Per la seconda parte di questa nostra serie di profili dedicati a labels discografiche che ci piacciono, dopo la prima tappa svizzera con Chief di Feelin Music, facciamo un salto fino a Brooklyn per occuparci dell´etichetta Let´s Play House. Gli appassionati del genere ne avranno sicuramente sentito parlare, se non altro in associazione con il nome di Jacques Renault, che dell´etichetta, assieme a Nik Mercer è co-fondatore. Ed è proprio con il disponibilissimo e simpaticissimo Nik che abbiamo avuto modo di parlare a fondo della loro attivitá.
How did you and Jacques meet and start releasing music and organising parties?
I moved to NYC a little over four years ago, from Los Angeles (though I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio). When I got here, I sort of assumed I’d have lots of friends since I was a senior editor at a magazine called Anthem, which brought me to New York somewhat frequently and connected me with the city pretty intimately. What you find, though, is that it takes a while to find your group of friends, your crew, your place. Jacques was someone I sort of knew from back in L.A., but not very well at all. He happened to be one of the guys I met here early on who was into kicking it with me often. We lived a few blocks away and became fast friends.
One of the things we did a lot then was go out together and sort of critique the city’s nightlife scene. It’s not like we were bitching and moaning or anything―we were just very aware of what we saw as “good” characteristics and “bad” ones. Eventually, we said, Fuck it―let’s just take all of what we’ve talked about over the past few months and make something ourselves! The rest is history, as they say.
Another important part of your enterprise are the previously mentioned parties. Can you tell us more about it? How do you chose the locations?
Well, originally, it wasn’t too hard since not that many places wanted to work with us. We were brand new. Let’s Play House was a baby compared to what else was happening in NYC. So we went to all the friends who did event programming or were involved with hotels and bars and asked them for help. This got us in places like the TriBeCa Grand hotel basement, the Mercer hotel’s subMercer, and a little bar called Baddies, which comprised the basement of a restaurant named Kingswood. (Lots of subterranean joints, now that I think about it!)
We did that for about six months. In the late spring of 2011, our good friend, John Barclay, whom we met at a bar called Trophy, asked us if we wanted to try doing something at a 3,500 sq. ft. warehouse he had begun to rent. We immediately said yes, though we didn’t really know what we were doing. We booked Morgan Geist and DJ Spun for that first party, which went off in a big way. After that, we started focusing more on warehouse parties and did stuff with Rub ‘N’ Tug, Runaway, Mugwump, and Horse Meat Disco before the spot was raided by the cops and shut down.
With the warehouse stuff under our belt, though, a lot of doors opened up and we found ourselves able to work at a number of spots. We started doing things at Cameo, in Williamsburg; Le Bain, Cielo, and (le) Poisson Rouge in Manhattan; and a handful of other joints. We select the locations according to what sort of event we want to make (ticketed or free, intimate or big), what’s available during the weekend in question, and what vibe we think reflect’s the artists’ aesthetics best.
Do you think that being based in New York gave you an extra chance to grow up as a label?
It certainly hasn’t hurt. New York has a rich musical history and there are still tons of musicians, producers, and DJs who live here. A lot of what NYC embodies has been co-opted by scenes overseas. It’s really strange to witness sometimes. Also, there aren’t that many labels in NYC and there aren’t that many other cities in the states that can support musical movements that are noticeable on an international level. Europe is a lot tighter and more condensed, which, I imagine, makes it difficult to stand out.
Talking about New York, can you tell us which are in your opinion the clubs our readers should check there? Is there any place that Let´s Play House calls “home”?
Well, Cielo is definitely a long-standing favorite, largely because of the interior layout and the immaculate soundsystem. Nicolas Matar, the owner, teamed up with Shawn Schwartz from Halcyon and a handful of others to open two new very exciting and awesome bona fide nightclubs in my neighborhood of Williamsburg. They’re called Output (which is the bigger one) and the Panther Room (which is the smaller one). Come late March or April, we’ll be holding down the fort every Friday at Panther, so I guess that will be the closest thing to a home we’ve ever had.
Otherwise, we’ll always love the warehouse (currently called 285 Kent) we used to work at. And the 18 months or so that we held a residency at Le Bain are warmly remembered.
Can you tell us something about Let´s Play House´s artists roster and the label´s releases so far? Which were in your opinion the highlights?
It’s impossible to choose favorites, but I love the first one, by Runaway. That was a really special way to get the ball rolling. The Dead Rose Music Company 12″s are some of my favorites (we’ll be doing more with him, just you wait!) That Mic Newman/Fantastic Man EP was an instant classic. I absolutely love the San Laurentino tunes we released. And am really feeling the club power of the River & Phoenix and Jacques Renault releases we most recently dropped.
