097 – Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie

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Sweden may be generating more attention than ever in electronic music circles at the moment, but despite the EDM craze going on around them, our next guests are ‘swimming against the stream’, creating limited vinyl runs on two small indie labels which they curate out of Stockholm.

Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie have only been making music together for a couple of years, but already they’ve amassed a string of in demand releases on their two labels Junk Yard Connections and Karlovak, the former housing one of the essential house records of 2012, their own King Hassan. Junk Yard Connections has impressed with its seven releases to date, with a vision to represent the ‘punks and the junk’ as they so put it, the label’s discography already covers soundscapes, house, jazz, ambient and has a remix of a Swedish pop band not far away. Karlovak has been even more savvy on the output, churning out six releases already in a little over a year, with rough and sample heavy house cuts for the floor the main objective.

We fired some questions at the guys to find out a bit more about their labels and how they came to working together, and got some interesting insight into the vinyl-only debate.

Tracklist:

Unknown Artist – Måsljud [Unknown]
More Patterns – Lofty Principle [Knuggles Recordings, KNR006]
Tussle – Disco D’Oro (Original) [Rong Music, RONG004] (NOTE: 33 rpm)
Hrdvsion – Unlimited Edition (The Mole Remix) [We Have Friends' Music, WHFM001]
Eddie C – Suprise Pass [Endless Flight, Endless Flight 52]
Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Patterns 1 [Honest Jon's Records, HJRLP45]
Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie – Untitled [Unreleased]
Loco Dice – Tight Laces (Marcel Dettmann’s Response 1 And Response 2) [Desolat, DESOLAT 7DPRMX002]
Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie – 5:56 Tool++ [Karlovak Chrome, KVC-1]
Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie – King Hassan (Shutted Blinds 3:PM) [Junk Yard Connections, JYC-003]
Audio Werner – Guteaussichten [Story, STORY 05]

You guys just had a bit of a holiday right? Where did you get to?

Oscar (Art Alfie) went to Spain and met up his girlfriend while Rudolf (Mr. Tophat) went to France, Italy and The UK where he span records for an exhibition opening at Camden Arts Centre in London.

For those who aren’t familiar with Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie, tell us where you’re both from and how did the partnership come about, were you long time friends before deciding to combine in the studio?

The friendship started at a bar in Stockholm where we both were employed, it must been around 2008.

Rudolf: Actually Oscar was one of the people around me during that time that helped me to start produce music, he taught me the basic skills in Logic and what you have to think about when producing.

Oscar: I met Rudolf while working. From the second he understood I was in to electronic music, thats all we talked about. I really liked him, his energy and his thoughts on music, so we kept in contact and eventually started making music together for real in the fall of 2011. It wasn’t really planned we just met up one night to perhaps make some music and what came out was so interesting that we had to finish it. Then when that was finished other tracks had been started that also felt too good to be left in a drawer so we just kept on producing together.

Where do you both enjoy playing and partying the most when at home in Stockholm? Do you host a regular night or run any regular label parties?

Sometimes there are some good illegal clubs where you have to be a member to get in. Office was this kind of place it was great, Skudge’s first live gig was totally stunning. It’s hard to do 100% legit proper club nights in Stockholm due to hard regulations. It´s usually the unlicensed parties that are the most fun. We host our own unlicensed Karlovak nights in Stockholm at various locations. They have been a lot of fun so far.

We know you guys are behind both the Junk Yard Connections and Karlovak labels, with Karlovak being more focused on up front dance floor cuts than the limited JYC imprint which explores a little deeper. I’m interested to know how you guys describe the difference between the two, as they do cross over to a certain extent..

Junk Yard Connections is Rudolf’s own record label. He founded it in 2010 because he thought Stockholm was in need of a new indie label, everything was about pop-music or major EDM. Like a counter force against the big commercial labels Junk Yard Connections stands for the punks and the junk, both high and low.

Karlovak was something that came up by accident. We mastered a couple of tracks that was planned for Junk Yard, but the mastering changed them a lot. They sounded really cool but they didn´t feel right for Junk Yard. So we started sending them around to see if anyone else wanted to release them. At the same time we kept on producing. No one was interested or we didn’t get the proper replies. So we decided to create our own thing. When you have 5-6 premastered EPs then you start thinking ‘Well why don’t we make it ourself?’. It’s also really nice to be the headmaster of the graphic-layout and etc. Which is in many cases really hard to get input into if you´re not the owner and the person who pays for it.

