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Label of the month: Polymath

High-concept techno from London

2017 Feb 06     
2 Bit Thugs

Third Son's Polymath label are taking a truly unique approach to A&R

There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's certainly more than one way to run a record label. Some imprints opt for the 'fling it at a wall and see what sticks' approach, keeping up a constant stream of releases and hoping at least some of them gain some traction; some take the view that it's quality, not quantity that matters, and release just a handful of twelves a year. Some labels focus very tightly on a specific sub-genre - future garage, liquid D&B or whatever - while others look to the likes of Warp and XL for inspiration, and release whatever the hell they fancy, from ambient to techno to rock. Some labels are essentially just an outlet for the label boss and his/her buddies to put tracks out, some hook into a wider network of like-minded labels via remix swaps, some look to develop an extensive roster of artists signed on long-term, exclusive contracts.

We're not saying any of these approaches is inherently better than another - we're just saying that there are lots of way that running a label can be done. But never have we come across a label that curates its content quite like Polymath. Based in London and set up just last year by Third Son, whose own releases have previously graced the likes of Sincopat, Noir Music, Stil Vor Talent and Selador, Polymath are happy to listen to your demos, but they categorically won't sign them. Because Polymath don't sign tracks at all - they commission them.

Each Polymath release has a theme: bases covered to date include Decay, Soul, Devotion, Genius and Nirvana, and the next one (coming this month) is Melancholia. Once a theme has been chosen, the label then commissions artists to create a piece of music based on that theme - so the tracklist for the Melancholia EP, for instance, features three completely different tracks, all called Melancholia but coming from three separate artists (namely Third Son, Kincaid and Roboturner).

It's an idea that has parallels everywhere from the world of high art to Bake Off, but we can't remember anyone ever applying such a concept to a record label before. So who better to focus on as we relaunch our Label Of The Month series? We got in touch with Third Son himself to find out more...

How did Polymath come into being?

"The label came to me at the start of 2016, and was pursued as a result of what we felt was an original idea - we ask a handful of artists, per release, to make a track based on a particular theme. We generally handpick a selection of artists who, together, would be interesting to see on a release. We then send them a message respectively, including the theme, and they take it from there. We usually receive very different takes from each artist. This is what makes it interesting."

What other labels have inspired you, either musically or in a business sense?

"microCastle is an inspiration. The amount of time and energy Mitch Alexander invests in it is admirable. When you release on that label, you know your music will be taken care of. I guess that’s all you really ask for as an artist - that your music is appreciated, and released to the public in a way that’s respectful and effective."

How many people are involved in running Polymath?

"Just two - myself, and Kal who's the label manager."

How many releases have there been to date?

"Five. Soul, featuring Finnebassen, Habischman, Jonas Saalbach and Tchoris, has been the biggest seller so far."

What formats do you release - and are you available on streaming services?

"It's all been digital so far, although we do have plans to go into vinyl. As for streaming, you can find us on Spotify and on Apple Music."

What have been your personal highlights so far?

"Releasing a collaborative track between me and my good friend Darlyn Vlys."

Today it's easier than ever to set up a label, of course, but harder than ever to make any money out of it... what are your thoughts on that?

"It has to be financially viable, of course, but we never had dollar signs in our eyes when we decided to set up Polymath. Funnily enough, I think it’s important not to be financially motivated when starting a label. It will lead you to making decisions that might not be good for the artist and then ultimately not good for the label. If you simply put quality above all else, you’ll be rewarded."

Do you have any plans to release albums, or are you sticking to singles/EPs for now?

"For the time being, it makes sense for us to continue down the thematic path - while people get to grips with it, I suppose. But I would love to release my own album on Polymath."

What are your plans for the label going forward - both in the immediate future and in the longer term?

"I’d like to explore a range of different artists this year, not just techno. Maybe not even electronic. I think the breadth of artists should be as experimental as the label itself."

Words: Russell Deeks

The Melancholia EP will be out on 10 February on Beatport, then on 24 February on general release

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Tags: Polymath, Third Son, Finnebassen, Habischman, Jonas Saalbach, Darlyn Vlys, Tchoris, Kincaid, Roboturner, microCastle, Mitch Alexander