MUNICH BASED LABEL RELEASING JAZZ, SOUL, FUNK, LATIN, AFRO, BREAKS & BEATS SINCE 2005.
Read an interview of Pete Isaac (Jelly Jazz) with Jazz&Milk labelfounder Dusty and find out what the label is all about!
Hello mate! I suppose the first question has to be how Jazz & Milk came about? Was it a club night before a label?
First of all thanks a lot for your support Pete - we really appreciate it!
Actually I had never thought about the possibility of starting my own label. My friend Tim Schmitt wanted to design a vinyl record cover as part of his graphic exam in 2005. He knew some of my productions and asked me to finish some songs for a vinyl EP. The result was the “Jazz & Milk EP,” a limited edition of 300 records with silk-screen printed and hand-folded cardboard sleeves. A few weeks later a label owner introduced me to his distribution that seemed to be really interested in distributing the EP and finally the whole handmade edition was sold to Japan and we had to do a repress for the European and US market. So before I became fully aware of it I had founded my own label. The first record release party then turned out to be the starting point for the club night.
In funk music especially, thereīs many food references in song titles, so I have to ask about the name Jazz & Milk? What are the connotations in your mind?
Jazz&Milk was the title for my debut EP first of all and I simply kept it as the label name later on. Somehow I had the idea for a title with "Jazz & ...". But since my productions cannot be categorized as pure Jazz music, I really wanted to express this fact in a second title-word that shouldnīt have anything to do with Jazz. During a long ride back home from Berlin I had a chat with some friends about how tasty cookies are, once soaked in a glass of fresh milk. When thinking about the right title for the EP this story popped up in my mind - donīt ask me why but the word milk was the perfect decision. For some reason those two words combined sound quite nice to me and it turned out to be a good idea since people keep asking me for its deeper sense and what could be better than a title that makes people curious and start a conversation?
In choosing the name, did you have in mind what could follow in a graphic sense?
Not at all. Due to the label name it was logic to try something with milk and Tim realized some brilliant poster artworks over the years, showing human size milk cartons or handmade miniatures of such in funny poses. As I have mentioned before, the label really started out of the blue with nothing else than good music and artwork in our minds - no proper release plans, contracts, nothing...
Who else is involved in the label full time? Or is it very much driven by you?
Tim takes care of all the graphic work. The musical and business part is all on me.
How long had you been producing music before the first 12" came out? And had you any tracks released on other labels before this?
The Jazz&Milk EP was my first release ever. I have spent around four, often very frustrating years in front of the computer before I was able to properly use the sequencer for my purposes.
What was the scene in Munich that inspired you?
I grew up in a small village near Munich. We were a group of friends that started DJīing and collecting records together. It started with Hip Hop but soon a few other genres sparked our interest, such as Funk, Jazz, Trip Hop, Breakbeats or DrumīnBass. We really had some great eclectic parties going on and hardly ever visited Munich for parties. Actually Iīm still very happy that I didnīt grow up in the city as (what I experienced later when I moved to Munich) most other young people and DJīs seemed to focus on one specific music style only. That never was my cup of tea, even though I always loved most urban music styles. So it was mostly the records I listened to and the musicians around me that gave me a lot of inspiration. But a band from Munich that really impressed me was The Poets Of Rhythm of course. Also Funk collector Tobias Kirmayer from Tramp Records became a good friend, who was also involved in producing the track Revolver Theme.
Did you travel a lot to other places in those formative years to widen your musical horizons?
Not exactly, but luckily today my DJ gigs allow me to travel to all sorts of stunning places around the world where I have made real good friends in the meantime! Most of them make music themselves and of course we exchange a lot of ideas and knowledge, which always inspires me. For example last year I have played in Granada and recorded a great Flamenco guitarist the other day. Besides all the traveling I would definitely consider my record collection as an audible and inspirational journey around the globe ;)
Who are your inspirations and musical idols?
