We talk to label boss Nihil Young, AKA Less Hate, about the past, present and future of Frequenza Records
This year will see Italian label Frequenza Records celebrating their 10th birthday, so what better time to put them under the Label Of The Month spotlight?
Based in Treviso, a small Italian city just to the north of Venice, the label was founded in 2009 by Nihil Young and Gary Caos, but these days is run by Young (AKA Less Hate) alone. Early releases came mostly from those two producers plus a third label regular, Alex D'Ella, but the last few years have seen Frequenza attracting a wider array of musical talent, including the likes of Dantiez Saunderson, Lutzenkirchen and Sascha Sonido as well as a host of lesser-known names.
Originally inspired by the minimal movement, these days the label has no strict music policy – Young says "I sign anything that I really like, and that feels right for the label, in terms of sound quality, arrangement and production," though he admits that the label currently "leans towards a melodic/progressive/techno kind of sound". To date, Frequenza has released hundreds of digital EPs, a series of compilations and over 20 vinyl releases. In 2017, sister label Frequenza Black was also established, catering to "quality techno, tech-house and deep tech music" – although, unusually, the spin-off is based in Spain rather than Italy (more on which below).
All of the label's output is available digitally, and on all major streaming services, though vinyl releases are currently on hold: as Young explains, "I was putting out digital and vinyl at the beginning, but I had to stop with vinyl after about 20 releases because I wasn't able to recover the expenses. But I'm going to get back to vinyl soon with some specially selected releases and compilations."
The label's latest release, Ascension by Young himself, landed in stores last week. We reached out to Young to find out more…
Frequenza is ten years old in 2019... that must be a pretty good feeling?
"It is! It's been the greatest, most blessed, most stressful, most difficult, happiest 10 years of my life. It is a great feeling, though, as I have so many great memories and have met so many beautiful individuals thanks to my job with Frequenza. It's been tough at times, but Frequenza and doing what I do definitely made me the person that I am, and a better one I hope.
"I obviously wish I could have done more with the label and put out more releases of my own, but nevertheless I'm very happy to hear positive feedback about the label, and that Frequenza, as purely underground and barely ever promoted as it was, is now a recognised brand in the scene."
What was the inspiration for setting up the label?
"Frequenza was set up in 2009 in Bologna, Italy, where I met my friend and business partner Gherardo Casini, AKA Gary Caos. He was a prominent house DJ in Bologna at the time, and I was buying vinyl from several online retailers and tracks from Beatport, which was a young store back then.
"I was fascinated by the idea of having my own label – a platform where I could release whatever I felt like. At the time, I was madly in love with minimal and techno and prominent labels in that genre, but having a label of my own seemed like the best way to put out new music constantly, and meant I could express my aesthetics with the use of design, vinyl releases and a few label nights. I was hugely inspired by labels like Minus, Systematic, R&S, Plus 8, Ostgut Ton back then."
How many people are employed by/involved in running the label?
"Just me! But Frequenza Black label is a sub-label I created for my friend Loui Fernandez, a talented DJ, producer and remixer based in Madrid, Spain. Frequenza Black is about harder and faster techno, but also releases deeper, organic tunes from up-and-coming producers, as well as established ones."
Can you tell us a little about your background BEFORE you set up the label?
"I was a hip-hop and funk lover, and a self-taught turntablist. I started doing my own mixtapes when I was 8, piano lessons at 11 and my first big musical crush was Michael Jackson. Then I fell in love with old school hip-hop and discovered the DMC World Championships – it was an exciting new world for me and I was completely caught by it. I bought my first set of Technics turntables and a two-channel scratch mixer at high school and honed my craft and learned to make beats.
"I competed in turntable battles for a while and did quite well, but around this time my older brother bought his first set of CDJs. He was into house music, and the first time I heard something really crazy and different was when he bought Roman Flügel's Geht's Noch. Wow, that sounded sort of like scratching and I was fascinated. Another one who really caught my attention back then was Trentemöller, I loved that new vibe, that quality sound and ingenious composing.
