Slam on 25 years of Soma Records
Slam's Soma 25 stage at Glasgow's upcoming Riverside Festival will celebrate the iconic label's 25th anniversary year – here the dynamic DJ duo reflect on their quarter-century in the game
If there was an award for the duo most synonymous with Glasgow’s celebrated clubbing scene, the accolade would surely go to Stuart McMillan & Orde Meikle. The pair – otherwise known as both techno powerhouse Slam and co-founders of Soma Records – were the original instigators of the fledgling underground in the city's late 80s musical landscape.
Since 1997, Slam have curated the Slam Tent at T in The Park, with internationally acclaimed DJs playing on their mammoth stage alongside local breaking talents. They're also co-curators of Glasgow’s annual Riverside Festival, and Slam's Pressure and Return To Mono club events are firmly established as regular highlights of the region's clubbing calendar.
This year also marks the milestone 25th anniversary of the iconic Soma imprint, which boasts a catalogue of more than 2,000 releases. From humble but exciting beginnings (“Going down to London to master and cut Soma 01, [taking] delivery of the finished copies of Eterna/IBO and sitting in the studio hand numbering the initial 1,000 records”) to obvious highlights (“Meeting and signing Daft Punk in Paris”), it’s been quite a journey for McMillan and Meikle. With the label founded on a ‘vision for the future’, we asked the pair to reflect on the past 25 years and explain how they’ve managed to stay true to that vision.
“We have always had an ethos on keeping things moving forward,” the duo explain via email, “right from early club nights in venues like Sub Club in the late 80s with the acid house explosion, to the all-nighter events in 1990 and '91, through to the foundation of Soma Records and birth of The Arches as a club space in 1992.”
“Our vision has been to create and promote music and vibes to provide an antidote and an alternative to the mainstream. That continues to be our goal and it’s even more necessary now with very bland and unchallenging mass multi-media.
“Whether in the studio or a live environment, we have always worked hard to deliver new experiences. On the event side of things, the Slam Tent at T in the Park has been a big flagship show for us, and more recently we have taken that idea one step further with our Riverside Festival in Glasgow, where we can really roll up our sleeves and deliver an event on a par with the large European club events that take place. It's an exciting development and project for us and for electronic music in Scotland.”
The process of running a label has no doubt evolved over the past quarter century (“SO much has changed in the last 25 years”), and they explain that the technological advancements most artists now take for granted were still relatively new in the early 90s. Their biggest hurdle, however, was the process of getting the label started.
“For such a musically-minded city, Glasgow was predominantly rock-based,” they explain, “and the powers that be, at that time, had no interest in or understanding of electronic dance music. So we had to find out everything on our own from scratch: recording, mastering, production, promotion, marketing, licensing, publishing… the lot.
“The other memorable hurdle was the transition to the predominantly digital market – we remember being very ahead of the curve on this one, we saw it coming as clear as day – but it still meant a drastic change to our business model.”
With such a long-running involvement in Glasgow’s nightlife, McMillan and Meikle certainly know the city’s clubbing scene inside out. Since the days of their own mid-week Black Market club night, they muse, “everything has changed, and yet many of the key ingredients are the same.”
“There are not many nights which are based on local DJs playing to a crowd of their mates and friends of friends,” they observe. “People who go to the same place weekly – living for the weekend and getting together to dance and party and let some off steam and shake off the stress of the week – that’s the type of night we put on in the beginning.
“Culturally, now, the audience are much more like a live music crowd; waiting to see who the headline act is or what the club night is about in terms of its marketing and branding. The scene is very much event-led; not so much a club in the original sense of the word.”
Inevitable changes aside, the pair are quick to sing the praises of their home city and the unique role it plays in shaping house and techno music internationally: “Glasgow certainly punches so far above its weight. Looking at any other UK city or European city, with possibly the exception of Berlin, it’s a challenge to find one with several great house and techno DJs.
“Glasgow has and continues to be responsible for so many amazing DJs who are on the circuit. Gary Beck, Jackmaster, Denis Sulta, Jasper James, Harvey McKay and many more all know how to get people dancing and keep them on the floor. It’s a music city and a party place and also has a heritage in club culture and dance music… Maybe it’s the weather; certainly it’s the attitude of ‘I can do it myself’!”
Choosing a particular highlight from the past 25 years is “almost impossible”, they explain, citing the old Woodstock quote: 'If you were there…'. But Slam are enthusiastic about what the future holds, with what they describe as “the big project” approaching completion: Soma25, a vinyl box set release containing brand new music from the likes of Robert Hood, Jeff Mills and, of course, Slam themselves.
Marking the milestone anniversary of the label, they explain the importance of new material being on the compilation: “We are very forward-thinking. Some of our favourite artists are on there and the music is dynamite. The box set is a limited edition and pre-orders have gone very well – ironically because of the artwork and the production costs it won’t make a profit even when it sells out!"
As for the future of the Soma label? The pair firmly agree that "there’s a lot of good music still to come and the idea of being an antidote to the bland mainstream is more important than ever. We are working with incredibly talented video artists and designers and we have a fairly young team of enthusiastic people – many starting their career in music – and we want the spirit to survive and the organisation to continue to grow organically.
“The buzz of listening, producing and playing music to those who’ll listen is insatiable. We’re sure many people will agree that to end up being able to make a career from the thing you love doing is the best outcome.”
Slam's Top Five Favourite Soma Releases
"There have been so many favourites," Slam tell us. "All the releases have been hard-fought communal decisions of the A&R team at Soma. But a few that spring to mind..."
Envoy – Dark Manoeuvres
A track that just wouldn’t lie down. Now a Berghain classic, due to its ridiculously infectious string riff and timeless rhythmical power.
Skintrade – Andomraxxes
Two geniuses from Aberdeen that only produced four tracks for us before splitting up. This was so ahead of its time and still sounds like nothing else we’ve heard to this day.
Schatrax – Mispent Years
Classic bassline and emotional chords. It still makes the hairs on the back of our necks stand up.
Otaku – Emelia’s Day Out
Ralph Lawson at his supreme best – true soulful electronica.
Slam – Intensities (In Ten Cities)
The much over-looked B-side of Positive Education – an epic 12-minute journey.
Riverside Festival takes place at Riverside Museum on 27 & 28 May 2017
The Soma25 box set is released on 31 Mar