House label Local Talk on turning 13: “We don’t want to look back – it’s more about where we are and where we’re heading”
Label founders Mad Mats and Tooli sit down with MusicTech to talk about the triumphs and challenges of running an independent imprint
Local Talk founders Mad Mats and Tooli
Being a tastemaker in music sounds easy enough, right? We can all make carefully-curated playlists primed for myriad moods and parties. But when you start a record label, you’re truly committing to the part; leading a particular sound and a considered roster of talent becomes your job. You might even end up influencing an entire scene.
“I wouldn’t say that we are trendsetters,” says Local Talk founder Mad Mats with a bashful smile when asked about the independent label’s impact on deep house music. But he and his business partner, Tooli, have quietly helped shape the European house movement with over 180 releases. Now, they’re celebrating 13 successful years of Local Talk with a two-volume compilation album of new tracks that manifest the sound they’ve excelled at cultivating.
Based in Stockholm, Mats and Tooli have channelled their prolonged infatuation with house into the label, drawing on their experience as producers, DJs, and founders of other imprints. Local Talk has become beloved for its quirky blend of deep, funky house and for championing underground heroes such as HNNY, Art Of Tones, Felipe Gordon, Chesus, Crackazat and Atjazz. How have they done it?
“I think a lot of people that start a label want to express themselves through other people’s music,” explains Mats. “That’s something that I’m really proud of – we really only [release] stuff that we actually like. It’s a reflection of us; or at least, I hope so.”
Upholding such values has been paramount since the duo formed Local Talk. Around 2010, during one of Mats’ Raw Fusion Recordings events in Stockholm where Tooli was DJing, the pair dreamed up a label focused on four-to-the-floor house music. Thanks to their experience in running other labels in the dance scene, they took a business-minded approach to Local Talk from the outset.
“When we started,” Tooli says, “we had a plan on how to start building the label – maybe not the end goal, but what we needed to do. Rather than have one or two great tracks and seeing what happens, we planned ahead. We made sure we had enough music to get off our feet and see if it would actually take us to the next level.”
“But we never burned out the brand or put in all the money into, let’s say, a Carl Craig remix or whatever. And then, you know, if that didn’t work it would sink – we just kept doing our thing.”
Holding true to their brand means paying homage to timeless house tracks while contributing new music to the scene. In 2011, following the inaugural Local Talk release of Bassfort’s Moon Shadow / Moon Light, was a re-release of Circulation’s 1997 track The Return complete with two remixes from DJ Le Roi and Prommer & Barck.
“Because we were both DJs,” Tooli continues, “we talked about ‘what tracks do we still play?’ ‘Which tracks do we consider to be timeless?’ Reissues have been popular throughout the years, of course, but [at the time] there was a resurrection of reissues and also that particular sound. And I think, by then, we knew what we wanted to do with the label.
As DJs and producers hailing from the 90s, Mats and Tooli were watching a new generation of DJs lay their hands on the decks. They noticed newcomers held “a romantic view of house music from the 90s,” Mats says. “There’s the golden era of hip-hop but it’s the same thing with house – the 90s has some kind of glow around it.”
Noticing a resurrection of old-school house and vinyl records, the duo consider themselves fortunate that the sound they love was back in vogue. Their early releases, like HNNY’s 2012 For The Very First Time and Kyodai’s 2012 Breaking, were quickly picked up by house DJs of the time and are still on rotation in clubs and playlists. But they weren’t keen on becoming complacent with the sound they’d settled into.
“Our first 10 or 15 releases, in my opinion, are quite diverse, but we had an aura that we were into 90s house – that we had this retro feel with the label,” Mats says. “And I remember me and Tooli were saying. ‘we need to get away from that or we’re going to get stuck. We don’t want to be limited to one genre.’ Even though it maybe wasn’t actually true, that was our feeling, so…I wouldn’t say that we started liking something else, but we started releasing other stuff that we liked as well.”
Around the same time, other independent labels were sprouting, but Mats saw that those “who were maybe more bound to a specific genre got stuck – we didn’t.”
HNNY and Kyodai’s first releases on the label, along with tracks such as Chesus’ Special and Art Of Tones’ The Rainbow Song, have become part of Local Talk’s DNA. And artists like them have become synonymous with the label, but Mats and Tooli didn’t expect them to be as influential as they are, with millions of streams on each track.
