With the rapid evolution of dubstep sound and culture during the relatively short life of the genre “dubstep” can now mean different things to different people around the globe. One online magazine and label have been keeping it true to the roots of the dubstep sound and sound system culture, for 5 years and they will continue to do so… we are of course talking about the highly respected record label/site/brand DUPLOC.
We caught up with website founder and label manager Pieter Grauwels on the launch of the 5 years of Duploc.com album had an in-depth chat about the album, the state of the scene right now and why we should stop calling it deep dubstep! Pieter is also spreading the love with you lot! Download a rather weighty free track from Belgian bad boy ARtroniks “Seeds of Conflict” previously unavailable; dark, industrial and heavy as f***! We also have an exclusive showcase mix from main man Pieter – 30 mins of dubstep pressure to perfectly encapsulate where the scene is at right now. Spoiler alert, it’s firing!
So this week has seen the release of your 5 years of duploc.com album. How happy are you with the reaction the album has received from peers, critics and ravers alike?
Well the album received some unexpected attention. As far as the press side is concerned we’re very happy that we were (finally) able to reach the broader outlets such as Mixmag, DJ Mag and Bassrush for the first time. Though the well-respected dubstep blogs such as TRUSIK and FatKidOnFire have us covered as well. Even some local Belgian press, The Vinyl Frontier and Fuzz Magazine, wrote a really great article about our fifth anniversary as well.
As we’re (mainly) a promotional platform it is obvious that we are in good contact with quite a few producers, DJs and labels and the response from those has been really positive as well. We also heard a few DJs playing out some of the tunes on the album, which is always a bonus. But I think there’s always room for improvement on the public relation side, but having a personal relation with every single artist whom we ever promoted on the platform is rather impossible! In general, certain producers and DJs tend to play a similar sound as the sound we’re releasing, which makes it logical that we’re more frequent in touch with those.
In general, the reception is that the album is a decent reflection of both the sound and artists we featured on the platform during these five years.
So for those uninitiated with DUPLOC please tell us a little about who you are, what you do as a brand and what your personal role is within.
Well basically the main focus of what I do is running my platform duploc.com. It basically is a website/magazine where you can discover most of the relevant dubstep releases. Apart from that I also run a record label “DUPLOC” through which I basically release content from my favourite producers. And apart from that I also do play live sets under the alias of “DUPLOC”. I really love to play at events but the emphasis was never on pushing myself forward to get booked as a DJ every weekend.
That’s a really short description, but one of our missions is basically to show the average listener the authentic side of dubstep and show them a complete “definition” of the genre. Personally I never was introduced to the soundsystem and dubplate culture and I feel responsible to educate people about that. Another mission is to capture all the relevant dubstep releases and collect them together at one central place with the respective audio and information added.
*On a short note, I’m always talking about “we” but this is just myself running everything from reviewing content to hosting events and from running a record label to scouting for new producers etc. I’m pretty passionate about this!
OK so you decide to launch the site, talk us through the first month.
Well that’s a rather hard one! We’re talking about five years ago, so what the first month was like I cannot tell you exactly, though what I remember is that I launched the channel in October 2012 and within the first few months I had an extremely busy time. Especially the first year I was working about every night until 2-3 am and starting the next morning again. I genuinely was enjoying that anyway.
I’m proud to say that what we did back in the day was something original and you could feel that there was a demand for a new YouTube channel which would focus on a rather uncommon side of the genre. At that time of our launch, I already had good connections with quite a few producers and labels (since I was an active listener since around 2009-2010) and those connections only grew more rapidly since the launch.
How did you decide and compile the tracks for the release, was it a case of reaching out to artists or did you already have loads of material and boiled it down to your favourites?
Well we’re in touch with quite a few producers so if we really wanted it could be a 50 track compilation. I realised that wouldn’t be good for the general quality of the album, moreover we wouldn’t be able to offer every producer the same decent promotion on his track, so I’m very happy we limited ourselves to 15 tracks.
We are often being sent unsigned material, though generally this compilation came together in a way that we reached out to a certain producer we wanted to have involved and asked them if they’d be up for producing a new track for our five years release project.
We have done some other (white label) compilation releases previously so we had some experience as we knew that we had to plan everything from about one year in advance to make sure everyone would make the final deadline.
You have a Masters Degree in Law, not your average career path then, how did it happen?
Well I’m currently finishing up the last piece of that, I need to complete only three little courses and my master thesis. Basically, I’m graduating officially in June 2018 as a master in Law, but I’m almost there indeed! :)
Well I can talk you through a very boring and long story why exactly I chose to study law in university, though I can see why you’re saying it might be quite unusual to study law and be active in the music business. What I can tell you is that the contrast between both worlds is large. Especially back in 2014-2015 when I was more active in hosting live events it was bizarre to constantly switch between the music nightlife and then blend into a complete different scholar world the day after.
