Reaching the ear canals of sonic explorers from the home base of Brighton, UK, SmallPrint Recordings has been pushing an ecosystem of eclectic compositional motifs and musically affluent producers since its birth in 2014. Specializing in jazz & soul influenced electronic music, SmallPrint is an archetype in directed curation; each of the nine artists featured on the label share in their influences and choices of avant-garde musical phenotypes. What materializes is a comprehensive and cohesive catalog of music and successive releases that can all on their own or in tandem be used to accurately portray the vision and direction of SmallPrint Recordings.
Humble beginnings are a common staple of underground labels, and Smallprint is no different. We had the opportunity to speak to Joe Vince, a co-founder of the label who produces under the moniker Primate, about SmallPrint’s origin and inner workings.
The Rust: What brought the three of you together to create such a particularly defined label?
Joe: The three of us met studying for a music production degree in 2011. In the beginning, we were all making more “dance-floor” style music, like dubstep and d&b. We definitely all had a shared interest to try and find something new which hadn't been established too much already. We all began to be interested in more ambient styles, as it seemed like the scene for that still had a lot of room for originality and hadn't necessarily been pushed very hard through other labels. Now and again we do still like to incorporate some of the heavier music that we used to make, but we generally like to still try and put a bit of a twist on it when we do.
Together with Vince, Mark Aidallbery (Marka) and Luke Wightman (Effluent) spearhead the label and its efforts, as well as set a standard for the aural environment they want to propagate. The nuances of jazz are effervescent throughout their productions, between organic shuffles and turn-arounds, to subtle chord dissonance and instrumental dialogue. It is a territory still ripe for exploration in the realm of electronic music, and while other artists have strived to integrate the jazz spirit into their own music, SmallPrint Recordings and its affiliate musicians have set a bar of magnanimous heights.
The Rust: Were there particular innovators/inspirations you turned to as efforts were coalesced to bring Smallprint to life?
Joe: There have been quite a few different artists and labels we've taken influences from over the years. Artists such as Geode, Jafu, Mercy, Gerwin, and all the other people on the Chord Marauders team really inspired us with the potential of more low key and slightly jazzy bass music. Then there’s also influences from hip-hop instrumental artists like Moods, Birocratic, and Flamingosis. There's also more new styles of electronic music appearing now from producers like Tennyson and a lot of people from Night Owl Collective, which helps keep things interesting and unpredictable with the kinds of things we're hearing in electronic music. Aside from that, there's a load of bands and musicians who really inspire us with what they're doing; People like Snarky Puppy, Hiatus Kaiyote and Vulfpeck, who although are very different from what we do, are all really good examples of how the jazz scene is generally growing and developing in new ways.
The Rust: Why the jazz influence? Is it a shared commonality amongst the founders? Do you feel there is a particular emotional landscape that you’re trying to curate?
Joe: The jazz influence is strong in our releases because it was a sound that we were all initially attracted to. The way the chords can sound slightly off, but then when done well, fits a track nicely is something we all found interesting. There seems to be a big rise in jazz influenced music in lots of different styles, but we feel that it hasn't had a chance to reach its full potential in the “bass" music scene. There are also a number of really good other artists pushing the Jazz sound at the moment - the majority of the music we listen to is heavily jazz/soul influenced, but it generally seems to have a slightly different vibe to most of the stuff we've released. Jazz isn't our only influence though. We take lots of rhythmic influences from genres like Hip-Hop, Dubstep, House and Garage. And then sometimes even some kind of melodic styles and textures from other genres like Progressive Rock and Funk.
The cumulative rhythmic influences are pervasive throughout their catalog. While the compositional influences remain consistent from artist to artist, the tempo and stylistic direction of the tracks released through the label vary greatly. It is a measurable milestone that sets SmallPrint Recordings apart from other labels, where tempo and sound may begin to fall stagnant in variation.
The Rust: Do you intend to maintain the jazz/soul focus on the productions you propagate?
Joe: Jazz and soul will always be apart of our influences, so those genres are most likely to be featured in quite a lot of our future releases, but it's hard to judge what kinds of things are going to happen next. Tastes can change and there might be a new kind of sound which emerges and becomes something we're interested pushing on the label as well.
The Rust: The individual stylizations of all the artists on the label are incredibly specific; do you ever feel there is a difficulty propagating electronic music that does not fit more popular molds?
Joe: It is difficult sometimes because there often doesn't seem to be a huge scene for the music we're pushing, but that's one of the reasons we enjoy what we're doing. We're attempting to try and bring something a bit different to the table. Also, it is an amazing feeling to have people on the other side of the world who are inspired by the same music as us, even if it hasn't become fully established in one place yet. We can always hope that one day it turns out that we were on the right side of history by pushing this kind of music now, but we'll have to wait and see.
Following musical trends is an exhaustive endeavor that can often feel like “chasing the purple dragon”, so to speak. Diving into less popular, more eclectic sounds, however, can yield notably more organic results. Actively promoting alternative electronic productions has made SmallPrint Recordings a one-stop-shop for those who find themselves attracted to less saturated circles of artists and content creators. On December 17th, SmallPrint released it’s third installment of the Smallprint Volume series, a compilation of 35 artists from the UK, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Syria, the US, Canada and Russia. Some are SmallPrint labelmates, but many are artists who have been uncovered in much deeper musical rabbit holes from across the globe, putting on the table the powerful influence this label has in propagating a sound that they feel must be heard and digested.
The Rust: What is your ideology behind whose music you choose to release through the label, and who you sign onto the team?
Joe: We're always on the look out for more talented artists to release with SmallPrint. We try to work with as many artists as we can, even if it doesn't fit with exactly what we've done before. As long as we like the music and it doesn't seem completely out of place, we still incorporate it. Our general aim is to use SmallPrint as a platform for who we consider to be the upcoming artists of the future, so we'll always try and find a place for the music we're passionate about.
The Rust: What are your future intentions for SmallPrint Recordings? How do you see the organization growing from this point?
Joe: We've got a fair few ideas and plans for SmallPrint in the near future. There are EP's and singles lined up for the start of next year and we're about to get into making more music videos. Also, we've gained another member of SmallPrint, Nick. A really talented designer and photographer who's now leading the design side of things. We've got a selection of merchandise which we're just about to launch such as, 4 different designs and will all be available soon through our website. We will also have CD's of Vol. 3 on there very shortly. As well as that, we're about to launch SmallPrint Ingredients. This is going to be our sample pack platform with our first sample pack release very soon.
For those who are in search of intelligent design and musicality to wet their palate, SmallPrint Recordings will provide the absolute finest in left-field, off-kilter sonic servings. Dipping their hands in as many aspects of the electronic music industry as possible, casual listeners and passionate producers alike must keep their ears privy to everything coming out of this label, or risk missing out on indulging in the development of an aural enterprise unlike the vast multitude of their contemporaries.