Guest Mixtape & Interview: Serein

Serein is an independent record label based in Wales, the UK. It was founded by Huw Roberts in 2005, focusing predominantly on crossover ambient styles and delicate sounds. We spoke to Huw about running a label, the perks of Spotify, exciting new releases and of course you can listen to a mixtape as well, exclusively containing Serein releases.

Huw Roberts (Serein)

Please tell us a little bit about the birth of the Serein label. One would imagine there are not too many labels specialised in ambient electronica in the Wales region.

Serein was born during a time when I was involved in the free music scene surrounding so-called ‘net-labels’. These were imprints that released music online for free, there was an extremely creative community of musicians, artists and designers involved and I loved being a part of it. You’re right that there aren’t many similar labels here in Wales, and that made the online scene I was a part of even more special – in the early 90s I was making global connections with like minded people all thanks to my PC and modem. I was a member of a group called Miasmah which still runs to this day (although, like us, they now release on CD and vinyl) and later I decided to start my own venture, Serein.

Serein was founded in 2005 and you produce physical releases (CD and vinyl) since 2010. How do you think the need for owning an actual product have been shifting since then, if it has shifted at all?

Well, I don’t think anyone really needs to own physical items beyond practical day-to-day items. CDs and records are luxuries which is why we put a lot of thought into the artwork and packaging of releases. Many people are now happy to enjoy music digitally, either by downloading music or, as is more often the case, via a streaming service like Spotify. Sometimes people are surprised to hear that I’m a fan of digital streaming – for me, the convenience is a major plus point, not to mention the extremely small footprint it has in terms of its impact on the planet. I do believe there’s a balance to be struck though, I don’t want my music collection to exist solely in the digital domain. Sometimes, a piece of music makes such an impact that I want to have a physical copy to keep and to cherish. Something that occupies physical space, that you can hand to someone and say, ‘look at this – isn’t it beautiful?’. The way I run Serein is a reflection of what I look for and enjoy as a consumer.

Click on the picture to play the Mixtape in Pacemaker!

What do you think are the biggest challenges when running a small, independent label like Serein these days?

In some respects, a record label is a business like any other and comes with the same challenges: continued growth, turning a profit and so on. These are always present and we have to be mindful of them. Other times we might face challenges related to specific releases, for example, dealing with material that’s very difficult to cut to vinyl, printing issues, technical problems with our site and so on. We are always trying to improve every facet of what we do. Identifying problems and finding elegant solutions is a continuous process, one that ultimately benefits everyone.

One big challenge we have right now is integrating a new shop with our website, it’s taking a lot of time but it’s coming together and we’re really excited about it!

You put a lot of focus on the physical releases, both the audio and visual quality of the product. At the same time the label is present on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Spotify and now you have posted a mixtape on Pacemaker too – how much of the original idea of the products gets lost when you’re only looking at them through a(n often) mobile screen?

As I mentioned before I really like streaming services. When I’m in the office, I almost always have Spotify open. I’m really organised with my playlists and I have a pretty big collection of music in my account. I just love discovering new music through it, and of course, when I find something I really connect with I will often track down a physical copy. To be honest, I don’t think listening to music via Pacemaker, Spotify or any other app dilutes the experience. In fact, I really like the idea that someone could be on a train journey somewhere, thousands of miles away from me, discovering the music of Serein as they gaze out of the window. I mean, how utterly futuristic and wonderful is that? That the music we so carefully curate can be discovered in this way is a dream come true in many ways – the idea of that person, sat on that journey hearing our music for the first time and it making an impression – that’s really special. I love the technology that’s available to us now, it’s like magic.

Let’s say someone would love to release their music on Serein. What would it take for you to get interested in a project and eventually release it? What sounds are you looking for nowadays?

I’m not looking for anything too specific, but what gets me interested is music that has its own identity and personality. It doesn’t have to be totally unique or wildly original (I’m not looking for material that totally reinvents the language of music), but it must have something to set it apart. Like other forms of art, creating music is an opportunity to tell a story – work out what you want to say and translate your personal experience into sound. Weave life into your music and people will respond.

A typical Serein morning…

You make music yourself under different aliases (Hidden Rivers, Nest – you can hear them both in the mixtape), but you’re lucky enough to release your music on your own label. Making music is not a privilege anymore, so there’s a ton of music going unnoticed out there… what would your advice be to young artists, how can you make yourself heard?

If your motives are pure and you create for the right reasons, the rest will fall into place. Those who are truly creative find ways to be heard – they don’t need my advice, it will happen given time.

This year is going to be an intense one for Serein. What are you working on currently and what could you tell us about the upcoming releases?