My uncle Christian Doepke, a professional jazz pianist taught me to play the piano when I was a kid. I was sick of classic piano lessons and always wanted to learn how to play “Take Five”. This groove has simply hypnotized me back then. As a teenager Hip Hop and the whole Trip Hop sampling movement (DJ Shadow, Moī Wax, Ninja Tune etc...) became interesting and I started DJing but never lost the interest in Jazz music. In the beginning, I listened to groovier Jazz acts such as "Cannonball Adderley" or "Idris Muhammad". Later it was names like "Ahmad Jamal", "Yusef Lateef" or "Avishai Cohen" that inspired me a lot. Over the years I discovered music from around the world, from Latin to Afro or Eastern sounds. All music that has a spiritual and percussive background wakes a lot of interest in me. The variety of influences is utterly important to me since I can’t bear to stick to one certain style all the time. Thatīs not only the case with music. I need changes and variety in my life in order to make experiences and develop myself.
9. Everything you do has an obvious progressive edge. How do you approach making music that is derived from the 1960īs and beyond?
Traditional hand made music is as important to me as modern electronic productions -I grew up with both. Trying to combine these worlds seems just a natural consequence to me. In my productions I’m trying to bring all these influences together in a new context. The melodic richness of Jazz for example with a modern electronic beat arrangement.
Latin music plays a big part in your sound, do the rhythms and arrangement possibilities offer you more than say the structure funk and soul?
You can still hear pretty much all kinds of influences in my productions but it is true that Latin and Afro music have started to loom large within the last years since I always loved percussive music. After all those years of producing and spinning sample based music I became a bit sick of hearing all those straight and structured 4/4 beats and arrangements even if they were merged with great musical input. A few years ago I discovered my ambition for Latin and Afro. Most of the music simply has a very high rhythmic and energetic level of playing. But more important, the music is diverse and absolutely not predictable. Maybe I have a bit of a rebellious attitude there but I really like things to be unpredictable, innovative and not stereotypical. It may sound a bit sarcastic since I make use of a lot of common, modern production techniques myself but Iīm always trying my best to fuse styles, keep a certain level of improvised feel in the music and express my own unique sound.
African music also is more rhythmically complex, does this also give you a better musical canvas for more challenging creativity?
Absolutely - Iīm addicted to percussive rhythms and really enjoy the poly-rhythmic richness of African music. For example, thereīs sometimes so much going in a one bar loop at the same time from a rhythmic point of view that I feel challenged to listen and understand it. Music that is not challenging in any sense bores me in the blink of an eye, thatīs why I simply need a balance and a wide variety of music around me.
Jazz is also a major component of the label, how do you perceive the development of this genre with Jazz & Milk?
I think that the essence of Jazz music has always been progression and fusion and we do nothing else. For example we have released a proper acoustic jazz album by Christian Doepke, but you can also hear Christian playing piano on my electronic productions which are still very much Jazz driven. Not just the music but also the word Jazz acts a perfect interface and language between these two different worlds. Since Jazz has its roots in African music and was the pathfinder for a lot of contemporary genres, I strongly believe in a very natural and deep connection between all those styles that we release too, such as Latin, Afrobeat or even modern beat productions.
Have you got plans on other genres and directions for the label?
First of all I am in love with good music, no matter what style. This open-minded approach will always be an essential part of the label. Itīs all about organic music styles, which certainly have a lot in common. As our approach to music is to be noncommittal you will find every single release to be heading in a new and different direction, I guess. Take our upcoming release by „Fredericks Brown“ for instance. Their sound can be categorized as pure soul music in the first instance but you can find fusions of Afrobeat and Broken Beat in there too as well as a fantastic jazzy house remix by Andreas Saag (Swell Session).
With your live act, Bad Jazz Troupe, did that come about by chance or mucking about in the studio?!
After I had finished a remix for „The Boogoos“ my friend Jerker Kluge and I came up with that idea. Jerker had written the original tune and he really liked the fusion of my remix. So we decided to create a new project from scratch. The project’s goal is to fuse new and old music styles, vintage recording techniques and electronic production methods on the same record. I guess you can catch the spirit best during our live performances. Iīm more or less replacing the drummer by triggering electronic but still very vintage sounding beats for a real club orientated vibe and several live musicians perform on top. Itīs all about groove with lots of space for improvisation. The past concerts always turned out to be a big party, rather than a stereotypical live concert with the audience playing their part as innocent bystanders waiting for the singer to motivate them to clap their hands.
When playing live, is it more of a structured improvisation performance?
