How a Southend club night birthed a record label whose profile is growing bigger by the day
Record labels, like human beings, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes - from tiny boutique affairs run out of someone's bedroom, to huge international corporations run by accountants. From ultra-niche imprints focusing solely on Ukrainian nosebleed gabba-folk fusion, to global giants that release everything from electronica to metal to R&B to pop.
Twas ever thus. Record labels that start as club nights, though - that's a more recent phenomenon. The likes of Kaluki and Elrow Music would be prime examples - and so would Sense Traxx, the label born out of a party in the internationally renowned clubbing hotspot of, er, Southend-on-Sea.
Headed up by Simon Birkumshaw, who previously worked at Defected and who's currently label manager for Kerri Chandler's Madhouse and MadTech imprints, the Sense Traxx organisation celebrated their fifth birthday in December, enticing Franky Rizardo down to the Essex coast to help them blow out the candles. Sidney Charles played at their last party in February, and with their first event in the London capital happening this Friday (9 March), it's fair to say the Sense Traxx brand is on the up.
The decision to set up their own label has no doubt been a big part of that success. Now two years old and 16 releases in, Sense Traxx acquired a sub-label last year (the fairly self-explanatory Deeper Traxx), and this year they're launching a new series of various artist EPs called Music Makes Sense that will surely help them get even more widely known.
With all that going on, we figured we'd best grab 'em for a chat now, before they get too busy!
Can you tell us a bit about the birth of the label?
"The label was set up two years ago as a natural progression to the parties, which had been running for three years prior to that. We felt we could build the brand’s identity further with its own record label, reflecting the music you would hear on the dancefloor at one of our parties."
How would you describe Sense Traxx's music policy?
"Over the years, our music policy has varied and we have always had an open mind to different music, trends and styles. However, straight-up house music will always be at the forefront of what we stand for. At our parties you can expect to hear the deeper side of our tastes early on; as the night progresses so does the music, which becomes more energetic and uplifting. But having just celebrated our fifth birthday, 2018 sees both the label and parties honing our sound, image and vibe to a slightly more tailored palette.
"We have a heavy influence from authentic 90s and early 00s house music: US house and garage, deep house, and not forgetting those uplifting house vibes with big diva vocals. Although we don’t wish to live in the past, we are inspired to take the sounds and experiences we got from music back then, and bring it up to date with a fresh approach, therefore acting as a bridge between old and new music, ready for the dancefloors of today."
How many people are involved in running the label?
"Currently it’s run by myself as a part-time project, although one of our residents (Tom Jay) and another producer on the label are both heavily involved, and play a key part when it comes to our branding and visual conception.
"Then we have a team of about 15 DJs and promotors based in our home town of Southend, and are now on the look-out to build and develop a new team in London to help us establish the brand there."
Ah yes, you're taking Sense Traxx to the Big Smoke. Tell us about that...
"Southend has been our place to develop, learn and test the market, and more importantly to find out exactly who and what we are. But now we're moving to London with our first event at east London hotspot Shoreditch Platform.
"Taking the leap and moving into London is a huge risk, but without risks you can only be left to have regrets, and we don’t want that! So we're hosting intimate parties at Shoreditch Platform on 9 March and 13 April. We have a selection of residents - myself and Tom Jay, plus another label-mate Kalyde. We have also hand-picked some amazingly talented DJs from London, who we'll be announcing soon."
Prior to setting up Sense Traxx you already had a background in A&R and label management at Defected and Madhouse. What were some of the key things you learned there, that you've carried through to your own label?
"The big one has to be that organisation is very important! Secondly, it’s essential that you understand how all the different parts of the business work, so that you can ensure all the different departments are working in sync and therefore maximising results.
"Quality control was also taken very seriously at those labels, and I carry that on now - it’s important to remain consistent and take pride in everything you do.
Would you even have considered setting up a label, do you think, if you hadn't had that experience under your belt?
"It’s difficult to say. I did dream of launching my own label before I was working in music full-time, but I would be a liar to say that working at the other labels hasn’t helped me."
How does your approach or mindset differ when you're doing A&R for your own label rather than someone else's?
"The most important thing is understanding the brand’s ethos and direction, because each label has its own agenda. Although Madhouse and MadTech mean a lot to me, they are not my labels and I have to respect that I am representing another person. These labels have been around a lot longer than I've worked in music, and they need to reflect Kerri: his image, his sound and how he is perceived by others.
"Sense Traxx, however, is my label, so it's my direction! With support and input from others, of course, but the only person it reflects is myself. However, I have a wide taste in music, which can make it hard to narrow down exactly what should go on the label. This is why, as I said, we're tightening up the screws and focusing more on creating our own identity.
"It’s a constant juggling act and it keeps me on my toes! But I love what I love, and if I can keep everyone happy and positively moving forward, then everyone's a winner."
How much of the success of the label is down to the earlier success of Sense Traxx the party brand, do you think? Are you selling records to existing party-goers - or is it more a case now that record-buyers come to your parties?
"That’s an interesting point, and I often find myself asking the same thing: if it wasn't for the success of the parties, we would struggle to do the rest? The events are a big driver for us, as they finance the record label and allow our followers to connect with us in real time. I wouldn’t say all of the party people buy our music - they may stream or listen to it, but they pay to come to the events and we do our absolute best to put on a damn good show.
"Th label, I feel, potentially has a slightly different following to the parties, however I put this down primarily to our location. Now that we have some parties happening in London, those that were unable to attend our events in Southend have an opportunity to see what all the fuss is about."
Last year you launched the Deeper Traxx sub-label. Is it important for you to keep the mothership label to a particular sound?
"The Sense Traxx imprint is the bread and butter of what we do, but we didn’t want to be known as brand that just releases club bangers - we have wide taste in house music, so Deeper Traxx is pretty much what it says on the tin. Deeper and more left-of-centre releases, compared to the straight-up club records on Sense Traxx
"For now, there's no set schedule, it's just about releasing the right tracks as and when we discover them. Or if something just doesn’t quite fit Sense, we know we have another home for it to go to. That label will still get the same amount of love that Sense Traxx would, but it’s important to make sure the releases are right for the label, rather than just trying to fill a pre-determined release schedule."
If I was a club promoter thinking, 'I'd like to launch a label to go with my club brand, too!' what one piece of advice would you give me?
"I think the most important things are finance, branding and time, because you’re going to need a lot of all of them if you want to do it properly. Unfortunately, there's very little support or money in the industry anymore, so if you’re doing it as a way to just earn a bit of extra cash, unfortunately I can’t see it taking off. See it as an opportunity to widen your audience and allow your followers to connect with you on other levels."
Finally, what else is going on with Sense Traxx right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"We have some exciting artists coming up and this year, and you’re going see a much more fresh and exciting direction for the label. We've already been approached by some respected clubs in London and although we only have the two dates in London at the moment, we're confident that this is just the start of something big. Sense Traxx is a brand you’re going to be hearing about a lot more over the coming months!
"We have some big names going onto our roster - one being a very well-known house legend. We have a party in Ibiza on 22 May - a day party held in San Antonio, check our socials for more info - and we're also looking to host some parties in other locations, and more parties in Southend.
"I don’t want to say too much right now because that will spoil the surprise. But we do wish to thank everyone that's supported and believed in us, as it helps us to continue sharing what we love with other people."
Words: Russell Deeks
Sense Traxx make their London party debut at Shoreditch Platform on Friday (9 March), with another event to follow on 13 April