Yes, we have quite a few releases in the pipeline and it’s a lot of work organising each one – the best kind of work though! Up next we an album by a Latvian guy who produces under the name Selffish. He’s made a beautiful, delicate album of minimal electronic music combined with acoustic instruments like grand piano and double bass. It’s a bit like some of the music that came out in the early 2000s on labels like Mille Plateaux, City Centre Offices and April Records, but with a sheen and polish that sounds really modern, I think the classical instrumentation helps with that too. It’s called He She Them Us and will be out on April 21st.

There’s more to come after that but we’re keeping those releases under wraps for now. If you’re interested then like us on Facebook and join our newsletter so you can stay up to date with what we’re doing.

You’ve just shared your first mixtape on Pacemaker, containing exclusively tracks released on Serein. What could you tell us about this selection, what should the listeners expect once they push play?

The only way to get to know us is to listen. Expect a slow pace, romance, some pretty melodies…

 

Discover Serein:

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Pacemaker is more social than ever! 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦

 

Check out what’s new on the latest Pacemaker and download / upgrade in the App Store.

 

 

– Notification Center 🔔
Keep up with your network in the notification center! Here you can see your new followers, comments or if someone remixed your mixtape.

– New Comments Layout 💬
The comments got a nice little facelift, so now you can see all the previous comments when you are writing your own.

– New Discovery Icon 🌎
Explore the world of mixtapes through the new discovery icon.

– Pause Button ⏸
Unsure if your mixtape is playing or not? The revolutionary pause button will make it super obvious!

– New Creation Onboarding 🎨
Learn how to use the app with our new kickass onboarding.

Guest Mixtape & Interview:
Dirty Disco Radio

Dirty Disco Radio is a weekly podcast on DeepFM by Kono Vidovic – a versatile DJ, producer and radio host from Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Showcasing the finest electronic sounds, Dirty Disco Radio recently celebrated its 200th episode. The latest show was created in Pacemaker so you too can savour Kono’s excellent music taste.

Carefully selected deep house tracks, neatly packed and mixed in two hours. He is not only a good storyteller when it comes to music but also when it comes to being interviewed. While you’re listening to his mixtape, read our conversation about discovering, curating & enjoying music.

Kono Vidovic

When and how did you get interested in music?

I always believed I was born with music in my veins. Just like a lot of other artists, DJs etc. As a young boy I had a big interest in anything where sound came out of, especially when those sounds had a melody. 😉 As I grew up, the interest in music grew in me and I noticed at a very young age that I liked to entertain people with playing music for them. Whenever my mother was away for work she told me not to touch her music collection and hi-fi stereo installation. Guess what I did every time she went to work?! That was how I discovered a lot of great artists in the 80s, which set the tone for my musical journey. After discovering music, I discovered DJing. The way I started was pure coincidence, but it was clearly something that needed to happen. From there my journey went through a lot of different styles and genres, and made my sound what it is today.

What made you decide to start your own radio show? Please tell us a bit about the birth of Dirty Disco Radio.

My DJ career started long before the internet revolution. I have always recorded my own mixtapes on cassette, later on CDs and even on mini disc for a short time. Do you remember them? Haha, moments like these make me aware of my age, thanks a lot! 😉 In the years when the internet became very popular, different platforms to upload your DJ mixes to, started to rise. But on a whole different level than these platforms are nowadays, copyrights and things like that were much more complicated than now. I really tried almost all those music platforms. When Soundcloud came, it was finally a proper and easy platform specially made for DJs. It was the time when the Nu Disco genre came in, which grabbed my attention right away. As I loved that sound and noticed that it was very underground and many people did not know the genre yet, I started to upload monthly mixtapes on Soundcloud called ‘Dirty Future Disco’.

After 4 months of doing this, I had a lot of listeners and followers on my account who really liked the sound I was bringing. Then a radio promoter from France contacted me and asked me if I wanted to do a weekly radio show. First I had those thoughts that everyone would have: can I do that? Is my voice good enough? Probably not. But I figured that with all those DJ mixes out there it would be different and something people would like if somebody finally started to talk to them during a DJ set. Not that I was the first one to do this. There were a lot of online radio stations, but 90% of these did not play presented shows just DJ mixes, nothing more. So I just went for it, to see how it would work out – and Dirty Disco Radio was born.

Curating music takes a lot of time and energy – where do you discover music these days when the possibilities are endless and it feels like there’s more and more new music coming each day?

Another great thing of the internet, the limitless possibilities of discovering and making music. The internet is a place where you can go wherever you want, as long as you know where to walk. It gave talented producers new possibilities to create and upload music. The whole digital revolution made it easier to create music for everybody with just a small amount of equipment.

