build relationships to do that?
Soma has never looked over its shoulder at the competition. We have our own path to tread.

How did you survive in more difficult years? What were the difficulties you encountered?
It’s always been hard for Soma to survive. Not sure we’ve ever an easy year. Independent record labels survive on the edge all the time

Does a live club night have to accompany a record label? How did you diversify into other areas of the creative sector? What approach did you take?
No. Many labels do not run club nights we actually ran club nights before we started Soma, it has always been second nature for us. It definitely helps because it’s hard to make enough money to live on with a label only in the piracy and digital age also the parties we run bring some of the DJs and producers we like to work with into our home town, so they understand Soma more.

Must have been difficult for you to get Scottish government etc to take you lot seriously (I was at musicworks in Glasgow in 2004) how serious do you think public bodies are taking electronic music now and why has the perspective changed if so?
Public bodies in Scotland helped for a period when the country had some money from around 2000 to 2005. Mainly with the record label, we managed to raise some money to take on someone to work in the office before and we raised some money from the government here for a great educational project called Somaskool. We also managed to get the rates we pay for our office reduced with the help of the Scottish government. But like most things in life we learned early that you have to survive without any handouts you have to stand on your own 2 feet- so we did and we still do.


We Love… 20 Years of Soma Quality Recordings from We Love on Vimeo.
Do you think it’s strange how dance music has been assimilated by the major labels into the mainstream? I recollect at Musicworks and other conferences it was always the 5 major labels that were on a panel now in Ibiza it seems to be major DJs are the front face of the empires?

Well for a long time in the world of record companies there were 5 major companies. Owning and controlling all the distribution and all the labels. That’s why indies like Soma began we had that punk rock attitude of doing things ourselves.

So now the majors have less control and in fact they are less interested in music altogether as for now I am not sure which DJs you mean, maybe guys who run the big nights in Ibiza like Sven and Carl Cox? I think these guys have worked hard to create something in Ibiza I know Cocoon was not busy for the first year or two and they must have had a hard time before it became so successful it is democratic though because the crowd who go to dance or who read Ibiza Voice and Resident Advisor/or who buy the music they decide who has the power and the wealth. Don’t make any mistake you don’t become Richie Hawtin without talent and drive and hard work and intelligence

Talk to me about the young talent in your office? Are you actively involved in running label these days or have youngsters taken over?
We never ran the label day to day, we were always more concerned with making music/ listening to music and travelling with our records. Glenn and Dave who started the label with us are still running it and yes we have new talent doing that too with Chris and Claire and Conor and Dom. The young team and the older guys work well together because they all share a passion for the music. 

Can you talk me through the 'exact' mechanics of getting a release ready for the market from signing to distribution to end consumer?
It’s pretty boring really the only important thing is to get DJs playing it and liking it. Get some people writing and talking about it and get it to the main digital stores especially Beatport for our style of music. We also have our own digital shop on www.somarecords.com the physical side is slowly dying we are lucky we have a great small vinyl distribution based in Glasgow called Rub a Dub. They can sell just enough to not lose money on the vinyl! and cds go through the largest independent distributor called PIAS UK. They also get it to ITunes and get us the money back, we only deal direct with Beatport for digital and Rub a Dub for vinyl. Illegal downloading is the biggest single threat to Independent record labels we all work on such slim margins. It’s slowly killing the smaller labels, don’t do it...

How do distribution deals work?
Distributor takes a percentage of all sales. They deal with a little marketing but not much a lot of labels now only work with Beatport direct  they do not have or need a distributor because they do not do CDs or Itunes

Soma TeamWhat are your thoughts on the underground scene within underground dance music?
There will always be an underground in dance music. There are probably genres we do not know yet and techno we have not heard its always the way, but the real quality finds its way to the surface and gets to a wider audience. DJs are an important part in this process because music lovers do not have time to listen to as much as a good DJ.

Do you feel older figureheads should step aside and help the younger scene grow and emerge especially in the UK context? What are your thoughts on old versus young in the industry at present?
We feel it’s about the music. Not the age. Soma and Slam are always looking for the NEW in our clubs and on our label.

Your key belief/ethos of what you do that is core to your business?
Quality and musical Integrity over Profit

Where to next for the label both music wise and other things that are coming up?
Soma has some great new projects from Gary Beck and Harvey McKay ready for release in the New Year. We also have an exclusive new Daft Punk track “Drive unreleased 1994” on Soma 20. Also some possible film projects but its early days.

What will you be doing to celebrate 20 years both at the label and yourselves?
Having a big party with all the guys in the Soma Office. The drinks are on us!


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