For our next feature we welcome Pete Grove from AFT Lounge Tech / Woodwork Recordings. A label that has certainly been putting out some of the most interesting and enjoyable stuff we have heard this year. Not only is he an artist working under a few guises but he works with some fresh talent as well.
For those that don’t know Woodwork or yourself, when and how did you get interested in electronic music? What is your background?
I started making music at age 15, primarily recording my own instrumental guitar music on a cassette four-track, using cheap old drum machines and keyboards, then later I progressed to a guitar synthesizer with an on-board sequencer. At the time I was playing in a freefrom mutant-jazz jam-band as well as an industrial synth-pop group. I attended my first raves in 1993 and immediately started collecting 1980s Roland gear, making techno and performing live PA. Back then I was known as Sunkissed and was fortunate to play some very good underground events, sharing the bill with acts such as Vapourspace, Autechre, Spacetime Continuum, DJ Hell and Richie Hawtin. That was my main music project through the late 90s, but since then I have launched several other projects including Pablo Splice (electro / EBM), AFT Lounge Tech (house / nujazz / electro funk fusion), Motion Sensor (downtempo electronica), Streetlights (synthwave electronica), Hues (ambient / deep house / dub techno), Breakwater (drum n bass), and Candlewax (synth pop / space rock) for which I perform several instruments and vocals.
Who / What are the main inspirations behind your label?
Before starting Woodwork Recordings, in the mid-90’s I had been hired by John Acquaviva and Richie Hawtin to work at Plus 8 Records in London, Canada. I was primarily brought on to do publishing administration since I was fresh from college with a diploma in music industry business and production. I took on several minor roles at the London / Acquaviva office and was present each day to observe and learn from John, and was also frequently working with the Windsor / Hawtin office, the Detroit warehouse and the ACME Vinyl Corporation in Toronto, so I was really able to learn a lot about what was happening at one of the greatest possible underground electronic music labels and distribution companies at that time. I had also been shopping my demos to Plus 8 for a few years, and had released one 12″ vinyl EP on Definitive. I had a load of new material that I was anxious to put out but Plus 8 hadn’t yet agreed to a release, so I began considering starting my own label. At that time I also approached Swim Records, UK. I became quite familiar with Colin & Malka and the Swim catalogue really impressed me in its diversity, putting minimal techno alongside ambient, electronica and even post-punk. Swim had enough faith in my new material to agree a release, but they equally inspired me and encouraged me to carry on with my own label project to release it myself. So in 1998, the first Sunkissed 12″ 4-track EP launched Woodwork Recordings, followed by a couple more over the following year. Shortly after that, some college friends were also brought to the roster so I could release their music as well. It started slowly but within a couple of years, things were very much on track and the label was being recognized while reach was expanding. However in 2000, some grave personal circumstances caused me to have to cease operations. I was doing the label alone, so when I was no longer able to work on it steadily for a long period of time, the only option was to shut down. I had assumed after a couple of years that the shut down was permanent but years later, after being contacted numerous times for digital copies of the old Woodwork catalogue, I decided to use Bandcamp to archive the label releases finally in 2016. That led to retroactively releasing a few planned items that never made it to vinyl back in the final days of the label’s early operations. This in turn led to releasing some new material… and here now 70 releases later, the label is fully operational again in the digital realm. In this new phase, Woodwork has been able to branch out into many genres as I had originally intended, still inspired by Plus 8, Warp, Ninja Tune, and Swim, but also now from labels such as Ghostly International, CPU, and Stratford Ct.
Do you have a specific sound / vibe you are pushing with the label?
Woodwork is deliberately without a specific sound. The goal at the label is to create a workshop environment for artists to stretch out and try new things or to represent all of their ideas, even if they don’t seem cohesive by modern niche-market sensibilities. Also, the aim is to pair artists with remixers that will inevitably result in the creation of new versions in totally different styles. The hope and the result of that has been to seed interesting fusions and hybrids and hopefully some new sounds and combinations that have never been done before and this will eventually become the sound of Woodwork. While many of our releases do reflect certain genres specifically, as a label we won’t be seeking to pander to anyone or meet any stylistic expectations other than to continue expanding, exploring, and defying whatever it is that could be expected. Musically and artistically, this is the only way toward my goals as a producer, and for many artists, finding a home where the realm of expression isn’t bound to a label’s identity is nearly impossible. So the mandate of the label is to be that workshop, a work in progress, where we’ll try things out and where each project and each artist can exist on their own merit by contributing something unique to the catalogue. That’s not to say that certain specific sounds and genres aren’t represented, or that the label has no identity. It’s just something that by design is meant to evolve and change and grow with each new release, and something that will best be observed by looking at the entire catalogue and roster, rather than a continuous thread of ideas represented along any set timeline. As long as we can somehow relate each new release to where we are coming from, I feel that is enough of a thread to keep all things working together as a whole. Most importantly, it leaves us clear for expansion and redefinition at any time, which is what I hope will ultimately be expected and anticipated by any of our fans or followers.
