Girls Of The Internet talk forcing one’s way into the industry, label ownership, and ‘Remember My Name’ [Interview]
Since the initial blessing of Classic Music boss Luke Solomon and the signing of their smash debut single “When U Go”, dance act Girls Of The Internet have only continued to feed the funky fire they’ve built up. Between starting their own imprint Drab Queen, tightening up both live band and PA performances, and reworking classics like Parris Mitchell’s “All Night Long” the Girls have earned key stamps of approval from tastemakers such as Gilles Peterson, Dimitri From Paris, and Toddla T.
Ahead of their next single “Remember My Name”, we sat down with Tom from the on-the-rise act to talk about divas, running the acclaimed RAMP label, and today’s state of electronic music.
How did you get into music and eventually running a label as influential as RAMP?
I ran RAMP for 11 years or something. I was just a young lad from the country – I had no idea how to get into the music industry. Music is my first love, and I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life, so I got a logo and jammed my foot in the door.
I cobbled some money together and started approaching distribution companies and artists. I didn’t know how records were made. My first release was in 2004, somehow I managed to sign one of my favourite hip hop artists at the time; Count Bass D, and just as his collaboration with DOOM came out, so he was flying high. Things were much different then – vinyl still sold, and there were no digital sales. It was impossible to walk into a distributor and just get a deal like you can now. Our first release sold 16,000 units, for which my distribution company only paid me just under £3,500 for – it didn’t even cover the advance we paid the artist. We should have been paid at least £4 per unit sold, so we got completely dicked over. Around the same time, another artist took £10,000 from us without delivering their release. This was my introduction to the music industry.
We worked exclusively with US hip hop for a couple of years, which was always drama. Post 2006, we started working with UK distribution companies and producers, but we still had incidents of distributors not paying us, and artists taking advances for releases they would never deliver. Couple this with an industry where you’re lucky to break even, it made the whole process very difficult.
Throughout our time, I was really lucky to be working in, in my opinion, one of the golden ages of electronic music, and while I have no delusions we were a huge or important part of it, I like to think we at least contributed a little something, and had a small, unique, and hopefully annoying voice in everything that was going on. However, the reality is, even without money being stolen from you, long term, it’s very hard to make a profit or pay wages on a small label. I was working 80+ hour weeks for no pay, essentially just to support other people’s DJ careers. We lost money. Often.
Outwardly RAMP probably looked pretty successful – we always had tons of press and radio plays, but the whole thing was an exercise in throwing money away in the quickest and most efficient way imaginable.
Most electronic music doesn’t sell enough to cover costs when you’re making vinyl; roughly, you’re pressing for £3.50 and selling for £4.20, so you have to pretty much sell out to break even. Add to that PR costs and everything else – the business side of it is just dumb. If you are lucky enough to find an act that gets big, a bigger label will sign them. Unless you have a big act who will blindly stay on your label, or you release that one album that blows up and brings in enough cash to expand, the life of your little indie label is finite. After a fairly successful few years, once I hit around 2010, my run of good signings ended, and every single act I signed and invested money in from that point just became a huge money pit. I was always stupid enough to let artists do all their silly promo or artwork ideas too, which just ate huge chunks of any potential profit. I managed to hold everything together for a few years, but there is only so long you can run a company that’s projects are losing money, so I stepped away.
How did you end up with your own music on such a legendary label Classic?
After the label, I started doing other things, but after a year’s break from music, it pulled me back in. I wanted to work in music again, but I needed to rethink how I would do it. I initially started to work with a few musicians as a collective on another project, things frustratingly came to an end.
Things weren’t going to plan in my life – I hit an extremely low point. For the first time in my life, I started to revisit the music I was in love with when I was a teenager – Daft Punk, Basic Channel, Cajual/Relief, Guidance, DJ Sneak, Planet E, various techno mix CDs, hunting for the disco samples of my favourite disco house tracks. I’ve never been somebody who sits with one kind of music for too long, I’m always searching for something new and different, but the house and techno I was into as a 17 year old, out of everything I’ve ever listened to or collected, is the thing that really speaks to my soul.
I started making some house music, still as a band with other musicians and vocalists, as I wanted to keep that sense of collaboration, but I kept control of everything. For the first time in years I had some time on my hands, so I locked myself in my house for a few days, and “When U Go” was the result. As my confidence and experience grew as a producer, I took on all of the production, mixing and arrangement responsibilities, along with some of the writing and playing of instruments.
I’d sent tracks by artists I was working with to Luke Solomon from Classic for years, and he’d turned down everything I’d sent. Classic was the first and only label I sent “When U Go” to. I had no confidence he would sign it, but it’s a label that is very special to me for the 1997-2001 period. I sent it over and Luke emailed me back almost straight away to say he wanted it. Although it was such a small thing, so insignificant in the whole Classic/Defected story, it was a really important moment for me. I saw there was some validity in this new direction I’d taken. I don’t know where I would be now, both emotionally, or in my career, if it wasn’t for Luke signing that track, and I’m forever thankful to him for picking it up, and for the small amount of success the track has subsequently had. People still message me about it now all the time. At my lowest moment, it changed my life.
