The always excellent, pigeonhole-transcending Black Acre Records, quite simply, keep releasing so much heat that we thought we should catch up with the instigators behind this slew of goodness. Laying foundations back in 2007/08 with a string of sturdy dubstep records, they have since handed debuts to a heady selection of our favourite artists – Blue Daisy, Fantastic Mr Fox, Loops Haunt, Dark Sky and Romare among them – and consistently deliver some of the most compelling music around. It’s been quite the week for the team, keeping busy with Monday’s release of the highly-anticipated debut LP from Loops Haunt, their London excursion to take over Boiler Room and the announcement of the next gem from Fantastic Mr Fox. Amidst this flurry of activity, label boss and seasoned industry vet Ian Merchant has been kind enough to field a few of our questions, offering up some insight on the running of such a perennially on-point label. With 2014’s Record Store Day imminent, Ian has also hooked us up with an exclusive stream of H-SIK‘s dizzying “Virtual Introspection”, taken from the Adaptations EP due for release on the day next weekend (stream below).
Exclusive Stream: H-SIK – Virtual Introspection (Black Acre Records)
Alright Ian, we saw a telling tweet the other day; someone quoting you saying, “Unless it’s mad, I’m really not that interested”. Could you tell us about your process for selecting tracks and artists to release on Black Acre? “Ha, that was a direct quote from something I said to the ‘other’ Black Acre boss (Eva), we were discussing a new demo that was both tasteful and ‘on trend’ but *enter quote here*. I’m very lucky to have built a (small) rep for breaking new artists so nowadays a lot of people find their own way to the label, although your artists can be the best A&R department you could ever have. What I’m looking for is a feeling of discomfort, the music sort of forces me to listen, I hear so much great music that I can’t put out because there’s no risk in it. I’m looking for people that are 100% committed to their message, no compromise.”
Speaking of breaking artists, it must be quite a buzz introducing a previously unknown producer to the world and seeing them go from strength to strength; those stunning Romare releases in particular, and the subsequent signing to Ninja Tune? “Yes totally, there’s nothing better than setting off a career like that. I’d just got into management also (thanks to Dan @ Hardlivings) and this has really completed the puzzle. Romare was the first artist I’ve been able to take from inception all the way to a record deal and it’s made the whole process make sense. Romare’s demo was one of those ‘what the hell is this’ moments, mad old African samples chopped with footwork, house and hiphop, but the deeper I got into with this guy I noticed that even the artwork was a code for the samples he’d used. I’ve never met anyone go in so hard and so deep to tell a story, Romare is a one off!”
I can imagine, those Romare bits are ridiculously good. What has been the most memorable demo you have received over the years? “Oh that’s a great question, I’ve been very lucky to have birthed so many significant artists, Dark Sky to Loops Haunt and I don’t want to underestimate the importance any of the demos, but the day Blue Daisy sent me “Space Ex” was the turning point. I’d been a hiphop artist for 15 years and was pretty disillusioned with the game, the early days of Black Acre were a bit aimless and I was just putting out whatever I could to get the engine started. If I’d have been sharper the label would’ve started with Sully and Clouds! The first time I listened to “Space Ex” I knew this was it, this is what I wanted to say with my label. Blue Daisy was such an enigma and his raw production scared off everybody else, it was the risk I wanted to take to prove this kid was a real talent.”Space Ex” gave me a reason to fight on. Oddly he’s just played me a track last week that has had the same effect called “Mermaids” – total new level, love that guy!”
How involved do you get with the creative process in terms of artwork, theme and whittling down tracks to make the cut for each release? Do you have a close relationship with your artists? You have guys like Fantastic Mr Fox who has released nearly exclusively with you for half a decade or so… “90% of my A&R is done before I decide to release a record. The personality behind the record is super important. There is a huge amount of trust needed both ways. My contribution creatively is totally tailored to the individual, I think certain guys like Fantastic Mr Fox and Blue Daisy have afforded me a massive level of trust but even then it’s more about putting an anti-bullshit force-field up around them so they can focus on being creative. In the music industry people just want to distract you the whole time so you have to block those voices. I only work with positive people who have good hearts and this has really helped to form this family vibe with Black Acre. It’s not a label as much a gang or family; the Addams Family of beats.”
