Shanghai's local record labels

Time Out talk to six local label bosses about music operations in the city

Raphael Valensi
As music has gone digital, record labels have proliferated all across the globe, including in Shanghai. Time Out talk to six local label bosses to discuss the ins and outs of running a music operation in the city

Despite all the hype surrounding Shanghai and its current place on the world stage, there are still some aspects where, because of its late arrival in the game, it falls far behind its international counterparts. Take electronic music as an example. Ask anyone which cities they most associate with electronic music and you’ll find the same names cropping up time and time again: London, Berlin, Detroit, maybe even Tokyo. One place you’re unlikely to hear mentioned however, is our dear home Shanghai. 

While it’s true that Shanghai is not yet a major player on the international electronic circuit, it can’t simply be dismissed as a result. Recent years have seen a bevy of new nightlife spots open up across the city, an increase in interest in electronic music among both locals and expats and the city has risen to a position where it has now become a must-visit city for many international DJs and acts. Further to this, the city has been incubating a number of locally-based record labels pushing both local and international artists. To find out what it’s like running a record-label in Shanghai, we talk to six of Shanghai’s own record label bosses who, in their own unique ways, are helping put Shanghai on the electronic music map. 

Gareth Williams, Svbkvlt 

"Sub-Culture-Cassettes-crop"Why did you start the label and what is its ethos?
Over the years I have met a lot of great artists and producers from around Asia, but there aren’t so many labels here to put out their music. After Michael (Ohlsson, owner of DADA) moved to Beijing we called it a day with [our record label] PAUSE so I decided to start SVBKVLT.

You released SLV‘s Dagger on vinyl last year. How did that come about?
I’ve been collecting vinyl for years and have always wanted to release vinyl. It’s a pretty long process, and very expensive. Luckily a few people I’ve met over the years helped me a lot and gave me advice. It’s very rewarding putting out a vinyl, but difficult to make your money back.

What advice would you give someone starting their own label?
A record label is not just putting tunes on a Soundcloud account for download. You should try and get as much distribution as you can to make it accessible to as many people as possible. Also, if you are thinking about releasing vinyl, it’s an expensive and lengthy process and so if you do it, then do it right.

"SLV-Moss_Temple_crop"Any releases coming up? 
The next release is SLV’s Moss Temple EP which is coming out on Monday 4 August.

After that I’m releasing an EP from Downstate and then an EP from Howie Lee. There are a couple more releases hopefully before the end of the year but I’m keeping them quiet for now.

Jim Lee aka DJ Chewie, Manchu Records

"Jim-DJ-Chewie-HQ-crop"What made you want to start Manchu records?
After a 17 year DJ career and doing international DJ bookings for 12 years, many international DJs trust my music taste and speak highly of my music sense. I have confidence in my ability to select good music and that’s why I wanted to start a label: to push good music and artists.

There seem to be very few Chinese-run labels pushing electronic music, why do you think this is?
In recent years there are more and more Chinese-run labels, but still not many. I think Chinese DJs need to be more open-minded. Also, it’s not that easy to run a label.

"MANCHU-logo-01-crop"Do you have any releases yet? 
We’ve had six releases already, all are available on Beatport. We aim to release one or two singles or EPs per month. It’s a digital only label with no plan to release vinyl.

Which artists are you pushing?
The artists on my label are young and new. Maybe they are not big, but they love music and work hard for it. I will push them for sure, but also find more good artists.

What’s your latest release?
The latest release is the Sugar Free EP by Hibbert, available on Beatport now.

Raphael Valensi, Huashan Records 

Huashan Records has been going since 2011-2012, who’s behind it?
It’s me and Clem from Acid Pony Club. 

Why did you start the label? 
To release all that weird techno stuff that we were making and couldn’t release with our main project The Horses. We knew if we released and promoted it as ours people here wouldn’t pay attention, so we created a person and a label around it and did the first release that was noticed by everybody. It was just a PR stunt really. 

"MophManReleaseArtwork-crop"From the irregularity of releases it doesn’t seem like it’s too much of a money spinner…
Man, this is 2014. If your goal is to make money out of music, you’re in for quite the disappointment. I can never look at music as a source of income; it’s a passion - I’m a fucking hippie like that! 

How do you promote the releases?
That’s a really good question, we’re seriously shit at promoting. We send promos to a lot of blogs and post stuff online, but we get very few reviews and feedback. I am just happy to put my music out there; if 10 people listen it’s already more than I ever thought.

Do you think the advent of digital labels has had an effect on the quality of music?
I think my general frustration with dance music comes from the fact that people have no filter as to what they release. To be honest I think it’s a larger cultural phenomenon: quality photography is being replaced by pointless Instagram bullshit; good journalism is being replaced by a flood of useless blogs. It’s terrifying because it means that even though quality is still out there, it’s lost in a sea of mediocrity.

Any releases coming up?
Clem is working on his solo album under his Clark K moniker; it’s basically IDM like you haven’t heard it in a while. I have two releases coming up with Nahash and I’m releasing an album by a band called The Other that should come out early September.

Riccardo Franco, OD Music Group

What made you start a record label in Shanghai?
The music business in Italy is really weak in comparison to other countries. Starting a label there is useless, so I looked elsewhere, and Shanghai seemed a very appropriate place. 

What artists are you pushing?
Lately we’ve been working with many producers from the UK, because UK House alongside the ‘bass music’ scene is getting bigger and we really like that sound. 

"nahash-aruin-digital-large-"Has being based in Shanghai had a positive or negative effect on the label?
I can pretty confidently say positive. Being here sounds quite exotic, and artists are very curious about this new market, which pushes them to have an interest in releasing their music through us. 

What advice would you give someone who is looking to start a label?
Running a label isn’t a simple task. It requires a lot of time and money, and in the end you’ll realise it’s not even particularly profitable. If you really want to spend your lifetime running a label, make it a free-download one, that way at least you can build a solid fan base for free. 

Any releases coming up?
We’ve got an amazing single by Crown Duels and DrDr called ‘Easily’, a strong EP by Hybrid Theory and…I can’t reveal everything to you! 

Conrank, Rankadank Records

Who is behind the label?
Originally it was started by just me, then old friend Deadlock moved to Shanghai and joined the team. Now it’s grown even more: me, Deadlock, Zean, Misloop and Q-Kraft are all involved in the running of Rankadank and sub-brand Electric East.

"Conrank-crop"Why did you start the label? 
I decided rather than shopping my music at the start I would just release it myself. The label is really focused on good quality bass music, and on finding quality Chinese producers too. 

Which artists are you pushing?
The artists we are focusing on in China are Zean and 3ASiC. Outside of China we are currently working with up and coming producers from Holland called Mad Fellow and Chrisis. We are also focused on supporting our own, so look out for Misloop and Q-Kraft releases in the future.

Any releases coming up?
The Phantom EP by Mad Fellow and Chrisis is out on Sunday 10 August.

Is running a label a viable way to make a living?
No, to be brutal, but it’s fun and I enjoy having it running alongside everything else I do. It’s part of me and my life as a musician, but it’s not a money maker.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about starting their own label?
Do it, but be prepared to put in time and money, and not get it back. Do it for the love, never do it for financial gain, ’cause it’s very unlikely you will see any. But who knows hey?