Label of the Month: Moveltraxx
“From my perspective, the music industry has never, ever been fair. The game is not fair.” I’ve been talking to Moveltraxx founder Big Dope P for less than five minutes, and we’re already diving straight into the injustices of the music industry and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected labels and artists. “I see a lot of people tweeting ‘fuck streaming’, and it’s always from people who don’t do numbers. Obviously, fuck something that doesn’t bring you money. [But] streaming isn’t going anywhere, so your tweets aren’t going to change the fact that a whole generation has grown up and never bought a single track.”
It’s immediately clear that Big Dope P has a love/hate relationship with the music industry, borne out of years during which the odds were stacked against him and the label he co-founded in 2007, at the age of just 16. Now known for its eclectic mix of maximalist house, footwork, and Jersey club, Moveltraxx’s roster features an exhilarating mix of boundary-pushing electronic artists like Bastiengoat, Morgan Hislop, Dudley Slang and Alex Autajon on one hand, and on the other, the U.S. club music pioneers who inspired them: names like Paul Johnson, DJ Earl, and Traxman. But it hasn’t always been easy. Big Dope P is the only remaining founding member of Moveltraxx, as two of the four original founders passed away, and another moved to China, leaving the label behind. But hearing the Moveltraxx story from Big Dope P paints a picture of a label that has always had authenticity and musical integrity at its heart, with a seemingly unlikely set of circumstances resulting in one of the most respected underground electronic labels operating today.
Growing up in the banlieues of Paris, Big Dope P’s first musical loves were French rap and US hip hop, and by his early teens he was learning to produce hip hop beats using MPCs borrowed from older friends. “I was making rap stuff but very fast, like 140BPM and up,” he remembers. Conversations with more musically-educated friends eventually revealed that, purely by chance and without any prior knowledge of those genres, the music he was making was more similar to ghetto house and Baltimore club. Before long, his mind was opened to electronic music through digging for samples, discovering that the likes of Todd Edwards and Armand van Helden were sampling the same records as his favourite hip hop producers. Still underage and only owning one turntable, Big Dope P began amassing a record collection as an avid listener rather than as a DJ, all the while honing his production skills and educating himself on U.S. club music via friends and record store staff.
But for Big Dope P and the other Moveltraxx founders, dance music was not as inextricably linked to clubs as you might expect. “I was a huge fan of the music but I wasn’t attracted at all to going to clubs. I spent a lot of time in clubs underage — basically to sell drugs — and I didn’t like the atmosphere or the music that was being played, because I was [in] the wrong kind of clubs. Everyone was playing deep house, and they didn’t want people from the hood to have access to clubs.” He adds, “I didn’t grow up in an area where people were into dance music at all. Where I’m from, everyone thought this is rich people, white-people-only music. When you watched the [music] videos you saw Bob Sinclar, you saw David Guetta, you saw Daft Punk — all you saw were rich white kids. So there was a problem of representation, and before [starting Moveltraxx], we had to convince people [that] actually, it’s for you too, don’t think it’s only for other people.”
The issue of representation is one that Big Dope P is passionate about to this day, and goes a long way to explaining the story of how a group of teenagers in France wound up starting a label releasing tracks from Chicago footwork legends like Waxmaster and Traxman. “In France, there were people who were into collecting old Dance Mania records from the ‘90s. But as soon as [anything] went beyond 140BPM, people were like ‘We don’t like it, we don’t fuck with juke, we don’t fuck with footwork.’ But I loved that shit.” After a year of running illegal parties and self-releasing tracks from its founders, the Moveltraxx crew began striking up conversations with Chicago house and footwork pioneers via MySpace, in the process discovering that many of them felt the same way about the music industry and mainstream dance music as the Moveltraxx founders did.