So how did you get back into label life & what’s the progression of Girls Of The Internet?
It was never really my intention to start my own label. After running RAMP, the last thing I wanted to do was have another label. “When U Go” came out, and I was confidently sending my stuff out to labels, but the new tracks got knocked back by everybody. I suppose what we are doing is a little different – we’re a live band for one. Perhaps we’re just not that good.
So I had all these tracks, which I thought were great, but no label to release with. The label slowly emerged through making some connections with a distributor who was really into the music, just as a way to get some of this music out that was building up. We have had a few releases now, and even without press (this is the first bit of press we’ve done) or much fanfare, it’s already outselling a lot of what I put out on RAMP and it’s subsidiaries for years – which is mental.
I do most of the label artwork myself too – the cover for “Remember My Name” is the first painting I’ve done in about 20 years. I originally studied fine art at uni, which I quit to follow a career in music.
How did you get involved with such an awesome vocalist like Linda Muriel?
I initially worked with Linda Muriel a few years back on another project. I never spoke to her directly, we just had a vocal by her hanging around that was meant for another project that never saw the light of day. I always loved what she did, so I reached out to her and we started chatting, and we instantly got on like a house on fire, so I started reworking her vocal into “Remember My Name”.
My first version was completely different, but while working on it, I kept waking up hearing Linda’s vocal over the disco version of Roy Ayers’ “Sweet Tears” in my dreams – I’ve always heard music in my dreams, so I’m now starting to pinch some of it for Girls of the Internet. “Sweet Tears” has always been one of my favourite disco breaks, and Masters At Work and Moodymann didn’t actually sample the track on their versions – I loved how it’s this classic disco riff, which while being used very famously multiple times, still hadn’t properly been sampled, in a scene built on samples. I thought it was fitting to continue the tradition, so I scrapped my first version of the track and replayed the riff and it fit.
Is Linda a diva?
Definitely! I think that word is used negatively so often, but the traditional use of the word, for me, is something that’s incredibly beautiful. Sometimes divas can be tragic, sometimes they are just fucking fierce. It’s not about being mean or haughty. So many of my heroes are divas – Sylvester, Chaka Kahn, RuPaul, Loletta Holloway, Whitney Houston… Linda is one of the UK’s unsung divas – and I hope that’s something that will soon change. We’re already working on more material together, she is going to feature on our debut album, and there may be a little EP together at some point too.
What’s in the works next for Girls Of The Internet?
This single is “Remember My Name”, featuring Linda and with remixes from Rick Wade, Marcel Vogel & Pépe, is out September 28th. Our follow-up single is called “Fondness Makes The Heart Grow Absent”, with a remix from Terrence Parker that will be out in October. I might try and squeeze in another single before the end of the year too. I’m currently putting together our debut album – the music is all finished, but working with vocalists takes time. I’m hoping we can finish it early 2019. While I’ve been waiting on various singers on the album, I have put a little (what I’m calling) mixtape together – it’s just a collection of some silly music I’ve thrown together using only a drum machine and a sampler, which I’ll probably put out early 2018. Just for fun.
We’re also putting together a live show – we have a full live band who plays our original tracks, but I’m also working on a live PA, where I’m pushing the concept of DJing a bit further. I use live singers, a sampler and a drum machine to construct tracks live. I’m pretty excited about it.
What do you think of the state of electronic music now?
There is too much boring music being released. There is too much music being released, period. Labels need to be more discerning. Where are all the great independent A&R’s? Listening through the new releases every month is depressing. Just too much of the same thing done averagely over and over again. The internet opens everything up to everybody, which is a great thing of course, but not everybody should be a musician or a DJ – some of you just aren’t that good.
Also, there are so many bad DJ’s around. Why are these people we’re paying thousands of pounds to not putting any effort into becoming a good DJ? Playing a record for 5 minutes, having a dance, messing about with your on your rotary mixer while sipping a craft IPA, then doing a quick fade into your next tune isn’t great DJing to me.
There is always great stuff about though – I never won’t be excited by new music. I’m always keen to hear what FYI Chris, Medlar & the Peckham crew are up to.
I’ve known DJ Haus for many years (I released some of his early music), and after initially not being hugely into UTTU, it’s now really starting to find its feet and is well on the way to become an amazing label. Finn is one of my favourites – so excited to hear his new music. Pepé Braddock is the only artist I know who I love just as much now as when I heard his first EP – to watch how he has evolved is amazing. Baba Stilts stuff for XL is wicked, so is the new Okzharp stuff. Connan Mockasin always. I like the new Maurice Fulton bits. Eska – please release some new music, we need you!
Pre-order a copy of ‘Remember My Name’, out September 28th on Drab Queen.
Photo credit: Jessica Skye