Junk Yard Connections has enjoyed some solid support from guys like Axel Boman and San Soda to name a couple, and you put out a solid EP from Christopher Rau this year, however the label is still flying relatively ‘under the radar’, which along with the limited nature is much of the appeal for the heads. What are your thoughts generally on limited vinyl runs, will there always be a place for them do you think?

Rudolf: For me it is exactly what Junk Yard is meant to be – an ‘under the radar label’. I have always seen the label more of something developing over time, than making it fast and seeing what’s hip or cool for the moment. I like when things mould. But of course it’s also about politics and about challenging the mainstream. Today everything can be reached from the internet and the digital world. So to go vinyl only and in strictly limited supplies you also get a sort of hype because you swim against the stream.

I believe if you go in the wrong direction of what the rest do, then you stand out. Maybe Junk Yard Connections will release 650,000 copies and go digital once Swedish House Mafia and the rest are going strictly limited, time will tell [laughs]. I mean just look at Marcel Duchamp it took him 50 years before his work reached the commercial world with his thoughts about what is art.

Therefore I think Junk Yard is a statement in some way to question the time we live in today. How music should be packed or how it should sound, what is music? It’s all about the context.

What I think is sad with the limited supplies is when things get hyped more, people also get to know about things, and in that way you are also stuck to the supplies like JYC-003 and the rest. It’s limited with no repress and therefore it just exists at 300 and only 300 people can own the record. It’s harsh but it’s also the magic with collecting. I love to collect; already when I was a kid I was collecting sticks and stones. Now a days I collect vinyl. And I know it hurts when you explore records that are so good but is that expensive in the second hand market because they are out of stock. But that’s a part of the magic I think.

I have thoughts to make it digital in some sort of way (it’s already more or less: YouTube), but I don’t like how the major music companies work. Maybe I’m too busy today to create a own platform where I can control my own distribution but as mentioned before time will tell. First I have to take my bachelor!

Oscar: For me limited vinyl runs are a sum of pro´s and con´s. I mean, it´s a bit anal to allianate listeners that usually consume music digitally. But then even vinyl only releases are a lot of times available on Youtube.

On the other hand when keeping it limited and vinyl only the chances are bigger for someone to be exposed to a track for the first time at exactly the right moment. Like when I go out dancing, I prefer to just get lost in the music, forgetting about tracks and just be into the set. As soon as I know a track the spell breaks a bit and I´m not as lost in the music anymore. In that sense it can be great to limit some songs, keeping them under radar and give DJs the chance to expose their audience to great music they never heard before.

Sometimes though it feels like people use the ‘vinyl-only’ stamp as sales pitch, like it would somehow enhance the music or whatever which I feel is somewhat silly. Music first, medium and availability matters less.

What have you come up with for this mix? Where and how did you record it?

The mix contains both some old and new stuff and unreleased tracks from ourselves. We also included King Hassan since we never had it on a mixtape. It starts in some sort of slow grooving swampy soundscape and then goes in to one of Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie´s essential soundscapes. We recorded the mix with two Technics 1210′s and two Pioneer CDJ’s in our studio that we share with Abdulla Rashim on Bondegatan in Stockholm.

What music do you have coming up of your own and on the labels that you’re able to tell us about?

This fall is going to be really fun. First of all are we awaiting two remixes for KVK 100 with SDIK Baby and Marlboro Light. Then we are going to keep releasing new stuff at Karlovak, a couple of EPs are in the pipeline for the moment. Karlovak is also going to get a new sub-label – Chrome. The label is going to represent a murkier and more twisted sound for the more demented hours at the floor. We also going to do some remixes and release a EP for a British label, actually our first EP outside of Karlovak or Junk Yard Connections.

At Junk Yard Connections things are going slower, JYC-008 will contain a remix of a Swedish rock/pop band named ‘Paddan & Hunden’. JYC-009 will contain an Art Alfie track on the A side and a Mr. Tophat track on the other.

We´re also going out DJing a fair bit. First up is Way Out West festival, then some gigs in Berlin, Paris and other places. And of course our Karlovak parties in Stockholm!!

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