The past year has seen more new labels emerge than I can ever recall and while I am grateful for the wider selection of music, my bank account is not. The increase in 001’s is arguably in response to the vast amount of great material being produced and perhaps somewhat due to the slower release schedules from some of the classic go to’s – Tempa, Deep Medi, Chestplate for example. While their erratic output is rather surprising, it shouldn’t detract the revitalisation these newer imprints contribute to the scene, and sound as a whole. At the helm of these new ventures are familiar faces – Sentry, Innerverse, Navy Cut, Perfect Records, Chapters, CPA Records, Plantpower, Safari Art, and individuals / teams with a huge passion for the sound – Green King Cuts, Unity Through Sound, Hold Tight Records, Reflektion Tapes, Rua Sound, Mo:zaïek, Sub:Clef, Staring At The Sun, the list goes on. One label belonging to the latter which has really come into its own, is Rarefied. It’s run by Jonathan Sinclair, a bass music enthusiast suitably employed at the ever-influential Unearthed Sounds. Jon’s sharp ear for those darker menacing frequencies backed by a supportive team with years of industry experience has enabled him to truly build a gem of a label from the ground up. Having just put out a 4th record (6th if you include the RAREBLK releases), I thought it was about time to have a catch up with Jon and discuss everything Rarefied.
Before we jump in to Rarefied, I wanted to ask you about your involvement with Unearthed and what you’ve learnt firsthand working for an online record store and hugely successful distributor?
I’ve been working at Unearthed for around three years now and in that time I’ve been able to experience a little of each of the job roles available within a vinyl distributor. Over the course of the three years though, Unearthed has built a strong team of people with specialised job roles and now most of my time is spent managing our online shop, running the fulfilment service we offer to our labels, and handling the customer service that goes along with these. Working behind the scenes at a distributor who also work closely with a manufacturing company, Well Tempered, means that I’ve been able to learn start-to-finish all of the processes involved before the record finally gets into the hands of our customers and that’s been hugely helpful to me when starting up my own label.
What has been the biggest eye opener from your time at Unearthed, which has influenced your decision making for Rarefied and how you approach running a label?
At Unearthed, I’m lucky enough to work closely with three guys who’ve been in the industry for years, with each of them running their own successful labels alongside. They’ve seen all the highs and lows of labels, the correct decisions being made and the wrong decisions being made. They’re always happy to part with information on their own experiences as label owners and this has been instrumental for me in making sure Rarefied got off to a smooth start and continues to move in the right direction.
There’s been a lot of new vinyl labels emerging over the past year, what originally attracted you to starting one?
Since I fell in love with vinyl and having been working at a vinyl distributor, it never really occurred to me to start anything other than a label that releases on vinyl. There’s something much more special about owning and playing music on wax, having something physical in your hand, rather than a folder on your computer that can far too easily be lost if your hard drive gives in or forgotten about and deleted when the hype dies down.
What are your thoughts on the growing trend of vinyl only labels?
It’s a nice idea and vinyl only labels are helping to keep vinyl alive, I’ve even thought about making the Rarefied releases exclusively vinyl. It’s a great way to make sure you’re pushing all of your units out the door but a wise man once said to me “why would you deny the digital side of your fanbase the ability to own or play your music?” and that made a lot of sense. If you’re releasing music, you want it to be enjoyed and played by as many people as possible, and I’m sure the die-hard vinyl collectors will play with digis sometimes to preserve their vinyl copies too. With Rarefied Black though, (our edit’s series) it’s a little different, these will remain vinyl only for obvious reasons.
What would you say is unique about Rarefied that sets it apart from the rest?
The music on Rarefied should push far into the realm of ‘weird’ if you like, whilst maintaining dancefloor playability, and I believe so far we’ve achieved that. The most literal definition of the word rarefied is ‘distant from the interests of normal people’, so while I appreciate some of the music might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there are certainly those with the same state of mind, on the same wavelength, who can enjoy the music.
With a steady release schedule championing raw new talent, alongside a black label series, run directly in-house, it’s easy to compare Rarefied to the early Black Box days. The vacuum that label left behind has never quite been filled – is this a pocket of sound you’ve been trying to re-mine with Rarefied?
To be compared to Black Box, a label with so many strong artists and releases on it, is truly humbling. From the start I knew I wanted to build a close-knit group of upcoming artists with big potential that would go on to provide the core of the label and to grow together, in this way I think the label model could be seen as similar to the way Black Box was operated. With the black label series, it was originally just going to be a one time thing after Soukah showed me his remix of “Stronger Than Me”. It was just going to be a single sided black, ‘AMY001’, but there’s so many great bootlegs out there that should be seeing vinyl, so I wanted to set up Rarefied Black to run alongside the parent label.
