It all started digital and melted into a highly respected vinyl label: since 2008 Hivern Discs spreads unique sounds out of the heart of Barcelona.
In the beginning the label that was co-founded by producer and DJ John Talabot, was linked to the sample-heavy, disco and pop affected house, that Talabot and his Madrid based buddy Pional produced at the end of the last decade. Furthermore techno and minimal are part of the early output, as well as synthesised psychedelia and electronica of all colours. All wrapped in hand stamped or one-off designed covers that have been outlined by their in-house designer Arnau Pi. While in the beginning Hivern Discs featured mostly Spanish artists, the roster opened around 2013 and features today in demand artists from all around the globe like Roman Flügel, Man Power, Red Axes, INIT, Marvin & Guy or Dorisburg. Just shortly after the Catalan imprint launched a new sub-label called HVNX, Hivern Discs founder John Talabot and label A&R Dani Baughman selected some of their favourite tracks on the label’s catalogue as well as some forthcoming music and never-to-be-released material for a Carhartt WIP Radio show and Daniel Baughman mixed it all down in the Hivern way. To accompany his thrilling show, we spoke to Hivern Discs string-puller John Talabot about his label, the ethos behind it and more. Enjoy.
Hey John, any role model, inspiration, or benchmark for Hivern Discs when it was launched 2008?
John Talabot: When the label started, we were still wondering what kind of music we were going to release. We had our own ideas but there wasn't any kind of sound or music associated with them yet. Just some artists around us with good music to release. We wanted to put out anything that we liked, but this is difficult to sell as it is difficult for people to follow you and know what to expect. Usually, it's easier for people to understand a label that releases either techno or house, or the same kind of sound. But we wanted to be wide open as our taste was. Also, our visual imaginary was a bit chaotic as we wanted to treat every release as a single release with a proper artwork, artist preferences, etc. We had in our mind labels like Warp. More than purely dancefloor labels, although we wanted to find a good balance as we always loved the 12" kind of design, too. The idea was not getting bored of ourselves. I think that with time people are getting used to our style, musically and visually. Now every release can be a small surprise, and people understand it a bit as we act like a curator. They're not sure what to expect, but they kind of trust us. It took some time though.
What musical qualities do you look for? What does an artist need to have in order to release him?
John Talabot: It depends on the artist. We try to release the music we like, but we also try to avoid trends and to look for artists that have a good concept about their music. If the artist has trouble with the concept, we are happy to help him. Also with the track selection, the visual mood board and what else he wants for his music. We like to work closely with them to give them the best option for their music and releases.
Hivern Discs have a new sub label called HVNX. Can you tell us a bit about this new subdivision?
John Talabot: The main label has been focused on some club sounds lately, and the schedule is so tight that I felt a bit constricted by the label's schedule so I decided to make this sublabel for things that need a special platform and are not necessarily related to the main label schedule. The idea behind it is trying to release nice mini LPs, or compilations of projects we like. Maybe a recording session that was made in a few days, maybe a weird soundtrack that an artist has done for a specific project or a conceptual sound design experiment. We want to put out special records that we really like, and have an experimental or conceptual twist. It's also an interesting platform for us as we can be involved with artists that are not specifically focused on club music so we can take part in other kind of projects and help them release their music.
How important are the non-musical components of your releases, ie. packaging and album art in your opinion?
John Talabot: Well, they are really important for us as you can imagine. We tend to try to make our own identity and we work with different designers and illustrators. Again, we act as curators with people we want to work with, trying to give each release the best artwork related to the artist conception. It makes things slower, as we take quite a lot of time thinking about it, but it's also rewarding and fun to be involved in complex artworks and printings. We do some experiments with stamps, silkscreens and sometimes we have an idea, but we need to find out how to bring it to life without increasing the price of the record too much.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your label?
John Talabot: I like to think that our incisive moments haven’t arrived yet. I like to focus on enjoying what we have to do more than in what we've already done. This creates a problem in me, as it's hard for me to enjoy the sweet moments but it's also great because I'm always excited about what Hivern has yet to achieve. That is one of the main reasons why we don't reissue any of our records for now. I don't like to spend any energy on what we already released or done. We put all our energy and efforts in releasing the next thing we have.
Do you have a "wish list" of musicians you'd like to see on Hivern Discs?
John Talabot: There are many people I would like to release, but I don't have any preference at the same time. We will release the music from whoever we like or think is good, newcomer or not, people with whom we might build a stable relationship or people that might won't release any other music ever. There is no plan or destiny at this point with the label and it's exciting how it is.
There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualization, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?
John Talabot: I feel both poles are important. The digital format is interesting as I always had some kind of fascination for spontaneous things. Doing a 50 min jam in the morning, mastering it after lunch and being able to sell it in the night is something quite fascinating to me. And it feels exciting. But on the other hand, some labels have been using the digital format without any kind of care or interest, just using it as a factory (same cover, same music, same boring thing) and thinking in their own benefit more than in the artist or their audience. Releasing music in digital format has low costs, so some labels realized that the more you have online, even if it's bad, the more money you make, because, in terms of visibility, it works like this. So we have a huge amount of labels in digital that release 80 eps per year without any kind of criteria. Vinyl is more expensive and the process is quite long, so it feels like vinyl pressing is almost an investment and you need to think a lot if you are really sure what you're going to press. You need to be sure you want to release the music, you need to be sure you will be able to recoup the money or that this record deserves to be pressed even if you don't sell one single copy and you still want to do it because this is your passion. For the label both parts are important. For us, digital is a way to earn a bit more money to take care of our label structure and that artists are able to receive more money from the sales of their music. This is never a bad thing. But we take care of both sides and think of what is the best move for us, the music and the artist. And for us vinyl is always a pleasure as we really enjoy all the graphic and printing process.