For sure, we have a track listing and make use of structured brass arrangements, but besides that there’s a lot of improvisation going on. We definitely made great experiences with this concept of performing so far!
The core of Bad Jazz Troupe is Jerker Kluge and you, who else do you get to play and does this vary from gig to gig?
More than 10 musicians were involved in the recording, mainly members of "The Boogoos". But all those musicians are part of a big circle of friends who play in diverse formations such as "The Hi-Fly Orchestra", "Césarīs Salad", "The Express Brass Band" or "The Poets Of Rhythm". It is a great environment and experience to make music with all those creative musicians. On stage we are mostly five people.
Where has the band been playing? Is it mainly in Munich or have you taken it further afield?
Since we launched the project in summer 2010 we already played around three gigs in Munich including a Jazz&Milk release party and a big festival alongside acts such as "The Phenomenal Handclap Band", "Bugge Wesseltoft" and "Christian Prommerīs Drum Lesson". The EP release in December was followed by invitations to Bratislava and Vienna where we will play this month - very exciting!
Your new signing Fredericks Brown features legendary blues man Taj Mahalīs daughter Deva. Based in New Zealand, what is the story with signing them?
A friend from Poland called my attention to their myspace site and I was totally blown away by the track "Betrayal". A great mix of Arobeat brass arrangements, soulful vocals and broken beats provided by Julien Dyne (BBE). After we got in touch they sent me another tune called "Land Of Plenty" - an epic piece of music and homage to the landscape of New Zealand. Iīm thrilled, as the song will be the first soulful ballad on Jazz&Milk. Watch out for "Fredericks Brown - Land Of Plenty EP" to be released in February 2011. It also features remixes by Andreas Saag (Swell Session) and myself.
In fact, your roster of acts on the label spans the globe, how do you approach artists or do you just get many submissions from artists that want to be on J&M?
Itīs a wild mixture of demo submissions, recommendations, contacting artists or meeting people somewhere at gigs. Personally I donīt mind where the artist comes from as long as we share the same musical passion. Of course I would love to have a local roster of producers and musicians, which would allow me to collaborate and communicate much more. But since Jazz&Milk is all about a specific fusion of organic styles and modern productions it is hard enough for me to find the right music out there in the world.
As you have built the roster up, how have you gone about choosing styles of artist? Are you systematically trying to cover different genres?
No, Iīm very spontaneous with most releases. Weīre simply trying to run a colorful label with a variety of music that just feels good to us. Itīs the whole package of artwork and music that describes a certain recognition value that is definitely there even if you cannot describe it in a sentence - but thatīs good and makes it even more unique! Most labels and artist who stick to a single genre or sound tend to end up as part of a trend that vanishes as fast as it has started. Personally I want to keep away from too much bureaucracy, trends and all that talking out there. I need my space and freedom from it all to allow creativity instead of consumer- or market-oriented strategies to guide the way. The result will always leave a unique footprint behind and guarantees the fun involved in dealing with music. But to get an idea of what Jazz&Milk is all about music-wise you should check out the Jazz&Milk Breaks label compilation, which combines all the styles we love on one record!
After Fredericks Brown, there are two EP releases planed. The first one by "The Jivers" - some people might know their lovely tune "Do What" from the last Jazz&Milk Breaks. The second EP will be by "Kidboy", a great upcoming producer from Spain, which includes two rap features and a tune with a Cuban singer. Of course the second Dusty album will hopefully be released this year too!
The artwork of J&M has always been an aspect that I (as a graphic designer!) have loved, and very much see it as an integral part of the artistic expression of the label. What are your thoughts on image and branding and how it forms part of the label?
I leave the following two answers up to Tim Schmitt, the graphic mind behind J&M:
Tim: Thanks. Sometimes the artwork took longer to make than the music. Shame on us but I think this issue has a long history in music. Remember the story about the Blue Mondays EP? The cover artwork was so expensive that they lost money with every record they sold. Something like that could easily happen to us. We love hand-crafted stuff. Silk-screen printing, etc.. But we don’t follow strict rules with the design. It should be fun to make and translate the music well. Of course Jazz shouldn’t look like Indie Rock and Pop, so no cool hipster portraits with huge Ray-Ban sunglasses please but maybe some images of instruments one can actually hear on the record...
Do you personally art direct sleeve designs or do you leave it up to the artists?
