This month we had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the leaders of the American Electro scene, Satamile Records NYC, who's founder Andrew takes us back to the early days of the US Rave scene where all things EDM in many ways began for us all. He talks about how Satamile the artist and the label got started, and what the scene was like in those days. Why there has been a hiatus with vinyl output from the imprint for some time, and the reasoning behind it, and gives us some insight as to how the rest of us indies can begin down the path of preferred physical mediums like our beloved vinyl, and how we can create a healthy, successful "Electro Economy"...so without further ado, let's begin!
TechnoBass.net: So for those who may not be familiar, tell us a little bit about yourself and the label. What year did you begin getting serious about starting it, what drove you to do it?
Satamile: Like a lot of music peeps, I went to Art school to hang out with the rest of the misfits of the world, CalArts for that matter. At California Institute of the Arts I took a lot of Electronic Music History courses, and by the way that’s where the Serge Modular was created, so the seed was planted. Back in New York after school, 1990, 1991 the Techno explosion was happening with huge raves, parties, shows and performances along with many new genres of new music, Electronica, Ambient , IDM, on and on. It was a fantastic time to be in NY City, and I started buying synths and samplers, and doing live shows.
Around 1993-94 I started working with Strange? Records (9th st. and Ave. A) in throwing events and DJ’ing and performing. Colling Strange? And I would perform together as well at NY institutions like Robots, The Tunnel, or The Kitchen. Lots of fun, crazy times, free and open city. I worked with several collectives doing shows as well but by 1994 I was playing everywhere. Our parties were listed in Timeout every week so that helped a lot too.
I incorporated Satamile Records in 1994 as we were standing right in the middle of a whole new exploding music scene. We knew lots of people, had lots of contacts. People like The Orb, Autechre, Aphex Twin, and a whole bunch of others were always hanging out at Strange? Records when visiting the city, so why not, it was a logical progression. Strange? was a genius for his store and way ahead of other stores that followed later. I followed what I loved and basically for that I was in the right place at the right time. Starting a label is a big decision with lots of responsibility to your artists, marketing and distribution.
The first release was the Satamile 7”, followed by E.M.S.'s 12”, and we were off to the races! E.M.S. lived on the top floor of the building Strange? Records was located at, and he was building his own synthesizers, drum machines and modulars out of discarded electronic parts found in the street. Pure genius, way ahead of his time and the current synth craze. Early on, E.M.S., Bolz Bolz, and Silicon Scally helped put us on the world map as we progressed to worldwide distribution in over 10 European countries, radio play on the BBC, and countless magazine reviews. It was a pretty awesome time.
Things have obviously changed a lot since you started. The internet alone has dramatically changed the way not just artists interact with their fans, but also how label owners themselves interact with their supporters and regular customers. How did you find things to be different between the late 90’s and the advent of social media online? Has it gotten better you think?
In some ways its better, it gives us more ways to promote releases and make more people aware of when stuff is coming out, the obvious benefits, which show a more personal detailed side of things. But as a label, we did most of this anyway. We sent promos out to records stores, distributors, magazines, DJ’s and Radio, so Facebook and Twitter did not “save the day” to say, nor did Spotify (worthless). Our Electro headz new us and what to look for, they heard us on College Radio, clubs, or at the hundreds of parties we played or threw. It all worked and worked very well. Today online there are lots of mistruths, no filters to weed out the illusions and fakers trying to be players. It’s a much more complicated world, without a corresponding advantage.
What are your thoughts on the so-called “Digital Revolution”? Does it feel as if it has opened doors, or perhaps closed on some which should have always been left open?
Digital Revolution: Ha ha, we’ll you know piracy is a huge issue, and so the digital revolution has worked to benefit pirates and companies like Google, Youtube and countless media advertisers the most. So the digital revolution is not all good, in fact, there is a lot of bad. Countless indie labels were wiped off the map by piracy, that’s a fact and it will have a huge cultural effect to come. Piracy is the big Elephant in the living room that techies and lots of people don’t want to talk about.
The Internet today makes some things easier, but the old saying, “There are no shortcuts”, applies to digital as well and to digital music. You have to do the hard work to get the results, and there is the digital pile of tracks out there of which 98% SUCK, so there are a lot of falsities to the so called “digital revolution”; especially for the artist. At the end of the day, I hate to tell you this, but we’re all analog creatures and the laws of nature still rigidly persist. I would really like to be able to sing a happy tune for the digital arena, but not yet. Some doors opened and some did close, but labels are a vitally important part of the ecosystem.
Seems for some time Satamile Records hasn’t been doing very much. What has happened to the label? Were you hit hard by the decline of vinyl sales some years back?
What Happened to the label? Nothing happened to the label, we were still stuck on this planet like you, but we had the “Great Recession” as the result of Dumb Donkey President from Texas, and Wall Street financiers who robbed the country blind. A lot of people for good reason stopped buying music from their retailers, compounded by Piracy, distributors started going bust, and it created a worldwide domino effect and a disaster for artists and labels alike. After the smoke cleared, the carnage was pretty devastating for lots of labels and distributors but not bankers. My reaction was to just hit PAUSE on Satamile, and start working on Bot during this time.
So as far as label work we never stopped, but we had to slow down and wait for the distribution and retail sector to recover along with the rest of the world, of which it seems to be coming back with the whole new vinyl craze as well. We waited, watched, listened, and now you will see new releases starting to trickle out as the infrastructure recovers, reassembles and adjusts to a new playing field.
Satamile never quits and Satamile is a fighter. Most Labels' “problems” were completely out of their control during the Recession and had no choice but to wait and see. Even if they had a brilliant record to release during that time, it would have been a total waste due to other economic factors, out of their control in the music world. We actually delayed releases that were In print due to this reason. You will start to see new release’s coming out on Satamile and Bot as we continue forward.
