Five years ago, Paul Murphy was one of the first people I ever interviewed. His label, Claremont 56, at that time was celebrating its fifth anniversary. Then, we talked about his love for music. Beginning as a member of competition-winning breakdance crew OCC (alongside Nick The Record). Meeting the Idjut Boys at their Kings Cross night, Phreek. Making Dub Disco as Akwaaba with Stevie Kotey (and Tom Lee). Putting together the incredible Originals series of compilations. Hooking up with Holger Czukay at The Red Bull Academy. Since we last spoke Paul`s gone on to record with the Kosmische legend, as Bison, at Can`s Inner Space studio. Performed live at Glastonbury as a member of “Balearic Supergroup”, Paqua. His label has moved from releasing his own productions to those of a global roster of artists. From countries including Germany, Italy, Japan, Libya, Norway, Portugal, Russia, the UK and USA. Claremont 56 is now ten years old, and there`s a box-set of exclusives and a Japanese Tour to mark the event.
Paul, when you set up Claremont 56 did you imagine that you`d still be going after ten years?
I don’t think I had any idea where it would lead or how long it would last. I was just very excited to be starting my own label. At that point I couldn’t see beyond each stage, but every one became more and more rewarding; finishing a track, designing the label, getting the first test press and eventually taking delivery of 300 boxed records with my music, my design and my logo on them. Clichéd as it sounds, it really was a dream come true. I did get a wake-up call early on though. Piccadilly Records rang and said that someone had taken one of my records back because it jumped – my first release and they were all duff. Luckily the pressing plant agreed it was their mistake and quickly pressed another 300. I now know to check everything when I take delivery before shipping out.
Did you set out to have such a global roster of artists?
Initially I set up the label to release music that I was involved in, with some friends on remix duties. But demos started appearing in my inbox from artists from all around the world. When Sebastian Gaiser sent me the track Ongou in 2008, I knew I had to release it and it has just grown from there.
I guess as I started to release more music from more artists, who happened to be based all over the world, I got a bit of a reputation for giving this sort of music a platform via the label. It’s very humbling to think that people want to send me their music to release and so exciting to receive something that you love and that you hope others will too. I can clearly remember the first time I listened to the demo of Bambi Davidson’s genius album Brunswick. It honestly gave me goosebumps. The fact that I get to help artists like them release such quality music is very satisfying.
Hearing the unreleased version of Holger’s Ode To Perfume at the Roundhouse in 2009 made me think about other directions for the label and managing to get through to someone like Holger and get permission to release it, was a game changer. That led to more releases with versions of his music, us becoming good friends and then us forming the band Bison, with him, his wife Ursa and Ben Smith (Smith & Mudd) and releasing an LP. Ten years ago, if you told me that would happen, I would’ve thought you were completely crazy, but it’s one of my proudest achievements from the last 10 years.
Looking at the track-list for the box set, they all look like exclusives to me. Is that correct?
Yes, mainly new remixes and a few new tracks from the likes of Statues. I didn’t want to just reformat what had already been released, so I started the lengthy project of getting it all remixed. I’m glad I thought to start work on this early, as it took 2 years in total.
How hard was it to select the tracks and the remixers? Where there any tunes that you didn`t have space for? Any remixers that you would have liked to have included?
Generally the remixers picked what they wanted to work with from the catalogue. I started with the people who have supported me from the start and who I can always trust to do quality remixes; The Idjut Boys*, Phil Mison, 40 Thieves, Lexx, etc., and then I thought about some of my musical heroes, the ones that are still alive, and started emailing them to see whether they’d be up for it. I did message Tom Moulton in the vague hope that he would be up for doing one, but I didn’t get a reply. Hardly surprising really, but I thought there was no harm in asking. That would have been a dream addition.
*The Idjuts ended up doing individual mixes, plus the live mix for the CD set which they worked on together.
The list of remixers is largely a “friends & family” affair, with artists associated with Claremont 56 re-imagining each others work, but – and this is going to be easy to answer since they are both legends – why Larry Heard and Ron Trent?
As an impressionable 16 year old, going to clubs, where they played House music all night long, really changed my life. Larry Heard and Ron Trent’s music was a massive part of the soundtrack of my formative clubbing years. Even at a young age, I was aware of how high quality their music was, so they were natural choices for me of people to ask. But I obviously had no idea they would actually say yes. I first contacted Larry Heard about doing an Akwaaba remix around 1999. To my surprise, Larry found time to send me a lengthy and courteous reply, but politely declined, explaining that he likes to work with vocals. I sent him a few others over the years and he always took time to reply, explaining why the track wasn’t right for him. I persevered and luckily he said yes this time around. Not only is he one of the geniuses of our time, he’s a perfect gent too.
Do you have a favourite Larry Heard track?
I think it has to be Can You Feel It with Mystery Of Love a close second. Both written in the mid 80s. Incredible! I could add a lot more tracks, but I’ve had some very special moments in my life to both of these.
Do you have a favourite Ron Trent track?
I remember clear as day going to Bluebird / Soulsense records in Luton and buying 2 copies of The Afterlife E.P. that he did for Warehouse Records the week it was released, because I loved it so much. Grooverider, or Kenny Ken, used to hammer it at the 4 Aces club and I eventually built up the courage to ask what it was. It’s difficult to pick one from the E.P. as my preference changed month by month, but this to me, as a whole, is one of the greatest house records ever made.
I know you`re touring Japan in May, with Phil Mison, as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations? Can you give me any more details? Dates, venues?
