08 Aug The resurgence of Sleepwalker Records: A home for South African experimental music
A few years back, in 2007 to be precise, a unique record label came into existence. It’s founder, James Cells AKA Jimmy Chronic, sought to create a platform for himself and others to house their own brand of music. This platform would come to be known as Sleepwalker.
At the time most labels were punting more mainstream electro, and while the underground scene was burgeoning, it was decidedly niche. Experimental house and techno formed the bulk of Sleepwalker’s sound and the amassed an ever-growing family of artists across the country. As it goes, the local music scene experienced its ups and downs and Sleepwalker, a niche, self-started label, fell dormant.
Fast forward to 2016 and Sleepwalker – named after the dreamy, euphoric music it houses – has re-awoken, bringing with it a new musical showcase, The Lab Series. Lab Series 01, a full length and freely available album, features a variety of artists, old and new, and while still falling under the umbrella of experimental house and techno, is far reaching in its sound.
There’s Finding Emo’s delicate and affecting chimes on ‘Fox Yourself’, Jimmy Chronic’s hard and distorted basslines on ‘ohhh danua’ and the hypnotic reverberations and sturdy drum patterns of Leeu’s ‘Fossils’. As much as the Lab Series functions as a space for Sleepwalker artists to expand on and experiment with their sound, it also serves as a sonic vignette of sorts of South Africa’s underground house and music scene.
We got in touch with LEEU and Jimmy Chronic to find out a bit more about the resurgence of Sleepwalker, their first Lab Series, plans to expand, and the necessity for a niche music label in the local musical landscape.
Sleepwalker has recently experienced a resurgence of sorts. What happened between its founding days and now?
In life we experience the ebb and flow. Sleepwalker lay dormant for a while, while the guys continued to focus on their production and live performances. Taking gigs and touring seemed to take up a lot of our energy and time. But then it became apparent that the need was there again for us to revive the platform and allow the public access to our work again.
Techno seems to be a neglected genre in the local music scene. Is this the case? What’s Sleepwalker’s role in pushing techno?
I wouldn’t quite say neglected, there are a lot of techno events happening in all major cities around SA. For example, Rocking the Daisies Beach Bar or Oppikoppi or Ultra all have a strong techno presence. Sleepwalker basically pushes anything from electronica to techno but mainly focuses on the house and tech house melodic grooves rather than full on techno.
Similarly, house seems to be a fairly homogenous genre that’s difficult to sift through. How does Sleepwalker go about curating its artists?
Sleepwalker focuses mainly on supporting and releasing local producers, we began just by releasing all our close friends who at the time were making very cool music. We listen with open ears and hearts, if it has that X factor and grips our attention we will probably be interested in releasing it. I think it’s important to consistently keep pushing out a particular style of electronic music that our fans have become accustomed to but also is equally important to take risks with releases and also to give the newer producers the chance to put out their work! We are all about building each artist on the label and giving them the inspiration they need to take their music further.
In the age of social media where bedroom producers can upload a track to Soundcloud and punt it all over their social accounts, what’s the benefit of having an electronic music label?
There’s only so far you can go releasing free songs on Soundcloud or on the internet, I think people who want to take their music to a more professional angle will want to release it through a record label. This way the music can be bought and marketed, and your music will have way more reach, as well as being sent via promo lists to various DJs and producers around the world who will showcase your music and create more interest.
Tell me a bit about the Lab Series.
The Lab Series was an idea to let our followers and people know that we have returned. Also maintaining our sound with a lot of the artists we have put out in the past – mixed with some of the newer talents this country has to offer! We have planned to bring out a Lab Series bi-monthly and each one will feature new artists and fresh music.
Looking forward, what’s the dream for Sleepwalker?
Right now we’re busy expanding the business in a big way. Our Sleepwalker label will now have a sister – Sleepwalker Records, which will be a retail shop in Cape Town where you can go and buy vinyl. We will be importing the freshest records from Europe and elsewhere in the world as well as offering DJ’s a place to buy DJ and producer related equipment and accessories, and we also plan to have a DJ and music production school that will provide one-on-one lessons.
Lastly, does the name have any specific story or meaning behind it?
The whole idea behind Sleepwalker resonated with the way we felt about the music we loved. It was that kind of music that transported you into a dreamlike state of euphoria. It’s also the kind of music that gets played out pretty late at night.