strictly kev (dj food) - the death of output - the interview
(recently strictly kev has been in mourning over the loss of one of his fave labels, output recordings, so to ease the pain he has collated a 3 hour long mix of the labels highlights and put the results up onto solid steel radio.
the tracklists are over on the blog : part 1, part 2 and part 3)
... however, prior to all this is the small matter of the 3 recent epic
mixes that you have compiled to celebrate the life of the Trevor
Jackson’s Output label, that regrettably came to an abrupt end in 2006.
so let's cover some of the obvious issues.
what was it about Output releases that appealed to you ?
Well it has the two most important aspects of any good record label;
great, experimental music and a strong identity with interesting
after all, the music of the label was very much part of the 80s/electro
revival, that to many seems to be at odds with the type of music that
people normally associate with yourself ?
I love electro as much as the next man but there was so much more to
the label than that, it’s just what it became most known for. It
started (much like Ninja) as a platform for Trevor Jackson’s various
guises like The Underdog and Skull, then moved on with many Fridge, and
later, Four Tet releases.
discussions before have revealed you to be a bit of a hardcore vinyl
collector, so, was it a purely esoteric 'gotta have them all' urge that
drove you to get the labels records ?
Of course I’m not into every release but the success rate was high and
around the 40th release they started doing special coloured
screenprinted sleeves for the promo 12”s and I picked up as many of
those as I could. They were basically just test pressings screenprinted
across one side (cover and label) and then stamped with a title and
tracklist on the other. I’m a big fan of handmade record sleeves so I
ended up getting loads and most of the music is great.
what’s missing from your Output collection that readers of this can
help you track down, or is it all done and dusted now ?
There are a few things that may be floating about on promo CD or 12”
from the last 10-15 releases that actually didn’t get released
officially. For instance I got a Lopazz album promo on CD with the cat
no. OPR92, this was an entirely different artist and release when the
final download only tracks went up on the website. Also there was
apparently a vinyl edition of Icarus’s ‘Squid Ink’ LP which was
scrapped because the ink on the covers was so thick that they all stuck
together, I’d like to get my hands on one of those. There are a few
other bits I don’t have the promos for but they’ll turn up.
so about the 3 mixes, what was the driving force behind this idea,
other than the fact you liked a lot of the music ?
Originally it was going to be 2 hours but I had so much material that I
wanted to get in it turned into 3. I’m into themed mixes at the moment,
I can’t get too excited about doing mixes which don’t have a common
thread (says he who is about to release just such a mix) Things like
this and the Kraftwerk Kover mixes I’ve been doing really force you to
concentrate because the scope is more limited than a wide open brief.
It forces you to work within boundaries and limitations and make the
best out of them. Not too many people seemed bothered when the label
went under but I thought it was worth celebrating (the music, not it
going under). So many labels and shops have bitten the dust recently
and people seem to just make a flippant comment and move along. These
people have worked their arses off for years and for what?
you broke it into three separate chunks - was there any reason to the
track selection for each section, or did you just decide on what gave a
good flow ?
it was largely based on tempo and how things sat together, also our
Solid Steel show is 2 hours so it has been broken up over 2 months as 3
segments within that format.
surely 3 hour long mixes is quite excessive for a label that only
lasted for a few years, i mean, some hip hop djs collate whole
generations of catalogues into a single mix cd. was it really need to
be that long, or, was it a case of your love for the music took over
and you couldn't take any out ?
Well, it was around for a decade and they nearly got to 100 releases
but it all depends on the way you want to do it. I could have condensed
it into an hour probably but a lot of the tracks are 5 minutes plus,
there are songs and club tracks and I wanted to do something that
wasn’t too complex that would let the music breath a little. Take Four
Tet’s music for instance: lots of it unfolds over time, same with
Fridge, I edited a lot of the tracks down a bit but still they’d be
taking up 5 minutes or more. I dunno, I wanted to make it quite simple,
basic mixing, not too much clutter, sort of like a club set really.
do you think that in years to come, people will come to look back on
the labels output (pun intended) in the same way that people are now
beginning to readdress the legacy of mowax (possibly!) and realise that
actually the label was on the money and released some brilliant music.
I think so, some people think that anyway, it’s already been described
as the modern day Factory which isn’t far off the mark apart from the
huge chart successes. Compared to some labels from the 60’s and 70’s
that are now lauded in magazines like Record Collector and Wax Poetics
I’d say it was fairly well regarded when it was still active.
whenever i mention Output i always seem to get the usual, 'oh that's
just music for people to take drugs to', do you think the label had a
problem with being too closely tied to the hipster/vice magazine
lifestyle, and therefore never had a chance to achieve the commercial
potential that possibly should have happened ?
Certain acts did pretty well out of it, LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture
were first given exposure through Output in the UK and Four Tet has
done great things since. I thing Playgroup should have been huge and
have no idea why they weren’t, Colder was critically acclaimed but I
don’t know how many he sold. Maybe the hip Hoxton connection may have
hindered them a bit but I doubt much outside of London.
or, was Trevor too far ahead of the curve with his choice of signings
meaning that (excellent) releases such as Dead Combo were never going
to shift enough units to pay the bills ?
I think sometimes yeah, even for London crowds who are usually spoilt
and hip to (and bored of) a lot very quickly he was ahead of the game.
You only need to look at a lot of the generic electroclash artwork that
came after the initial burst to see that they were copying Output to a
certain extent. He probably signed exactly what he liked (he licensed a
lot of stuff too) threw it at the wall and hoped some of it stuck.
do you think in the new world that a label that tried to really appeal
to those that love the old school values of limited 12" pressings and
attentive packaging are actually asking for troubles in the
free-for-all days, and therefore the label was due to fail from the
At the moment I think we could be seeing the last days of labels like
this although you never know what’s around the corner. Anyone starting
a new (physical) label now has the odds stacked against them in terms
of recouping costs but most small labels only need one big charting act
to bankroll the rest it seems. You CAN make it work but you have to
have a business head on you as well as an A&R head, doing it for the
love of it will only get you so far, Saying that, I still think there
is a market for an exclusive physical release, I’m trying to make all
releases I design different in some way to each other to encourage
multi format purchases.
i notice that in the selections you actually used some of the final
tracks that were released as free mp3s after the announcement of the
label closing. do you have concerns with recent rule changes over the
charts allowing for downloads to be chart eligible even without a
physical release will stop labels such as Output from existing ever
again, or will there always be a select few to whom the spinning black
plastic is just far too special ?
As I said above I think there is a market for it at the moment, I’m not
sure how long that will last but people tend to write off things way
too early so I think there may be a couple of decades left for that
sort of thing. It may be that forces above the music industry’s control
like supplies of petroleum to manufacture vinyl are depleted or cut
back before demand runs out though.
and therefore finally, to finish this themed set of questions off,
having always been a dedicated label collector, which labels, other
than ninja tune of course, should i be on the lookout for ?
The labels I check for that are currently operating with exceptional
art and music content are Twisted Nerve / Finders Keepers, Stones
Throw, Bully, DC Recordings and Trunk