Hype Label of the Month: System Records
Hype Label of the Month: System RecordsFebruary 17, 2022
James Connolly has been at the forefront of UK club music since bursting onto the scene in 2008. First through his bold UK club imprint Night Slugs under his L-Vis 1990 alias, and these days via his high-powered, party-focused Dance System alias.
We got the full story behind Dance System in our November 2020 cover story, which came hot on the heels of his massive 18-track mixtape, Where’s The Party At?. Featuring some of the best and brightest in underground dance music, the LP was released via his freshly minted Systems Records label.
Since then, Dance System and label partner Sophie Glynne have continued to curate the magnetic and unabashedly playful sound and aesthetic of their imprint with releases from the likes of Black Girl / White Girl, Mark Broom, Jordan Nocturne, Junior Sanchez, His Majesty Andre, and more.
With a new Dance System album currently on the way, we caught up with James and Sophie to learn more about how they dreamed up the vision of System Records, the story behind its mascot Poochi The Dog, what the label has in store for later this year, and more.
Photo: India Jordan (left), Sophie Glynne (right)
Photo: Dance System (by Cicely Grace)
Hey James and Sophie, thanks for joining us! How’s 2022 treating you so far?
James: Thanks for having us! It’s been an insanely busy start to the year so far, as we’ve been getting ready to launch my album, In Your System. I finished the music late last year, but behind the scenes, I’ve been working on all the creative stuff for the campaign. We had a private launch last week where we completely transformed this tiny basement venue in Hackney into an immersive club experience, with a sixteen TV installation and a mad lighting rig. I’ve been working on all the visuals for that, as a precursor for my AV shows in April, to give a taste of what’s to come.
Sophie: Similarly, Dance System’s forthcoming album has been consuming all of my time, especially that launch event last week. It was all a last-minute decision, but the response so far has been incredible from DJs, DSPs, radio, and press. We’re working alongside Genevieve Taylor of Glisten PR, who really understands the project and media positioning. Alongside that, we’re finalising Dance System’s worldwide album tour, with his live AV show, which will be announced very soon.
How did the two of you first meet? Can you bring us back to the moment when you decided to work together on System Records?
Sophie: James and I were initially introduced through a mutual friend, Dave Maclean of Django Django, and I started managing James around 2018. We decided to start System Records in the initial lockdown of 2020, because we were both so bored of serious, dry dance music and wanted to create a proper home for the kind of music James was making: dance music that unites and uplifts, where fun is always precedent, which felt even more necessary against the political and social climate at the time. Utilising our respective backgrounds, we wanted to combine this ethos with a high standard of art and creative direction, and comprehensive, creative marketing that you usually don’t find at artist imprints on this level.
James: When it comes to dance music, I’ve always felt a little like an outsider, I make music that doesn’t really fit with a certain scene or label. Much like when I started my previous label Night Slugs with Bok Bok, I felt like there wasn’t really a home for my particular brand of dance music. Since relaunching my Dance System moniker back in 2019, I had releases on Modeselektor’s Monkeytown, Eats Everything’s Edible and Mella Dee’s Warehouse Music. Each of these are artist-lead labels that have their own aesthetic ideas and visions. It was great to work with them all, but I just really needed to have freedom to fully explore what the Dance System project is all about. When lockdown came along, I had all these amazing collaborations for my new mixtape, and we thought it would be the perfect way to launch our own label.
James, you started your Dance System moniker back in 2014. How has your musical output changed between then and the launch of your subsequent label?
James: At its core, the Dance System project has always been the same: fun, rough and ready house music. It’s about bringing energy to the dance floor. When I started the project, it was all analogue synths and drum machines, but since 2019 I added sampling to the cannon, which has bought my sound into a more accessible realm at times. My forthcoming album is more of a mixture of the two styles. Rather than just loopy disco, I’ve been really honing my craft with new sampling techniques, using my Akai S3200, and then bringing the synths and drum machines in alongside that. My vision for the label, and for Dance System, is always mutating, especially now I’m back out there DJing, but the core will always stay the same.
In our 2020 Dance System cover story, you explained that you had only met “a few collaborators” in person for your celebrated Where’s The Party At? album. Does this also apply to the label? Does this tie into your overall A&R strategy?
