This month Carhartt WIP Radio welcomes YOUTH, the Manchester-based label founded in 2017 by Andrew Lyster, aka DJ Lyster. Eclectic in style, the label’s output has spanned dubstep, electro, hip-hop, IDM, techno, wave and other experimental abstractions. The result is a captivating and thoroughly contemporary sound, with an equally compelling visual identity, likely owing to Lyster’s own design background.
The eclecticism of YOUTH is not limited to its sound, however, with an artist roster that includes local acts such as FUMU and Sockethead, as well as the visual artist and producer Dijit from Egypt, enigmatic producer Ssiege, and Hoshina Anniversary from Tokyo, Japan. Additionally, the label has released work by UK producer Joy Orbison, via his Sin Falta pseudonym.
For Carhartt WIP Radio DJ Lyster prepared a trip through the nascent archives of YOUTH, to “hopefully give an idea of the label's past and an idea of where it’s going.” We also sat down with Lyster to discuss the YOUTH’s origins, curating an album from a body of tracks, and the enduring importance of record labels in a digital era.
Hey Andrew, what made you start your own label in 2017?
DJ Lyster: I ran a label and organized parties for years before YOUTH with some close friends, but it had naturally run its course. We were all invested in different projects and had moved to different cities. Also, I wanted to pursue something that was free to take in any direction I wanted.
How do you find new artists for the label?
DJ Lyster: Some of the artists on the label were friends a long time before YOUTH started, some have become friends in the process. FUMU was coming to nights I was putting on for years. I always asked him about where he was up to with his music and finally got him to share it with me after 5-plus years. The same [happened] with Sockethead. Some people I’m approaching, some are approaching me on Soundcloud or whatever, some people have emailed me stuff, so I just follow up. I’m just going with my gut. I want to work with good people who I believe in and invest time and energy into them. But most importantly the music has to be right.
How much involvement do you have in shaping artists’ music?
DJ Lyster: The artist has to be fully behind what they are releasing and so do I. We have open discussions about tracks, artwork, mastering etc. With the music, if I think something isn’t right I will mention it, but only to a certain level, I don’t like to get too technical about someone’s track or a sound. I don’t want to meddle in the art. I enjoy compiling – the more music the artist brings to the table, the better. In some cases, an artist can find it hard to be subjective about their own work, so to be involved in the compiling and order of an album or release I feel is very important, and also a challenge that I love. It’s similar to putting a mix together. Putting someone else’s music into an order and showing it to them and they suddenly see a track in a different context is exciting. Picking the opening track of an album for example, the first sound you hear when you put the needle down, it’s important. Sometimes the artist will have an idea for the artwork, sometimes they can show me an amazing image, or sometimes they’ll want me to create something original. I saw what ended up being Dijit’s cover on his Instagram page. It was a painting of his and I suggested it would make a great cover. He loved the idea. With Sockethead, he sent me a batch of his paintings and we discussed how to incorporate them into the artwork and then I designed some custom typography to go with it. Every release has a different approach, I don’t have a set way of working, but I want each release to be a collaborative project in some way.
Stylistically YOUTH features a variety of sounds – techno, IDM, wave, electro to hip hop, dubstep, grime, downbeat etc. How would you characterize the output in your own words?
DJ Lyster: I have no idea, really. It’s a cliché, but genre isn’t something I’m thinking about. A lot of my favorite labels jump around stylistically, but the strength of selection is the thing binding it all together, and that’s the only important factor. The main thing is I want the releases to stand alone in what is a saturated market. There’s a lot of labels, a lot of people filling up space, so I want to make sure that the label is offering something worthwhile. Especially when it comes to buying physical products these days, it’s expensive, shipping an LP to the US can cost the same amount as the price of the LP. It’s crazy, so it has to be worth it.
DJ Lyster: A few years ago, me and Pete (Joy Orbison) hosted a night at Soup Kitchen in Manchester. We invited Rahim from the Bruits De La Passion crew in Paris over to come and play with us. The three of us took turns on and off all night, it was fun! A few weeks later I was listening to one of her mixes and I heard a track which I asked her about. At first, I thought it might be Hector Zazou or something, but she just sent me a Soundcloud link and it was Laila Elweskha by Dijit . I spoke to him that day and he sent a load more music, within less than a week we had compiled the full album. I was blown away that he could be sat on this stuff and not have released it already. He’s so talented and is working with so many amazing producers from that part of the world.
One of the current YOUTH releases is called Remer Cier Le Blues P.C – a tape that features diverse political thoughts on the social impact of the current Covid-19 situation. Last year you released Harj-o-Marj, the debut album of Manchester-based painter, art lecturer and DJ, Sockethead, which has a political subtext too. Do you feel that music should respond more often to wider political and social issues?
DJ Lyster: Music is 100% political. Some amazing stuff is coming out, off the back of all the shit going on around the world at the moment. Music has always been one of the most powerful ways of communication. To be involved in a release like Remer Cier’s “Le Blues P.C,” which really delivers an important political message, was an honor for me.
What future projects is the label working on now?
DJ Lyster: I have a lot in the works at the moment. Most of it will hopefully come out this year. FUMU will release his 1st LP proper, more from Sockethead, Dijit, L Lund, and a few new artists. I’m planning a series of cassette mixes too. I want to use it as a way to show respect and highlight some people I think deserve the attention.
Music has always been one of the most powerful ways of communication.
How does living in Manchester shape the work at YOUTH?
DJ Lyster: Some of the core artists from the label are through friendships built up in Manchester. There’s so much going on here the last few years with a lot of important creative communities evolving.
Do you see yourself and the label as part of any scene?
DJ Lyster: No, I don’t really think about that.
Is there still a need for labels as institutions in today’s music market?
DJ Lyster: Definitely, labels are a way in for people to worlds of new music. I see a label having the same duties as a DJ: to introduce people to music, to show people music they might not know they like, to challenge people's tastes, and to bring different music together and make it make sense. Discogs wormholes come from scanning a label’s back catalogue and going off on tangents, finding the artists or releases you find interesting. It’s a way of connecting dots.
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
DJ Lyster: I’ve gone back through the catalogue and picked out some bits to give an overview of the label. Hopefully it gives an idea of the label’s past and an idea of where it’s going.
What do you do when you're not working for YOUTH?
DJ Lyster: I’m a designer working as mon. I work with a wide range of clients in fashion, TV, music, and art.
As DJ Lyster you have played all over the UK and Europe, as well as on radio platforms like NTS Radio. How does DJing influence your label work and do you plan to DJ more, when things begin to re-open?
DJ Lyster: I’m missing DJing, travelling, seeing friends in other countries. I’m looking forward to getting back to it when it is safe. Planning a few YOUTH events in different places and something a bit different on home turf too. I hope some good will come out of the way things have gone, I think it will be tough getting back to normal, but more focus on local collectives and less big scale events will be healthy for DIY music, I think.