With their '10FOR10' series of anniversary-marking EPs drawing to a close, we have a chat with label boss Mike 'Lempo' McGuinness
This year marks the tenth birthday of Manchester-based house label Applique Music. Born out of a night at the city's legendary Sankeys nightclub, Applique was originally set up by a group of four young DJs, as a way of showcasing their own productions. Today, only Mike McGuinness AKA Lempo remains, but the label's ethos of releasing quality underground house music hasn't changed a bit.
They've traditionally concentrated on offering a platform to younger, up-and-coming artists – Franky Wah, Sidney Charles and Will Clarke are among the big names that appeared on Applique early in their career – but over the years the Applique logo has also graced releases from (or featuring) scene legends such as Todd Terry, Louie Vega, K-Klass, Kenny Dope, Ron Carroll, Chuck Roberts and Roland Clark, the latter providing the vocal for recent lockdown anthem Dance Again, which has proved to be one of the label's biggest sellers to date.
Most recently, there's been 10FOR10, a series of nine EPs marking the label's tenth birthday that culminates this Friday with an album-length mix from McGuinness himself. Which is why we're grabbing him for a chat now…
Congratulations on 10 years in the game! That must feel like quite an achievement?
“It really does. There’ve been occasions where it looked to be coming to an end, but with passion and perseverance we weathered the storm and marched on… viva la Applique! I’m really very proud we have survived for a decade and contributed to the underground music scene. The greatest achievement, though, is how the label has helped launch the careers of so many artists. 10FOR10 has been a real thrill and a great celebration of our achievements as a brand.”
What can you tell us about the birth of the label?
“The label was founded in the summer of 2011. We launched with a series of parties hosting Spektrum, which was the second room at Sankeys in Manchester. It was a great space with dynamic ceiling lighting and a Funktion One soundsystem. The team at the beginning consisted of myself, Jono Carr, and ReKreation, AKA Ben Morling and James Hill. We were all DJs at the start of our production journey and saw the brand as a springboard to release our own music and showcase ourselves as DJs.”
I've always been intrigued by the name, because appliqué is a sewing technique my dear old Mum used to be very fond of. But is that really where you got it from, or is there another meaning?
“Once we agreed to launch the imprint, it needed a strong name. I suggested we should have a name that started with ‘A’ because the stores listed new releases alphabetically by label: it sounds ridiculous looking back, but that was part of the reason behind the name. We didn’t want anything that had been used previously, so we took to the internet searching for a word that would look and sound good, as we intended for the brand to be events as well as a record label.
“It was actually my wife, Jenny, who suggested ‘Applique’. After researching the meaning, it seemed a good fit – applique is the technique of weaving or sewing layers of fabric together. It was a bit on the deep side, but we all loved the link of applying one thing to another, which is similar to the art of DJs and producers – so it stuck!”
Describe the label's music policy:
“House music is at the heart of our music policy – predominantly deep house and tech house. Underground with occasional (albeit rare) mainstream crossover.”
…and how would you say that's changed over the years, if at all?
“It's definitely moved with the trends. The first couple of years was all about deep house which slowly progressed into tech-house. Eventually our output was just good house music, we didn’t worry too much about what sub-genre a release would be categorised as. We were looking for original and raw talent that was both interesting and well-made.”
How many people are employed by/involved in running the label?
“The first couple of years there was four of us managing the label's affairs, then three, then two, then three again, and eventually just one – me, doing the A&R, design and marketing. Other career opportunities and family commitments led to multiple changes within the team.
“I also need to give honourable mentions to Stu Smith who spent two years behind the scenes on label management, and Claire Savage who was our first mastering engineer. And I’ve built longstanding partnerships with distributor Jonathan Waller at Strikeforce 360 Media, and mastering engineer Will Darling at EDM Tips. Those are two third-parties who have contributed to the operation of the label over the last five years.”
I've only just realised Applique has released a couple of tracks you did with another recent iDJ interviewee, Princess Superstar, which is a bit of a coincidence! How did you come to hook up with her?
“I had an idea for a track called Triumph that was based around picking yourself up after a setback. The beat was already written and I knew the direction I wanted for a vocal delivery. I felt Concetta (Princess Superstar) had the attitude in her voice that would be perfect for the project, so I reached out to her on Twitter and she took the gig. It went really well and we’ve collaborated again with Turnin’ Trix last year. For me, she’s one of the best female hip-house vocalists.”
Speaking of vocalists… you've worked with Roland Clark and you've worked with Chuck Roberts. Surely you need to be reaching out to Robert Owens at some point, just to complete the legendary male house vocalists hat-trick?
“Ah, imagine! I’d love to work with Robert Owens – we are yet to cross paths, but yeah you’re absolutely right, that would complete a legendary hat-trick.
“Roland is a singer-songwriting machine, his output is intimidating and frequently groundbreaking. It has been my absolute pleasure to collaborate with him over the years and more recently an honour to have him release on Applique.
“Working with Chuck was different, I’d finished the track Open House during the first lockdown and originally performed the vocal myself. But it felt like the record needed a stronger feature, so again I reached out to a vocalist – this time I identified Chuck Roberts for my wish list and luckily he was into the track and agreed to re-record the parts. The rest is history!”
Looking through your back catalogue… there seems to be more of a focus on releases from other artists these days, and less tracks from yourself. Was that a deliberate move on your part, or do you just get sent more/better demos these days?
“We certainly receive more demos now than ever, and there's been a huge spike in submissions during the last 18 months. But the truth is I struggled to get my own music signed to bigger labels, which was a huge factor in why we launched the label to begin with.
"As time has gone by, though, the standard of my work has progressed and I'm now fortunate enough to place my music with other labels. I still release my own material independently through Applique, just not as frequently as in the past.”
In all your 10 years' experience – what was the worst mistake you ever made, and what was your most genius move?
“My biggest mistake was passing on Josh Butler: this was in the early days and maybe the demos were not quite there yet, but what Josh has done since is exemplary, so that is a huge regret – should’ve took a punt on him!
“My most genius move would have to be signing To The Floor and Party Don’t Stop by the then-unknown Franky Wah. I’d never heard of him at the time, the demo submission came in cold, but the work was fire… a couple of months later his name was all over the scene.”
And any personal highlights from the past 10 years?
“The best thing about the label has been working with likeminded individuals and providing a shop window for artists to better themselves.”
Do you think you'll still be doing this in another 10 years? Another 20? Or do you foresee a time coming when you want to do something else?
"I don’t want to see it come to an end – I’d rather pass it on to someone else eventually and watch them take Applique forward. For now, I’m happy with where we are and just enjoying the moment.”
As you said, the label was launched at Sankeys originally… are events still a part of what you do, and if so how important is that to the brand in terms of overall revenue and/or profile?
“It was a massive part of the business plan when we launched, programming a monthly night at Sankeys. We’ve contributed as co-host for many festival tents and hosted our own events at venues in and around Manchester and Cheshire. At the moment it's difficult to say as there has been little or no opportunity to throw a party for so long due to restrictions, but what I will say is that I defo have an appetite to explore how we can host events again in the near future. Watch this space."
What's coming up next, release-wise?
“Autumn/winter will see fresh releases from some exciting production talents from all around the world, including Luca Lazza, Bruno Kauffmann, Bobby Tuna, Late Than Ever, MDB, Shellioak and Ryno.”
Finally, anything else iDJ readers need to know before we go?
“I’ll just sign off with our label mantra: MUSIC IS THE ANSWER!”
Words: Russell Deeks
10FOR10, mixed by Lempo, is out on Applique Music this Friday (23 July)