Originating from Glasgow, the label is currently operating in London and Berlin. The name firstly has been used since late 2007 by the label's man in charge, Andrew Thomson to promote parties - bringing the likes of Oni Ayhun, Veronica Vasicka, Saschienne, Helena Hauff, Rebolledo and Acid Arab to the UK for the first time - and host album release launches for the likes of Daphni, Actress, Matias Aguayo and James Holden. After a while he and his Scottish friend Brian d'Souza (aka Auntie Flo) decided also to release music under the Huntleys + Palmers umbrella, too. And this with the aim to spread exciting new electronic sounds from all around the world, not only from their local peers. So far they have released music from the Glasgow based producer and DJ Auntie Flo as well as many young talents like Alejandro Paz and Mamacita from Santiago De Chile, DJs Pareja and Carisma from Buenos Aires, young UK producer SOPHIE, Berlin based French girl rRoxymore, and more friends from the UK like Cruffy, Prophets Of The South or Petwo Evans. For Carhartt WIP Radio Huntleys + Palmers main act Auntie Flo mixed a show that takes a look at some of their most haunting releases from the past as well as shading some limelight on soon to be released brand new stuff. To gain an insight into the widely ramified world of Huntleys + Palmers we talked also to Andrew Thomson about the old times in his hometown Glasgow, the origin of the labels name, thoughts on music in general and some stuff behind the scenes that shed a light on how heartfelt this young, free spirited and blessed label is operating.
Hey Andrew – can you introduce yourself for us a bit? Where are you coming from, what is your occupation?
Andrew Thomson: Hi, I'm Andrew. I promote parties and release records under the name Huntleys + Palmers. I'm from Glasgow, currently based between Berlin and London.
How did you first get into music and when did you decide you wanted to make music your career?
Andrew Thomson: As I'm sure with many others who are involved in music, I used to be the 'music guy' (or one of) amongst my mates; looking for new music, making CD's for friends, keeping an eye on listings to see who was coming to town, etc. Everything else I've been doing since isan extension of that desire to share music; be it through inviting an amazing guest to play, releasing a record or playing out. I started promoting parties in my hometown of Glasgow back in 2007 and once I'd overcame the stress of the first one, I had got the bug and continued to do more and more with a fervent approach that has probably been most accurately described as 'compulsive'. Working with many of my musical heroes and inspirations on a regular basis, what's not to love?
If you could describe the sound of your label Huntleys + Palmers in one sentence, what would it be?
Andrew Thomson: Exciting new electronic music from around the world.
Where does the label name come from?
Andrew Thomson: I booked Pilooski to play my first party and needed a name for the night pretty quickly. Around the same time, I had read about this court case in the 1950’s, which decriminalised homosexuality and prostitution in the UK. Given the prim and conservative nature of the time, the defendants were given code names 'Huntleys' and 'Palmers' to spare the blushes of anyone who might be offended. At the time I quite liked the sleazy connotations attached and the somewhat regal sounding name so decided to call the party that. Little did I know that I'd still be explaining this story on a pretty regular basis, nearly seven years later! I soon found out afterwards that the names came from what was a popular biscuit brand at the time - you can still find all these old antique H&P biscuit tins in charity and junk shops. I met someone recently who thought that the biscuit company was rebranding and putting on music events in an attempt to cater for a youth market! I don't think they'd last very long if they were hoping to attract such a particular audience...
Any role models, inspirations, or benchmarks for Huntleys + Palmers when it was launched in 2011?
Andrew Thomson: The parties came first and were born out of a frustration that certain artists and sounds I was discovering were not getting much attention in Glasgow at that point. The further I became involved in music, the more people I got to know who ran labels, notably the Numbers and Optimo guys in Glasgow and also people I'd became friends with through booking or playing with them, so it felt pretty natural to gravitate towards starting my own label. I didn't really want to go after artists who were already out there and maintained the belief that the right music would find me. It did in the form of Auntie Flo's Future Rhythm Machine - which managed to capture everything I was currently exploring musically at the time. I guess similar to promoting events prior to that, I didn't have much of a plan beyond the first few releases and let things happen at their own pace. I should also credit Jackmaster who was greatly supportive and helpful when it came to the mechanics of getting the label off the ground. Musically, Cómeme were certainly a big inspiration at the time, they were a real breath of fresh air after the dreary minimal / tech-house / nu-disco edits that was doing the rounds, fortunately things have changed for the better on that front in recent times, and Cómeme are still playing an important role.
Who else beside you is involved in the label’s work? What do you do for Huntleys + Palmers on a day-to-day basis?
Andrew Thomson: Most of the day to do day admin work is myself, although both Brian (d'Souza) and Esa (Williams) play varying roles as well - I would usually bounce ideas or seek an extra opinion before signing anything. They've also been useful providing technical support and they of course serve as ambassadors when playing around the world. Kompakt distributes the label and provides a sterling framework of support to keep me on my toes. With the release schedule now picking up pace - we'll release more this year any other combined - there's lot more to be done. On a daily basis I'll be promoting the current release to the public, scheduling press and DJ feedback for the next one whilst sorting out artwork and mastering for the one after that. Having promoted multiple events for several years, there's not much of a difference. I also try to work with each individual artist to suggest what their next step should be, sort out label showcases in various cities and manage Auntie Flo.