Tim: Of course we like to have the artists work on it... I think Romanowski did a great cover. It shows a hand-made assemblage of things he found on the streets of San Francisco. There are people like him, who need to work as artists outside their music as well to satisfy all voices in their head, and then there are guys like Mr Chop who happen to know a guy who can build great paper miniatures of synthesizers. Those miniatures made a great sleeve for the „Sounds From The Cave“ EP. But we have done quite a lot of covers ourselves as well. It’s important for a label to do good packaging. And isn’t 310 mm x 310 mm the best format in the world to work on?
You also encourage people to get involved with creating Jazz & Milk cartons for themselves, how popular is this? Do many people do it?
That was an idea we had in the very beginning. We asked people to design small milk carton templates and send it back to us. We printed, folded and glued each carton and put them together in two big exhibitions as part of the local club night. We had massive feedback from graphic designers, graffiti artists and painters from all over the globe, which really surprised us. A funny story recently happened to me. During a DJ trip to Poland I got the host surprised me with a massive 2,5 meters high milk carton at a club called Jazzga in Lodz. The promoter has built it himself and invited a very talented local graphic artist called "Tyber" to paint it during my set!
We still offer a download link to a milk carton template on our website and collect the results. Maybe some days we will do a magazine or booklet featuring the best designs. You can download and personalize your own milk carton here: http://www.jazzandmilk.com/images/milkcarton.zip
The club night must have been very important in giving the label a public face where all the elements can come together. Tell me about the night, whoīs played, where it itīs held etc?
We held it monthly in a club called "Zerwirk" in Munich. Last year we moved on to "Rote Sonne", a great club with nice atmosphere and excellent sound system. We decided to promote fewer parties there but with a special line-up each time and more live elements in general. We are very happy with the turnout, as the party has become a home for people who really want to dance and party for the music’s sake in the first instance. Over the years we had wonderful guests playing at the night such as Mr. Scruff, Quantic, Nickodemus, Romanowski, Zero dB, The Hi-Fly Orchestra or Sofrito Soundsystem, just to name a few.
Do you always try to have a live element or is a mixture of live shows, resident DJs and guests DJs?
It started as a resident DJ night with guests and rare live performances by local bands and friends. But the live shows have become more important since there are more band projects signed to Jazz&Milk these days and of course it is a nice progression for a party to have live acts and DJs performing at the same night.
What shows are you promoting at the moment?
At the moment Iīm preparing a big live line-up for February with "Karl Hector & the Malcouns" and "The Mighty Mocambos" sharing a stage. Dom Servini from Wah Wah 45’s will be spinning records with us.
You tour fairly extensively as a DJ, where have you played over the last year or so, and where in the world do you find that the scene is really exuberant?
I have played in many great places this year including cities such as Tenerife, San Sebastian, Minsk, Vienna, Krakow or Amsterdam. I have played in Spain quite often including a lot of small bars and clubs. I really enjoy the personal and lively atmosphere and have made a lot of good friends there. But I also really love to be in Eastern Europe at the moment. The people are extremely friendly and the artists more than creative! There are really many unknown but super talented producers and DJs. I think there will be a lot of new music coming from the East soon!
Where would you really like to guest at or indeed take the band to play?
Jelly Jazz of course! ;) To be honest, no matter where I play I feel happy and at home as soon as the people start to dance to the music. Especially at places with an established resident club night and a dancing crowd that knows what the party and music is all about. Iīm very happy that almost all promoters who invite me share the same passion for eclectic music as me, so I feel at home most of the time. But maybe Latin America or Africa would be really electrifying places to travel and even to spin records if possible.
What would your absolute dream gig be? Whoīs on the bill, whatīs the rider like, how many people are there and where is the venue?
I like an intimate atmosphere where you can really see and feel reactions of the crowd. Some weeks ago I have played at a local party called "Carpet Session". It was a small location, which used to be a Turkish fruit store with huge glass windows to the street and of course a Turkish carpet on the floor. The DJs, musicians and the crowd all shared the same carpet, which resulted in a brilliant atmosphere. It felt like a big party with friends in your own living room. Later that night a Jazz band started to perform and at some point I played records and percussion, the musicians started jamming and peopled danced like hell. Even a guy with a Djembe showed up and played with us. I guess that was one of those moments, which you cannot plan or repeat – simply beautiful. It’s just happening out of a creative and natural atmosphere. Itīs not about big names or artists for me, more about the passionate musicians and DJs, innovative performances and of course the social context of a party which is more important than ever in the digital age!