Before the internet and digital revolution I was digging for music in record stores, which could take up days. Those times where awesome. I was always hanging out at local recordshops, met a lot of other people, and dug up some very good records. When the way we consume music has changed, I figured there had to be more places to find music than just the commercial online record shops like Beatport etc. In the beginning of Dirty Disco Radio, I was digging around on a lot of ‘underground’ blogs, which took a lot of time and energy. But that way you can find music not everybody knows and create your own sound. Next to that, you’ll discover a lot of unknown talents. This way I could give their music a platform at the same time and promote their music to a bigger audience. Now after more than 4 years of Dirty Disco Radio, I built up a network. I still get music from all kinds of places like blogs, Soundcloud and online record shops. But a lot of the music that I play comes from my network, record labels that send me their demos, DJs and producer friends.

Next to Dirty Disco Radio, I also occasionally play gigs. As I have a big love for electronic music and that is what DDR stands for, I have love for all kinds of music. In the residency where I currently play, I play a lot of Soul, Funk, Disco old and new combined. Because my musical needs are so big, I work a lot with Spotify. This gives me the ability to always check for new music, find interesting tracks and artists. Wherever I am, Spotify is with me. When I’m in the gym or driving my car, I often listen to the weekly refreshed personal suggested music playlist that Spotify creates for me based on my likes. This is a real cool feature and allows me to curate new music. Whenever I hear something that I like, I add it to a playlist or save it so that Spotify knows what I like.

Do you still buy records or do you prefer the digital streaming more nowadays?

First I was a very stubborn DJ. When all the other DJs started to play with CDs, I still carried my 20 kilos heavy record box with me to every DJ gig. I did not want to surrender myself to the new technology. It took a while, but I noticed that not only CDs came in which made it very easy to bring music and even more music with you as a DJ, but also the digital, which opened up a lot of new possibilities. From there I decided to stop being stubborn and go with the flow. I still like records, they have something magic and that warm sound to them. But I also like convenience, so I’m a really big Spotify fan. I can create playlists on the go. Find new artists and music, and even curate music and play it for other people while I’m not actually playing by creating and sharing mixtapes so people can follow you and listen to them. I see a lot of possibilities in the coming years.

How did you discover Pacemaker?

I’m always in the search for new technology and solutions for my musical needs. With me being a premium Spotify user I searched for an app or device that made it possible to mix tracks straight from Spotify, not for the big PA’s but for small parties this could be very efficient. But also to test which tracks could work well together and to have fun. That is how I found out about Pacemaker. I found more apps and solutions that made it possible to use Spotify, but these were never sophisticated enough. When I met Pacemaker, I knew this was the one to stick with.

You’ve been using Pacemaker for quite some time now. What do you like the most about it and what would you like to improve?

I know there is a separate version for iPad and iPhone but unfortunately I don’t have an iPad, so I’m using it on my iPhone. I’m not using it for professional needs, except this time when I dedicated a Dirty Disco Radio show to the app. But can you see me playing in front of a crowd from my iPhone? 😉 Well never say never, I can imagine some situations where it would be very cool. But with friends at home or in a nice place that gives you that home feeling, Pacemaker can definitely add and create an atmosphere like no other app can.

When I show the app to my friends, they get excited right away and start downloading and installing it themselves to get into the mix, since it’s very approachable. You don’t even need to know the DJ basics or understand DJing at all. That is what makes it really cool. Everybody can do it. Now that there is the social aspect to it, it’s even better, you can now share mixtapes inside of the Pacemaker community. Another very cool thing is that you don’t even need to mix yourself, you can let the app do it for you. This is perfect for home parties, like birthdays and other cosy nights with friends and or family. You can curate some tracks with Spotify, make a playlist of them, open up Pacemaker, open the playlist and just hit play! Pacemaker starts mixing it up.

There is one thing that I would like to see as a new feature, it would be a great thing if you as a user could assign your own cue points for even better mixes.

Kono in action

Please tell us a bit about your selection for the mixtape you made for us. What can our users hear once they push play?

Once you hit play, it gets started. 😀 And with ‘it’ I mean really anything. The party, the cosy night, the listening pleasure. Dirty Disco Radio is a feeling that takes you on a ride, you can approach it how you please. If you want it as the music for a party, no problem, if you enjoy your laid-back moments of peace, that will work out as well. The genres that I curate within DDR are very broad but within the electronic genre. Expect Electronica, House Music, Deep Discofied sounds. DDR is about enjoying every moment of life to appreciate the small things. I try to motivate people to stay positive and healthy, just to get the best out of themselves. You can dance, you can have your favorite drink or a cup of tea, sit back and relax. Just make sure you have the volume up to an acceptable level and enjoy!

 

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Kono Vidovic

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