Not only because of its excellent selection of House, Techno, and other free-spirited electronic music. Also because the owners Julius Steinhoff, Just von Ahlefeld, and Peter Kersten hang out there to share their passion for music with each customer. The latter is world-wide known as a DJ and producer under his alias Lawrence and as the co-owner of the famous label Dial. The former are two buddies who run the label Smallville Records - a platform for House music full of references to the genres rich history. All releases are faced with artworks of Stefan Marx to enlarge each record with a unique value that goes beyond the music. Beside running the shop and the label Steinhoff and von Ahlefeld are also known as Smallpeople - a moniker under whom they produce and play House music that admires subtle, evolving melodies. After a string of acclaimed EPs on their own label as well as on renowned imprints like Laid, Underground Quality, or Running Back they released their debut album Salty Days in 2012 and played all around the globe since then. For Carhartt Radio they prepared a show that trips with a loose swing through the catalogue of their label Smallville Records. To get some background information about their everyday as shop owners, label makers, DJs, and producers we sent them some questions that gain an insight into the Smallville universe.
( Just von Ahlefeld & Julius Steinhoff )
Hi Just and Julius, can you introduce yourself and your work a bit for us?
Smallpeople: We are Smallpeople from Hamburg. We are running the Smallville record store and label, we host and play parties all over the world.
What is your musical background? What was the impetus behind the start-up of the label?
Smallpeople: We are both coming from the guitar and real-drums side of life, but got into electronic music naturally at some point, too. I (Julius) was working at a music distribution company before Smallville, where I've spent quite some time in the warehouse to dig for records and built a nice collection and played records whenever I was at home. In May 2005 I opened the Smallville record store together with Stella Plazonja and Pete Kersten aka Lawrence, which then became the base for everything Smallville related - like the label, which we started about a year after the shop. There was no real impetus, but we felt that we should just do this with the vision in our head and not with a calculated masterplan that was written before on paper.
What do you do for Smallville Records on a day-to-day basis?
Smallpeople: Selling records at the store, buying records for the store, listening to new records that we might need for the store, curating events in Hamburg, Berlin, and other cities - like a party we do with Carhartt WIP in Amsterdam at ADE on Sunday, 20th of October... There is always something to do...
What musical qualities do you look for as "curators" of music? What process do you follow for getting new artists?
Smallpeople: Most of the artists were friends of us before we've released music. We don't listen to a lot of demos, as there is already more then enough of good music around us. We also do not look for something special outspoken, we just need to feel it.
How is the Smallville record shop linked to the label?
Smallpeople: It's the label connected to our store and we can sell our own products there as well as records and music that we like. Plus great stuff from Stefan Marx, like new zines, books and posters.
You are very close to the folks of Dial records and one of their head-honchos – Peter Kersten aka Lawrence – is also part of Smallville Records. No conflict of interest in terms of artistical decisions and releases?
Smallpeople: No, not at all. Dial and Smallville have a completely different artist roster, though of course Pete is with both of us and all of us are friends. But Dial is existing almost the double the time, so we were fans before Smallville was even in our heads - maybe it became a dream due to it...
Smallville has a strong visual identity that is based on the works of Stefan Marx. How is he involved with the label ?
Smallpeople: Stefan Marx is a part of Smallville like we are. He is responsible for every piece of art at Smallville. If we need a new party poster he is kind of free to choose what he would like to be on it, though of course we talk about it. When it comes to covers, we often go to his studio and he shows us new material he is working on, so we can choose from these and of course he also listens to the music before. Smallville record covers are mostly full-covers and all the information about the artist happens on the back of the cover. The front is just a piece from Stefan Marx. He is also in our Smallville artist roster, he did the Smallville 25, it's a gatefold-record cover with 3 posters in there - it's called The Dead Sea.
The label’s releases can be described as House music – are you happy with this definition or do you see it different?
Smallpeople: We think everyone can name it like they want to... Probably not all releases are clean House music, but we can live with that name.
What are some labels that have influenced your work as DJs, producers, and label head-honchos?
Smallpeople: Prescription is a label that influenced both of us very much, especially as DJs. And maybe Dial is probably a rolemodel for us how to do a record label.
