Label of the Month: Gudu Records
Label of the Month: Gudu RecordsMay 4, 2023
For this May’s Label of the Month, Heiko Hoffmann sits down with the incomparable Peggy Gou in Berlin to find out how her Gudu Records label’s creative and musical impulses are explored and met.
Within the four years – including the Corona pandemic for more than half of its existence – Peggy Gou’s Gudu Records has become one of the most respected new dance labels around. What started as an outlet for Gou’s own release “Starry Night” which became one of the biggest dance releases in recent times, has become a platform for an increasingly global roster of artists from Gou’s home country South Korea (Mogwaa) to the Ukraine (Brain de Palma), South Africa (Riff) and Indonesia (DEA). Gudu Records has brought renowned artists such as Maurice Fulton and DMX Krew to the attention of a new generation as well as helped establish new artists such as Dukwa, Hiver or JRMS.
In this first interview about her record label, Peggy Gou talks to Beatportal face to face about the first dance labels she fell in love with, finding new artists for Gudu, and how she’s getting involved in the creative process.
Peggy, what were some of the first memories you have of a record label that you fell in love with?
When I was a fashion student living in London one thing I remember is loving an edit from Genius of Time of “Love Thang” by First Choice through which I discovered and really started to like Aniara Recordings from Sweden and artists such as Dorisburg which I then started to collect.
Usually when you start out discovering new music and DJing, it’s not the label that you first come across but the artist.
Yes, a good example for this is how I discovered the German label Dial. I was a big fan – still am – of Roman Flügel and especially the albums that he released on Dial such as “Fatty Folders” starting in 2011. I then started listening to all the other music that he made and that’s how I also got to know the label which made me discover artists such as Lawrence. Another way of discovering labels was also through label nights when I was trying to decide which party to go. Back then I was going out every weekend, or more like every day. My hobby was to find out who’s playing where? And then I went to Phonica to buy the records I liked. That was a big discovery for me because you have to remember that I come from an EDM background. I grew up in Korea, so I never really had a chance to get to know this type of music or artists. And when I moved to Berlin I started working at a record store and that’s where I learned a lot about other labels.
When you started making your own music how did you decide which label to approach and send demos to?
I gave my demos to many friends and asked many people for advice. I also reached out to Move D on Facebook because I found out that he was living close to Gerd Janson whose Running Back label I loved. I received a lot of rejections including from Gerd which looking back was totally understandable because he was working with so many great artists. But you know, one of my skills is that I’m very good at asking. I always say: “Asking is free. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” And I received a lot of good advice through that.
Before you started your own label you released your first records on very respected labels such as Rekids, Phonica, Technicolour and Ninja Tune. Were these releases all part of a process of setting up your own label?
No, back then I just wanted to have a chance to have my music out. But then my second EP Seek For Maktoop became very successful. It was released on Technicolour which was a sub-label of Ninja Tune so when I made my track “It Makes You Forget” I wanted to push myself and get it out on Ninja Tune and in the end it happened.
Are there any valuable lessons that you learned from having worked with other record companies for starting your own label?
Yeah, this was a great learning for me, mostly that I don’t take shit from other people. I want to have full control of my songs. I want to give full freedom to an artist. I remember the first time when I was releasing a record the label was like: “We need to have a remix. No one’s gonna buy your record. This only works if we have a great name for the remix.” This made me think: “Why are you releasing my song if you don’t believe in it?” It made me feel as if they only wanted to release my music because they needed a female artist. With my own label, I want to give the artists freedom. I’m releasing their songs because I believe in it. If they want a remix they can let me know if not – no problem. As a label owner, I have a responsibility to support the artists everywhere I can for example by adding them to the lineup when I curate my own shows.
When you started Gudu Records did you want to have it as a platform for other artists from the start or was the initial reason so that you can have a label to release your own music?
Initially, it was to release my Moment EP with “Starry Night.” This became so successful that I thought that my next release would just do as well. It gave me the wrong idea and that was a lesson I had to learn.
