Label of the Month: Black Hole Recordings
Label of the Month: Black Hole RecordingsSeptember 5, 2022
Twenty-five years is a long time by any measure. In terms of electronic music, it can be multiple lifetimes. It is not uncommon for breakout artists to come and go in a matter of months. Or for a label to explode overnight and then implode before they even get into double digital catalogue numbers. That Arny Bink’s Black Hole Recordings celebrates a quarter of a century in action on September 15th, then, is remarkable.
In that time, the label has gone from early trance innovator to global trance ambassador. It is now a company that has been pivotal to the emergence, survival and thriving of too many artists and sub-labels to mention. Despite its considerable influence on the scene, it still operates from a small office with a tight-knit team of 13 people (divided, it should be noted, almost equally between genders, which is still an all too rare thing in the world of dance music.)
The label’s roots lay in the southern part of the Netherlands in the city of Breda, the birthplace of not only Elvis Presley’s manager Col. Tom Parker, but the arguably even more iconic Black Hole co-founder Tiësto, and Arny himself. And the geography of the small city is important – its location close to the border with Belgium and not all that far from Germany meant that the acid, techno, wave and EBM of those countries spilled over and mixed with the Dutch gabber movement. It was all these styles and more that Arny would often sell to Tiësto — who at the time had not yet adopted his iconic moniker — at Breda record store Tunesville.
The popularity of electronic music in the region also gave rise to weekend-long mega raves in clubs like Extreme, Illusion and La Rocca. It was on dance floors like this that Arny and Tiësto truly solidified their relationship, so when Bink became manager for a hardcore label that was set up by the newly founded Rotterdam company Basic Beat, he naturally put Tiësto forwards for a position behind the counter of the Basic Beat record store. In those days, hardcore and mellow house music were most popular, but Arny and Tiësto were more excited by the then-new trance sound. Before long, they used a Basic Beat sub-label as a launch pad and inaugurated the now legendary Forbidden Paradise and Lost Treasures mix series to showcase these emotive new sounds. They soon found a diehard audience.
Photo: Cosmic Gate
Photo: Markus Schulz
The pair decided to go it alone and set up Black Hole Recordings in 1997. Largely, Tiësto did the music, Arny did the business. It was a perfect pairing and the label soon became known around Europe as a bastion for the freshest sounds around. Part of that was down to the success of their first release – the Magik CD compilation with its fairy imagery (borrowed without permission and thus later removed) from acclaimed British artist Patrick Woodroffe. That imagery, along with artwork that followed, helped give Black Hole a unique visual identity that chimed with the dreamy and otherworldly nature of the music. And it was all done by Arny on an early Mac and basic software, despite having no formal training whatsoever.
The mix itself took in deep, progressive trance with dark, ethereal and pulsing grooves, progressive sounds and techno-leaning styles. It was an early high watermark for the genre that is still regarded as a classic, and it was instrumental in helping to establish Tiësto as a DJ and producer on the world scene. Sales of the compilation also funded the opening of a small Black Hole office and expansion into releasing 12″s, artist albums and mix compilations. As the label’s profile grew, so more and more artists would send in demos that didn’t quite fit, so Arny and Tiësto decided to branch out with various sub-labels. Some were mere flashes in the pan, others endure to this day, and there have been more than 100 in all over the years.
The parent label Black Hole remained a driving force in trance, helping to platform future stars like Armin van Buuren and Ferry Corsten with the well-conceived Artist Profile series, which ran across 1999 and 2000. But sub-label In Trance We Trust also made its mark across plenty of compilations and 12″s with a harder take on trance from artists like Dance Nation, Dawnseekers, and Impact. There was also Magik Muzik, which was, at first, a vehicle for Tiësto productions before expanding to release music by artists such as Filterheadz, Oliver Lieb, and UMEK.
Just as the Tunesville record store was a fertile breeding ground for musical friendships with people like Benno de Goeij and Ferry Corsten that have endured over the years, Arny and Tiësto’s own Magik: The Record Store was also hugely influential in Breda. It opened in 1999 and was a bustling community hub as well as a useful shop window for the label itself. It is a space that, years later, now-global stars like Armin van Buuren, Laidback Luke, and Ferry Corsten look back on fondly as somewhere that was vital in their own musical educations.
Photo: Giuseppe Ottaviani
By 2006, the digital revolution took hold. Few DJs were buying vinyl and the store closed its doors for the final time that year. Over the next three years, Tiësto’s profile grew exponentially. He was a superstar DJ always on the road and his taste began to shift. In August 2009, he left the label, but not before making what some say is his greatest contribution to the legacy of Black Hole – the In Search Of Sunrise mix series. Inspired by his travels to play in places like Ibiza, it brought fresh influences to trance such as house music, vocals and even acoustic instruments. Tiësto helmed the series for almost a decade before artists like Richard Durand and Markus Schulz took over.
