Beneath the Label: Lobster Theremin
This month we lift the lid on Jimmy Asquith’s sonic lobster pot, as he talks spleen-rupturing techno and prepares the label’s first full length offering
At around this time last year, you could have been forgiven for raising a cynical eyebrow on being told to check out the first release from a fledgling new label called Lobster Theremin. An outlet with such a whimsical name could not really be serious in its endeavours, surely?
Yet such a name wedges in the brain and you just possibly went home and gave that record a listen anyway. If so, it was probably around one minute into your first listen of Equation - the title track from Palms Trax’ debut EP - that your curiosity about this crustacean-referencing enigma was further stoked. By the time the track had finished, having been absorbed in its pulsating bass and drenched in its glistening synth and strings, you’ll likely have emerged with a considerable thirst for more from both the artist and the label.
Thankfully, that first record was no anomaly and 2014 has seen Lobster Theremin continue to establish itself as a label very much worthy of your attention, continually diversifying its remit along the way. Whether through the searing techno of Snow Bone, a heady blend of acid and electro from Daze, or the continually dreamlike power of Palms Trax’ best efforts, the label has understandably gained many devotees among those with a penchant for full-bodied analogue jams.
Showing no signs of letting up, this month sees the label release Panthera Krause's Rules EP – another accomplished offering from the warmer, housier end of the label's spectrum. It's a record of some variety, with deep plodding bass and sun-soaked chords defining the title track, while staggered piano stabs and a rumbling sub dominate Rewo. Finally, tightly-looped disco grooves of the Soundstream variety provide the backdrop for sprightly keys on closing track Them Flutes.
Taking a break from a busy session putting together mail orders – an increasingly time-consuming though rewarding chore we suspect – label head Jimmy Asquith gives us the lowdown on the new record and the evolution of Lobster Theremin thus far.
The label’s output this year has been most impressive. It's a struggle to think of another label with such a seemingly mischievous aesthetic and tongue-in-cheek demeanour which has so quickly established itself as a 'serious' outlet. The name ‘Lobster Theremin,’ and that playful sketched logo, is increasingly associated simply with absorbing music and is maybe drawing more discerning nods than laughter and bemusement these days. How do you feel about that?
"Thanks for the kind words and I’m chuffed you’ve been enjoying the output. I agree that the concept is quite daft in a sense but I think maybe that distinction, along with the label’s musical output and visual concepts being a bit more 'serious,' means that soon the association becomes about the creative output that people are consuming, whether it be visual or musical. It’s good to not take things too seriously, whilst simultaneously being dedicated to a more important cause; that of curating a quality and lasting product and experience."
The new record comes from Panthera Krause. What can you tell us about it?
"It was a case of luck and timing really. I was working in Kristina Records when his Yorikke 12" came out on Riotvan and was fully struck by it. Everyone I recommended it to bought it instantly too. It had this really kind of naive, MPC-based production value that made it sound fresh and immediate, plus the song-writing was top notch.
"I then requested a bunch of tracks and from there we chose a few and he gave them a tweak for the release. Rules was always going to be a big one, although people are also going mad for the B2 Them Flutes. No-one's openly praised Rewo yet though which I find baffling as it's my favourite track. When that sub bass comes in it's just riding the groove-liner straight into the sun!"
You've been busy in 2014, with releases coming thick and fast since the Snow Bone record in February. Eleven releases in now, how would you account for the way the label has developed stylistically?
"I think so far we’ve managed to showcase a good number of the facets of how the label will be curated moving forward, although there are certainly themes and styles we’ve not quite touched on yet. All in all there are 20+ releases already planned out after the Panthera Krause release, and that’s just on Lobster Theremin and the black and white series. I think house has been the dominant genre so far but over the next few months there’s going to be a lot more techno and a very special electro release, plus some more leftfield and off-kilter bits."
Speaking of the white and black label series, what was the intention behind creating these offshoots?
"The black label series is there to showcase a more pounding style of techno. The aim of the label isn’t to be a dance label per se, but to explore a range of themes. However, I do need an outlet for material which I feel is formally there to rupture spleens and for people to dance from Friday night ‘til Monday morning to. The white label series is more to explore house music and more vintage styles, although that slightly fell apart with the hammering electro Untitled bit from Daze. It’s a bit more flexible and allows music to be consumed in a different packaged and styled medium."