“A lot of them felt disrespected and left behind by the whole Daft Punk operation, which consisted of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Man going to Chicago in the mid-‘90s, those guys showing them around and how they made tracks. But when [Daft Punk] got their major label deals and it was time to give back opportunities with major label money, they didn’t do that. And a lot of the Chicago guys were mad about the French Touch movement, which was basically Chicago house produced with more expensive compressors. So when we wanted to [start] a label, it was essential from the start that we had to pay our respects to the OGs.”
As a result, early Moveltraxx releases featured the likes of Waxmaster, Teklife icon DJ Rashad, and Jersey club trailblazer DJ Tameil, which not only reflected Moveltraxx’s desire to pay homage to their heroes, but also came at an opportune moment for the artists. Following the collapse of Dance Mania in 1999, many artists in Chicago found that they had difficulty distributing their music to a wider audience — a gap that Moveltraxx were all too happy to fill. “The whole iTunes thing wasn’t working for them,” says Big Dope P, “so they were just doing mix CDs and self-distributing. A lot of tracks were getting big in Chicago, but there was no access for us except if you bought the CD directly from the guys via Paypal, with no guarantee of actually receiving anything”.
With their first releases under their belt, the label began to gain pace. But with little interest in footwork and juke in their native France, Moveltraxx began to look further afield for bookings. “Belgium and Austria were actually the first countries in Europe who were into juke and footwork,” Big Dope P remembers. “Belgium was number one. They were the first ones to bring DJs from Chicago and Detroit. The community in [those countries] were showing love to those artists long before France and the UK. I actually did US dates and Japan dates before being able to do a Moveltraxx night in a big club in Paris.”
By 2010, Moveltraxx were helping put together DJ Rashad’s first European tour, taking in dates in the UK, Spain, Sweden, and Belgium. Not only was this a landmark moment for European footwork fans, but the tour also resulted in Big Dope P linking up with one of the most long-standing members of the Moveltraxx roster, DJ Tameil. “I didn’t know anything about Jersey club until I met Tameil,” he explains, “which I realise now is a huge privilege — to discover Jersey club by touring with the guy who created it. I loved the music, I loved the guy, he was instantly in my top three favourite DJs ever, because he was killing every single party we did.” Following a move to London — originally motivated by personal rather than musical reasons — Big Dope P found a regular home for Moveltraxx parties at clubs like Dalston’s now-defunct Alibi, and began to expand the label crew with regular lineup appearances from the likes of Sherelle and Naina (now of Hooversound Recordings), Morgan Hislop, and a host of other forward-thinking UK DJs like Nightwave, Mr. Mitch, and Sega Bodega.
It was also around this time that Moveltraxx launched Street Bangers Factory, a regular series of compilations that acted as a home for new artists, as well as one-off tracks from the Moveltraxx family, and remixes that wouldn’t fit into the label’s otherwise stacked release schedule. “It has to be a balance between new talent, you have to bring new blood,” says Big Dope P of the Street Bangers Factory releases, which recently reached its fifteenth installment. Several artists on the label’s roster, such as Househead, Samira, and Alex Autajon, began their relationship with Moveltraxx by releasing single tracks as part of the SBF series, before eventually becoming Moveltraxx mainstays. It speaks to Big Dope P’s skill as an A&R that he’s able to juggle releases from legendary artists, while constantly nurturing new talent. Always looking forward, but without forgetting the past.
Our conversation turns to Moveltraxx’s place in the present-day club music scene, and in particular, the recent surge in popularity of footwork and “160” music; a term that has caused commentary and debate among members of the footwork scene, who have pointed out that simply calling the music “160” has the potential to erase the contributions of the Black artists who pioneered the genre. Big Dope P points to footwork’s diverse range of influences as a positive, but also potentially problematic if new listeners aren’t aware of the genre’s roots. “There are so many different [routes into] footwork,” he muses. “A lot of people we’ve brought in are people who are into hip hop and rap. When Hyperdub or Planet Mu did [footwork releases], they brought a more electronic audience. Now with someone like Sherelle, you have [fans] who love jungle sounds, and so you end up with people who come from different backgrounds. We just have to make sure people know where [footwork] comes from and who the OGs are. That’s the part that requires a lot of work and honesty from everyone, and it’s not always the case.”
