Inside Out Records are a London based label that have constantly pushed themselves to deliver a unique sound for the electronic music scene. Over the years the label have welcomed the likes of Jay Tripwire, Nick Devon and Elijah Simmons to name a few, alongside works from the label heads Alex Zed and Stevie R.
With all the changes in the music industry running through 2016, and even more so London specifically, we caught up with the label to discuss how an independent label has had to evolve as the industry does so, as well as uncovering the history behind the label, the sound and their future.
Can you talk us through where the journey began with Inside Out Records? How did the partnership between you to come to be?
Alex Zed – So the Inside Out Records journey started with a bit of a romance because I had this idea of creating a new label but I knew it would be very hard to run it on my own, just because two is better than one. I went out a lot, I met a few people and I was observing from behind the stage who could be the person that really shares the same vision as me, and that’s when I met this great guy, Stevie R. The small chat we had that night at a party made me think that he could potentially be the guy who can run Inside Out Records with me. We met up for a coffee at my place and I heard some of his music, which I thought was outstanding and we took everything from there really. I was so excited about the whole thing, meeting Stevie R, his taste, which was pretty much a similar vision to what I had and that’s when I proposed a partnership
Stevie R – That sounds wrong mate, sounds like you proposed to me for a wedding.
Alex Zed – Haha. We started to plan the label and thanks to him, most of the things I couldn’t see he helped me to open up my head and view in a different way where everything made sense. Since then it’s been a beautiful journey.
Stevie R – What can I say, Alex pretty much said it all. I was studying and to be honest I’d never thought of running a record label and then I met Alex who turned out to be an amazing DJ and musical person in general. He told me about the label, his ideas, what he was all about and he actually asked me if I wanted to be part of the journey. I was more than honoured to be part of it and do this together. From this point onwards it’s been quite an amazing few years, all of them unique and very enjoyable. That’s how Inside Out Records started; it was a very spontaneous thing. We saw that we share pretty much the same vision for the record label, what music we want to put out and why we think it’s important to put this music out.
Do you have quite similar backgrounds? Both musically and personally? Do you think combination is one of the keys to a successful label?
Stevie R – This is a very interesting question. I come from a classically trained background and was a classically trained guitarist. I can’t play for shit right now but back in the day, I used to be quite good. So I’m a trained musician, studied engineering, studied signal processing etc. Alex is more of a self-taught musician and I’ve never seen someone with such good taste as Alex; from his DJ sets and from what he actually does in the studio (without really knowing what he’s doing), it sounds good and the results are very good. His taste is extremely good and it’s a privilege to work with him and the combination of our two different backgrounds gives an interesting result, both in what we want to release and when we’re together in the studio. I’m looking forward to working with this guy more.
Alex Zed – As Stevie R said, for me he is the man he can make something bad sound awesome, which is something I have no idea how he does. Probably one day he will tell me secrets so we’ll lose less time in the studio and start making better music. The combination of the two of us is pretty magic because he comes from an engineering background and I come from an old school way of DJing. I started DJing in the 90s and bought my first record in 1994. I was 16 then and that’s when I fell in love with music, the shape of vinyl, the shiny wax and since then I’ve continued to collect vinyl. I then bought my first turntables, which were not the SL1200/10, as I couldn’t afford them, so I bought the cheaper version of the Technics the SLBD22. They didn’t have a proper pitch, they had a rotary pitch and they were quite hard to mix with but I believe if you can learn to mix with that, then when you go on the 1210s everything is much easier.
Over the years you have signed a number of artists to the label, what would you say have been you standout releases and why?
Alex Zed – For us every release is as good as the previous one. Every release is a special release for Inside Out Records. I wouldn’t like to diminish any of the artists because everyone has done a great job by producing something outstanding for our concept, our taste and our ears. From the first release to the latest one it’s been fantastic, it’s been a growing adventure of musical taste.
Stevie R – I don’t think it’s possible to pick a release. We need to put out releases that have a reason to be out there. There’s nothing generic or uninteresting about them. It’s hard to find these kind of releases so when we find one, we put it out. I love each and every release the same, they’re equally special. However, we have a bit of extra love for the first releases, it was the beginning of the label, we were so pumped to do it and do it properly. We did vinyl back then and it sold out, we got so much good feedback and we got gigs because of it. So maybe the first two releases have a special place in my heart but I pretty much love them all the same.
