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Derrick Thompson

How to run a record label for 28 years

2018 Jan 29     
2 Bit Thugs

We talk to the main man behind long-running Detroit label Soiree Records International

What were you doing 28 years ago? Dependent on age, some iDJ readers will have been lost in a reverie of whistles, lasers, bucket hats and white doves, while others won't even have been born yet. Meanwhile over in Detroit 28 years ago, a young man called Derrick Thompson (AKA Drivetrain) was busy setting up his own small independent house and techno label, Soiree Records International.

28 years later, he's still running it.

That's no mean feat. In the intervening (nearly) three decades, the musical landscape has altered considerably - just think: in 1990 genres such as D&B, trance and dubstep didn't even exist yet - while first MP3 downloads and the decline of vinyl sales, and latterly the emergence of streaming techology, have changed the music industry itself almost beyond recognition. And yet there Soiree Records International are: still putting out various shades of quality 4/4 electronic music just as they've always done.

Not loads of it, mind you. Never ones to over-egg the pudding, the average year might only see a handful of releases from Soiree – most often, in the past few years, taking the form of various artist EPs. They released one just a couple of weeks ago, in fact: the Universal Shift EP, which with its mixture of deep house and driving techno grooves is as good a place as any to get an idea of the label's eclectic and open-minded approach to A&R.

The label's most recent full-length release meanwhile, is This Is Detroit, which showcases the work of 13 artists from the Motor City, ranging from scene legends like Mike Clarke (Agent X) and DJ Roach, to more up-and-coming and/or underground names - not forgetting Derrick himself, in his Drivetime guise. Unsurprisingly given the premise, it's a slightly more techno-focused selection than the Universal Shift EP, but the quality bar is set just as high.

And as stated above, Soiree Records International releases are something of a rare treat. So with two arriving in such a short space of time, and the label's 28th anniversary coming up, now seemed like a good time to grab Mr Thompson for a quick chat...

Soiree will be 28 years old this year. Did you ever dream, when you started the label, that you'd still be running it nearly three decades later?

"Honestly, I thought that by this time, I’d be living in a different country, sipping fine wine and counting my money. I jest…sort of!"

Obviously both the music industry and music itself have changed dramatically in that time. What have been the key factors that have enabled Soiree to keep going, do you think, when so many labels have fallen by the wayside?

"From the beginning, Soiree Records has always been all about the music. Driven by a love for what we produce, integrity in its authenticity and the many artists which we represent, Soiree Records has persevered."

Although the label's been going for a long time, the release schedule hasn't been exactly prolific - certainly not compared to some labels today, who'll churn out six releases a week! Was that a conscious, 'quality over quantity' decision, or were there other factors involved?

"Again, the word 'integrity' comes into play. Without a quality product, there is no mission. Another factor is the fact that all of our releases are pressed to vinyl. In today's market, the vinyl process has become much more complicated. Considering this, it would be extremely difficult to run a cookie-cutter label, even if that was our intent."

Tell us a bit about the Universal Shift EP, and the This Is Detroit album...

"Universal Shift is another display of the talent that I've had the opportunity of meeting. Some tracks on there, like One Love and Pied Bot, have a house feel while the others are more techy-sounding. Veterans DJ Roach and Rennie Foster have been bringing it for many years, so this is nothing new to the true heads! We've also had the pleasure of bringing on rising star Nicolas Franken. His music is very polished, and he'll be a household name in no time.

"And This Is Detroit is a special project that I've just completed to support Detroit artists, a CD compilation featuring 13 distinct Detroit producers. The music selection showcases many of the styles synonymous with Detroit, from techno to house to electro and more. You'll find tracks by established icons like Mike Clark, Sean Deason and Gary Martin, as well as many artists who may not be as well known... yet."

Apart from the artists featured on the EP and the album, there any new names coming through from Detroit you think we should be looking out for?

"Through the years, Soiree Records has introduced many new artists who have gone on to make big names of themselves. Stay on-point with us and you'll have your ear on the pulse of the future."

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self when you were starting the label, what would it be?

"My younger self was madly motivated to do anything in my power to make the label a success. This included time, money and any other resource I could conjure. I don't have any regrets, because I know that I did all that I could, or all that I had the know-how and ability to do. When this work ethic is gone, that's when the label will retire."

And one piece of advice for any young readers thinking of starting their own label now?

"Not to sound cliché, but you must have a purpose - a musical vision. Don't release music just for the sake of having music on the Internet, on some download sites or for the sake of seeing lots of hits in a Google search. Your career will be very short-lived. Purity and consistency equals longevity."

Finally, what else is going on with Soiree right now that iDJ readers need to know about?

"Right now, Soiree Records is focusing on launching a European club residency to support our many artists around the world. And don't forget This Is Detroit is now available at select music stores around the world!"

Words: Russell Deeks Pic: Marie Staggat

The Universal Shift EP and This Is Detroit are both out now on Soiree Records International

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Tags: Derrick Thompson, Soiree Records International, Drivetrain, Mike Clarke, Agent X, DJ Roach, Nicolas Franken, Rennie Foster, Sean Deason, Gary Martin, Detroit