Interview: Mukatsuku Records
Interview by Lexy morvaridi
In its 10 years, Mukatsuku Records has become a household name, developing a strong fanbase of DJs and crate diggers while also earning support from the likes of Gilles Peterson, Mr. Scruff and Floating Points. As a singles-only label, Mukatsuku’s releases have covered everything from rare hard-funk to South African jazz, with an emphasis on affordability without compromising the quality of the tunes. Ahead of its 10th anniversary party at Brilliant Corners, we sat down with boss and founder Nik Weston to get our teeth into what makes the label so enduring. Throughout the chat, it became clear that Mukatsuku is run by a music lover for music lovers, a fact evident in Nik’s approach to every aspect of his label.
Hi Nik, thanks for sitting down with us today. So straight in, for those that might be unaware of what Mukatsuku Records is all about, could you tell us what makes you stand out as such a strong and popular label after all these years?
Hi mate. Well, I think the fact we have no digital, no downloads, no albums, no CDs, and we just do singles are all important reasons. But also if an artist has two killer tracks, you can put them both on the same release and that’s what we do. What happened in the later life of the label was that we started getting two killer artists and with only one killer track each, so we decided to put each of them on the same record. It means that if someone’s checking the record, it’s great on both sides. That’s how it started and then people started making a song and dance about the fact the label is a singles only label and that it stands out from other labels.
"I try and make it as cheap as possible so when someone checks out a record they like and they see it’s only this price, and they only have so much money in their pocket for that week, then hopefully they’ll choose mine"
Based on that sentiment would you then, as a DJ and a music fan, say that your motivations for putting out only singles is to play out as a DJ – in a sense running a label for DJs?
I think its multifaceted. Pricing is a really important part of the label – we are the cheapest UK label out there for singles that have a nice sleeve, that have the artwork. We retail on Juno for £4.99 for a 7” and £5.99 for a 12”. There are no other labels doing their releases for these prices. I try and make it as cheap as possible so when someone checks out a record they like and they see it’s only this price, and they only have so much money in their pocket for that week, then hopefully they’ll choose mine cos it’s more cost effective and the music is consistently good.
Based on the fact you only release singles with two great sides, do you think a large reason you have grown as a label over the past ten years is because DJs have picked up on Mukatsuku and realised this is exactly what they want in a label?
This is the common thing that I see in the emails and messages from people, saying, ‘I love your label because I know you're aiming the releases for the dance floor’. We do really good mastering so when you do play it out it really does sound big and I think because we don’t sell digital or albums it's not really targeted for everybody. It's targeted at someone who wants to play the record; I’m not talking about the Crosley audience, you know, they buy a Crosley turntable and it sits in the corner looking really pretty they don’t actually play anything cos it sounds crap on it. I'm trying to make a label with releases for me and people like me who just want to play it at home or play it in a club or a bar and stuff like that. Obviously if you have a bag full of records and you only have two hours to play, you want to play your peak time records and obviously the label is targeted at people with a like mind like that.
That’s precisely why I loved the label as soon as I got switched on to it! The fact that it’s smart and it’s consistent – no matter what you get on either side, you're going to like it for different reasons.
Yeah, I mean doing the label markets recently there's a lot of people who come along and say I've only just discovered your label and you think ‘Oh God, I've been going ten years’. But you need the new blood coming through ‘cos they're going to be with you for a few more years and the people who were with you from the start have moved on to tech house or psychedelic rock or whatever – it gets boring to stay in one genre. Nowadays the label is primarily a reissue label because I get sent loads of demos but there's nothing that really excites me.
"Primarily, the reason for having a label should be that you want to support the artist or release a record that you are proud of, and if anything else happens it’s a bonus"
This goes on to something I wanted to get into – new music. You released Twin Cities a few years back, but are you consciously moving away from new artists and heading towards just reissues?