What musical qualities do you look for as a "curator" of music? And what does a track or an artist need to have for you in order to work with him/her or to release it?
Andrew Thomson: It's a difficult thing to define really but I'd like to think I've developed an ear for a good track. I have little to no technical knowledge with regards to how music is made, which is something I value as it means everything comes down to whether I like the track or not. I've always had a bit of an aversion to trends and hype, so anything which is distinctive is a start. Usually good tracks will have something that brings me back to them and if they stick in my head after a few listens, is a sign of something worth exploring. Besides that, having a bit of common ground musically with the label is a big help - you can usually tell when a demo is worth listening to or not just based on how it's presented by the artist.
How would you describe the music that you release to someone that hasn’t heard of it?
Andrew Thomson: Usually with a bit of difficulty actually! It depends on the person, but I often struggle to articulate that excitement I feel when I hear great music for the first time. Listening to the Carhartt WIP H+P Radio show though, is the first time I've heard all the label tracks side by side in such a fashion and Brian has done a great job bringing out some common qualities - here it's clear that the music is vibrant, immediate and international.
Can you give some advice to someone who is interested in starting his or her own label?
Andrew Thomson: Just do it! Why not? Trust your ears.
Before you moved to London and Berlin you lived in Glasgow? What was it like growing up there and how did it inspire you to do what you do?
Andrew Thomson: There's a lot that has been said about the amazing music scene in Glasgow, and with good reason. Having spent time away in other cities - arguably Europe's capital 'party' destinations, neither live up to what a great night out in Glasgow has the potential to become. Comparatively speaking, there isn't much to do in a city where it rains maybe 70% of the time and the most positive results from this are people getting creative and partying. It's no surprise that the city's Art School has produced an astonishing number of Turner Prize winners and nominees, the amount of influential bands to come from the city is pretty impressive and with a population of less than half a million people, the amount of quality venues and promoters doing great things on a weekly basis is something you take for granted growing up there. I've noticed that people tend to be more tribal in larger cities, possibly as a survival mechanism; they stick to more limited social groups. Whereas in Glasgow, because of its compact size, the city has a broad music 'scene' with a lot of cross-pollination as people are forced to interact with each other and participate more regularly than they perhaps would elsewhere. The city has a working class, industrial background, where the weekend plays an important role. As such, there is still a much more of discerning approach to partying, with strong and knowledgeable opinions being held musically by almost everyone you'll encounter. Trends don't tend to come and go quite so fast either.
After moving to London, I was taken aback by the audience indifference that I encountered at gigs and on dancefloors. I can't help but feel people have often come to such and such a venue because they've heard it's the 'cool' place to be at the time, music seems to come much further down the list of priorities, whereas in Glasgow it's usually the highest. An example of which would be that you'd never be asked to play commercial music or hip hop (or get many requests at all for that matter) in an underground Glasgow club or related bar, whereas I'm sure anyone who plays regularly in London can attest to this being commonplace. This of course doesn't apply to the whole city, there are some great parties and decent venues, but I think growing up in Glasgow increases your level of expectation, I imagined London living would be a step up and in certain regards it's an exciting city to live, although I find it lacking in the nightlife area. I guess the main problem is as more people move to the city from across the UK and Europe, regeneration and all its pitfalls come with it. These articles have been pretty insightful for the state of promoting and partying in London at the moment. I guess Glasgow isn't as affected by regeneration as much.
In terms of nightlife in Berlin, it's pretty incomparable to anywhere else. The electronic music scene is so successful that it feels like it's almost commercial. With the rise of the Easyjet clubber, there's a proper industry at play and the scene appears to be taken more seriously with support by the authorities. The main thing that's missing is the tension the finality of a night out brings - with places like Panorama Bar going on into Monday morning, you're not going to hear 'one more tune' or experience anything remotely like a good old house party back befriending some randoms at your mates flat.
With regards to being inspired, it became a question of getting involved or not. I chose the former.
Which of the tracks you released are you most proud of?
Andrew Thomson: All of them, of course! Maybe Auntie Flo's album - which was the catalyst to start the label in the first place. I'm also really pleased with the breadth of the recent Chapter 1 release, which covers a range of styles by artists from completely different backgrounds. I think the SOPHIE remix of Auntie Flo was overlooked at the time, as more people were interested in Pearson Sound on the flip, it's brilliant though.
And what was the biggest Huntleys + Palmers hit so far?
Andrew Thomson: In recent times, DrumTalk and Mamacita have received a great response and the SOPHIE record was massive! But we got off to a good start with Auntie Flo's Highlife and Oh My Days - both were played across the board from Ben UFO to Villalobos, I later learned that guys like Andrew Weatherall and Levon Vincent had picked up copies also, which was an amazing compliment. Not bad for new releases by an unknown artist, on an unheard of label. Most of our early ones sold out pretty quickly - we had to re-press the first one before it had even hit the shops!
What distinguishes Huntleys + Palmers from other labels in your opinion?
