Given that Shall Not Fade has consistently marketed itself as a “label from the Eastern Hemisphere”, you probably wouldn’t expect to find its’ founder residing in Bristol, the West of England city most famous for drum and bass, dubstep and all manner of sub bass-propelled dancefloor jams. Idle Hands aside, the city’s house and techno pedigree – when it comes to record labels, at least – is hardly proven.
It’s in Bristol, though, that Juno Download meets Kieran Williams, the softly spoken 20-something DJ and party promoter behind the well-regarded label. It turns out that Williams has pretty much always lived here, he just decided that he didn’t want Shall Not Fade to be too closely associated with his home city.
“I wanted to create a label that wasn't tied to a particular place or scene,” Williams admits over coffee in a bustling café close to the city’s waterfront. “For the first year nobody had any idea that we were based in Bristol – it was only when we started to do events here that some people began to twig. Even now some people aren’t quite sure where we’re based.”
Williams came of age in the city, becoming a regular on the dancefloor of Pinch’s now legendary Subloaded and Dubloaded nights before putting on his own regular parties “for three or four years”. By the time he was ready to think about launching a label, his musical horizons had grown to such an extent that close ties to Bristol seemed more like a potential hindrance than a suitable calling card.
“I think the musical sound of Bristol, at least the way people think about it, is quite strict,” Williams says. “There's definitely a Bristol sound at the end of the day. That was what I grew up on and what first got me into electronic music. With Shall Not Fade, I just wanted to create a label that had no genre limitations. I’ve always felt that I’ve been able to put out different stuff and start new sub-labels to cater for other kinds of stuff that I like, which was what I set out to do. It’s just become something that’s taken over my life.”
He says this with a smile on his face, suggesting that he’s reveling in the opportunities provided by running a label that has taken the house world by storm over the last three years. Williams admits, though, that it took him some time to get to grips with the demands of running a record label.
“To be honest, to begin with it was very disorganized. I think I had the first one and the second EP halfway there, whereas now there will be at least two records a month, sometimes three. The key thing from the start has been to work with a core group of artists and offer them a run of releases, rather than just one EP. Ultimately it's just music that I like, and the fact that other people all over the world like it is amazing.”
Take a quick glance at Shall Not Fade’s growing discography, and you’ll find multiple releases from a core crew of producers including LK, Anthony Fade, Steven Be Calm and Mall Grab, whose working relationship with Williams is so strong that he asked him to manage his Steel City Dance Discs label.
“Jordan [Mall Grab] contacted me about a year ago and said he wanted to start his own label, because he's been with Shall Not Fade right from the very start,” Williams enthuses. “A lot of the artists who've released on Shall Not Fade have been people he's suggested. He came to me and said he wanted to start a label for his music and other music he's really interested in. He is the brain and the vision behind it and I've just helped him turn something that was an idea into reality.”
The idea of creating a genuine Shall Not Fade family is a theme that Williams keeps returning to during the course of our conversation. While the success of the label’s early 12” singles – mostly dusty, analogue-rich deep house club tracks influenced by both classic and contemporary releases from the United States – has allowed Williams the chance to work with more established producers such as Rick Wade, Pascal Viscadi, Hanna and Nicholas, he’s at pains to point out that he offered them the same deal as everyone else.
“I said to them from the start that if we're going to work together, I didn't want to do just one EP with them, but a run of singles,” he asserts. “It’s rewarding to be in a position where you can get some of those artists you’ve dreamed of working with involved, even if it’s just getting them to remix one of our younger artists.”
Famously, one of Williams key aims when launching Shall Not Fade was to present the music only on vinyl. It was born out of a personal love of the format and a wish to support it – “I’m passionate about vinyl and I can’t remember ever buying anything digitally,” he asserts – but the label’s success has meant a deluge of emails and social media messages from digital DJs desperate to get their hands on the music.
“I think I've been putting it off for about 12 to 15 months,” Williams says. “People have constantly been saying ‘why can’t we get Shall Not Fade releases digitally?’ Just releasing on vinyl was the original idea, but as the label has grown, I’ve started to think that if people want it, why shouldn’t they be able to get hold of the music in other formats? It was initially vinyl-only because I’m a vinyl nerd – it’s pretty much what I spend all my money on.”
With the entire Shall Not Fade back catalogue now available to buy as digital downloads – that’s over 20 releases to date – we decided to ask Williams for some of his label highlights. After a lengthy pause for thought – it must be like choosing between your children – he starts to rattle off a list of essential favourites.
“I'd say one would be ‘Ancient Future’ by Nicholas from release number 21 – that track is amazing and I just keep coming back to it. Then there would have to be something from Mall Grab EP that started it all, such as ‘Happiness’ or ‘Orange County’. I can still remember how I felt when I first heard those tracks, selected them and thought 'I can do this'.”
Williams points out that the evolution of an artist’s sound over the course of a number of releases is something that genuinely excites him, citing both Mall Grab and LK as examples. “If you compare LK’s forthcoming double EP with his previous tracks, such as another of my favourites ‘Party People’, you can hear his evolution as an artist and the creative control we offer our artists. It’s very satisfying. Quite a few of our artists I’ve become really close friends with. It really is a family. It’s not business to me – it’s a passion we all share.”