Words: Colin Brownbill
Photo: Joe Hart
“Soma is probably more cutting-edge, forward-thinking and exciting now than at any point in its past.” When Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle, aka Slam, talk about the last 25 years of Soma Records, it’s immediately obvious that their focus remains very much on the present and future. While there is no doubt that the Soma story is hugely prolific – from pooling their cash to release their first record, selling over 30,000 copies of ‘Positive Education’ on vinyl and signing Daft Punk – the duo, along with co-founder Dave Clarke, remain resolutely committed to techno, pushing both themselves and the label forward.
A constant search for new talent and a desire to unearth the best new music has seen them weather an ever-changing and unforgiving music industry, while Slam’s residencies at both Pressure and Return To Mono form a solid cornerstone of Glaswegian clubbing. “We’ve had it all; a recession in the music world with the demise of vinyl and the arrival of MP3s, followed by the real recession” the duo reflect. “Now, constant touring is necessary to feed your family because the income from music is squeezed no matter how many people listen to it, so you have to adapt.”
This weekend’s Riverside Festival, promoted alongside The Electric Frog, is a perfect example of Slam and Soma’s constant evolution. Now in its 5th year, the festival has grown into one of the UK’s premier electronic music events, attracting an international line-up while supporting local talent. “The Riverside Festival is on a whole new level now; the team are pulling out all the stops to make it the best yet” say Slam. Based on what they've achieved over the last 25 years, you know they mean it.
Listen to Slam’s set from their recent takeover on Rinse FM and read our full interview with the duo below:
SynthGlasgow: You’re currently celebrating 25 years of Soma Records and you’ve received widespread and thoroughly deserved recognition; what was the catalyst for launching Soma and did you imagine it would still be going strong 25 years later?
Slam: We had been DJ’ing and putting on club nights and bigger raves, and we started making our own music - so with an independent spirit it seemed natural to start our own label in the tradition of Postcard and Factory Records, but for dance music coming through from underground clubs. We had success with the first release, which spurred us on and importantly raised the money to release more records. Soma is probably more cutting-edge, forward-thinking and exciting now than at any point in it’s past.
SG: It seems like right now is one of the most prolific and busy periods of your career, with international touring, major releases and events; what keeps you driven and passionate about techno, the label and DJ’ing?
Slam: When we're at home we're in the studio a lot, and on travels we can stay productive with modern technology. As for inspiration - it’s in the blood. The music, the techno, it’s what we do and it’s a big part of our lives and makeup – creativity keeps us sane.
SG: Over the last 25 years, the music industry has changed massively, forcing label owners to adapt the way they operate. What would you describe as the most difficult challenges you’ve had to deal with over the years?
Slam: We’ve had it all; a recession in the music world with the demise of vinyl and the arrival of MP3s, followed by the real recession. In a way we were more prepared for that - we could knuckle down and carry on. Now, constant touring is necessary to feed your family because the income from music is squeezed no matter how many people listen to it, so you have to adapt. We were always doing other things anyway and that helped enormously - club nights and events as well as touring, recording and remixing.
SG: Last month you released an impressive box set featuring a compilation of brand new tracks and remixes from techno heavyweights and new names alike; what does it mean to have people like Mills, Wink and Hood involved? How important are they to the Soma story?
Slam: Everyone on that record is part of the Soma story - Mills and Hood made records back in the day that inspired us for sure. Josh was an early guest DJ for us at The Arches right at the beginning of Soma; he’d come over from Philadelphia for a few club dates. Daft Punk feature in a way with our modular interpretation of their ‘Drive1994’, but the album has only new tracks or mixes - that was deliberate, with eyes looking forward to the future.
SG: One of the ways Soma Records has maintained relevance is by continually discovering new talent – perhaps most famously with Daft Punk. With so many new producers vying for attention, what makes a demo or artist really stand out to you in 2017?
Slam: It’s hard, many links go un-listened to; with the democratisation of making music the world is now flooded with mediocrity making it impossible to listen to everything. As DJs and as A&R for the label, we have to listen to an enormous amount of music; we still find gems - God knows how - but we are always listening for something with standout quality and not generic in any way.
SG: This weekend Riverside Festival returns for its fifth year, once again attracting a word-class line-up of house and techno. How important do you think the festival has become as part of Glasgow’s party calendar and what keeps fans and DJs coming back?
Slam: The Riverside Festival is on a whole new level now - the whole team is pulling out all the stops to make it the best yet. The line-up has international big-hitters like Loco Dice, Derrick Carter, Groove Armada, Sven and Nina, with a good balance of underground artists including Hunee and Detroit Swindle, and some great local talents. Jackmaster has his own ‘Mastermix’ stage on the Sunday, with some great talent on there including Mr G and DJ Koze. Glasgow is one of the party capitals and deserves a big event with high quality artists. It’s culturally significant to many.
SG: You’ll be playing a special b2b set with Alan Fitzpatrick on the Saturday as part of the Cocoon takeover; what’s your relationship like with Alan and what track will you be pulling out to up the ante?
Slam: He’s a great DJ and all round nice bloke - we’ve never played b2b with him and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve just remixed his new one on his We Are The Brave label and that could up the ante on the day!
SG: 2017 is a big year for anniversaries in Glasgow, with 30 years of Sub Club and 20 years of Optimo; do you think the city’s club and electronic scene is as healthy as it was when you started promoting events?
Slam: It’s very healthy in Glasgow, with plenty of DJs and recording artists coming through; we are proud to see that continuity with the past which is flourishing right now.
The Riverside Festival returns to the grounds of The Riverside Museum this weekend (27th & 28th May). Second release weekend tickets and final release Sunday tickets are still available via Tickettailor. Catch Slam play an afternoon set on the Pressure stage this Saturday, followed by a B2B with Alan Fitzpatrick on the Cocoon stage. Check the full line-up at The Riverside Festival website.