Carhartt WIP presents
Stones Throw & Ninja Tune
»No guts no glory« is a popular saying, meaning that sometimes you have to go beyond obstacles, fear and reason in order to turn your vision into reality. Fortunately, this attitude has always been common in the world of music, art and fashion. And thanks to the bold thinkers and fearless obsessives we now have access to the rich and multi-faceted global creative output.
Long before the present days of social media and online streaming, independent record labels have built the stomping ground for artists that have substantially shaped the musical landscape over the course of the last decades. These labels have dug deep to find new, unique sounds and nurtured artists rather than creating them. Liberated from the demands of the revenue-driven mainstream music business, they stuck to their taste and persistence, even if it didn’t always pay the bills.
Carhartt WIP presents RELEVANT PARTIES, a new monthly podcast series about some of the world’s most pioneering and influential independent record labels of all times. Among them are lables like Stones Throw Records, Ninja Tune, Ghostly International and Jazzy Sport. The project features labels and scenes that have greatly influenced us and our community over the past two decades, so it’s very special to us.
The podcast series is hosted by UK music journalist Chal Ravens and we had the chance to ask her a few questions.
HHV: For those who are not familiar with your story and your work: Could you tell us about yourself and your relationship to music, culture and fashion?
Chal Ravens: I’ve been a music journalist for almost 10 years, shockingly. I’ve written for FACT, The Wire, Pitchfork and a lot of other music magazines. For a while I hosted a show on Red Bull Radio called »Top Flight« where I played genres like kuduro, dancehall, drum and bass and the ever-mutating thing we call »club«, and that kind of music is my main beat still – but as a listener I’m totally omnivorous. The same goes for culture in general – I don’t remember a time where I haven’t wanted to just inhale it all at once. Unfortunately my pressing need to know a little bit of something about everything has made me a hopeless generalist. Being a writer is the best way to put all that skimmed info to use. When it comes to clothes, I’m going to lean on an old cliche and say that I’m more interested in style than fashion – people should wear what they want. But ever since I dressed up as the pilot Amy Johnson for a school play I’ve had a thing for boilersuits.
HHV: How did this project with Carhartt WIP come to life?
CR: In much the same way as any creative project these days – through many, many emails! But obviously we had to navigate all the obstacles that 2020 laid in our path. The initial, pre-pandemic plan for recording the podcasts was much more glamorous, involving me turning up on the doorsteps of all these international record labels, vintage camera in tow, to document the whole meeting. Then the virus set us on a different timeline so we decided to do the whole project remotely. In the end it was surprisingly friction-free, which just goes to show how much the world has been transformed by digital technology and high-speed internet.
HHV: You were lucky enough to sit down with the founding forces behind some of the most important independent record labels and tastemakers of global music culture. People who have taken incredibly great risks, chosen their guts over reason and tirelessly fought for their visions. What were the most (or some) inspiring and maybe even surprising motivations behind their decisions?
CR: The thing about running an independent record label is that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. From a financial perspective it’s a bit like trying to carry a suitcase full of cash over a piranha-infested river, not knowing if the rope bridge is going to collapse with the next step. So the kind of people who do it well are the ones who are completely bloody-minded about it. In the case of the label bosses I speak to in Volume One, they’re also incredibly level-headed. With Peanut Butter Wolf and Stones Throw, for example, there was just no other option – he wrote a high school essay about how he was going to run a record label one day. With Sam at Ghostly, he knuckled down and learned about business and worked out what he needed to do to stay ahead of the curve. I think that kind of dogged persistence comes from the suspicion that you won’t really be able to do any other job – they’re just hardcore music obsessives. They’ve basically turned an illness into a career. It’s very inspiring.
HHV: Tastemakers were opinion leaders before the term influencer was even invented. How would you characterize these kind of creatives? What is it that transforms nerdism and passion into a real influence and even a business?
CR: Again, it comes down to sheer bloody-mindedness. You can’t beat persistence. It helps to be smart, of course, and it’s easy to burn out if you end up spending too much time flapping about unpaid invoices and uncleared samples. But there’s only so much that’s within the control of the label boss anyway. Being in the right place at the right time is often the difference between an interesting label and an influential one. It seems to me that the most powerful legacies have a lot to do with drawing artists into the same orbit and creating a community that captures a sound or a place or a moment in time.