Have you ever had to use your legal acumen while running the label? Has any one tried to pull a fast one ;)
Well let’s say I assume I am more aware then an “average” label owner in regards to signing contracts, though luckily as far as I remember I don’t recall someone trying to scam me!
My legal background did help me in that way that I provide the artists with a professional but to-the-point agreement. I see many “custom” agreements floating around which are being used by the record labels. Those agreements are really unclear and basically make no sense in the eyes of the producers; they just include too much information. I like to keep my agreements short and simple! I feel like it’s really important that the producers sign something which they fully understand.
How did you build such a dedicated following for duploc.com?
I believe being just genuine friendly towards everyone helped. I think I always replied to every single message or email and even though I have to disappoint a producer or label from time to time, mutual respect is the key. Also being active on a consistent base, which means publishing content every few days at least, is important.
At what point did you think “this needs to evolve into a record label”?
Well as mentioned before we did release quite a few unofficial/white label compilation releases. Though there was not a consistent basis for those compilations and they were only available through our Bandcamp page as lose releases. I was juggling with the idea to launch my very own imprint for a while, but I never had concrete plans until somewhere at the end of 2014 we were booked in Switzerland for a little takeover and I was sleeping over at London Nebel’s studio together with Le Lion. As we were warming up for the event, Le Lion played me some dubplates he received from a guy called Noclu. That track in fact was “Wattage” by Noclu. I was blown away and after the weekend I hit him up and he told me he was a supporter of the platform since day one and he was very much willing to release that track as DUPLOC001 and that’s how the record label concretely came along!
What is your favourite year for dubstep so far and why?
I would say 2017 without a doubt. For me it’s crazy to read about the early dubstep days while witnessing most of those dubstep pioneers still being really excited about the genre anno 2017 as they’re still active and basically supporting the next tier of dubstep producers.
Also, the originality of the music and especially the amount of quality new upcoming talents have been remarkable for me this year! And then I’m not even talking about how many recently established record labels are finding their way to vinyl. I’m trying to be up to date with everything which is happening within dubstep and it makes me happy to see all these new initiatives!
What is your assessment of the dubstep movement in Belgium?
This is a tricky one. So I’ve been working with some really great promoters over the past few years in Belgium. I’m thinking about Skankerz in Bruges, Quake in Antwerp and Breakdown in Hasselt, they focussed on pushing forward a mix of heavier content with underground vibes which really worked back in 2014-2015. Apart from those promoters there were obviously other events and I’m sure here and there some (local) promoters are still active, though unfortunately we don’t have a regular dubstep night in Belgium anymore. Rotation in Ghent was the last one and they put their events on hold since last year. Though the guys from Kryptonight Events in Leuven now and then have a few dubstep artists on their line up and in fact we convinced them to host another dubstep event which will take place on the 15th of December where we’ll be celebrating our fifth anniversary with dubplates and cake! :)
On the other hand there are still quite a few interesting producers active in Belgium, and obviously we put some extra attention on promoting them on our platform. The first few I think of are Requake, ARtroniks, Digid and BunZer0, though for example Ganja White Knight, Zygos, Kodec, 11th Hour, Subreachers, Nigia etc. are also some Belgian producers to keep an eye on and which I’m planning to support to the fullest.
Belgium may once have had the reputation as a rather sleepy place… not any more with a huge raft of talented producers producing bass heavy music, be it jump up drum and bass or dark and cold dubstep, what would you put this explosion in talent down to?
Well haha, this might be maybe how you perceive Belgium, but I feel it’s still quite sleepy if you compare it to the UK really! I have to admit when dubstep was “popular” back around 2010-2012 here in Belgium, I remember literally everyone was a dubstep DJ and now I can see that happening with the other “popular” genres as well.
We hear of lots of cool projects opening up in Belgium with radio stations and various live music projects etc. What are the reasons for this cultural innovation there? Are the authorities particularly supportive to these things?
I mean like there most certainly is a place for musical talent to develop, but I feel like that is too strictly bound to what genre is popular at a time. For example, the only dubstep/drum and bass radio show on our national radio (which was hosted by Murdock, owner of Rampage Festival) has now also had to make room for other shows.
Are there any more traditional tourist spots or typical Belgian things to try that you would recommend?
I’d say you definitely need to visit the city Bruges. Also Bruges and Ghent (located west of Belgium) are the places where I see innovative music initiatives come from regularly.
