February 2011 marked Simple Records’ 50th release – the label run by house and techno aficionado Will Saul. 50 vinyl releases from a small indie, ran entirely by one man is quite an achievement to say the least. In fact, a label with a back catalogue of 50 releases is not only an achievement; it is ‘simply’ something to celebrate.
Will started Simple way back in 2003, a time when clubbers sported mullet’s, partying in warehouses was still a novelty, broken-beat was in-vogue and TV’s only played black and white images.
It’s funny how much changes in such a short amount of time, isn’t it?
In just over 8 years Simple Records has seen releases from some of house and techno’s most interesting figures, including I:Cube, Gui Borrato, Mike Monday, Ian Pooley, Steve Bug, Deetron, Sebo K, Adultnapper, Fink, James Priestley & Dan Berkson and Jesse Rose. As well as an illustrious release schedule with Simple, Saul also managed to squeeze in time to set up a new label AUS which focuses on the more experimental, leftfield sounds of electronic dance music.
Currently preparing his forthcoming album, which from all accounts is another distinguished effort from the produce, it is planned for release in Spring 2011 and features collaborations with artists as diverse as Joe Dukie of Fat Freddy’s Drop, Ninja Tune acoustic hero Fink, Charlene Soraia (new signing to Peacefrog), Detachments and Paul St. Hilaire.
I caught up with Will to discuss Simple Records, the birth of his new love Aus Records and how feels to reach the grand old age of 50.
Who is behind Simple Records, other than yourself ?
Just me! I originally started the label in 2004 with 3 other people but we parted ways 5 years ago and since then it’s just been me. Melissa and her team at Tailored Communications do all our PR.
What was the main reason behind you starting Simple?
Mostly, as an outlet to release music by my friends and me. An outlet where I didn’t have to rely on other people’s release schedules and where there was no compromise required.
What were you guys trying to achieve with Simple when you first started the label?
Our initial intention was pretty Simple (sorry, couldn’t resist) – to release good music of whatever genre.
In hindsight, how do you think those early releases went down?
They seemed to go down very well with the press; we got a lot of great reviews and support from key DJ’s. These were the days when you mailed out vinyl promos and we decided that we would mail out finished copies rather than promos so people could get a feel for the labels visual identity too. We were able to do this as my business partners in the label at the time all worked at Sony Music (where I worked too before leaving to set up Simple). I would drive into town with the records, park out back, then they would bring down 200 of Sony’s vinyl mailers, I would put all the records and reaction sheets in the mailers and they would come and collect them and stick them in the Sony post room! It used to save us a fortune in postage! Thanks Sony!
We over manufactured on the first 4 records as obviously we had no idea that deep futuristic breaks and broken beats wouldn’t sell by the bucket load (!) and if it wasn’t for the 5th record (one from me with a huge Infusion remix) then we would have gone bust, no question.
Obviously the music industry is so different now compared to when you started. What are the main factors that have affected Simple?
Obviously the rapid decline of vinyl sales has been huge. I know for a fact that selling 2000 records today is the equivalent of selling 10,000 records 5 years ago. We had a couple of those records last year on Aus that was nice. As it is it’s always been pretty hand to mouth for us. But this is the reality of a small indie record label, you certainly don’t do it for the money!
Simple has come a long way since its inception, what are the main factors in your development?
Without blowing my own horn the single thing that has kept us in business with both the labels is the A&R. Choosing the right artists and remixers keeps a label fresh. Of course there have been times when we are less at the forefront of the genres we’re releasing within, and I would say we’ve never been the ‘super hot’ label of the month but in general we have never jumped too hard on any bandwagon/trend whilst touching gently on an as many as possible and I would hope it is this that has given us our longevity.
I would say you guys have done very well to stay musically so on point, it would have been easy to stick to your guns after so long. Was it conscious decision to put out more bassy stuff (with AUS) or was it literally just where you guys were at the time?
The labels are very much a reflection of my taste in music. I’m a massive music fan first and foremost and I love to keep ferociously in touch with scenes and their development, as I love new music. I got into dubstep through Appleblim’s FWD mix as it introduced me to a deeper more musical side of dubstep that I hadn’t previously been aware of. I created Aus as an outlet for my more leftfield electronic leanings so this seemed like the logical home for the more bassy stuff that we’ve been releasing for the last couple of years. So in short yes – very much where I was at the time, but also a conscious decision…if that makes sense.
As we just touched on, Simple’s recent resurgence has come parallel with releases on AUS from the likes of Joy Orbison, Ramadanman and Appleblim. Do you think the Simple will be leaving it’s house/techno origins behind or is it more a case of increasing diversity through two separate labels?
Simple will remain fundamentally a house and techno label albeit at the deeper end of the spectrum. Aus can go wherever as it has always set out to be eclectic.
Looking back over the 50 releases, what have been your personal highlights for the Simple career?
I think reaching 50 is probably one of the high points to be honest! I had no idea or expectation that we would release this much music when we started out. Our first album (a label comp called Simple 1) and getting album of the month with this in DJ was pretty special at the time. Hearing the mastered version of my own first artist album (‘Space Between’) on the label was also something I’ll never forget. Our first label night at Fabric was a highlight, and every time I get a new piece of artwork or track/remix delivered to the label I’m like a kid at Christmas!
What, if any, have been the real low?points for Simple in its 50 release career?
I would say when my business partners decided to leave. I had a really bad falling out with one of the three and that was very tough. I nearly didn’t continue with Simple.
What are your plans for next 50 releases for Simple? Well, maybe not 50 but the future plans…
At the moment Simple is actually going to take a little bit of a break after the 50th. I have a ton of records to release on Aus and an album to finish so those will more than take up my time.
Lastly, what are you personal favorite Simple releases?
That would be like picking a favorite child; you can’t expect me to do that!