What exciting stuff do you have in the pipeline currently?
Smallpeople: We quite spontaneously decided to release a whole album by STL, which he offered to us a week ago. It's called Disconnected at Moments. And there will be an EP by our friend RVDS, it's called Moon on Milky Way and will be Smallville 36.
What was your biggest hit so far?
Smallpeople: Silent State from STL, it was released on Smallville 12 and is also in the Smallville mix we did. It's an extremely mesmerising track and quite an intense trip on a decent sound system. And as a DJ you can go to any direction after it. It's amazing.
Can you give some advice to someone who is interested in starting his or her own label?
Smallpeople: Don't be too disappointed if you don't get the attention you expected after your 5th or 6th release... Stay true to your sound and don't try to follow a trend. For example, if you look at Emphasis, the label of Steven Tang - he did so many outstanding releases and they have been a secret hint for people at Smallville for quite a while. We had a lot of all the releases and handed them to so many DJs that haven't heard about the label before - but were totally thrilled then... So if you just go on with your style and if you put out good music, then at some point, people will realise.
How do you think your generation is going to leave its mark on House music?
Smallpeople: We are probably the ones that helped digging deep House back out of its depression - and maybe back into another one, as the term deep House is unfortunately already sucked quite dry now due to a lot of "so-called" deep House music these days...
Which of your own tracks are you most proud of?
Smallpeople: Maybe Black Ice... We wonder if we could ever do something like this again... But we were also happy to see how good Salty Days went, that's our debut album.
What advice would you give to producers, DJs who are just starting out?
Smallpeople: Maybe buy a piece of hardware and experiment with it, it's fun to see what these machines do when you just turn some knobs... Yeah and don't try to copy the current trend, cause you might just go down with it soon after...
What makes a track exceptional to you? Tell us a classic that you feel is really outstanding and describe what it is about it that moves you so much.
Just: Paperclip People - Climax (Jamez & Dobre Remix) (Open). That track is so strong and pushing but also very deep and emotional. I really love the dirty and maybe bad production with sounds that are so quiet that you never really know if they are in that song or just made up by yourself.
Julius: Brooks – Clix (Mantis). That's one of my personal classics. I love that track and play it almost every time - meanwhile Just might get bored of it but I just can't stop. It was actually one of the first records I bought when I got my turntables in 2000 - so I started to practise djing with it and it still moves me inside. The vocals, the bassline - it's very fragile but intense in the same way... I just bought a second copy on discogs as the other one was quite played to death.
Can you remember where you first started DJing and the kind of music you were playing?
Just: First I started to play Indierock in an old sailors bar in St. Pauli and later that evolved into electronic dance music.
Julius: I first tried out turntables at a friends place with a lot of weird non-electronic music, like old Jazz and Soul Records- we recorded on minidisc - I loved it and bought turntables while doing my civilian service. In Hamburg I first played regularly at Marktstube, a bar that doesn't exist anymore- meanwhile there is a bioladen in there now. I remember playing at Pudel for the first time was like an accolade - that was with Cranque & Unique in November 2002.
What are your favourite places to play/ hang out in?
Smallpeople: The Golden Pudel Club. This is our home and base and it was the place for musical education for both of us. Nice people, good music, and no boundaries.
What can music do which all other art forms can not?
Smallpeople: Make you dance? Haha
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt Radio show?
Smallpeople: We tried to pick some well known classics but also tracks that seem not to have the attention that they deserved. And we also wanted to represent the different styles of Smallville.
What kind of music would you make in a world without electricity?
Smallpeople: Probably singer/ songwriter stuff.
What are three albums that you'll absolutely never get tired of listening to?
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (Creation Records)
Metro Area - s/t (Environ)
Pinback - Blue Screen Life (Ace Fu Records)
Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain (Columbia)
Keith Jarrett - The Köln Concert (ECM Records)
The Sea And Cake - The Fawn (Thrill Jockey)
What was your dream job as a child?
Julius: Deep-Sea Diver
What are 5 words that would describe your personal fashion style?
Smallpeople: Our Style is Free Style!