From an A&R point of view, how has the sound adapted from release to release? What is the current philosophy and sound behind the label and where can we expect it to go over the coming year?
Stevie R – One thing about Inside Out Records is we didn’t do it for money or for making this work as a business model. We wanted to make a label to put out good music. The A&R taste evolved as our tastes evolved. We just put out something that has something fresh to offer, something you don’t hear everyday, something that’s brilliant. Maybe no one will buy it, or they’ll buy it in 6 months when it’s ‘cool’. We enjoy, I think so at least, that we’ve been a step ahead every time with something quite fresh.
Next year is a very interesting year for us. We’re putting out an album from an experimental band, that got feedback from Mercury Prize nominees, a really interesting project. We’re also expecting a release from our label manager who’s been a core member these last months, getting the label where it is today. A very exciting year, we can’t wait to share the music with you.
Alex Zed – What we’re trying to put out is a vision of fresh, eclectic, imaginative music. Music that takes you onto a different path, a vision brought into house, techno, electronica, world music, influences from all over. It must have something that makes it really special. That’s why we don’t release often because we want to make sure that what we put out is really special to our hearts.
What are your individual roles within the Inside Out umbrella? Are there some releases that are more Alex Z and some that are more Stevie R?
Stevie R – Inside Out Records has always been a team effort, obviously roles have been rotating through the years but what goes out is a decision from the whole team. I have to mention Ben Clifford, who’s been our label manager the last few months, and he has a say in everything that goes out. We treat the label as a family and until something goes out it will be viewed and agreed upon by everyone.
Alex Zed – Inside Out Records is a combination of the both of us as artists, producers and as people. It’s always been about teamwork between the family and special thanks to Ben Clifford who’s helped with ideas, passion and love for the label. The label is a small family with a big vision.
With the current state of London’s musical culture, how does an independent label cope with where the industry is going? We hear a lot about how it affects the clubs directly, but what changes have you had to make as a label as it shift has progressed?
Stevie R – It’s interesting how the music industry looks now. At the moment there are a million labels out there and there’s so much music going out all the time. It’s becoming quite oversaturated, there’s lots of white noise. However, when you’re starting an underground label you have to be sure you’re in it for the right reasons. If you’re in for the right reasons; sincere love for what you do, then you must be prepared to lose money, go through hardship but be happy about it and feel all of this is worth it because you are doing what you want and what you love. Obviously to work with the people we want to work with we need to be able to pay them, as they have to survive as well from making music and to do this we have to make money ourselves. Which from record sales isn’t really the one. So we have to look into doing showcases and parties, merchandise. All this is money isn’t going to be able to buy Ferraris but it’s going back into the label to ensure we will be able to put out the best possible music and potentially be able to afford bigger artists.
Touching upon fabric – having just gained their licence back, what does this win do for the community of labels, both major and independent do? Do you feel this recognition of our culture will be apparent in support growing for your label?
Stevie R – I’m going to be honest with you, it’s been such a hard situation in London the last few years. Clubs closing down, places I go, places I would like to play at. Then you see Fabric closing down, a place that’s so important for music culture and so important for electronic music in general globally. It felt like the tombstone of London’s music scene. I was thinking of going back to Berlin and just staying there. This reopening is a sparkle of hope, London is alive, we don’t need to move to Berlin, and it might even get back on its feet at some point. I’m not sure with the current conditions of it’s reopening that it will be the same but it’s still a very positive thing. Fabric has been an iconic place for underground music, the label, the club itself, the fact it supports independent labels. The people that run the place are sincere music lovers and doing it for the right reasons.
Also, there is Printworks opening, a 5,000 capacity club. We haven’t seen a major club like that open in London for ages.
Alex Zed – It’s huge news that, a game changer.
Stevie R – There is hope for the industry and the London dance scene. It is getting stronger.
What would your top tips be for someone wanting to start an independent label in todays current climate?
Alex Zed – From our experience, the best tips we can give to people is do what you love and whatever you do, if you want to set up a label don’t do it for any other reason, just do it because it comes from your heart. But don’t expect big money out of it, it’s a growing thing, if you put a lot of love and effort then it will eventually take you somewhere where you’ll be happy.
Stevie R – The thing is with the record label nowadays, you have to say, why am I starting a label? Do I really have something new to offer the industry? If you think the answer is yes, then you should go all in. Go through the hardship, do everything it takes to make it happen.