So what is coming in 2011? What are you most excited about?
We are hoping for 2011 to be a big year for Jazz&Milk! We have more releases planned than ever. What I am really excited about is my forthcoming second album. I have spent more than two years on it already and hope to release it this year. Again it will feature a wide variety of styles and collaborations.
Youīve done a lot of excellent remixes too, have you got a lot of requests to get through?!
A remix for my amigo Makala will be released on Lovemonk soon and I will start with a new remix for another good friend, Romanowski these days. But besides that it is rather quiet at the moment, which is good because I really want to concentrate on finishing my album now. In the last two years I took great pleasure in remixing acts such as Alice Russel, Re:Jazz, Greenwood Rhythm Coalition, Renegades Of Jazz and others...
What track are you most proud of and why?
Thereīs no specific track, I think. Itīs mostly the overall feel about making music and collaborating with people. It is rather the process of making music than the final result that fascinates me. What makes me most proud is probably the fact to be able to run a label, which allows me to share all this good music with a worldwide audience.
And lastly, can an independent record label like Jazz & Milk survive in a world where so many young people think music should be free? (Sorry, I wasnīt going to get into this topic, but I think itīs important for readers to see this from a labels point of view, especially if it might influence their decision to buy their music rather than file share)
I can only say that, if it weren’t for the passion, then there would be absolutely no way to run a label like Jazz&Milk. Itīs hard to earn a cent with a label these days and unfortunately you will have to consider yourself lucky if youīre able to cover all your costs in the end, especially for a vinyl label. The worst thing about file sharing is that most people do not take enough time to appreciate the real worth of music any longer. There’s so much music in the web and on most people’s hard drives that they don’t even find the time to let the music sink in or open their minds for something new. Furthermore, everything happens in front of the computer screen. I think nothing can replace a nice chat and a personal recommendation in your local record store. What Iīd like to share with people is the fact that due to piracy the amount of some quality music projects continuously decreases since even the minimal recording budgets are missing. Of course an artist cannot pay all the studio costs and musicians involved in a recording himself. But even labels donīt have the financial budget anymore to pay big advances for such things and thatīs a shame. Some great music can simply not be created because even the smallest production budget is missing. I think this is a major reason why we have such a flood of computer-based productions on the market these days. However it seems that people finally recall their appreciation for organic and handmade music and dig old records from the golden era of live music. But live music will always be a very social thing, which has little to do with the digital social networking which most young people are caught in these days. That’s why a lot of producers make use of a lot of sampling again and there’s a big hype of re-edits. Of course this includes a lot of nice output but it is still a sad trend, as it really seems that everything is happening at home with the computer as your surrogate best friend rather than to make real music with real people and create something new. It’s harder for me to cope with the social damage of music piracy than the financial one. But I think it is too easy to systematically blame consumers for stealing music. It is a phenomenon of the Internet age that fore some reasons obviously cannot be regulated by the governments. And as long as people have the chance to get something for free, they will always take it – that’s just human. The only way out would be new Internet regulations and technologies to control such things even if I doubt that there will be a universal solution within the next years. Nevertheless I love the challenge about it and often hard times are the best source for creative art to happen! See for yourself and come and visit us at www.jazzandmilk.com, send us your demo, look at some nice cover artworks or purchase a lovely vinyl record and get some inspiration.
(To finish the article) Your all time top ten?
I hate to do top-lists as the range of influences is just too big but I will try to make selection of super nice albums, which I can strongly recommend to all of you ;)
- Yusef Lateef - Eastern Sounds - Ahmad Jamal - The Awakening - Avishai Cohen - Gently Disturbed - Art Blakey - Drum Suite - Lebron Brothers - Salsa Y Control - Francisco Aguabella – Hitting Hard - Fela Kuti - Expensive Shit - Dadawah – Peace & Love - Ernest Ranglin & Monty Alexander - Below The Bassline - any Jazz&Milk record to be found here: www.jazzandmilk.com