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25 years of Compost

Catching up with label main man Michael Reinboth

2019 Mar 08     
2 Bit Thugs

It's been a while since iDJ last spoke to Compost Records founder Michael Reinboth. With the label getting ready to celebrate a quarter-century in the game, Matt Anniss got on the phone to Munich to find out more…

In the autumn of 1993, music journalist, DJ and producer Michael Reinboth began daydreaming about launching a record label, inspired partly by the increasing number of demo tapes being handed in to him at his long-running Munich club night, Into Something.

"That's when I got the first demos from Rainer Truby, who was our first guest DJ at Into Something," Reinboth explains, a quarter of a century later. "He brought us a demo from Freiburg by two guys calling themselves A Forest Mighty Black. That was Fresh In My Mind, which became the first release on Compost Records. It blew up, with support and hype from James Lavelle and Gilles Peterson. That was the start of all this." 

Fast-forward to 2019, and Compost Records is beginning to mark its 25th birthday with a swathe of special releases. The label's longevity is remarkable – particularly within the fast-changing world of electronic music and club culture – and testament to Reinboth's business acumen and ongoing passion for championing new music.

"I've never lost that burning desire to find and release new music," he enthuses down the phone from the label's Munich office. "Compost has always had a lot of releases from newcomers, and we don't really try and get big names on the labels. I'm still into digging music and buying records, and I listen to every single demo we get sent. It's the thing that keeps us alive and keeps me happy." 

This desire to promote new, up-and-coming acts and then work with them over an extended period of time is one of the keys to the imprint's success. During the label's formative years, this meant working with artists whose releases were pivotal in the development of the nu-jazz – or, as Reinboth calls it, "future jazz" – sound. Crucially, many of those key early artists are still with the label, even if the music they're making in 2019 is very different from what they were doing in 1999 or 2009.

"That these guys like Rainer Truby, Christian Prommer and Fauna Flash have chosen to stay with the label this long is such a good sign," Reinboth says. "It says that we're doing something well and have been for a long time." 

For a generation of listeners, Compost will forever be associated with the "future jazz" style – jazz sounds, instrumentation and beats fused with elements of hip-hop, house, soul, funk, broken beat and Brazilian music – that it championed in its first decade. The label's Future Sounds Of Jazz compilation series, still running to this day, was particularly pivotal in its success, as well as that of connected artists such as Jazzanova (who ran the collaborative Jazzanova Compost Records sub-label until they decided to focus on Sonar Kollektiv in the mid-2000s), Koop and Truby Trio.

"It was really Future Sounds Of Jazz that put us on the map," Reimboth affirms. "They were so successful and gave Compost a trademark sound or approach to music. We influenced quite a few people with these compilations." 

For a younger generation of listeners, the imprint is arguably more associated with the deep house, techno and tech-house sounds championed by the Compost Black Label offshoot. This has been phenomenally successful since launching in 2005, during the darkest period in the label's existence.

"In 2002 our distributor went bust and we couldn't see how we could go forward," Reinboth reveals. "We had to speak to every artist to see if we could pay royalties back to them over a long period of time. Almost all were patient and waited, but it took us seven or eight years to turn everything around. I was close to quitting, but fortunately we made it through." 

Initially the idea of then-staff member Tom Bioly (now co-owner of another successful Munich imprint, Permanent Vacation), Compost Black Label played a massive role in revitalising Compost's fortunes. "We knew we had to do something different, because there were financial pressures," Reinboth admits. "It was a really good idea, because some of the early releases by people like Move D and Solomun got really big." 

Since then Compost Black Label has gone from strength to strength, and the parent label has diversified musically, while still retaining links to its jazzier past and Germany's electronic music heritage (one notable forthcoming project is an album of live "Maurizio-style dub techno" from members of Cold War-era Berlin noiseniks Einstürzende Neubauten).

These disparate but connected musical strands naturally come to the fore on the label's 25th anniversary releases, which comprise a trio of Overture EPs full of fresh remixes of back-catalogue tracks, and a suitably expansive box set. Simply titled Compost 25, the box contains ten slabs of wax, two mix tapes (yes, actual cassettes!) and some seriously tasty label merchandise. It will be released in May.

"We wanted to do something different to celebrate 25 years," Reinboth enthuses. "The idea was to create something that lasts the test of time better than a small retrospective compilation or box set. We've never done a proper box set before, so it's a first for Compost. There will be 600 hand-numbered boxes with download codes inside, and that's it." 

While the music inside the box does include a handful of hard-to-find Compost classics by the likes of Move D and Solomun, the vast majority of the 48 tracks are specially commissioned remixes of label cuts. The impressive cast list of invited remixers includes Lawrence, Roman Flugel, I:Cube, Moodymann, Glenn Underground, Joakim, Ron Trent, Recondite, the Zenker Brothers and Reinboth himself. Given that Reinboth co-produced a number of the label's formative releases (he co-founded early acts Beanfield and Knowtoryus with A Forest Mighty Black's Jan Kruse), his return to the studio seems particularly fitting. 

"When the label began to get more successful in the late 1990s I stepped back from production, as I wanted to be the mastermind and concentrate on the business," he says. "Now I'm returning to production as I have a bit more time. I've actually been talking to Jan Kruse about making a new Beanfield album with just the two of us, as it was in the beginning." 

Words: Matt Anniss Pic: A Sandweger/pictothek

Compost 25: Overture EPs 1, 2 and 3 are out now. The Compost 25 box set will follow in May

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Tags: Compost Records, Michael Reinboth, Rainer Truby, Jazzanova, Jazzanova Compost Records, Sonar Kollektiv, Permanent Vacation, Compost Black Label, Move D, Solomun, Roman Flugel, I:Cube, Moodymann, Glenn Underground, Joakim, Ron Trent, Recondite, Zenker Brothers, Fauna Flash, Koop, Truby Trio, Christian Prommer, James Lavelle, Gilles Peterson, Munich, Into Something, Overture, nu jazz, nu-jazz, broken beat, future jazz, Future Sounds Of Jazz, Beanfield