TiD&B Interview: Manifesto MusicPosted by Lady V on Thursday, May 19th, 2011
The incredible effect which the Internet has had and continues to have on the music industry and on music itself as an art form, is by far nothing new, however two issues which never cease to remain hot topics in the Music vs Internet debate is the concept of free music and the role of record labels in the future. With a passion for the music we support and promote, and a focus on the beats above the ‘scene’ or D&B culture, of course we have an opinion, and we are more than familiar with the others floating about, particularly from those artists who have embraced social media and Tweet about it. However, this isn’t our moment to vent or preach, instead, we present a very interesting project which challenges both ideals and concerns surrounding the state of the music industry, as well as the influx of free music now available; Manifesto Music.
Manifesto Music is a relatively new label which puts out free releases only but follows the more conventional methods of promoting music, such as including accompanying artwork. At first, the concept may seem a little bizarre and we can already hear the obvious questions pop in to your head as they did in ours, but the reason behind giving our attention to Manifesto is that insofar, each release has been rather special and much deserving of any music fan’s ears; exploring a variety of more niche sounds around 170bpm mark and doing so in a very refreshing way. So wanting to find out more about the label, settle our initial intrigue and being more than fascinated by what our findings would have on our opinions about the aforemention Music vs Internet debate, we had a chat with Tom aka Fonik, label head of Manifesto…
TiD&B: Can you tell us more about Manifesto Music and how the label began?
Tom: Manifesto Music was an idea that had been floating around in my head for quite a while before it got off the ground. I think the ethos or ideals behind it speak for themselves really. I just felt, and still feel, that there is so much good music being made that for one reason or another doesn’t get released that there needs to be an outlet for it, to stop it from just languishing around on people’s hard drives doing nothing. It took a while to get up and running, I toyed with various different approaches and ideas and almost went the whole hog, starting a “proper” label with tunes in the shops and stuff, but eventually settled on the original plan which was a free label – keep things simple and easy and to let the music take centre stage. It finally got up and running around 9 months and 5 releases ago, and I’m happy with the path I chose for it, it’s going well and it is everything I wanted it to be.
TiD&B: Is there a team of people working behind the project?
Tom: The day to day running of it is all handled by little ol’ me, no-one else, as part of the labels parent website Everyday Junglist. Of course the artists and designers are all part of the team in their own way too and I also had some advice and friendly words from Ross Gunter and James Roughquest when it was still in its infancy which was invaluable and very much appreciated.
Manifesto 001: Muted ‘Izanami EP’
TiD&B: Why did you decide to start a label giving away free music, particularly as the chosen cuts released so far have been rather special pieces? It may be an obvious question, but wouldn’t an artist choose to just release their music for free through various methods online?
Tom: Glad you think so! I certainly think all the releases so far have been worthy of a “proper” paying release and I am eternally grateful to the producers involved who have been willing to let me release their music for free. Why for free? Well I think that’s answered in the label’s motto; ˜Music As Art” – I strongly believe that music IS art, a concept and idea that seems to get lost sometimes when dealing with the commercial aspect of the industry. It becomes easy to overlook, or perhaps even, it has to be overlooked when you’ve got sales targets and profits to worry about and maybe, sometimes, music ends up getting released simply because it will sell well as opposed to its musical or artistic value. Obviously Manifesto doesn’t have to worry about things like that as everything is for free, I can release music by less well known producers and styles that perhaps aren’t ‘flavour du jour’ as it were, and I think it’s refreshing to do so and beneficial to all involved. It honestly doesn’t bother me if a release gets 1 or 1000 downloads and that’s why I don’t track or keep tabs on hits and download figures. The music is simply presented and archived for people’s delectation as and when they find it and want it.
With regards to the whole ˜why wouldn’t they want to do it themselves” thing? To be honest, I don’t really have an answer to that. Most producers that give away free tracks do it themselves and fair enough, they have a following and fanbase right there to present it to. I think that free labels such as Manifesto don’t have the best reputation sadly. People believe, wrongly in my opinion, that by releasing music on a free label it some how cheapens the music, what they are doing and damages their reputation, which is why you don’t get established names releasing music on free labels, they do it themselves. But I would question that decision; no real thought or care goes in to how these tracks are presented when they are self released, they are just chucked up on Soundcloud or wherever and that’s that, they just become yet another free tune amongst the multitude of others. I would like to think that Manifesto offers an alternative, the chance to present a track or collection of tracks as a complete package like a ‘real’ release, including nice artwork, a professional write up and so forth, and archived and available for download forever. I would hope that some may come round to that way of thinking soon and that maybe we will see some established names releasing on Manifesto, but I won’t hold my breath….
TiD&B: How do you select which artists to work with? Does it ever become an obstacle when approaching talent and you explain that their music will be released for free?
Tom: Well the main selection criteria is simply whether I like it or not! I may have heard of a particular producer’s tracks and then approach them to see if they would be interested in a release with Manifesto, which is how it happened with the first release, Muted’s ˜Izanami EP“. Then again, I might just spend some time trawling Soundcloud etc, and try to unearth some hidden gems, which is how it worked with Kapsil’s “Down East EP” and Scape’s ˜Tranquility EP”. It can also be used as a promotional tool which is how the recent DiamonD EyE release came about.