A&R is an important part of any label, what do you see as key to doing this job well?
For the purposes of Woodwork’s goals as a label, the A&R focus has been encouraging artists to represent their entire range of ideas in their projects… to continuously expand the context of the label output, and the scope of each artist’s output, incorporating as much of the creative big picture as possible. While the current state of music consumption favours singles, incorporating individual tracks into playlists on your platform of choice, we still strive to tell a story with each album or EP, so that if the entire project is listened to and perceived as a larger work, there is a dynamic substance there. I am a strong advocate for diversity and have never believed there to be any real benefit to purist ideals or divisions between creative cultures. Whether or not that works in the current industry, it’s more enjoyable and meaningful to produce projects in that way…. so I guess it’s up for debate whether this approach could be considered doing the job well. I do recognize that today’s industry requires a more immediate, bite-sized, short-term and focused approach and that promoting to niche markets is a viable way to increase awareness and engagement. So I don’t think it’s wise to outwardly reject that approach, but try to incorporate it wherever possible, by attempting to work with both approaches in parallel. Hopefully over time, our listeners will recognize what we are doing and I have to assume they will be people who will appreciate the macro context and the micro context of Woodwork’s output.
What a crazy year – how have things changed for you this year?
There were indeed a lot of unexpected events this year. It definitely set a somewhat random course for my work as an artist and producer, as well as the trajectory of the label. While I had intended to focus on venturing more into playing live, that became nearly impossible. I had also planned expansion of the label in ways that I suddenly found myself without resources to follow through on. Woodwork’s operations and infrastructure are funded from my personal income, and like many others, my occupation and industry have been deeply affected and limited this year. Somehow that didn’t stop the label from releasing over 35 projects. I just kind of shifted focus to doing all that was possible, rolled my sleeves up, and worked harder than I ever imagined i could. There were a lot of artists with extra downtime to finish projects and there seemed to be a lot that people wanted to express and communicate. I think many labels and artists would agree that this year affected everyone’s security, focus, time commitments, energy levels, and emotions to extreme degrees. For me, the end result was a lot of projects released, and many opportunities to improve and expand the label operations in doing so.
How do you see the music industry, are things in a good place for labels at the moment?
Having studied music business and been in the electronic music industry for nearly 30 years, and also working in the entertainment industry in many other roles in various occupations, I have witnessed a lot of change. So many things have improved and yet so much of what has changed has been a regression from arguably more special and meaningful creative times for modern music. The changes have been sweeping and there is no way to take the good without the bad. For newer and younger musicians and producers, there isn’t a concept of how things were before. In the late 90s, electronic music was at it’s height as an underground movement. Since the music and the various scenes each became more commercial, with festivals becoming so overblown and reaching this ridiculous level, so much had been lost that was essential to the music and the attitude behind it. Sure, in the 90s we had Love Parade and Tribal Gathering and Glasontbury, but we also simultaneously had a vibrant underground party and rave scene that wasn’t restricted to club culture, which has all but completely disappeared – there was a balance and a certain pure energy still feeding the music. That essence which was born in Acid House, Rave, and warehouse party culture is now only a memory, and it literally doesn’t even exist for a newer generation of contributors. That change is significant… and here we are now in the midst of a culture led by a small funnel of on-line music retail and distribution channels, where printed press has given way to blogs and social media influencers and there is so much momentum created by whatever is ‘trending’… with the concept of ‘business techno’ and the internet DJ and a culture that understands the world through memes and tweets, the concept of an underground movement has radically transformed into something fleeting and often meaningless. All of this is so truly backward to what best incubates underground music and the creative energy that fuels it – these things were essential to the vibrancy and electronic music and modern music culture. I don’t think there is anyone who is old enough to have lived and experienced both worlds who would say that things are better now overall. Of that generation, we all know what has been lost and we can only describe the experience to the generations that missed out on it… and it’s kind of up to us to try to keep that essence alive somehow. I don’t think there’s any point in fighting the inevitability of change, but I do think it’s going to be truly important to try to maintain and carry forward some of the ideals of underground music and culture in this current overground state of things. Those important ideals have truly become so abused and so confused now. It’s really up to the labels, event promoters, music producers and DJs to make their content and their representation rooted in something that is – for lack of a better word – ‘real’, instead of just following suit and manipulating content and message to suit a convenient or superficial delivery that creates and responds well to ‘stats’. We do have unbelievable opportunities to connect now, reaching so many others so easily, but our messages and content are now subject to so many influences that can cause direct conflict with keeping things deeper and more intricate in substance.
What are your thoughts on streaming and spotify, and how they are shaping the scene?