HHV: There are many similarities between the world of music and the world of fashion. Both are mediums of cultural expression and in both worlds there is a mainstream vs. niche polarity. Undoubtedly fashion is greatly influenced by culture, especially subcultures, music and art. Just like record label founders, creators of independent fashion brands often have to face the same obstacles and challenges and sacrifice a lot for their creative vision. Did you ever come across this common ground in your conversations with the founders of these record labels?
CR: One thing that successful label bosses have in common with successful fashion designers is an ability to ignore passing trends and put their weight behind a creative vision that might make no sense to everyone else at the time. You have to just believe in what you’re doing – if you’re really good at it, you’ll have either carved out your own niche or perhaps even pre-empted the coming zeitgeist in some way. Stones Throw is a fantastic example of that. Peanut Butter Wolf told me that none of the hip-hop magazines were covering what they were doing in the late ‘90s – he was living in a house with Madlib and DOOM, listening to them make this incredible, game-changing music every day, yet feeling pretty much ignored by the music press. We all know who was right in the end, of course. The lesson there is not to worry what writers or »tastemakers« or gatekeepers think of what you’re making, because if it’s really, really good, they won’t understand it yet anyway.
HHV: Could you please name 3 records that define the teenage you or records that may have lastingly shaped your taste of music starting in your teenage years?
CR: »The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill« was foundational to me as a music fan – I used to sing those songs over and over. But a lot of my teenage favourites were pretty ropey in retrospect. I didn’t have any money and my house was on a dial-up connection, so I didn’t hear all that many records. Sometimes I’d leave Napster on all night and hope the connection didn’t time out before some Smiths B-side downloaded. I borrowed Deftones’ »White Pony« from a boy at school who had a cool record collection and remember being blown away by that. And one afternoon I sat and wrote out all the lyrics to »Original Pirate Material«, with one finger on the pause button. All of that makes me sound almost cool but I was also in an emo band. I definitely stand by Rage Against The Machine, though – I probably love them even more now than when I was 17.
RELEVANT PARTIES VOL.1 – Stones Throw Records
The prelude to the podcast series is a conversation with none other than Chris Manak a.k.a. Peanut Butter Wolf about his legendary label Stones Throw Records. Based in Los Angeles since 1996, Stones Throw has been mixing up the global music scene with unique sounds and artists from a variety of genres, ranging from hip hop, funk and jazz to experimental psychedelic rock. We have Stones Throw to thank for incomparable artists such as J Dilla, Madlib, DaM-FunK and The Egyptian Lover. Among the highlights of recent years are names like Sudan Archives, MNDSGN, Mayer Hawthorne and Knxwledge. There are many stories to hear and many things to learn:
By the way, Carhartt WIP sent each record label an analogue photo camera and asked them to take some snapshots. Here are some of them taken by Jeff Jank, longtime art director of Stones Throw and an integral part of the family since the early days of Madlib/Quasimoto, MF DOOM and DaM-FunK.
Head to HHV Records to discover our Stones Throw Range: Stones Throw Records
RELEVANT PARTIES VOL.2 – Ninja Tune
Who of you still knows the Solid Steel radio show and mix series, which has been around for more than 30 years? Feeling old? Yeah, us too. It’s fair to say that Solid Steel has had a major influence on what many of us here at HHV heard in our twenties. Artists such as Roots Manuva, Andy Smith, Cut Chemist, DJ Shadow, Mr Scruff and many more have made it into our fields mostly through the Solid Steel platform. Matt Black and Jonathan Moore, also known as Coldcut, are the names behind Solid Steel. They founded their record label Ninja Tune back in 1990 as an antipole to major record labels and since then have been responsible for the innovative and varied sound from artists such as Bonobo, The Cinematic Orchestra, Thundercat and Flying Lotus. In RELEVANT PARTIES Volume 2 you can hear everything about the creation and philosophy of Ninja Tune:
And here are some Ninja Tune snapshots taken by Chal Ravens:
Head to HHV Records for our Ninja Tune Range: Ninja Tune
Stay tuned for the next monthly episodes of Carhartt WIP RELEVANT PARTIES featuring conversations with the founders of many other groundbreaking independent record labels from around the globe.