The thing is, if I get something I think is strong enough and relevant enough and that I would DJ with, something that I would be getting the goosebumps on the spine the first time I hear it, then it wouldn’t even matter if it didn’t sell. I mean Twin Cities didn’t really sell but I love both tracks and I love the record. Because we run the label as a hobby, not a business, I think that takes the pressure off because if you’re a standard label you have to release a certain amount of releases and you have to sell a decent amount of records. If I don’t have any money I don’t release a record. When I first started the label I thought I could do it as a business, but as it progresses you realise that it sometimes gives the wrong perception of how it should be. So if you run it as a hobby, you do it just for love and hopefully you’ll break even, but making money is not the number one goal. Primarily, the reason for having a label should be that you want to support the artist or release a record that you are proud of, and if anything else happens it’s a bonus. I think especially nowadays, with record sales being so small relatively to world wide sales.
"I do this test when I consider something for the label - stick it on really loud over and over again and see if I get the tingles down the spine"
So, how have you seen the label evolve over the ten years from the first release (Paul Mac Innes and B.O.I. - Even Though / What You Do)?
Basically, in 2006 I received a demo from this Swedish guy called Paul Mac Innes, it was this soul record and it sounded like D’Angelo to me. He had sent me an album and I wasn’t really into it but these two tracks had me. I do this test when I consider something for the label - stick it on really loud over and over again and see if I get the tingles down the spine and every time I played that record, even today, and the same with Twin Cities, I get the tingles and I say ‘right OK that’s it, I’m hooked on that record’. So I said to Paul I don’t want to release your album but I’d like to do this single. And he was really helpful and an amazing vocalist, really good live performer, but he was wanting someone to release his album and he eventually did in Japan, but it was always about those two tracks for me.
And it just developed from there?
Initially it was about putting new music out. The early releases in the catalogue were all contemporary acts. Initially it was about new Japanese music and as it grew I was collecting and buying lots of African music and suddenly found that I knew people who knew the person behind some of the records so that made it easier to license so I started reissues. I’m mainly into releasing music from the ‘70s and most of those guys are dead or labels don’t run anymore so having people like Miles Cleret from Soundway and the guys at Discos Fuentes have made it really helpful for licensing. Licensing can be a real pain. I have a new single coming out in September, Ojeda Penn, a prime example – this took four or five years to license.
Is that something that makes it more interesting for you doing reissues, having a challenge to get it licensed?
I would rather not struggle but I am very persistent. I’d rather something was really easy. I mean what does interest me is things that have never come out as a single – album tracks, and a lot of the time I want an original record and I cannot find a clean copy of the record so if I can’t find a clean copy, I’ll license it so I can have a clean copy and I’ll remaster it and do an edit on it to trim it down or make it funkier.
Yes, edits! Another thing you have on the label is re-edits. What, in your opinion, does a re-edit do to enhance a track?
On the B-side of Joe Tongo was an artist called Sookie and I first came across that on a Russ Dewbury compiled African compilation and I really liked most of the track but there was a breakdown, a key change, that I really hated and it stopped me playing the record out. So from years ago before I even got involved in production and stuff I thought I would love to do my own version of that track. I didn’t know it was called a re-edit then, so in my own edit I get rid of that bit and then doubled up the funky drum parts to make it even funkier. I found out who owned the rights to the Sookie track and licensed it. The whole thing about doing edits for me is making something so I can play it and I’ve done hundreds of edits over the years primarily because I want to play a record but couldn’t play it in the form it was originally, because of a cheesy vocal or dodgy key change or it was too long.
So what can we expect from the ten year anniversary party?
I think the beauty of Brilliant Corners is that the sound system is so warm – I've already started packing the bag and it's all the things I don’t normally play out. All the things that have maybe influenced me and then made me move on to something else, so a lot of old soul tunes. It’s a lot of pressure for DJ when you’re only booked for specific amount of time and you have a full audience, you want to play bangers bangers bangers but obviously from a bar setting or something like Brilliant Corners we’ve got 7pm-12am so we're gonna play things that we wouldn’t normally play out in a club setting. So things that are still groovy, charismatic soul and boogie tunes or some South African jazz. I love music and I collect all sorts of things but there are lots of records I don't play out because I haven’t got the opportunity to play them. Whereas at Brilliant Corners I can play it, more chilled and obviously play some back catalogue from the label.
Thank you again for sitting down with us, and good luck with the future of the label. We shall see you on Thursday 8th September at Brilliant Corners!