You really couldn’t have hoped for a better start for your own label: “Starry Night” is one of the biggest dance tracks in recent years. The track was the first ever Beatport number 1 hit by an Asian artist, it was the best-selling vinyl 12” of the year and made hundreds of millions of streams. Did you know that you had a potential hit there and was this the reason you wanted to release it yourself?
After I saw what Ninja Tune did with my song “It Makes You Forget,” which was also a great success I thought that I would like to do the next one on my own. To be really honest with you, I didn’t want to share 50 per cent of the revenue. I was like: “Why?” To then see how successful “Starry Night” became was crazy. I almost cried. One important aspect for this first release was that I wanted to have a sick artwork. And this artwork – an illustration of my face – has become quite iconic, it’s something people remember.
The illustrator Jee-ok Choi has been responsible for all the Gudu Records sleeve designs so far and they have given the label a very strong visual identity. Why did you choose her?
Because I love her style! I love the colors she uses. A lot of dance music has a very dark look but I like colorful stuff. And I wanted the artworks to have a Korean element. When I asked Jee-ok Choi, she had never drawn someone’s face before. So it was challenging for her, but she loved it. And it came out really, really nice. I wanted the label to have a signature look so that’s why I asked her if she could please draw everything for Gudu. If you see a cover you can see right away that it’s from my label. That was the idea.
There are many aspects to running a record label and you also have a label manager who is looking after Gudu. Which parts of running a label are you most actively involved in?
I’m such a big control freak (laughs). So I do get involved in everything. But most of the work is done by Tom Lea who’s my label manager. He respects my opinions, and I can trust him. Of course, he comes to me for the final confirmation when it comes to mixing and mastering and I want to make sure that the artists are happy with that as well. I also encourage him to support our artists with things like finding sync or publishing deals. Stuff like that.
Do you ever get involved in the creative process or do you ask artists to change something in their productions?
Sometimes I make suggestions and we try out several things. For example, there was a new track from Mogwaa, and for me, it was missing a built-up moment, so I asked him if I could give him some feedback from a dance floor perspective. He got back to me and said that initially, this was something he wanted to avoid including, but then he reconsidered. I don’t force my opinion on the artists, but if they want advice, I give it to them. I always say “Do you mind If I give you an idea?”
Gudu Records is a dance label and you started in 2019. After only a couple of records, the pandemic started and parties stopped in most parts of the world. How did this affect your plans for the label?
When Corona hit we released an EP by Italian duo JRMS with some very fast tracks and it just didn’t go well, it was wrong timing. We kept on releasing music during the pandemic but now we are much more busy. We have a lot of things coming up by very interesting artists. The new compilation, an EP by Lady Blacktronika and then a release from Special Request and Mumdance that I’m very excited about. Paul Woolford (aka Special Request) sent me this song right before Creamfields Festival and he said that he’s only sending this to me. I loved it so much and played it right away and then asked him if he’s interested in releasing it on Gudu. He was and he’s also been a big fan of the Gudu artwork. We needed another track for the b side and that’s when we thought of involving Mumdance.
You are by far the best-selling artist on Gudu. And you are in a privileged position because you don’t need to rely on the label as your main source of income. Is this a blessing only or sometimes also a curse?
It’s just the way it is. But I think it’s quite a blessing because I’m in a position where I can support artists. I’m also not afraid to upset someone – for example a promoter – in order to support my artists. For example, when I played in Jakarta, I asked the promoters to also book DEA, an artist from Bali that has released on Gudu. They first offered him a ridiculously small amount of money and then when I pushed them to increase the fee and they made the artwork for the event they put DEA’s name on it very small so that you could barely see this. So I insisted on changing this. I fight for my artist whenever I can!
Are there any challenges in running a record label for you?
It’s always challenging to find new artists and new music. And sometimes it’s also challenging to understand what artists want from releasing music on my label. Of course everybody wants to have more shows and more exposure but then there are also artists like DMX Krew who I think would rather tour less and make more money from his releases. But at the moment I’m lucky because people come to me with some great music. There’s so much exciting and cool music coming up this year with a lot of different sounds.
The compilation “Gudu & Friends Vol. 1” will be released on Beatport May 16.