Now you’ve well and truly broken the label in, and presumably more or less established the broad parameters of what you plan to release, are there any plans to put out a long player from anyone?
"It’s a timely question as one of the next releases will be our first album, a double LP from Chicago Jim. It was originally released on cassette and is an absolutely incredible showcase of vintage Chicago House. I actually expected him to be a much older guy, but it turns out he’s a lot younger than I expected. I seriously can’t believe the moods he’s managed to create on that record; it’s a phenomenal body of work and is a 2xLP in a gatefold sleeve with original photography. It’s going to be a serious release!"
There are many apparent influences from classic Detroit and Chicago records running throughout the label alongside clear UK reference points. There’s also a shared eclectic dynamic and the DIY approach reminiscent of labels such as L.I.E.S in New York. How have your own tastes and your experiences of electronic music developed over the years and how do these factors determine the material you choose to put out and the way you choose to release it?
"It’s strange as I truly appreciate the early work of the 80s and 90s pioneers across house and techno, but what has always excited me more is new sounds and new talent. The way people take influences and tweak old ideas, or even just a refreshing take on a vintage style, can really enlighten how people perceive and experience music. It’s also rooted in the here and now and I feel that there’s definitely more room for label heads and curators who push genuinely talented new artists.
"I think the similarity with L.I.E.S. extends to the passion for releasing new artists and also the prolific rate at which we release records (although they’re definitely releasing more at the moment!) plus some of the overlap in sound, but I think both labels have come from a different place. Most of the artists that have built the foundations of Lobster Theremin are not bound by location; most of them are not from London or even the UK. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not as tight knit. A lot of these artists were aware of each other online and for them to come together under a shared umbrella I feel is a good opportunity for all of us to build a unique group of international artists.
"One extra thing to say is that there are far too many labels not doing enough to push their artists or simply curating inappropriate releases, not helping artists to reach their full potential and just generally flooding the market with low quality releases and concepts."
When it comes to selecting tracks for the label, are you hands on about going out and finding artists who fit the bill or are you generally selecting material from people approaching you?
"I’ve probably signed one or very possibly two releases from tracks that have been sent to me so that’s not really how I go about things. I generally scour the web for new artists and for hidden gems. Sometimes it’s not even the tracks on their Soundcloud that are the best but when you request more things to hear that is often when you get the real gold. A couple of releases came about as I’d already bought releases from these people before but felt that I could either provide a new angle for them creatively, or help curate a release that would thrust them into the ears of a wider audience."
You’ve so far worked mostly with producers who will be new to listeners – Palms Trax in particular has been a revelation for many. Do you intend to maintain close relationships with the producers on the label and build a catalogue around them, or do you see Theremin being more about continually unleashing new talent?
"There’s a balance here. I’d thought about doing a Lobster Theremin night next year with every single artist who had released with us up until that point and realised that it would be 20 artists total with about 15 flying in, which is bonkers! But I work to maintain an ongoing dialogue with artists on the label. My Facebook chat literally pops up about 20 times a day with different people I’m chatting to about releases or shows or even just gear and jokes and memes. Route 8 and myself chatted for 9-10 months before he finally came to the UK and we got on like a house on fire, and that’s what I want for everyone on the label. Snow Bone, Manse and Ozel AB are in London, I fly out to see Palms Trax as he’s a close friend plus there are a number of future releasing artists over there too I try make time to see. Budapest, Detroit, Chicago, Australia. There’s really no border for this kind of thing.
"In terms of new talent there is literally so much that it’s coming out of my ears, I’m having to really knuckle down in terms of curating and making sure everything is the best it can be. The scope of this will start to extend beyond the boundaries of Lobster Theremin, although on that innocuous tip I do actually run more labels but not everyone is aware of it."
Finally, what’s the next order of business for the label and what can we expect going forward generally?
"From September to November there will be three releases a month on Lobster Theremin with some material that’s been brewing since last year. There’s a wealth of incredible techno in there and the black label will be getting pretty extended in that time! In the run up to October there’ll be another exciting announcement plus there are loads of secret things I do that only people on the mailing list are aware of, but I suppose that’s why they stay on the mailing list. Under the surface there’s a lot more going on than people know about or would expect."