A small label that never failed to impress so far this year is Tenth Circle. A sub-label of the mighty Defected (so maybe not so small after all!), it's helmed by DJ, writer and general man about town, Greg Sawyer. Having featured a few of their releases on I Voice, we thought we should delve a little deeper and investigate what goes on behind-the-scene at the label. Here's what Greg had to say...
First up, who's behind Tenth Circle and what are your own musical histories?
Tenth Circle is a sub-label of Defected, which was started by me at the beginning of 2011 focussing on deep, underground house and techno. I’ve been working at Defected in various capacities for about five years now, and the label is a reflection of my personal taste in electronic music.
When did the idea to start your own label come about and why?
We really wanted to start by working with brand new and relatively undiscovered artists. There are so many talented producers out there, but unfortunately only a few of them get the platform they need in order to succeed. The flip of that is that from the perspective of DJs and music lovers trying to discover music outside of what they know, you end up having to wade through so much mediocrity that it can get tiring and you end up just sticking to what you know. I’m really passionate about all the music we’ve released and believe it is a cut above a lot of other labels’ output.
How did you go about getting the label off the ground? Did you get any financial help at all?
As I’ve said, the label is a sub-label of Defected, so all the financial help comes from there. For that, I am hugely grateful to Simon Dunmore for giving me the opportunity to do something I have always dreamed of. I’m extremely lucky to have been supported in this way, as I’m more than aware of the financial strains of starting a label from scratch. That said, the budgets I have to work with are tight, which is another reason for hunting down talented, lesser-known artists and working hard with them to get the music right.
Where does the name come from? And what significance does it have (if any)?
I was reading the Divine Comedy at the time we were starting the label – it’s pretty hard going to be honest but all the stuff in Inferno is incredible; lots of visceral imagery and damnation! I knew the label was going to be focussed on pretty deep sounds, so the label name comes from an imaginary tenth circle of hell. Pretty bleak I know; I promise I’m much happier than that.
Did you have any difficulties in getting the label started?
Not really, to be honest it all happened quite smoothly. A couple of friends of mine Danny Bartha and Matt Pell did the artwork for us by dragging paint through a press and letting lots of different colours run into one another. They got it spot on and are super-talented chaps. The first release also felt totally right.. it all took a little longer than expected to get everything up and running, but it felt good that we were doing it properly rather than rushing into anything.
How did you go about getting your first signings?
I also contribute to a blog called Getdowngood and occasionally people send us tracks. Right at the end of 2010 we were sent a couple of records by a trio from Bournemouth called Zoo Look. The main track ‘Holdin’ On’ just blew me away; it’s this deep, string-laden record that just builds and builds, a beautiful track and possibly my favourite thing we’ve ever released.
So far the releases have been quite varied in style, is this the label's ethos?
I guess the reason it’s pretty diverse is that it’s just my tastes that guide the direction; there aren’t any rules in terms of what we will or won’t sign. On one hand it makes the label look a little schizophrenic; you have super-deep sub-105bpm dubby records from Ion Ludwig one release, then a big, uplifting piano-laden affair from Daniel Solar the next. But it’s that variation that makes the label interesting. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to a specific genre or sub-genre, but I couldn’t do it... I love so many different styles that this just seems like the obvious route to go down.
Are there any labels out there that have inspired your approach to Tenth Circle?
Of course you look to other labels to see what they’re doing right (and wrong in some cases), but I try not to let that affect what I choose to sign. There are labels like Smallville, AIM and Suol who’s music and approach have so much time for. Also – of course – during my time at Defected I’ve learnt so much about running a label. In general though, it’s more the artists themselves that inspire my approach. Without them, labels wouldn’t exist, so for me that’s the obvious place to start.
How did it feel when you got hold of your very first Tenth Circle release?
It felt fucking amazing!
What's been your own personal favourite release so far?
As I said, the Zoo Look EP will always be pretty special, partly because it was the first one. It’s just so warm and rich and emotional; all qualities I look for during the A&R process. Other than that I think it would be unfair to pick one above any of the others; I’m proud of every record we’ve put out and of every artist that’s contributed.
How is the label doing at the moment?
It’s hard. We get some amazing critical responses to our releases, DJs giving us amazing props, fantastic reviews in some influential publications, and yet the sales are just about ok. I’ve spoken to label owners who are in a similar position, but without chart support from A-list DJs or serious profile on some of the download stores it’s hard to make a real impact. One way of solving this would to be to fork out on a remix from a big name to really get the label into the limelight, but that’s not why I wanted to start the label. I’d much rather continue what we’re doing, continue to believe in the artists we champion and hope that enough people enjoy our output so that we can keep afloat.
What releases do you have pencilled in for the coming months?
We’ve just released an EP by Paul Loraine called ‘My Vice EP’ which has been a long time coming. I worked really hard with Paul getting the music just right and we’re both extremely happy with the finished EP. After that we have a couple of tracks from a guy called Andrew Soul which should be seeing the light of day towards the start of October. Beyond that... we’re on top secret lockdown I’m afraid!
Any advice for someone hoping to get a release on Tenth Circle?
Yes, listen to the records we’ve already released before you send over your demos. The amount of times I get an email saying “I have the perfect release for you!” only to be greeted by some god-awful hard-trance monstrosity is ridiculous. Also, personalise the way you get in touch. Sending an email out to 50 labels with the heading ‘Dear Label Owner’ suggests you aren’t that bothered about where your music gets released. If you’ve put a lot of hard work into your music you should narrow it down to just a handful of labels you think would be suitable. Be picky, cos we sure are!
Also, any advice for other people who are considering starting their own label?
Start with what you know and move on from there. Speak to as many people as possible and make friends with the people you admire and want to sign. So much business is done on whether people get on with you rather than what you think you can offer them... a beer and a face-to-face chat is worth a million emails.
Address: 3rd Floor, Curtain Road, EC2A 3LT, Londo UK
TENCI010 - Paul Loraine - My Vice EP
TENCI009 - Lars von Licht - Purple Shaped Water
TENCI008 - Alex Arnout - Phonics EP
Most Successful Tracks
Alex Arnout – Realize
Daniel Solar – Needin’ You
Zoo Look, Duff Disco, Ion Ludwig, DC Salas, EZLV, Daniel Solar, Reuben Tobias, Jonny Cade, Alex Arnout, Lars Von Licht, Paul Loraine