I am not a fan of Spotify and I directly oppose it’s business model and how the company and platform have seen fit to exploit artists and content creators. I do appreciate its streamlined convenience for the consumer, but even still I don’t use it myself. I like the idea of being introduced to new content through playlists and algorithms and AI, but the takeover of that concept has literally erased the appreciation of music released as albums or larger pieces of work. I still prefer to listen to music in that more traditional way as I feel it connects more deeply to the music and the artists I wish to discover. I enjoy being influenced and affected by that larger concept and idea. This truly seems to be getting lost in the new paradigm… though I do believe it will come back around… listeners will seek that deeper connection at times and will want an experience that is curated by the music makers. The emerging shift toward cloud-based music selections in DJ culture is surely to be the ultimate in convenience, but I don’t think it’s going to result in any improvements in the art form – it removes several barriers and a lot of the work, but it also removes the creative target. Careful selection, inventive programming, and knowledge of the music comes from having a limited collection, practicing and honing skills, solving problems, and doing the work – we have limited time to process and get to know the music we play and share. It has to work that way. A DJ has to get to know their music, they have to choose what they like and make it part of their repertoire and craft a style and a message through that ongoing process. Instant access to every song imaginable is not the way toward developing that craft – it’s sure to lead away from it. I think we’ll see a lot of people hitting up charts and top tens in real time and just throwing stuff together on the fly without any of the research and knowledge that makes things resonate – without even putting any thought into discovering their own message. Ultimately, as long as streaming devalues music and artists and eliminates the greater artistic scope of releases on the ground floor, it’s going to cause a lot of ‘progress’ which will not be positive for anyone. It will be up to creators and consumers to reject platforms that don’t improve all aspects, and choose the ones that truly do make the whole experience better. I have high hopes for Bandcamp and many labels and artists are quite vocal about how the streaming platforms are doing a disservice to many. Thankfully, I do believe we will end up with options, and I will clearly gravitate toward those platforms that serve music as an art form and that best serve artists and listeners who want that deeper connection that sustains the art itself.
Can you share with us some talent we might not know? Maybe some people you have coming up in 2021?
Though I am indeed planning to make the release schedule a little more manageable and deliberate than 2020, there are already quite a few things planned. I hope 2021 will allow me to focus a lot more on my own productions. I have a backlog of material to finish and release in several of my own projects which are less well known, so hopefully I can bring more awareness to them this year. So far though, this coming year looks to start off with some really strong releases by artists who are already well-established with stellar reputations from their previous work.
Can you tell us a bit more about one of your releases you are particularly proud of, and why?
Just released at the end of 2020 is ‘AFT Lounge Tech – We used 2 DANCE: cypher’. This is essentially a label release. The original track is my own production and was actually made back in 1999 and was often included in my Sunkissed live PA performances. It was finally completed and released in May 2020 as the 50th release special to launch my new project AFT Lounge Tech. It kind of represents the original spirit of the label from the early years with the intent to fuse techno with soul and jazz – to integrate organic music traditions into the abstract, modern mode of creating. After releasing the track in May, I offered up the stems to all of the artists on Woodwork for a remix compilation. I hadn’t expected much participation as everyone was already so busy. However, several artists were immediately inspired with this opportunity. All told, the remix EP features the original track remastered with ten remixes. It was an interesting project as there were so many great and unique versions contributed. Although it’s so many remixes of the one original, I believe the full album shows a great deal of diversity and inventive work, which to me really represents the spirit of the label, also emerging from a track which is deeply personal and meaningful to me. It has been a special way to launch AFT Lounge Tech, and a wonderful way to unite so many great artists in one ‘workshop’ project. Label artists The Droid, Dark Arps, Mark Thibideau (aka Crave), Dub Gnostic, Altitude, Sabrina Dzugalo, and Rob Pearson all delivered amazing characteristic versions, joined by Sean Dimitrie, Himadri (of Teste), and Stéphane ‘Teknostep’ Vera who were all on my wish-list of producers to bring on board the Woodwork roster. It was truly rewarding to bring that workshop and fusion concept together in one release with so many brilliant contributors, and the results far exceeded my expectations.
What big things do you have coming up?
2021 is looking very good so far. Electro and techno will be strong out of the gate. Currently in progress are releases and remixes from Pablo Splice, Himadri, Alavux, Dez Williams, Fleck E.S.C., plus AD & the Persuader. Riddim Fernandez will be rolling out some more of his unique dub sound, completing his series of 5 EPs that started last year. AFT Lounge Tech will definitely be representing some more soulful sounds, with follow up material in the works and there are also plans for more various-artist compilations in addition to retrospective mix compilations to showcase what we have released so far. We are looking into doing vinyl releases soon and hope to find it is a viable option this year. I really hope to represent more drum n bass sounds this year, more retrowave and other electronica styles, and perhaps even some post-rock electronic music with some guitar-based projects being considered…. but with so many exciting artists already lined up to present strong releases, I am going to start the year with a well-earned break, and then take it one project at a time.
AFT Lounge Tech: https://aftloungetech.bandcamp.com/
Woodwork Recordings: https://www.woodworkrecordings.com