“As A&Rs, I wouldn’t say that we are good at projecting the success of any track,” Mats explains. “That’s not what we’re good at. The tracks that became big, like Breaking Kyodai, which is probably our second-biggest track, was a total surprise to us.”
“My experience, as a listener, is that people are waiting for the next big thing,” adds Tooli. “Actually, there aren’t as many [producers] today that are seen as inventors – it’s just more about certain tracks [making] waves. But those are still released by the same label; if you take a major label, you go back [through its discography], and you see, like, ‘Oh, this artist did another thing for them, and another thing, and another thing. It’s more about the branding rather than the development of the music genre, I would say.”
Mats agrees and opines that labels should stay true to what they love, rather than seek success with a unique artist.
“This is what I kind of miss a little bit in today’s A&R’ing. I like when you can see that [a label] doesn’t just put out music because it might work. You can see a label where honesty and personality shine through. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good labels out there. But I really think there’s a lot of thought behind releases these days, and maybe we shouldn’t think so much – just feel more.”
It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Only putting out the music you love and being able to turn a decent profit. For an indie label, it’s not always as rosy as it seems.
As avid vinyl lovers, Mats and Tooli have pressed many of Local Talk’s releases to wax. In the early 2010s, when the industry saw a surge in vinyl’s popularity, this was a reasonable strategy. In the 2020s, vinyl is still reaching its highest sales since the 90s, but this may not be trickling all the way down to independents.
“I got a statement for one of my other labels,” explains Tooli, “and actually sold out a [vinyl pressing run]. It’s quite rare these days that you sell out the first pressing. And by doing the calculations, I made €120.”
With all the tireless work required to distribute to vinyl, Tooli concludes that “it’s too much work, just to be nostalgic.”
They both remind us that the duo are deeply passionate about pressing records but it’s a tough sell when a 12-inch vinyl costs less to buy than a 12-inch pizza. Besides, the label’s main income is currently garnered through streaming services.
“[Streaming] makes it so much easier for people to actually hear the music,” says Tooli. “People can choose how they want to consume our products because we make sure it’s possible to listen to them through different stores and digital streaming platforms. We’re not working with a smaller distribution company that doesn’t have many shops. All of a sudden, it’s possible for people all over the world to listen to music 24/7 whenever they want, and we’re not excluding anyone.
“When we started the label, we said we ’re not going to limit ourselves to a format and we’re going to make sure we’re releasing music that everyone can listen to. We’re not aimed towards DJs or we’re not aimed towards people in the US or we’re not aimed to record collectors. That one specific type of music is going to be available for everyone. So, yeah, digital has made that possible.”
“There is a separate discussion, of course about how much you’re getting paid how much the revenue should be, you know, and if Spotify is cheating people on the staff or who’s to blame, but I would say, as a label, we have an obligation to make sure that our music is heard, and that people are able to consume it when we produce it because otherwise, we’re not going to be able to survive. We’re then not giving our artists a fair chance to be heard either.”
Local Talk’s 13 Years Later compilations boast plenty of upcoming artists that Mats and Tooli want to be heard. While it would be easy to curate a ‘greatest hits’ compilation, the pair want to demonstrate what the label is working towards from here on out. “The idea was to use some of the artists that we’ve been working with already but also get in touch with people that we think make good music and ask if they want to contribute with something. A compilation is also a good vehicle to present what’s coming next. We don’t want to look back – it’s more about where we are and where we’re heading.”
For budding producers hoping to release on independent labels (maybe even Local Talk), Mats and Tooli offer some invaluable advice.
When submitting a demo, Mats says that less is more. “The best demos we receive are just a link and the music – it looks more appealing than a write-up [alongside the music]. We also get a lot of people who say they love the sound of Local Talk and then [send us] trance music. They basically haven’t listened to the label.”
Tooli adds, “Make a list of labels that you identify yourself with, and get in touch. The worst thing they can do is say no, then you just go to the next one. And be honest about if you have a plan and what your goals are. And be able to take criticism or, at least, be able to have a discussion with the label about the music.
“I mean, you’re building a relationship. You want to build something that’s going to last for a while.”
Looking through Local Talk’s oeuvre, it’s clear that Mats and Tooli dedicate their time to fostering relationships with their talent and pushing them to be their best. Most of the artists stick around for several years and engross themselves in the label’s ethos.
Whether you’re a producer looking to sign to an independent or are considering starting a label of your own, Local Talk’s 13 years of operation is an inspiring example of success built on passion.
Listen to Local Talk’s 13 Years Later on bandcamp.com.
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