Interview / Ben Stevens / Strangelove Music

Strangelove is a fresh imprint based in Wellington, New Zealand. Their first release is an AA-sided reissue from Portuguese singer Lena d`Agua. Jardim Zoologico fuses skittering Jazz syncopation to an electronic Reggae b-line. Lena`s vocal pitched between Velly Joonas` Estonian take on Freda`s I See Red and Loredana Berte`s party favourite In Alto Mare. Backing harmonies provided by bright guitar chords and brass. Tao is a piece of oriental exotica. Combining the Japanese ambience of Haroumi Hosono and Masumi Hara, with the Pop tropics of Rachel Sweet`s So Different Here. A lei-laden lullaby, as breathlessly in love Balearic as Taja Seville or Jacko`s Liberian Girl.

lena dagua tao art

Tornado Wallace introduced me to Lena`s music a few years ago, when he included her Danca Cominga on a mix. But the relative obscurity of Strangelove`s selection for a debut had me intrigued. With a little help from Moonboots, I asked label founder, Ben Stevens, a few Ws.

Where are you based? 

Windy, wet Wellington, New Zealand.

Ben, I know nothing about Wellington. Is there a decent music scene? Any names, labels, etc we should look out for?

I wish I could shed light on some exciting stuff in Wellington, but frankly it`s a sleepy little town mostly these days. Things are always bubbling along in the capital city. The new LP from Lord Echo about to drop is fantastic, Orchestra Of Spheres are a great antipodean counter point to Goat – think same zany outfits and motorik tribal grooves but more Sun-Rra-re-alignment – while Cave Circles & Local CS are two drummatic outfits worth checking. Further north Julien Dyne has a shit-hot LP on Wonderful Noise due soon.

Where nearby would you recommend for 2AM? Drinking / dancing? Where`s your favourite local place for a coffee?

Dancing venues are currently rubbish. Not many venues for the freaks… Wellington does coffee and brew bars infinitely better, however. There’s always local institute Havana Bar to grab a Cuban mix and some live music till late.

havana bar wellington copy

What`s your background musically? 

The local warehouse party scene here in the early `90s was incredible. The usual story of idle kids thinking big – in this case KLF / Mu Mu philosophies – with post industrial warehouse spaces. The soundtrack was almost singled-handedly fuelled by a steady flood of precious imports from Tarik at Pure Groove in London.

A stint followed working at a record store in town and finished up with a pilgrimage to Detroit in ’98. Playing basketball and talking hot rods with Mad Mike, while crashing with the Seventh City crew. Partying with Watts Music’s H-Bastard in NYC then straight on to six years living in London.

In London it was about soaking up as much music as I could. Propped up against the Atlas Records (situated on Archer Street in Soho – until the rent went through the roof) counter with Pete Herbert and Johnny Reynolds, and eagerly pouring over Nick the Record`s mail-outs. John is a true gent who would make me compilation tapes filled with recently rediscovered British Punk Funk, the first wave of the Arthur Russell revival.

atlas records

Post Archer Street, Piccadilly Circus lunchtimes meant a move around the corner to Sounds Of The Universe, with Karl, Abi and Burnip providing daily shoulder bags of Reggae 7s from way out West and P&P Disco platters. On the weekends it was off to Des DT’s monthly black music record fairs, getting schooled in Elkin & Nelson b-sides  by Gerry Rooney, and that gentle giant Chris Pure Pleasure (Soft Rocks) presenting yet another genius weirdo discovery.

I left the East End in 2004 but had some big smoke longing to overcome and quickly embraced the DJHistory community (folks might know Ben as Longboss). A wonderful, generous group of like-minds, bubbling with the excitement of discovery, sharing musical revelations much like our friends over the Atlantic at Dream Chimney. That retro-mania has turned into much amazing music: Todd, Hagakurre, Vidal, Kenny W, Moon, Paul & the Dr., plus many others going on to do good shit. Through it all I’ve been part of The Jewel School, a Wellington community radio show, with close friends, and also thrown the occasional party.

Why start the label?

I turned 40 was still childless and DJing less often…but no… it was really a burning desire to curate and engage in one my principal passions in a way that wasn’t purely consumptive. Plus I wanted to reach out and get a little of that sense of musical excitement which I lost a bit in the last few years. I also recently found an old school book full of logo designs for fictitious record labels that I sketched back in ’93. So you could say I was finally getting my act together.

If possible can you tell me what you have lined up – or perhaps how much you have lined up for 2017?

Its a bit magpie-ish but I hope there will be some sense of musical cohesiveness coming through with future releases. There’s 7 or 8 things at the moment mapped out over the next 18 months all going to plan. Some beautiful timeless music from Cathy Vanishing Twin; a project by Simplex 2 – oddball Australian session music that was never properly released which my buddy, Jeremy Crown Ruler, discovered. Some very special Scandinavian material and another Portuguese artist to come.

I’m also headlong into developing a compilation of 1980s Leftfield / Avant material from New Zealand, which has been a huge amount of fun and very revealing. Connecting with local music mafia I didn’t already know and burrowing through Radio New Zealand’s station archives.

lena dagua jardim art

I guess reissuing a 34 year old Portuguese Pop-Not-Pop / New Age Ambient record while living on the other side of the world wasn’t the most obvious way to start Strangelove, but it`s the old cliche – it`s all really just about the music. Discovering some revelation – new or old – thats bloody brilliant. Figuring out a narrative or a thread and getting it out to as many ears as possible. It`s an exciting time to be doing something I think. There’s an appetite for obscure sounds that I would have thought previously were just for a marginal audience. The hyper-musical-literacy that comes from Spotify – Youtube and the web in general has piqued people`s curiosity. It`s no bad thing.

Lena d`Agua`s Jardim Zoologico / Tao will be released by Strangelove Music late April / early May. You can pre-order from a global range of clued up shops, including Flur PortugalPiccadillyHHVOyeRushhourSounds Of The UniversePhonicaJunoPacific BeachIn Tokyo, Chee will have copies, or try Newtone and Norio at Raregroove in Osaka. 

You can find out more about Strangelove here.    

Strangelove Logo

Reference Links

Velly Joonas

In Alto Mare

Haruomi Hosono

Masumi Hara

Rachel Sweet

Taja Seville

Liberian Girl

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