Loops Haunt’s album Exits is just out and sounding brilliant. He said himself it’s not “an immediately obvious or accessible record”. It certainly seems to deliver on the absorbing, slightly challenging but great music mentioned above that you aim to release? “Yeah Loops is almost the perfect Black Acre artist; just when he’s built up an understandable scenario musically, he kills off the main character and switches the hero and villain and invents a parallel 6 part spin off series. The thing with Loops Haunt is he’s such an enigma both production wise and as an artist that you’d have to be crazy as a label to put him out unless his music was the best shit out there, which luckily for me it is so I do.”
Video: Loops Haunt – Exits Album Trailer
One thing that struck me about Black Acre’s output, especially last year, was the rate of which you have been releasing music – not far off a release a month. Repeatedly I’d be bagging the latest record whilst the preceding one was still in heavy rotation…“That’s weird ’cause I felt like I’ve been slipping over the last couple years, like I’d fallen off the radar. This year there has been a conscious change for me – I’m going in harder than ever before. I want to push Black Acre to the front, take bigger risks, make bigger waves, for too long I’ve been content to break new talent and linger like the forgotten child in the attic, I’m going for it this year.”
That said though, Black Acre gets some support from sources with massive audiences – BBC Radio 1, you just took over Boiler Room, streaming LP previews on Pitchfork etc. – are you satisfied with how the label has grown in this respect? “I’m very pleased with the fact the label’s even survived this long, old Black Acre has been a fixed point in my life during some pretty serious career horrors and personal meltdowns. Having said that I’m not a ‘glass is half full’ type, I’m more of a ‘glass is empty, by my worst enemy and smashed on the floor’ and so I’m constantly trying to drive the label forward. It’s always going to be hard because I won’t knuckle down to one easily digestible genre or vibe and so I find the online cycle of cool – uncool – cool (again) a bit draining. I’m trying to just do my own thing and hope that other folks will get it. At the end of 2013 I definitely had a ‘fuck this shit’ type epiphany reading the ‘end of year lists’ and I’m acting on it right now. It’s 2014 or bust!” Well, end of year lists worth reading are few and far between – Black Acre are certainly highly rated in our book! What do you find is the most rewarding part of running the label? “When your love for a piece of music resonates with enough people to pay the person who made the music.”
Stream: Fantastic Mr Fox Ft. Denai Moore – On My Own (Black Acre Records)
Seeing as we asked you about the most memorable Black Acre demo, has there been anything that has slipped past that you regret not signing? “There tons of artists I wish I signed but I’m so impulsive normally I catch most of the Pokèmon I’m after. There are a couple artists I wish I’d got to work with and a couple should’ve clung to a bit harder. There was a particularly messy era where loads of labels were cock fighting on the new post-dubstep folks but generally speaking I think I’ve done okay out of the music gene-pool.”
What other music are you rating at the moment outside of Black Acre bits? “Right now I think that kid Lapsley is smashing it, Denai Moore is without a doubt one of the most exciting talents coming out of the UK, also Kwesi (Blue Daisy) put me onto The Body – that album is like being drowned! In a good way. The house guy – Dan Shake – that 12 on Mahogany is wicked. Uhhh I’ve missed a bunch but that’ll do!”
Are you able to drop a few clues as to what might be on the horizon after Loops’ LP? “Yeah totally, we have a bunch of EPs; this crazy warped dancehall mutant from a guy called Lurka, super lightspeed jungle from H-SIK, an EP of remixes and freshness from Loops Haunt himself. Albums from Clap! Clap! and the man Fantastic Mr Fox (I’ve put the deposit on my castle already for this one!). Then maybe some rap stuff…”
Nice one for talking to us, Ian. Any shouts before we sign-off? “There are a couple shouts, first is the Black Acre silent assassin Eva Greene, The whole Hardlivings family especially Chevy Stace, our mascot/illustrator/artist fluffer Patch Keyes, Matt Preston, Kwesi Darko, Archie Fairhurst, Luke Harney, Stephen Gomberg, Boiler Room crew, all other really independent labels doing first records. My wife Emily for keeping me above the tide.”
Loops Haunt’s ‘Exits’ is out now. Buy here.