How do you feel about the supposed resurgence of vinyl, do you personally see it?
I think its awesome Vinyl is storming back again to frontline prominence as the medium of choice. Today I just shipped out one of the largest private orders ever to a customer, who happens to work in the Digital arena. Go figure! We had CD’s in 1990, but no one was playing them at raves, they played vinyl; its just a superior medium, and if you showed up with CD’s it was like: “oh, whats that about”, your cool factor went way down the toilet. Sorry but that’s how it was in the 90’s. Follow up with all the cheater CD DJ’s today, I rather listen to someone who is actually beat matching, working records the way they should be worked, and playing something analog, so much better on the ears as well. My buddy Thomas who owns Brooklyn Phono (who did a lot of the Satamile records) is BOOKED way in advance. Do the world a favor Electro peeps, lay out the vinyl!! Martians will dig it up a million years from now and be like “wow”!
What do you feel might be a good avenue for artists and labels alike to find a way back to physical mediums? As you know, vinyl pressing especially considering how little it sells in our genre, is not very justifiable at the astronomical prices plants charge vs. what is sold, and in many ways CDs are not very different though a bit better of a choice for some right now. What do you feel may need to happen to make costs more suitable for indies?
First, we sold a lot of vinyl, still do, and will in the future. The new Indies need to be cost savvy in many ways, shop around for the best pressing prices. Keep your costs down, don’t do full color labels. Do “one step plating” instead of two or three step plates. To start, produce break-even runs of records and promote. Get Distributorship, call your indie stores worldwide, visit them. You have to hustle, and it means 90% more time than just sitting in front of your computer clicking your mouse. I know a famous artist on Ghostly, good friend, I won’t name him, but he drove all over the US selling records out of his car while he was on his self booked tour. Some nights he played to 10 people, other nights he played to 300. Be in it for the LONG run. That’s what it takes! Sacrifice. Again, there are no shortcuts, and I think the “Digital Revolution” creates many false pretenses of that.
For artists, find labels that will do things for you that you simply cannot do for yourself: physical product, marketing, magazines, distribution, radio and digital media, otherwise your talent will be wasted. Stay focused, work on music, get paid for your time and money for as you get older you will realize the value of copyright, that you own what you sacrificed your time and labor for. Unfortunately, money has to come in to survive for time invested, especially in the U.S.A. where social care for artists is non-existent. For music to progress, fair pay must occur for artists, labels, and the rest of the supply chain.
The fact is that artists get paid “Peanuts” for digital, and “Gold” for physical product, so until they can stop piracy, or pay more for digital, or find a sustainable system, vinyl still looks great as a medium. Hold it in your hand, look sexy in front of the ladies, play parties, tour, throw parties and be in it for the long term .
In your opinion, what is the state of our music. Is it progressing, or regressing in your eyes?
Music itself will always progress with the Zeitgeist of the times, the sonic winds of our period, and there’s lots of interesting directions to transcend...this is the least of my worries!
Any future plans for you or the label? Any more releases by you as Satamile the artist at some point?
Yes more releases coming this year and hopefully I can get time to release more of my tracks. We have a new SatRX complete with remixes by Octagon Man, Mark Broom, EVAC, Dexorcist and more. Will have something new on Satamile this year as well but that’s hush hush for now. Bot Records will have the brilliant John Blackford L.P., I’m feeling pretty positive about the years to come.
Looking back over your years, what are you the most proud of regarding Satamile Records?
I went from handing out party flyers on the Lower Eastside of NY, to an International label with a new sound, pushing the Electro envelope, and new friends around the world. I’m proud and happy about that!
A few words about “Bot”, the Electro-Downtempo subdivision of Satamile?
Bot was created to broaden our sound portfolio in ways Satamile could not. They’re very different labels but close and friendly cousins. My A&R tastes run wide and diverse in Electronic/New music, and Bot Records will help take advantage of this. The general response has been great and we will have the new Blackford L.P. out this year; Bot 005.
Back in the days, you used to promote and organize awesome Electro parties in NY. Is it something you’d like to do again?
I love doing parties and always felt like it was a Techno label's responsibility to help give and support the Techno culture. We literally did hundreds of events in NY and other parts of the world. We did Adult, Ellen Alien, Monolake, Keith Tucker, and countless European and US artists' first shows in NY City. We opened the stage internationally, extended a friendly hand, and gave safe passage in and out of NY, and a great show to countless artists on a weekly basis. It is a tremendous amount of hard work to open the door to performers in NY, but I love what I do and the sacrifice was well worth it. Parties have always been a part of Satamile, so more will follow for sure. Shout outs to Buck @ Feedbuck, NYEX , B’ Constructive Design, 310k, Dots Per Minute, Steve B Promotions, Tommie @ Filter 14, and many others who helped make those events happen.
Are you still mixing at parties?
I love DJ’ing and still do, but I’m not rabid about promoting myself. The last big shows I did were in Shanghai China, and Robodock Festival in Amsterdam, and that was a lot of fun.
Who are the artists that find favor in your eyes at the moment? Who are the ones you’d like to sign? Why?
Ha ha, that’s a funny question. Satamile is always watching, sniffing the air, and never sleeping, so to other labels, you know who you are...BEWARE! The wolf is stalking, and has his red eyes on some glistening little jewels in the sand, so overlooked, lonely and neglected. That’s the artist Satamile likes. Who are they, yes I have several in mind, but there is no way I’m going to let you or anyone else know who they are. Hey, that’s music business! Ha ha ha ha!!!
Thank you Satamile for your time and incredibly insightful interview. Long live Satamile Records!
Interview by: Santino Fernandez and Chris Nexus 6