Music-sharing sites and -blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today? In what way does the abundance of music change our perception of it?
John Talabot: For me music is a necessity so, as a music addict, the more you have the better. Blogs, new releases and old stuff popping up like crazy nowadays. And it is true that you always feel a bit lost and overwhelmed. Is it good or bad? I don't know. I feel quite privileged of being able to fill my collection with weird disco from Poland, weird dub from Nigeria, crazy synth sounds from Japan and ambient from Spain. On the other hand, I must admit I stopped reading any kind of press about releases or reviews. I prefer to read Boomkat's or Phonica's recommendation for new music, than checking reviews in the media. It feels more fresh, direct, and I skip the part I don't like from reviews. Some blogs and Facebook pages are also super interesting to follow and I discover lots of crazy stuff from them, too. The abundance of music is there, but this shouldn't be a problem for a DJ. It takes more time, probably, as looking for new music is a 24/7 job and a quite stressful one, but I'm not the one to complain about it, because I LOVE it. And I would probably do it even if I wasn't a DJ. I find it weird that there are DJs that don't even bother about record stores and just play from the promos they receive. They're missing the funniest part of the job.
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt Radio show?
John Talabot: We made a selection of nice stuff we have in our catalogue, stuff to be released, stuff that will never be released or stuff that we have in the pipeline. Also some stuff from some friends and artists related to the label.
What tracks would your favorite mixtape include?
John Talabot: All unknown mind-blowing music I wish I had in my collection.
What kind of music would you make in a world without electricity?
John Talabot: Ha-ha - I have this weird thought sometimes, about a cataclysm where a huge sun storm provokes that all electric systems in the world crash, and it's the doom. There are no computers, synths, studios and recorders, no vinyl players also. Just people that make music live and go from one place to another to play at parties for the survivors. Percussive live tribal raves where people play drums for hours in some sort of exhausting techno Berghain set.
The role of an artist is always subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
John Talabot: For me, being an artist is a quite selfish conception. It is trying to get satisfied and getting better showing your world to others, shaping sounds, music and recordings. You invite people to this experience by sharing it, but mainly it is some sort of competitive path against your own vision and skills in getting better at showing the others your own vision of things or making them feel to be in a different world that is not theirs. But even today, nowadays I'm not sure if I consider myself as an artist, it's a word I don't like to trivialise with. For me, an artist is a person that has a strong conviction about what he does, a specific taste and vision, a rare point of view where others don't get and he shows the people a side of things that is different to the current vision. I don't usually think about an artist as a leader, an artist is somebody quite unique and that's why it's a word I don't tend to use in a gratuitous way. Dressing weird or having a special dress code doesn't make you an artist. Sometime icons are confused for artists, for me the artists word goes deeper into the definition. In music it is a bit strange to speak about art because the world we are related to takes place in a weird space between an artistic scene, which is the music and experimentation, but at the same time our culture is supported by a huge business industry, that pays for the fees, releases, selling records and tickets etc, so it is hard to place you in between this two opposite worlds and try to stay there, safe, trying to do your best creations, trying to challenge yourself and avoiding all the other inputs from the business side.
John Talabot: I like them all as they all play an interesting role in the music scene. Some of them are huge names with criteria to bring people some interesting and weird sounds, some of them act as curators and DJs for smaller crowds and more specialized public.
What old albums you rediscovered lately and what makes them special?
John Talabot: I've been rediscovering a lot of interesting Spanish stuff lately. The huge amount of weird music we had in Spain years ago is incredible and now we are rediscovering it. There's a lot of interesting stuff that only collectors and dealers had and that was completely absent from the record stores, radio stations and even in the Spanish DJ scene.
What are your biggest musical influences in general?
John Talabot: This is really strange but I never had one single idol in terms of music. I like many artists and I love many artists that at some point of their lives and careers did some incredible stuff. But I never had one pivotal artist, which I would copy. But I can tell some of the ones I still admire and I feel their integrity is superior. For example, Arthur Russell. His albums are the perfect mix of experimentation and accessibility, something that is not easy to accomplish. Even today I feel that his albums are full of really weird production decisions that make them special and simple. But they're not. Probably this is the most difficult thing, taking all those small decisions with such a good taste and intention.
What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
John Talabot: Currently my biggest challenge is to finish my next album. Also, I'm really interested in being able to work with some people I respect and admire and have fun in the studio with while jamming. Going back to do a live show and stop djing for some years is on the table, too. Let's see what I can accomplish.
What was the last book you read?
John Talabot: I read Joan Miró's biography. A quite interesting and unique Catalan painter that became a huge artist through the most local inputs of our traditions. Really interesting person, with a huge legacy that became successful due to his obsession and hard work more than his apparent artistic point of view or talent. But he was a great talent.
How do you think your generation is going to leave its mark on music culture?
John Talabot: I try to think a lot about the music that will survive us. What will be the band that will leave a mark in further generations? How many of the tracks I listen on the radio will become classics? Is Skrillex a classic for our youngest generations? What albums will become milestones in the future? I just try to think in which terms music and albums become classics or game changers. And sometimes I feel that maybe none of the music I have now in my collection will be interesting for further generations. Maybe we're missing out some incredible artists. Somebody that is not mentioned in the web and magazines. Somebody that right now sits in front of an old computer in Syria, where he or she is shaping the sound and music that will change the world. That's the good thing about music: you never know where or who is going to shape the sound of the future. And that's exciting.