So far, the whole free thing hasn’t really been an issue. I mean I lay my cards on the table from the get go and explain how everything will work and most people are open and receptive to the idea which is cool. I can’t help but feel a bit bad about basically blagging tunes off people though, but then that’s why I make an effort with everything else, the artwork and presentation of the whole thing and so on, so as to try and make up for the fact that they aren’t seeing a monetary reward for their efforts!
TiD&B: Insofar, the styles of music you have released are reminiscent of the D&B subgenres promoted on your blog Everyday Junglist, they cover more of the experimental and Jungle influenced flavours around the 170bpm mark, was this a conscious decision, or purely because you favour these sounds?
Tom: No, it wasn’t a conscious decision at all. I never set out to promote a particular style or sub genre, the releases have just sort of happened really. That all sounds very vague and haphazard and to be honest the whole process behind the label is a little ha ha! But that’s the way I like it and that’s always how I envisaged it – no stress or pressure, as and when good music comes along is when releases happen. That’s the only criteria really, the music just has to be good regardless of style. Personally speaking I suppose I do favour the more breakbeat orientated and experimental / minimal styles, as well as the more melodic liquid sound, and if that has come through in the releases so far it has been an entirely subconscious thing.
Manifesto 005: DiamonD EyE ‘Mind Film EP’
TiD&B: With Manifesto Music 05 ‘Mind Film EP’ recently released, can you tell us more about how the project came about and what it was like collaborating with DiamonD EyE?
Tom: I have been talking to Myronn (DiamonD Eye) for quite a while now, maybe 2 years or so. I’ve never actually met him (sadly) so it’s all been by email etc but I heard a few tracks of his in the MJazz podcasts and stuff and was instantly hooked. It’s always pure, unadulterated vibes in his music, and its got that kind of old vs new aspect to it which I really like. I got in touch and asked him to do a guest mix for Everyday Junglist which he very kindly did and it’s all taken off from there. He likes to keep a tight lid on his beats though, which is fair enough, and he wanted to make sure the time was right before agreeing to do something, but now that he has his debut LP very close to release it seemed like the perfect opportunity, so here we are. The project has been a pleasure from start to finish and I am very happy with how it turned out, especially as we managed to include ‘Mind Film’ on the EP which is one of my favourite bits of his – such a wicked tune!
TiD&B: How involved are you on an A&R level? Are the tracks presented to you ready for release or do you have a role in the creative process too?
Tom: With regards to the final tracklist, I do have some input of course, as label boss its my duty and right ha ha! Most of the time, the producers send over a collection of tracks and together we work out what would be the best fit and so on, its a very organic process and its a two way one too, the artist has to be happy with the project, that’s very important and so we always try and work something out that is to both mine and their satisfaction. It makes for a better release all round I think.
TiD&B: Looking back on previous releases, they have all been EPs apart from one LP, so will you continue to put out sets of tracks instead of singles, defining you from most labels in the scene? Will Manifesto Music continue to release only Drum and Bass?
Tom: Yeah I think EPs are the way to go, certainly by presenting more tunes, it is more of an incentive for people to check it out. I suppose the Kapsil release wasn’t an EP in the true sense as it was only 2 tracks but I think both tracks worked well together and by presenting it is an EP it conveys the idea of the release as a package or entity in itself as opposed to just a 2 track single. As mentioned before though, I won’t force the issue, if a particular artist only wants to put out 2 tracks, or we think that the release would work best with 2 or however many tunes, then that’s the way it will be.
I definitely do want to start releasing other genres too, it just so happens is has been only Drum and Bass so far because that’s what I know the most. D&B is such a melting pot of influences and styles though so I think it would be interesting to release some different genres, and to create a narrative and interplay of sorts between releases…A lofty ideal for sure, but a good one too I think.
Manifesto 002: Kapsil ‘Down East EP’
TiD&B: Touching upon the stunning artwork that has complimented each release, can you tell us more about that side of the label?
Tom: I think that the artwork plays an important part in the aesthetic and vibe of the releases which is why the proper care attention is paid to that side of things. The label has worked with 4 designers so far and I hope to work with each one of them again as well as seeking out fresh talent to involve as well. The design aspect is a very important part of what the label is about and I have never wanted it to be a mere afterthought.
TiD&B: What’s coming up for Manifesto Music? Can you tell us more about future plans for the label?
Tom: Release-wise we have a couple of things scheduled but without meaning to sound too boring or cryptic, I dont really want to reveal anything just yet. Suffice to say however that I am very excited about some of the music we have coming up, exciting times await!
It’s still all very early days though so for the time being, its just going to continue how it has been going thus far, and we will see what the future holds. I have thought about the possibility of putting together a limited run CD compilation so hopefully that will come to fruition at some point but who knows, whatever happens, happens you know….
I’d also like to give huge shouts and thanks to everyone who has downloaded a release and checked out the label – it is hugely appreciated and I hope you like what you have heard. Extra special thanks to Ross Gunter and James Roughquest, Bjarni Muted, John Kapsil, Steve Scape, Graham Invincible, Tony Justice & Scott Metro at MJazz, the man D Eye and of course V for giving me the chance to waffle about Manifesto and to spread the word a bit. Respect. Big up to all the music lovers out there….