Imprints: East Van Digital
Label founder Joseph Martin is building the Vancouver scene.
Imprints brings you regular profiles of the most exciting record labels the world over, with input from the movers and shakers who contribute to their local electronic music communities.
Name: East Van Digital
Upcoming releases: Knautic – Agwé EP
A young city on the rise, Vancouver is fast becoming one of Western Canada's epicentres for electronic music. With its thriving West Coast festival culture and diverse ethnic population, the Vancity sound is as varied as its inhabitants. East Van Digital is just the imprint to give you a taste of what this city and its connections around the globe have to offer.
THUMP: What's the deal?
Joseph Martin: East Van Digital is just a good sampling of our community. Not to keep things in a microcosm, we do work with artists from all over the world. It's nice to reach out because it gives everybody a little more exposure. Sometimes we do a release that is all Vancouver, and sometimes I like to get music from elsewhere because then the release has some exposure in another area. It makes it a little better for everybody.
What led you to start your own label?
In 2006, I moved back to Vancouver and at that point DJing wasn't really my focus anymore. I decided to get more into production and writing my own tracks. The internet was in full swing so I wrote a few songs and put them up on Myspace. They got signed to a label, which was a really good experience because it set the fire underneath my butt to keep going. It got to the point where you start going through the whole experience of shopping your songs around, which can be a pretty painful experience for new producers. Then I noticed that there were a lot of people doing exactly what I'm doing in my neighbourhood. So I was like, "Maybe I should start a record label?"
How would you describe your sound?
A lot of people hate this term, but I would just say "electronica." Remember that 90s term "electronica"? As I listen to old electronica, it kind of covers everything from trip hop to Prodigy to everything in between. My label fell under that easy descriptor in the late 90s because no one else knew what to call it, aside from the term "dance music," which didn't always work for people.
Do you find that keeping it digital helps sales?
It's easier to distribute and get it around the world faster than it is with records, that's for sure. There's a few artists on the label who make their money back right away. And then we have a huge roster of new producers, bedroom producers, who are just getting going.
You mentioned the diversity inherent in the electronic music community in Vancouver. How else would you describe the city?
When I got here, I was starting at the bottom. I had to meet all of these different crews, levels, and layers to our scene. When you look at big shows in clubs like Celebrities compared to the underground venues, they define the kind of talent they bring in. Obviously there are a bunch of other record labels around here that are very well known like Nordic Trax and Homebreakin Records who were well established before we ever came along. But we all see each other, party together, and support each other.
Tell us about the East Van Digital logo.
It's kind of an homage to the East Van sign. We didn't want to directly use it, but we did want to lean towards it. It's a landmark and it represents this neighbourhood. You would see it spray painted and carved everywhere. I think it even dates back to the 50s and 60s from motorcycle clubs.
What are you looking for when signing an artist? Why so broad?
I'm looking for something that we don't already have. Once we have a sound from an artist, I don't need to represent it multiple times. I don't need my artists to compete with one another in what they're doing. So we have a couple of hip hop people, some house people, some glitch hop people. My favourite labels in the 90s were Moonshine, Astralwerks, and Warp. You can't pinhole them to any one genre or style; they have everything.
You recently teamed up with Groundwerk Vancouver for the iamforest remix contest. Tell us about that process.
We set a deadline and went through about 30 entries. We literally just sat in a room and listened to all of them. Everybody had their note pads and wrote notes on each one. Steph, Nick, Adam, Joel (the Groundwerk team), myself and Luke (iamforest) all went through every single song and listened to them. Then we worked our way down the list until we felt we had enough for a full EP. With that release, every song represents a different style.
What are some of the challenges to running a label?
Dealing with artists. Every artist is different. I work with these people, therefore I need to help them. So, if the artist is not 100% on something, then it doesn't happen. The artist has to be happy with the product before it goes out the door and the public hears it.
What are some of the rewards?
The last few years, we've been doing national radio campaigns with our artist's EPs which can be a pretty expensive endeavour. But, once we started doing that, and we started seeing our artists up in the radio charts, we were like, "OK, this is what we need to be doing now."
Over the last five years that East Van Digital has been around, what have been some of the highlights?
Bass Coast 2011. That was the first big year for East Van Digital. I think that year we had 15 artists who were on our label that were all playing Bass Coast. That was kind of like our birth/acceptance into the community. Just being able to go to these festivals like Shambhala and Bass Coast and hear our artists or other DJs play our tracks on big systems for thousands of people, that's always heart-warming.
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