Photos: Courtesy of Discwoman and Through My Speakers.
While the support of major labels once seemed like the only choice, now they are almost a cliche. For many, the response to this has been to gather up your closest and start your own movement.
In 2016, independent labels generated over 6 billion dollars in sales, accounting for 38% of the global recorded music market, according to a study released just a few weeks ago. Collectives, built on friendships, ideologies and mutual interests are what fuels independent labels. They allow individuals to make moves in an increasingly connected yet constantly fragmenting environment. Sure, the industry is teeming with solipsistic artists who inhabit this DIY space of producer cum manager cum agent cum T-shirt salesperson. But that’s a lot of hats to wear, a lot of energy to wear thin.
Ahead of their panel discussions at Ableton Loop, the forum that embodies the cutting edge of the music industry, we decided to get in touch with two pioneering collectives to host an examination of how and why they work so well. Let’s be honest, no one wants to hear yet another wide eyed Corbynite journalist harp on about the possibilities and pitfalls of collectivisation. So we thought we’d leave it to the experts.
Discwoman, represented here by part founder Frankie, rules the New York DJ scene. While Through My Speakers very own Berlin co-ordinators (Kwame, Sarah and Walter) took the time to chat with us about beginning, continuing… and hopefully continuing some more.
What unites you as collectives?
TMS: We are a family united by a common love for music. We all appreciate the diversity of music and sub-cultures.
Frankie: I think a political like mindedness, we share similar principles.
What are the benefits of working as a collective?
TMS: We are able to combine different skills and include each other’s opinions and energy in anything we create. This makes us more flexible in the way we approach things and keeps the collective moving.
Frankie: You’re never alone
What are the fundamentals to making a collective thrive?
Sarah: Communication is key.
Walter: Inspiring and supporting each other.
Frankie: Being able to listen to one another.
What is it about club nights that make them so powerful to convey your message?
Frankie: Bringing people together within these times in any capacity feels like a political statement.
Walter: Yes, I think it’s important to realise that dance floors are places where loads of different people from different backgrounds who might never meet in everyday life, come together in peace and harmony, united by the power of music. If we are able to make more people realise this power and find ways to translate these experiences into everyday life, we might be able to bring some change. Or we have to burn something…
Kwame: Club nights basically give us the chance to transform our message into something physical. We are able to push the slogan international music and sub-culture on one hand through diverse music that we play and on the other through people we involve and reach.
Now you’re some years into running DW and TMS what have been the greatest challenges to get your collective missions off the ground?
Kwame: Registering TMS as a company this year and all the paperwork that came with it, it kept us quite active!
Walter: We waited a very long time to do this, but we did it in the right moment (laughs)
Frankie: Being taken seriously as an agency to be reckoned with. It’s obviously shifted since we’ve started but still I can easily pick up people’s doubts of us surviving.
Do you think club culture can heal wider social and political issues?
Frankie: I’m not sure if it has the power to heal as these issues are within the system and require crucial changes in policy and education. What club culture can offer is a release to these systems that oppress, which is so important when talking about mental health.
Walter: I agree with Frankie; that we need crucial changes, for example in the way we treat each other in the everyday hustle for money, success and recognition. Club nights can be a place where like minded people meet in the first place, but we have to take it from there to elevate things.
Have you had to any solve disputes, if so, how?
Walter: Of course, with so many different people it’s like in a family or a band, sometimes you step on each other’s pride. When this happens we try to keep the dialogue alive, talking to each other personally as much as possible, I think this helps us to grow as a family and crew, learning to understand and respect each others ways. There’s so much hate out there anyways, we have to work it out!
Sarah: Yes exactly, by being sensitive and having conversations at eye level.Communication is key!
Frankie: We rarely argue because we’ve gotten better at just talking things out, I think if there’s a willingness to want to make things work, then it will.
You’ve both expanded out of your original cities (Berlin/NY) was this a conscious decision – how was it possible for you to do so?
Frankie: I mean at first we literally just funded shit ourselves, made no money, didn’t pay artists and donated proceeds to charity. But that is not a sustainable model. When we did Mexico, Smirnoff sponsorship helped us financially there. But beyond events, a big online presence has catapulted what we do and it’s one of the coolest things, going abroad and seeing how people connect with what you do. Really moving stuff.
TMS: Our foundation actually comes from a Facebook group where we shared music with like minded people, it grew quite fast and a lot of DJs and artists were part of it, so when we started TMS we already had a little bit of an international network. Furthermore parts of the collective have been moving back and forth between London and Berlin, and thanks to Sarah, who has been traveling the world, spreading her positive message, has given TMS a push as well!
What’s kept you going/growing?
Frankie: Our community of artists growing and prospering, like folks are really killing it. It’s so dope to be a part of this culture that nurtures artists that weren’t being nurtured before.
TMS: Providing a platform for our local community and fans, not to just follow but become part of the #nurned journey themselves. We connect all our resources to help the entire ecosystem grow which essentially helps everyone involved. Staying on top of latest technology helps us to create a trustworthy, ever flourishing platform that facilitates the greatest goodness possible.
What do you admire about each other’s collectives?
Frankie: Love platforms that are all about celebrating and promoting diversity in music.
Sarah: Seeing a group of people uniting, creating greatness and bringing back the political aspect of club culture – that’s something I always appreciate – we need more of that.
Is your output political?
Frankie: Yes intentionally and inherently.
Walter: I think yes! Although TMS is a diverse crew with different perspectives and opinions (so I don’t speak for every individual in the group), but I enjoy putting political messages in my tracks or selecting certain tracks for mixes or to post around certain events to deliver a message via music. I think the music we love and play has its origins in marginalised parts of societies around the world and has become a way for folks to break out their ghetto’s anonymities.
Kwame: Our output is for the people.
Sarah: I mean, our slogan “International music. International subculture. One Love” is political and so is being a group of friends with so many different background. It’s almost a statement just because we break stereo types just with who we are as individuals. Not because we are trying, it’s just through simple being visible.
Western culture encourages competition between individuals, with emphasis on personal achievement and identity. Would you agree that the culture of the individual has become problematic in society?
TMS: Yes and no. No in the sense that self empowerment and loving yourself will only show you the path to loving the one next to you. Individuality is a strong tool to liberation on all ends if used correctly.
Yes, because the established system of a democratic Western society has obviously failed us all very, very hard. One of the reasons is the uncompromising drive for personal gain of power and monetary value driven by emotions like fear and greed inside wrong minded and confused people.
Collectivism and working as cooperatives are very socialist ideas. Is that something you identify with?
Frankie: For sure.
Walter: Yes, but in a very open way, nobody gets forced, nobody gets hurt and we don’t censor output.
Kwame: There might be similarities, but we identify ourselves primarily through music.
How would you describe your relationships with social media and the demands of marketing what you do?
Frankie: Crucial to people feeling like we’re approachable and not an exclusive entity. It is the reason we’ve been able to expand and couldn’t be more grateful for the social media tools we have.
Walter: I’m to analog to handle it, but luckily we are many, another good thing about the collective, everybody does what they can do best.
You both evolved out of personal connection and community, how do you think this has aided your success?
Frankie: Our friends still support us and come out to our events, it means the world to us.
Walter: I believe everything great starts with a friendship in the first place.