Which are the judgements you apply when it comes to choose your new releases, being remixes or original tracks?
We tend to focus our energies on working with those we know. But we do pick up demos from time to time. Whatever the case, that’s sort of a criteria of ours―do we know and respect the person? Also, we like to release stuff by people who have played the parties, but that’s pretty tough to do since we’ve thrown about 100 at this point.
Otherwise, we just stress quality over anything else. As long as it’s a solid track that has some heart and soul in it, we’ll give it a spin and consider it for the label.
When it comes to remixers, we’re a bit more systematic. We have a running list of people we’d like to work with and, every time we need something mixed, we just go down that list and figure out who fits best with the original. Or, we’ll ask someone who’s already been on the label to take a swing in an effort to further solidify them as one of our roster members. This is what compelled us to ask TDRMC for a River & Phoenix remix and why Mic Newman is doing one for Jacques’ “Back To You.”
How do you get to find new talents and new tunes?
We get a ton of demos. Generally, I listen to everything that comes through and share what I like the most with Jacques. If we both dig it, we’ll start talking to the artist about possibly putting the music out. Otherwise, we’re doing more traditional A&R these days. We just picked up a duo called Tippy Toes, which is Morgan Wiley (the keyboardist from Midnight Magic) and Abe Seiferth, an engineer and producer who does a lot of studio work for a number of people. They’re both insanely talented guys. We’re putting out their debut EP in a few months.
We also get a lot of tracks from buddies who are just trying to stay in touch and share their new material or from label members who want to do more with us.
You release both digitally and on vinyl. Is vinyl still the medium to go when it comes to DJ culture in your opinion?
I ask myself this a lot. I honestly don’t know. Vinyl is tough because it’s relatively expensive, which makes its production hard to rationalize. That is, would it be easier or harder to break even by only selling things digitally?
That said―and I know a ton of people feel this way, too―there’s something special about poring yourself into the artwork, the labels, the overall brand aesthetic―and then being able to own and hold your very own copy and share it with your friends and like-minded or curious consumers and fans.
At the end of the day, if you’re an able-bodied and talented DJ, the format you use shouldn’t affect your reputation. These days, most people bring a thumb drive or a handful of CDs along with a grip of records to any gig they play, so, clearly, the stigmas attached to digital music have resided.
Are there any musicians, DJs or producers who inspire you particularly at the moment and that (if money and schedules weren´t an issues) you would love to release on your label?
Oh, gosh. That’s a tough one. And pretty loaded! I guess I’d go with someone I’ve been a fan of for years, like Kerri Chandler or Derrick Carter or Levon Vincent or Todd Edwards or the Idjuts or Ray Mang or Radio Slave. The list goes on and on. But, yeah―I’d probably try to work with someone a little older, whose work I’ve adored for years and years.
What s your opinion about the state of the U.S.A. club and electronic music scene in the year that was for you?
It’s been pretty weird. People over here are talking a lot about “EDM”―a term which I really loathe―and while that’s great in the sense that more people are interested in things I’m loosely related to, it’s not really doing that much for me and LPH. It’s the taste-makers who wind up being at the bottom of the trickle-down when it comes to this sort of thing. So, like, the fact that millions of teenage kids are going to raves featuring whatever’s hip right now―that doesn’t help me and my business all that much.
But I’m not a cynical person and I have a lot of faith in the notion that, as time goes by, people will become more curious and accepting of what’s outside of the mainstream. We just need to wait for these kids to grow up a bit.
Also, the fact that you can’t legally go to a club until you’re 21 (generally speaking) makes it difficult to sell this kind of music to anyone under that age. If you grow up in the states, you listen to rock and pop and hip-hop and, when you’re in middle school or high school, you start going to gigs at your local all-ages club to see your favorite bands. You can’t really do that so easily when it comes to dance music. Dance music―again, for most people―is something learned… and it’s something that comes later in life. So you need to be patient with people and warmly encourage them to check out house and disco and techno, get out of their comfort zones… otherwise, they’ll never become interested.
What have Let´s Play House got planned for the 2013?
Lots! We’ve schedule the next eight records, I think, and have our imprint, Goodnight Moon, starting in February, too. That will last for eight installments, each one signifying a different phase of the moon. Otherwise, I’m really looking forward to this residency we’ll begin soon. And am very focused on bringing LPH parties to cities outside of New York and the U.S. Making that happen is a lot of work and takes time, but I’m entirely committed to the cause! This is my baby and his life has only just begun.