Andrew Thomson: The label has served as a launch pad or platform for emerging artists - most of the releases have been debuts by talented newcomers who have went on to enjoy varying degrees of success with the label releases and then onto work with the likes of Kompakt, Numbers, Permanent Vacation, Cómeme and For Disco Only. Only this week we had the good news that Alejandro Paz has been accepted into the Red Bull Music Academy which is a nice bit of recognition for him. Beyond (not) looking for the first record, this wasn't really a concept I had laid out for the label, but it's now something that I've embraced and I'm less likely to release anything by an established artist, unless it was a new project. To address the question in a more musical way, one of the biggest pleasures I take from playing out is when someone asks what the track playing is - that immediacy, 'WTF is this?' moment is something that I'm interested. It doesn't have been to reinventing the wheel, just music that grabs you. I'm also interesting in music that will be around for a bit longer than next week and as I occasionally hear of our early releases still getting played, I'd like to think that's already being achieved.
There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, 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?
Andrew Thomson: Somewhere in the middle. There's a romantic notion pulling me towards the latter, but I think the former is necessary - the advances in technology have resulted in such a glut of music out there, great or otherwise that it would be financially impossible to afford it all and physically impossible to store it all. On the other hand, because of this constant barrage of information, any activity, which involves being offline and frequenting shops, or attending gigs and picking up merch, can only be a good thing. So I guess the ideal would be to strike a balance between being able to use digital platforms to filter and consume new music, before investing in what is worthwhile owning as a finished product. In terms of importance, artwork comes a close second behind the music on H+P releases, we work with a handful of talented artists including Anna Kraay, Alison McLean and Fort Rixon who help maintain (a fairly broad) continuity between the releases. A few people have said that there should be more of a narrowed identity with the artwork, but I think the variety and quality complements the musical output to complete the overall package.
You also curate a weekly party at the London based club Plastic People - what are your aims concerning the booking and what distinguish your party from others in London?
Andrew Thomson: The Thursday bookings at Plastic People, as with any of the parties I've been involved in, aim to champion and celebrate high quality underground music in all its varying forms. For anyone who hasn't been, Plastic is a no frills affair, a simple dark room with an amazing soundsystem and a booking policy that prioritises good music. The way it should be. We share an affinity in the belief that just because something is new, doesn't equate to it being good. There's a shared respect for the past and where we've came from. The biggest challenge has been to work around tour schedules and manage to keep each week different from the last. Being mid-week separates us from other events and promoters straight away and allows us to provide a more intimate experience away from the overwhelming amount of choice taking place on a Friday and Saturday elsewhere. By virtue of it being mid-week, this also creates a more community spirit with many working DJ's and artists being able to come down on a night off and support friends or hang out before their own weekend schedule kicks in. I've noticed several returning faces across the nights, so hopefully after a year in the making; we're starting to produce our own community of regulars - no mean feat in London these days. We're now into our 2nd year and look forward to welcoming more new projects, labels and artists alongside regulars such as Andrew Weatherall's A Love From Outer Space, Floating Points' You're A Melody, Ivan Smagghe's Les Disques de la Mort and many more...
Are you cautious about being put into a box and do you see yourself as part of any scene?
Andrew Thomson: I consider myself being at once part of several scenes and none at all. It's quite an enjoyable position, being able to 'magpie' the treasures without getting too boxed into any one sound. Although perhaps H+P has taken a bit longer to establish itself as a result of indulging pretty broad music tastes. I think people are now joining the dots and get what it represents.
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
Andrew Thomson: The mix is a snapshot of where the label will be up until the end of this summer. It features some exclusive material forthcoming on H+P, sitting comfortably alongside old friends from the past few years. It was expertly woven together by Auntie Flo who has done well bringing all the artist's unique sounds together. The jingles are all by the label artists and friends from around the world.
What are three albums that you'll absolutely never get tired of listening to?
What can music do which all other art forms can not?
Andrew Thomson: While it can also be true of a lot of great works of music, it takes time to read a book, watch a film or absorb a painting. You react to music instantly and literally, you can't dance to a book! (Maybe with one in your jacket pocket) This also goes the other way too of course and you can respond negatively, but either way, it's immediate.
How do you spend your time in public transport - with a book, music or internet?
Andrew Thomson: Although it was always the former two, I'm sad to say the latter has became increasingly more prominent. Although I do listen to a few spoken word podcasts like This American Life, Thinking Allowed, Radiolab, etc.
When or where do you feel most at peace?
Andrew Thomson: At home with my niece.
What is your idea of happiness?
Andrew Thomson: Good chat, good music, good food. Ideally combined in some way.
What are your top five obsessions at the moment?
Blood Orange juice - seems to be pretty common in Germany
Andrew Thomson: Next up is an amazing debut EP by a new project called Wrong Steps, which I think shares certain elements with Floating Points and Metro Area, there will be a full release from Mehmet Aslan who continues to be involved in the Highlife edits, this will be his debut release with original material. New music from DrumTalk, Mamacita, etc. Further down the line, the Auntie Flo album is sounding incredible even at this early stage; I can't wait for that to be heard. Keep an eye on our Highlife edits label also. Lots more goodness on the way!