Once again, Big Dope P is emphatic of the need to give pioneering artists their dues. “It’s essential; you have to educate people, you can’t just act like the OGs aren’t the OGs just because it’s easier. I’ve seen people come and go out of this scene based on how trendy it was. There are always a lot of copycats and people who jump on opportunities.” Referring back to the origins of Moveltraxx to underline the gravity of his point, he adds, “We were all people who were very rooted into hood stuff. And there are still people on the label who are in that life, unfortunately, and that’s why it makes me uncomfortable when people appropriate a sound just because it’s a trend. It’s not just music. People don’t know what people who were there from the beginning might be dealing with behind the scenes. It’s real, real, shit. Not Twitter threads, but real-life situations.”
Pointing to LA-based collective Juke Bounce Werk and London’s Hooversound Recordings as two labels exciting him the most at the moment, he uses both as examples of how to represent club music in different ways. “Juke Bounce Werk have [put in] work in terms of booking Deeon and those guys, and they always share knowledge. And the fact that you now have Hooversound shows the diversity and richness of the [footwork] sound, because there are so many different ways to do it. It brings something new to the table, and it’s the result of ten years of footwork [influence] in UK dance music.”
We end our conversation where we started, discussing the all-encompassing impact of COVID-19 on the music industry. But far from having a gloomy outlook, Big Dope P is positive about where Moveltraxx can go from here, while continuing to support their artists as much as possible. “When [the pandemic] happened, of course, I was scared, because I felt like for the first time in the label’s history, our destiny wasn’t in our hands. But I’m not like, ‘clubs are closed, we are fucked’. I’m really not into that way of thinking. If I can listen to a house track from 20 years ago at home and be happy, I’m sure that a lot of the stuff we are pushing now that’s more radio or streaming friendly can reach more and more people.”
Faced with the choice of holding on to his savings or investing back into the label to release more music, he opted to take a risk and go with the latter option, planning a string of vinyl releases from Paul Johnson, Househead Samira, and more. “I put all I have into it because I have unlimited faith in the music,” he enthuses. “I believe in Moveltraxx, and the music we represent, and the culture we represent. I acted like COVID wasn’t there.” As a label with an already impressively packed schedule, this must have been no easy task, but a glance at Moveltraxx’s recent releases shows thirteen releases in the past eight months, including two Street Bangers Factory installments and a Modus Operandi mixtape from Traxman.
Looking to the future of the label, Big Dope P is confident – in his artists, their work, and the strength of Moveltraxx. “We’re still going hard. We’re [about to] release DJ Earl’s new album and it’s honestly the best footwork record in ages…one of the best footwork records ever!” he gushes. “We have even more new Paul Johnson with a new set of remixes, new Kozee coming on vinyl… and basically, the whole family has music coming on the label. So the future is just us going harder.” I ask about the progress of his own album, which he mentioned he was working on last time we caught up in late 2019. “The thing is, I sign so much stuff that I don’t find space to release my own music,” he explains. “I’ve worked very hard on it because I have this stupid idea about what my first album should be. But I’ll definitely release it after DJ Earl’s album!”
Big Dope P is under no illusion as to the power of his platform and the responsibilities this entails to his artists. Having built up Moveltraxx over the last thirteen years into one of the most consistent footwork and club labels operating not just in Europe, but in the scene as a whole, he is clear that fighting against appropriation counts for nothing if the artists in question don’t see any financial benefit, particularly under the strain of the pandemic. “We want to provide new music, but we also want to support the family. A lot of [artists] didn’t have access to grants or anything, so it’s been critical for a lot of people. I’m in a position to do something for my people. I did that and I’m proud of it, and how [Moveltraxx] has done during this time.”
Find Will Gulseven on Twitter.