Tiësto might have gone, but his music stayed with the label and provided it with a steady income. In a forthcoming book about the label by trance authority Arjan Rietveld, he writes, “Verwest’s departure also gave more time for the Black Hole team to provide further assistance to other artists, as the production and promotion of new Tiësto releases used to take a large chunk of the label’s agenda.” Ferry Corsten was one of those artists, while now household names like BT, Cosmic Gate, Robbie Rivera, and Zoo Brazil also moved from the shadows to the spotlight and, along with Black Hole itself, all began to thrive.
The label’s motto has always been “captivate, communicate, celebrate.” So, rather than bemoaning a changing industry, Black Hole embraced the new digital age and made a fine transition to a new streaming model that also encompassed handling digital distribution services for other labels. With the cost of getting new music out there vastly reduced without the need to cut vinyl, new music came thick and fast. Arny was aware that over-saturation might follow, so limited the number of releases on Black Hole, instead diversifying further with sub-labels like the commercially minded Ace Of Clubs and the forward-thinking progressive styles of Avanti. It was an important move that is one of the many reasons Black Hole has endured for so long.
Photo: The Black Hole Recordings Team
So too Arny’s embrace of streaming and social media. Rather than taking things in house and building Black Hole’s own digital web shop, he recognised the role of sites like Beatport, Facebook and YouTube. They allowed the label to build global communities, increase sales and promote to an even wider audience. To highlight the point, when Arny began to come across ever more Black Hole tunes and mixes on YouTube with shoddy pictures and bad sound quality, he simply decided to upload them himself and take the power back. As Rietveld notes in his book, this online approach is not limited to the West either, because in China, “Black Hole has an active presence on platforms such as Weibo and WeChat by working with a local partner to translate its content to Mandarin.”
Arny has always been adaptable, quick to learn and eager to evolve. Even now, after 25 years of staying ahead of the game, he remains on the front foot. That is backed up the label’s embrace of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. While still not mainstream, these digital collectibles are a fast emerging market that allow labels to sell their music, mixes, art or whatever else direct to fans in a fast and fluid fashion. As such and as part of its 25th birthday celebrations, Black Hole is going to be offering an NFT drop made up of back catalogue classics and brand new and contemporary tracks that is sure to appeal to fans.
Rietveld writes that Arny thinks technological developments are bound to slow at some point and that “opportunities for future growth are reaching their limits” as “music now a fully mobile product, instantly available and largely free of charge for customers,” adding that Arny thinks “due to the increasing supply of music, brands (record labels) and people (influencers) will play a more important role for the marketing of music. Such a phenomenon already exists in fashion, and may as well be applied to the music industry.”
Rather than keeping his vast knowledge of the industry to himself, Arny now readily shares what he has learned. Black Hole works with a vast array of artists and labels, providing infrastructure and information while allowing them to maintain creative control and flourish on the world stage. It’s a socially and community-minded business model that stands Black Hole apart and means that huge artists in their own right happily join forces with Arny, from BT to Christina Novelli, Cosmic Gate to Giuseppe Ottaviani.
Photo: Christiana Novelli
BT describes Black Hole as “great people that uplift an incredible roster of artists,” and he credits Arny with many valuable qualities. “Forget business or music,” he says, “Arny is an incredible person, father, label owner, businessman. He has incredible ears, a truly calm disposition, he’s an amazing listener, and he absolutely cares and understands quality music.”
This is backed up by the fact that when BT was at the height of his early trance powers, he took a real risk and wrote This Binary Universe, an album of largely experimental ambient. It was turned down by every label he sent it to, and even BT’s manager called it “career suicide.” But Arny “immediately got it and its significance,” says BT. “He has invested in me and bet on me so many times over the years. I’m so grateful for his years of friendship and belief. He is an absolute gem.”
When it comes to getting involved with the music itself, BT explains that Arny does whatever is best. Sometimes he has “a more hands-on approach and sometimes more hands-off,” adding that the label is “incredibly accommodating, insightful and honest. A total rarity in the music industry. I have 20 years of memories with these guys, and to say I love who they are, what they do, and appreciate their contribution to electronic music culture would be the understatement of the century.”
Putting out good music at the right time will always be key to the success for any label. But to last for 25 years takes a whole other level of friendship and loyalty — something that Black Hole Recordings mastered long ago.
Kristan J Caryl has been a freelance music writer for more than a decade, with bylines in RA, DJ Mag, Mixmag, Bandcamp, Attack Mag and RBMA. He’s based just outside Leeds, where he started community station KMAH Radio in 2015. As well as music, he’s overly obsessed with trainers, gardening, boxing, and his two children, who he raises with his wife. Find him on Instagram.