Yes, we’re both really excited about it! There’s a wonderful team over in Japan, including Max Essa, Haraguchi and Maa that make such an effort to bring me out there every year. Since this one is the for tenth anniversary of the label, it will be very special and the fact that I’m dong it with Phil makes it even more so. Dates so far confirmed are:
May 12: Cafe Apres Midi, Tokyo
May 13: Sunset Lounge, Enoshima
May 17: Tree, Aoyama Zero, Tokyo
May 19: Delete, Okayama
May 20: Bonobo, Tokyo
May 21: Good Mellows, Kamakura
May 23: Knock Kouenji, Tokyo
May 26: The Beach Terrace, Ishigaki, Okinawa
May 27 & 28: Coconut Moon Okinawa, Okinawa
Will you be playing celebratory gigs anywhere else in the world?
I did plan to, but the box set is such a big operation that I need to focus on that and prioritise it, so for now, it’s just Japan. With a potential little something in Margate if I can arrange it, to also celebrate the label’s move there from London this year.
What has been your proudest moment as far as Claremont 56 is concerned?
I think the fact that I’ve survived 10 years in such a tough industry, still producing and releasing the music I want to, has to be the thing I’m most proud of.
Being a small independent that has survived the last ten years you are in a fairly unique position. From your own experience how as the advent of downloads and streaming affected vinyl sales? Is there any real money to be made from downloads, streaming, Spotify and the like?
When I started, it was shortly after the good times had ended – when 6,000 12s could be expected to be sold per release – so I went into a declining market. In the long-run, I think that has benefited me, as I’ve always worked to a low sale model, doing pretty much everything myself to keep my overheads down.
Vinyl manufacturing is expensive and continues to rise. Therefore a 12” in a record shop costs a lot and I assume this is one of the reasons streaming and downloads have become so prevalent, as well as their accessibility. Ultimately I believe their popularity has definitely affected physical sales. As a single release, my digital income is pretty low and even as a catalogue combined, it’s still not great, but it’s a regular payment I am starting to count on it to help me survive, so I can’t complain. I barely make anything from streaming, it’s a joke really, but sadly it is the way things have gone. If streaming becomes the complete future, something will need to change, as there’s no way small labels like mine can possibly afford continue.
When was the hardest time for Claremont? And what was the biggest obstacle you`ve had to overcome to make it this far?
There have been quite a few moments where I’m down to my last few pennies and then I get a lucky break. In fact probably every other year since I started. You’ve got to constantly be coming up with new ideas and music to keep on top of it, which I don’t mind, but it does get a bit scary every now and then. Vinyl popularity rising over the past few years – especially for things like Record Store Day – meant that the majors started to use the vinyl production plants that independent labels like mine have kept going for the last few decades and that has been tough. It meant that what used to be a three week pressing schedule, could go to six months if demand from the majors was high. So planning around that was really tough for a couple of years. Things seemed to have levelled out a bit now for some reason, and if that hadn’t have changed, I wouldn’t have been able to continue. It’s impossible to plan a year’s worth of releases at once. I think adapting is the hardest part of running a label in a constantly changing environment, as well as rising manufacturing costs. I had always intended to release music for vinyl, so never wanted to release it digitally, but I had to give in and likewise and more so with streaming. It’s not an option to ignore the income and exposure these can give you, if you want to survive. Also, Brexit – even just the decision to leave – had a negative impact. I currently manufacture in the EU, so as soon as Brexit was announced my manufacturing costs went up, as the poor Pound added 12.5% to my costs – so that has obviously been hard to adjust to. Who knows what will happen once we actually leave. I have a feeling that will be another big obstacle to work around. I just hope I can. Anyway, enough moaning, like all industries you have to deal with constant change and keep working at finding ways to keep up with it and I enjoy the challenge.
Can you tell me more about the subscription scheme you have running on Bandcamp? It looks a little like the Drip platform – which sadly folded last year.
People pay a minimum of £3 a month and they get all new releases digitally, a decent part of the back catalogue for free, 25% off all merchandise, exclusive tracks and merchandise and a regular feed of Claremont 56 news, most of which I only post on Bandcamp, rather than across all the other social media platforms. I’m just getting to grips with it, but I’m enjoying the back and forth with the subscribers and it’s a great way to help support the label.
What does Claremont 56 have in store for the rest of 2017?
I’ve had some nice demos in that I need to decide what to do with and Ben and I (Smith & Mudd) have just written our fourth album so there’s lots of arranging to do for that. There’s a nice 10” by Blair French from Detroit on its way and plenty more exciting stuff that I need to find some time for. The box set is first though, I can’t wait to get it out there.
The Claremont 56 Tenth Anniversary Box Set, with artwork by Bristol`s Sickboy, is released later this month. Across ten sides of vinyl it features tracks by Bison, FreshRo!, Holger Czukay, Jack Cutter, Leo Ceccanti, Mudd & Pollard, Okinawa Delays, Paraiso, Paqua, Smith & Mudd, Statues, U-She, and Zee Erf. Treated to exclusive remixes by 40 Thieves, Baldelli & Diongi, Bjorn Torske, Emperor Machine, Idjut Boys, Jex Opolis, Larry Heard, Lexx, Max Essa, Mushrooms Project, Phil Mison, Ron Trent, and Sean P.
The best place to order (there are three options, with escalating bonus goodies) is over at the Claremont 56 Bandcamp page.
Paul Murphy & Phil Mison tour Japan in May.