You have recorded a very special studio mix for Juno customers please tell us a little about the selection and recording process etc.
Well it's mixed by myself and it's a selection from my personal favourite releases on my own record label. I also included quite a few tunes from the album and there's also one track from the forthcoming DUPLOC019 included, which will be our last release of 2017, dropping on the 13th of November.
You are also very kindly giving away a free track for Juno customers, please tell us about it.
Well as mentioned before we did quite a few white label dubstep compilation releases which were exclusively available through our own Bandcamp shop. Those tracks have not been available via the official stores and that’s why I figured out some people did not have those tracks yet. That’s why we included “Seeds Of Conflict” by ARtroniks for free, which was originally released on the “Best of duploc.com album 2015”.
You are quoted in the past as saying “I don’t want to change anything, but just make sure [the music] keeps living on.” Is this still how you feel about your work and the Duploc project in general?
Well you need to imagine I never had the opportunity to properly get in touch with the soundsystem culture here in Belgium. I heard and learned about that culture by reading articles, so what I meant with that is that I definitely respect the roots and foundations of the genre.
Obviously we want to put forward innovative and original dubstep, but always with respect for the genre.
With the 5 years of duploc.com album being a various artists release you of course have to break from the longstanding artwork theme that you have had since Duploc 001 with the striking digitised profile shots of the respective artists on each EP – how did you decide on the concept for this and who is the designer?
Well it came across naturally as every EP we released, features two tracks from mostly one artist only. That’s why it made sense to put that artist on the cover and for every new starting year, we update the design and give it a fresh look. In regards to who our designer is, we’d like to keep that secret.
What are your thoughts on the EDM/American take on the dubstep sound and the “chainsaw” sound? Do you feel that in the long run that explosion in popularity and commerciality was ultimately bad for the dubstep scene?
I don’t feel too much hate for that particular sound, though I feel like they’re missing a little bit the whole point of what dubstep is about.
I have to admit, when I started with DUPLOC this was a really great frustration for me. The commercial side created a complete misconception of what dubstep is and now it’s a little bit funny that authentic “real” dubstep is being labelled differently in order to stand out. I do understand why, but for example on Juno Download the authentic material is being labelled as “deep dubstep” while the commercial sound is being labelled as “dubstep” as I feel it should be the other way around, labelling the original stuff as “dubstep” and label the commercial sound as “heavy dubstep” or anything. On Beatport that material is even being completely taken out of the page “dubstep” and it is now being put under a new category “leftfield bass”. Given the history of the genre, it’s quite a joke.
Though I don’t want to be too negative on this topic, there are some clear advantages as well. The commercial side also caused many people who were completely unfamiliar with the genre to discover at least something new. That’s also how I got familiar with the genre, through commercial outlets. And then the listeners (like myself) have the opportunity for themselves to start digging and discover the underground part of it. If dubstep wasn’t commercialised like it has been, I never have found about the genre in its totality probably.
We can imagine that running a successful online dubstep magazine and one of the scenes most iconic record labels means that you personally get inundated with music from up and coming talent – what criteria are you looking for when selecting a track to be featured on the site or in the label?
First of all I think we’re definitely not one of the most iconic record labels! Personally I see it as there is a top tier of dubstep labels, as I’m thinking about DEEP MEDi, Tempa, Artikal Music, Innamind and a few others and I see our label as one of the second tier dubstep label, which I’m still very proud of!
For a feature on the website, as in doing an audio upload, I’m looking for original and quality tracks in general. Though apart from that I’m also looking very much into the mentality of the upcoming artists. I’m not interested in promoting a track from someone who I see six months later not making dubstep anymore. That’s why I have to admit it is more common lately to upload forthcoming content in accordance with the respective record labels. Though it’s definitely not required to be signed to a record label in order to appear on our YouTube channel!
Talking about selecting something for the record label, my standards are a little bit higher quality wise. For the record label I’m also more focussing on releasing DJ oriented content.
Dubstep has gone through many transitions since its emergence from the darling of UK underground to the commercial American EDM phase where dubstep music was being used to sell the most unlikely of products/artists/brands. Where do you see the scene heading in the future?
I used to worry about the future of the genre a lot, but what I could see is that the true core of a genre keeps living on and on through the more popular times as well as through the less popular times. That said the last two years have been really great for the genre. Personally I’m really passionate and dedicated to keep pushing dubstep!
We are living in some fairly uncertain times right now, with things kicking off all over the world, so please indulge is in a rather depressing doomsday scenario; a nuclear warhead is on it’s way, you don’t have any time to flee, what song do track do you put on as the soundtrack to your final moments?
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