Two years on from her departure from Mobilee, Anja Schneider's Sous Music is going from strength to strength
What do you do when you've co-founded a record label and shepherded its rise to the very top of the house and techno tree over a period of 12 years? You walk away at the height of the label's success and start up a new one from scratch, of course!
At least, that's the decision Anja Schneider made – and it's one that seems to have worked out rather well for her. Schneider's announcement that she was leaving Mobilee, the label she set up with fellow Berlin native Rolf Kollman in 2005, sent shockwaves through the electronic music community in 2017, but two years down the line, her new baby Sous Music is in rude health. The label's biggest-seller thus far has been its debut, Schneider's own SoMe album – her first album in 10 years – but all nine releases to date have been well received by DJs and buyers alike, and things look to be set fair for the foreseeable future.
Read on below to find out more about why she eventually left Mobilee, why she's happy she made the decision and why she's favouring a softly-softly approach when it comes to Sous Music's release schedule…
Tell us how Sous Music came into being. When you left Mobilee, no specific reasons were really given but I got the feeling it was about being free to pursue a more personal artistic path, rather than releasing what was 'good for' such an established label. Is that correct?
"That's precisely how it was! The short version of the Sous Music story is that back at the beginning of 2017, I found myself feeling stuck in a kind of creative hole. I did not feel strong feelings of inspiration and motivation from the situation I was in with my music, like I couldn’t truly be myself or feel free to express myself as I wanted. So I made a decision to take back control of the situation, and move things forward by creating Sous Music as a totally new and fresh concept where anything is possible."
"After 12 years with Mobilee, building the label and brand from nothing to something really special, I realised it couldn't get any better. I know it's a bit of a cliche, but it's very much like a marriage: sometimes individuals develop in different directions. Personally, I have a totally different musical vision now, so it felt like the correct move to separate myself. This way I can develop creatively and also Mobilee has the freedom to be what it needs to be."
So how do you describe the Sous music policy, and how it differs from Mobilee's?
"Sous Music is an open-minded creative space. I want the label to be about free expression, and to encourage myself and other artists to explore and push boundaries with no stereotypes or limitations. A home for my music and that of the artists I respect and admire.
"I would say the most significant difference has been our approach to the A&R process and our release schedule. Allowing Sous Music's output to occur organically was a very important part of the concept. Avoiding feeling like I had to deliver music to any other schedule than what came naturally, or to fit any particular stylistic expectations. Taking time to discover new talent or to develop relationships with talent that I already admired. No pressure to find space in the schedule for a large artist roster.
"An example of this would be the Billy Turner EP we released last last year. I was maybe a little late discovering Billy, but I fell in love with the fresh energy of his music and his brave style of writing, so I reached out to him and over the course of some months we got to know each other and developed a mutual determination to work together. That started with him remixing the track Shadows from my SoMe album, then we released his Approaching Land EP, and right now we are collaborating on a new track for his next EP for Sous Music."
With just nine releases in two years, you've definitely been taking a less-is-more to A&R so far! Is the plan to continue like that, or would you like to ramp up the release schedule a bit more now?
"Our philosophy of not rushing things and only releasing music we truly love will always be central to how we approach A&R. However, this strategy has also benefited the label as it became established and people came to discover what it was we were doing. Not overloading everyone with too much music has meant we can tell our story at a pace that means the message has a greater chance of being understood.
"Being a new label with a new direction is a challenge, so to begin with we gave our releases plenty of room to breath and connect with people. Now we've gone through that process, we feel confident in committing to a higher frequency of releases without risking any diminishing of the results achieved. So the pace with which we release music will quicken this year, but it will still be only say six or seven projects across 12 months."
How many people are employed by/involved in running the label?
"Day-to-day, everything is run by myself and my manager Rob Howarth, but there are many more people I'm thankful to for the contribution they all make. I work with an incredible mastering engineer, Klas Lindblad at Blackhead Studios in Berlin. Then there's my publicist Emma Chambers who runs press and PR, Tom and Alice at Your Army who take care of club promo, Chris at Rising Digital who manages our digital and social marketing, and Marina at !K7 who looks after the distribution and manages our relationships with retailers."
Any particular personal highlights of the past two years?
"The main highlight for me has just been seeing the whole project come together. It's become the driving force behind a new chapter for me, and I've really enjoyed the fresh inspiration this has created."
Looking at your own discography, you've been very 'label faithful' over the years, whereas a lot of label owners will still shop tracks to other labels. Was there a particular reason you chose to do things that way?
"I wouldn't say there was a particular strategy behind these choices, other than the obvious fact that as an artist who has always had my own label it made most sense to use my music to develop that brand. There are many labels which I love and would be excited to release my music with, but that just isn’t that way things have happened."
What's coming up next, release-wise?
"Next up on 21 June is a really strong three-track EP from Madben, which I'm very excited about. And then we're currently working on an EP from Markus Suckut, so lots for everyone to look forward to."
A lot of labels say the "events space" is very important to them from a business/money point of view. Is that an area you'd like to explore with Sous?
"I totally agree that an important aspect of developing a brand is to create awareness in as many ways as possible. Our scene has become much more diverse in the ways in which fans discover and interact with brands, and right now I'd say there's certainly potential to reach a bigger audience via label showcases in clubs or branded festival arenas than there is only by selling or streaming the music we release.
"So of course, I would be very happy and proud to make Sous parties and events, but it's not a high priority for us now. Using events to grow a brand is something that can only happen once you've developed to a certain level. Right now I would not be 100% comfortable taking that step, because I'd want a Sous party to look and feel genuine by booking a line-up of talent who had a strong connection to the label, and we are still building and developing our roster of artists."
Finally, what else is going on in the world of Sous Music (and Anja Schneider) that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I already mentioned the new releases we have scheduled on Sous, but I've also recently done a remix for a singer/songwriter called Sophie Hunger, which is released in June, and I've got a track featured on the upcoming compilation from SISYPHOS, my favourite Berlin underground club, which will be released in October. I'm also working on a new EP to be released on Sous in September.
"In the meantime, I keep myself busy doing two radios shows each week, for Radio Eins in Germany and my Club Room show, which is on many radio stations and online every Thursday via Soundcloud and Mixcloud. Then when I have some spare time at the weekends (ha ha ha!) I will be DJing through the summer all over Europe as well as in America, Canada and Asia."
Words: Russell Deeks Pic: Patrice Brylla
Madben's Landscape EP is out on Sous Music on Friday (21 June)