The first three releases featured artists I knew little to nothing about. How do you go about A&R for Rarefied to unearth these hidden gems that would otherwise go unnoticed?
The first two artists featured on the label, Soukah & Zygos were two producers I’d been following for a while on Soundcloud and this is probably the most powerful tool, particularly for finding hidden talent. There’s probably so many people making sound system level beats that are just never going to get picked up on until someone shouts about them. One of the artists forthcoming on the label had just over 100 followers on Soundcloud when I first came across his music and he’s one of the most talented producers I know. I have another guy, George, also working on A&R so now we’re able to broaden our search a bit. He actually led me on to T.A.R, who’s got another 12” forthcoming for us next year, and a certain elusive artist dropping in around the same time in the release schedule.
D-Operation Drop have had their most prolific year release-wise, and this momentum continues on RARE4. However, the tracks on this EP are of a darker cut than their usual roots flavour, and completely embody the Rarefied aesthetic. Were these tracks purposely built for the label, hence the attached DPRTNDRP moniker?
Yeah these guys’ production quality is so consistent, it’s a pleasure to be working with them on RARE4. I started talking with them back at the beginning of Spring after I heard a couple of darker tunes on their Soundcloud and it turns out they’d already caught on to Rarefied and had been following the progress of the label for a little while, which was good to hear because as a new label that made my job easier. It took us less than a week to lock down the tunes; “Less Smell” was a personal favourite of mine that I’d heard on their Soundcloud and “Malawi” and “Hedera”, although I don’t think they were 100% “purpose built”, they definitely fitted the bill and they were approved and locked down after the first listen. This side of their sound is being heard more now, you can hear it in “Phonetalk” on the Artikal Compilation and “Fibers” on Subaltern and there’ll continue to be more like it in the future. They spoke with me about wanting to use the DPRTNDRP moniker for their darker material in the future and so we decided to use it for the Rarefied release – I’m proud to be the first label rolling it out for them.
The aesthetics for the label appear to be particularly well put together, who designs the artwork and how important do you think the visual element of a label is?
Thanks for that, I’ve been lucky to have two extremely talented designers helping me out since the start. The Rarefied logo was hand painted by Matt Hammond and he was also in charge of designing the artwork for our first two releases. He’s out of the country travelling now and artwork duties have been picked up by the wonderful Alina Linnas. She was quick to immerse herself in the aesthetic of the label and she put together the artwork for RARE3 and RARE4, both featuring her own photography. I place a massive importance on artwork for our releases. I think it’s important to choose imagery that reflects the feel of the music on the release and for that reason I like to get ideas from the producer on what they want on the A-side. They’ve spent the most time with the tunes and know what feelings they were trying to conjure when making them, the artwork helps to get those feelings across. The ideas of the producer are then relayed to the designer where they can start to work their own magic on it, I think that yields the best results.
What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to someone looking to launch a new label?
Plan well in advance. Don’t go into it with just one release in mind, it’s hard to know when you’ll lock down the tunes for your second release. If you release your 001 but then your 002 doesn’t come out for another year then you’re most likely already out of people’s heads. Planning ahead also helps keep things in perspective and gives you a goal, if you’ve got three or four releases up your sleeve then you’ve got somewhere to aim for. Prior planning is also going to help overcome any potential setbacks you might have, it takes roughly four months from start to finish to get a vinyl release out so timetabling properly is essential, sometimes you’ll want to have more than one release in the pipelines at once.
What else can we expect from the Rarefied camp in the coming months, is there any forthcoming material, developing projects, or up and coming label events you can inform the readers on?
Before the end of the year I’d like to have RARE5 and RARE6 out ideally, these are both from new additions to the team so I’m very excited to unveil them. The new year is going to see us release new plates from Soukah and T.A.R and we’ve got a special collaboration EP coming from two of our artists also. I’m just getting to the end of finalising the releases planned for the beginning of next year so now I’ve got some space to turn my attention to label nights. We want to work on getting a night together featuring three or four of the label artists soon so promoters can hit firstname.lastname@example.org for label and artist bookings if interested.
It’s been a pleasure Jon, any final comments or shout outs to wrap things up?
Cheers mate, thanks for the interview. Usual shouts go to; the artists for keeping the music on point. The Unearthed team and Jon at Railbird Digital for distribution. Well Tempered for manufacturing. Alina and Matt on artwork. Drew, Naza & Olaf for their promo work. And everyone supporting the label by buying our music, you’re keeping it going.