"So I started mixing house and played a few local events in my hometown, but I wasn't fully hooked until one of my best friends introduced me to Minus, and my brother bought a compilation from Moonbootica, which included tunes from Stephan Bodzin and Booka Shade. I was sure that I had to pursue that kind of sound from that moment onwards. I then completed my studies and moved to Bologna to study Anthropology and Psychology – I failed miserably, but it was there where I met my business partner and we decided to create two record labels, after exchanging ideas and a few demos."
You still release music on other labels, I believe... so how do you decide which tracks you're going to shop around, and which you're keeping for Frequenza?
"Yes, I do release some of my music on Frequenza, but I'm mostly busy with running the labels and doing other productions. I actually wish I'd released more of my own projects on Frequenza in the past, which is something I intend to change now.
"But sometimes I produce something that I feel needs to be shared with a bigger label that can give it more exposure, so I shop some tracks around. I’m happy to have met some great artists, mentors and label owners along the way, like John Acquaviva, Kevin Saunderson and his beautiful family and KMS label, and also Toolroom Records, which have all given me a lot of room to express myself."
Frequenza is based in Italy, Frequenza Black in Spain. Does the geographical distance make like difficult?
"No, it's not difficult at all, I'm happy to have another sub-label run by a good friend of mine. Loui has lots of talent and ideas, and I felt like he needed a platform to express them, so I opened Frequenza Black and gave him full management of it. Basically I run Frequenza and Loui runs Frequenza Black."
Are you still doing a regular Frequenza show on Data Transmission?
"Yes, I love the team there as they are dynamic, professional and growing. We were also born in the same year, if I'm correct! I needed a spot for Frequenza Radio and our artists' guest mixes, so Data Transmission was the perfect platform for it. The show happens every fourth Friday of each Month. I'm also going to expand the radio project and try and get it onto some other networks."
Unlike a lot of labels you haven't, as far as I can tell, gone down the events route. Any plans in that area?
"Yes, but it's all about time and place. Until now, I had too much on my plate, and being a one-man band it just wasn't possible to go down that route. But I have hosted a handful of really good events, involving the likes of Umek, John Acquaviva, Speedy J and more, and now that I'm back on track and focusing on my own productions again I can't wait to make time for more events too."
I'm told you design all the label's sleeve artwork yourself. Do you have a professional design background? And is sleeve design still important in this digital age?
"Yes, I love doing that. I have no professional design background at all: just like scratching and music production, I learned everything along the way, out of passion and necessity. The first vinyl releases were actually designed by a very talented Berlin-based visual artist called IceCreamForFree, who also designed the Frequenza logo. But I had no further budget for the digital releases, so I learned a bit of Photoshop and started designing them myself. I also created the label websites, I was fascinated by HTML and CSS so I started looking into that too, and recently refurbished our website.
"I always try to do my best with design and ideas, rebranding the label periodically and trying to make something simple but catchy and aesthetically pleasant. I think having a good logo and design has always been and will always be key, so a little more effort in that area always pays off."
Finally, what else is going on in Frequenza World right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I just put out my new Ascension EP, which was supported by Tiësto on his radio show, and I just confirmed two remixers for the forthcoming remix package – Teenage Mutants and Johnny Kaos. Later this year I will work on my second album, and watch out for forthcoming events in Italy, the UK and Lebanon, too.
"Very soon I will be also opening a new sub-label called Metaphysical, with a gifted multi-instrumentalist friend called Jürgens, which will give us room to express ourselves even further, with genre-unbound wordless music and songs, mantric, traditional, cinematic, 432Hz projects, Merkabah, gnostic and Jungian psychology-themed music, and flow art and meditation events in Italy and in Berlin.
"But enough about me: check out the up-and-coming producers and new artists I'm signing to the label, they have some great talent and music to share with the world! I'm happy to have given a space for some artists that I saw growing and even taking off over the years, and seeing them grow and sign to bigger (even major) labels has been the most rewarding part of being a label owner and curator. I bet it will happen again, so check out the releases and always give new names a chance – they might surprise you sooner than you think!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Ascension is out now on Frequenza Records