Interview - Slam talk us through 20 years of Soma Records
The Glasgow label that gave us Daft Punk, Funk D’Void and ‘Positive Education’ celebrates its 20th anniversary
To celebrate Soma’s 20th anniversary, Orde Meikle, one half of label founding fathers Slam (alongside Stuart McMillan), takes us though the history of Glasgow’s favourite electronica label.
‘There was very much a DIY ethos back at the tail end of the 80s. We did try and get some help from the rock infrastructure that existed in Scotland. We did try and sell the idea to a couple of people involved in the music industry, but to be honest, it fell on deaf ears. We’d never have been able to work under a set of rules. Our own set of rules are so bizarre and change over time, so it was best we kept it in house. So we just decided that Slam and these other guys from Glasgow, Rejuvenation, that we’d go into a smallish studio and do our first couple of tracks. We all chipped in a little bit of money and got 1000 pressed, and those 1000 sold by phoning record shops and asking them if they’d take ten or 15, and the money we made form that 1000 we spent on getting another 1000 pressed, and that’s how Soma was born.
‘We never had any plans. Back then we didn’t think it would have seen it’s 20th year, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t. We never had a grand plan and that’s probably the reason why it lasted so long.
‘For me, it can be as much about where the office was, or who the personnel were at the time, as much as the music we were releasing. Every period in Soma has had its interesting bits and bobs. With the first single ‘Eterna’, we went down to London and got it cut and had the acetate. Things that just don’t exist today, it’s totally changed.
‘It was never started as a particularly Scottish thing, even though it was used as a vehicle for us. The doors were always open, and it was just bizarre where some of the demo tracks would come in from, such as Kazakhstan and places like that. It’s just always been about qualitative music rather than genre. When you look back at the release schedule, there’s everything from full-on banging techno with Space DJz and stuff like that to Vector Lovers and The Black Dog and everything in-between, we’ve had quite housey periods, Ewan Pearson for example started his career with us. It really has been a very eclectic label from the outset, releasing dance across all its genres.
‘In terms of highlights, the first one [‘Eterna’], just to get something out there. Obviously ‘Positive Education’ too. We knew was good straight away - within 30 minutes of laying down the idea - but to see it blow up from the very first time we played it from the acetate in the Sub Club... To see the reaction, I can remember being a little bit embarrassed actually. Daft Punk ‘Da Funk’ the record that put them on the radar of every record label in the entire world. Funk D’Void ‘Diabla' and hearing that in Ibiza and Singapore, Japan and everywhere. I could probably, hand-on-heart, say that I’m proud of everything we’ve ever put out. There are certain ones that instantly spring to mind ‘Andomraxxes’ by Skintrade, a band from Aberdeen that only ever did five singles then disappeared. That’s one of my favourites. For me it’s like a Derrick May record or a Kraftwerk record, it’s absolutely timeless.
‘At the beginning of last year we started contacting people that we knew to do remixes of the back catalogue, so they’ve been streaming in since Easter of last year, so I’m playing tons of Soma stuff at the moment. We’ve just started the campaign for the Soma 20 remixes. ‘Universal Principles’ has been remixed; one of our very early singles ‘Eastmen’ has been remixed by Loco Dice, so that’s a song me and Stuart [McMillan] have been playing for about six months. Steven Kay has done ‘Eterna’ our first ever single, there’s a Tony Thomas record that’s been remixed by Gary Beck; Pan Pot have remixed ‘Nice Times’, one of our singles. The list just goes on. There’s just so many people doing remixes, there must be about 60. We’ve also got the new Vector Lovers album, which is on a lot - a real talent, I’m very proud of him. We’ve got Harvey McKay and Gary Beck two new boys from the techno scene in Glasgow who are causing a bit of a stir, and we're playing a lot of their stuff, so probably more playing more Soma than maybe a year or so ago.
‘We’ve been contacting people saying “we’ve got 300 plus singles. Choose something that floats your boat and put a new slant on it.” Some of the guys have done us proud. Myself and Stuart have had these as exclusives a for a while now.
‘I think, now more than ever, there’s probably a need for labels to have a very broad remit, and too look at music with a very all round view. I can’t see why it shouldn’t last another 20 years, as long as we can keep finding the diamonds in the rough. I’d like to think Soma still has a place in the years ahead.
Slam play live at Electric Frog and host Return to Mono, Sub Club, Glasgow, Fri 8 Apr.
The first EP in the Soma 20 series, featuring remixes of ‘Universal Principles’ and ‘Eastmen’ from Loco Dice, Santos and Decimal, out 4 Apr.