James: Back in 2020 we had no option but to work remotely. I had met a bunch of people IRL before then, but some were just friends I’d made over the Internet. When running a label, some part of it is always going to be online, especially when you are receiving music from places like Tokyo and the US, but for me the best connections always come in real life. I’m so happy to be back out in clubs and DJing, seeing others play and hearing their tunes. Last year I went to Jordan Nocturne’s Mixmag Lab, and I absolutely loved it! We met briefly and I mentioned he should send me some tracks. He went away and made a couple of things with the label in mind, and they were brilliant. Those human connections are important. I’m excited to see who I meet and what music I find out on the road when I start my world tour in April!
Photo: Dance System (by Cicely Grace)
Can you tell us a bit about the aesthetics behind the label? How did Poochi The Dog first come into existence?
James: I’ve been DJing since I was fourteen years old, but was always studying art, photography, video and graphics, alongside that. Visual art is just as much a part of me, as the music. There was a time when I was directing music videos for the likes of Erol Alkan, Boys Noize and Riton, and it was going really well, but it got to a point where I had to make a decision on my path. I chose to go headfirst into the DJ thing, but wherever I could, I would have full control over the visual aesthetic. It’s so important to me, I love to build worlds for my music to live in. It was the same with my other label, Night Slugs, each cover had a work you could transport yourself to while listening to the music.
Whilst I have been more focused on the music, I find much more capable artists to work with on the visual side of things, who can help bring my visions alive. Continuity is so important in building a brand. Poochi first came to life on my EP for Monkeytown; he’s influenced by classic ‘90s market stool rave brands like Spliffy, Eclipse, Dready and Herbies. I always loved those characters! I drew the first iteration of him in pencil, basically copied Betty Boop’s dog pal Bimbo, but added a beanie, a pill on his tongue and spiral eyes. Then a long-time collaborator brought him to digital life and made him more iconic! By the time the launch of System came along, that old 2D rave character thing had reached peak exploitation and I wanted to do something different, that not everyone could jump on. That’s why we created that insane 3D version of him and the world he lives in. It’s all kind of tongue-in-cheek, but I feel it’s important to stick out in a world of dry, dark techno aesthetics and white labels.
What are three essential System Records releases?
Sophie: “Let’s Go” by Dance System and India Jordan was our very first release and really set the tone for the label. They’ve become a good friend of ours since. They and James played B2B on Disclosure’s tour and are working on a follow-up release, so keep your eyes peeled for that one, it’s going to be very special.
Sophie: “All I Wanna Do” by Dance System was a big record for us last year. James made it a couple of years before and only gave it to a handful of select DJs, but it really picked up steam in the clubs. It became his most requested track ever, with people in his DMs asking about it everyday. But we wanted to wait for clubs to re-open before we released it, and obviously we needed to clear that massive Oliver Cheatham sample. Worth the wait in the end, we were blown away by the support on this one when it finally came out.
Sophie: “Hands Up” by Jordan Nocturne was a runaway smash at the end of last year. He had just released his Nocturne Edits vinyl series, which he’d had to repress multiple times, and we were really delighted to get the first proper follow up, after he and James met at Jordan’s Mixmag Lab. The response was incredible. Peggy Gou was playing this every set, it was all over Radio 1, Mixmag and DJs loved it. Plus, Jordan is just a joy to work with and we hope to release more from him again in the future.
What does System Records have coming down the pike this year?
The big project is Dance System’s debut album. We launched the campaign last week with the lead single, “Bring The Noise,” we have two more singles and then the album drops April 1st. Very excited to share this with the world.
Following that, James has a collab project with Junior Sanchez, where they’re building a collective in homage to infamous NY House royalty, Da Mongoloids, and will be adding some exciting collaborators to the project. The first release is very fun, summery, festival music, so we want to get that out in time for the summer.
A big priority for us this year is to prioritise platforming womxn-identifying talent. We’re very aware of the gender imbalance in house music, and of wider patriarchal standards that may be stopping womxn from progressing as producers. James is now mentoring some women in the studio, and we’re really excited to release their music later in the year.
Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s North American editor. Find him on Twitter.