Label of the Month: Parquet Recordings
Label of the Month: Parquet RecordingsJanuary 31, 2022
Founded at the end of 2006, Parquet Recordings has grown to become one of the leading labels in melodic house and techno. Ben Jolley talks to the German imprint’s co-founder Normen Flaskamp about the label’s origins, its 15-year legacy and the future.
“For me, music should reach you emotionally — it must touch your soul,” says Normen Flaskamp (aka Solee), co-founder of the German house and techno imprint Parquet Recordings. “It was always the melodic and deep atmospheric tracks which caught my attention.”
In the early ‘90s, Solee was a huge fan of the Frankfurt sound: DJs like DJ Dag, Sven Väth and Pascal FEOS, and labels like Harthouse, Eye Q and Noom. “I would be listening to the legendary HR3 clubnight on German radio every Saturday, which was the only chance for me to hear this kind of music mixed by great DJs,” Normen remembers.
Soon after, his eyes lit up at formative rave experiences inside clubs like Dorian Gray in Frankfurt or Oz in Stuttgart. It led him to “fall in love with this kind of melodic, deep, trancy but not cheesy atmospheric dance music where there is also an element of story-telling; all those things were my first influences, and I think that was very quickly anchored in me.”
After buying his own DJ equipment in the ‘90s, Solee soon started making his own music. “I wanted to understand how the music is structured,” he recalls, adding that a friend had already started to produce music around the same time. “Sometimes I would sit in his small basement studio and just watch with interest.”
Around 1996, he bought an Atari ST computer with Cubase, and then his first Synth (Yamaha CS-1X), and “starting to screw together my first tracks.” This natural affinity for music stems back to a childhood during which he learnt to play accordion “because my parents really wanted me to.” At that time, he thought it was “totally stupid and useless,” but it would prove useful when it came to making his own dance productions.
Having learnt production techniques from his friend and “a lot of trying things by myself,” he spent many nights honing his craft. “I was literally addicted to learning it, and at that time there were no tutorials/blogs on the internet, no YouTube. The only information about producing I got was from magazines (mainly from KEYS) or from books.” Sometime later, he also got to know other producers with whom he could also learn from and share tips. “Basically it was always a hobby for me and I never really thought I could make money with it. Certainly not that I could ever do it full-time.”
But, knowing he wanted to pursue music as a career (in whatever form that may be), in 1999 Normen landed a job at Music Mail/Straight Distribution, a vinyl distribution in his hometown of Stuttgart, as a member of the sales staff. After a few years he was given the chance to join the internal A&R and label department, meaning he was also jointly responsible for Straight’s own in-house labels. Then, after many years of producing music in different electronic genres under different aliases (and sometimes as a ghost producer as well), Normen says it was in 2006 that “I found my own personal sound as a producer and wanted to commit to it.”
Since he had plenty of label experience, he talked to his boss Frank Schreiner and asked if he could imagine them founding a new record label together. The idea was that the imprint would be a suitable home to his first productions as Solee. “He loved the idea, gave me financial support and creative freedom to realise this project,” Normen recalls. Rather than having a specific aim for the label, Normen says the idea was for it to be “a platform for my music and music from other artists I wanted to support.”
By the end of the year, Parquet Recordings was born, and his first vinyl-only release, Impressed, was available in shops. “It was a great feeling to have built my own platform for my own music from scratch, and really nice to see that the first release was so successful,” Normen says.“It was an unbelievably exciting time for me.”
Even if he wasn’t aware of it at the time, Normen says that founding the label was “probably one of the most important steps and the cornerstone of my career today.” Finding such success with their debut release was something the pair never imagined would happen. “We never expected to have such a beginning with the label. We sold thousands of vinyl copies and many big well-known DJs played the release: Solee’s ‘Impressed’ became something like a small after hour classic track over the years.”
Following the success of that first release, Normen and Frank started receiving demos from other artists. Naturally, the pair felt excited about the idea of signing new names to their label, but, at the start, it wasn’t necessarily easy to find tracks that shared a similar music ethos. “At that time, around 2006/2007, the minimal techno genre was very popular,” Normen remembers, “so it was not easy to find tracks that were 100 percent suitable for a label which stands for melodic and emotional house and techno.” However, they quickly expanded their horizons, and the tracks they signed were a combination of both genres. “How it turned out — this mixture between trancy melodies, deep basses and minimal beats has found many friends,” Normen says.
When signing tracks and artists, Normen says there’s not a specific criteria he looks to fill. Rather, for him, everything is about the music. “If I feel the music, the track fulfills the sound requirements of the label and I see a musical connection, I try to sign the track,” he says. “Of course, I prefer to work with artists for a longer time if the chemistry between us is right and we have a similar musical point of view but that is not a requirement to get signed on Parquet. That’s more of a thing of it’s great when it happens naturally.”
In the early days of the label, Parquet signed tracks from artists like Gui Boratto, Dole & Kom, Noir & Sivesgaard, Tim Engelhardt, Compuphonic, Boss Axis, Oliver Schories, Egostereo, Norman Zube, and also remixes from artists including HOSH, Pig & Dan, Rodriguez Jr., Lucy, Marascia, Sascha Braemer, Ricardo Tobar and David Keno.
After their landmark 50th release in 2012, Normen and Frank decided to stop releasing on vinyl due to the vinyl sales crisis at that time, concentrating only on digital releases. Normen also ended his employment at Music Mail/Straight Distribution, deciding to concentrate full-time on Solee and the label. Frank also quit (the pair are still friends, however, and work together on the distribution side of the label), and Normen became entirely responsible for the label.
Armed with a team of freelancers who helped with promotion, mastering, graphic design, bookings, events, taxes and accounting, Solee took Parquet to new heights, including a label-only stage at Tomorrowland festival with a lineup featuring Rodriguez Jr., Dave Seaman, Oliver Schories and Boss Axis. “It was the first time that a festival was interested to host a Parquet-only stage,” he recalls. “I felt very honoured as I think it was one of the biggest festivals in Europe at this time. From this point on, Normen received more and more requests for label parties at festivals and clubs. Annual showcases at Amsterdam Dance event (ADE) followed, as well as label parties in Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgart and Barcelona during OffSonar for example.
In 2017 Alyne joined the team. They’d been a Parquet artist since 2016, and in their new role helped Solee “with decisions, A&R’ing and event planning; she also brings in some other influences for which I am very grateful,” Normen says. In the years since, Parquet releases have “always had a bit of crossover character,” Normen says.
He thinks this is why such a range of DJs have played the label’s tracks out during their sets, ranging from techno DJs like Laurent Garnier, Sven Väth, Carl Cox or Max Cooper to trance DJs like Tiësto, Armin van Buuren and Gabriel & Dresden, as well as progressive house DJs like Hernan Cattaneo, Guy J and Dave Seaman. “Surprisingly, we reached a wide range of DJs with every single release and are still doing so today,” Normen says.
Very recently, the label shared its 246th release, which includes several albums and compilation releases over the last few years, including music from label regulars like James Harcourt, Rinzen & Evan Casey, Marc DePulse & Rafael Cerato, D-Nox, Several Definitions, Alyne and Rauschhaus.
As if that hasn’t been enough to keep Normen busy, he also founded Future Romance, a sister label to Parquet, in 2021. A home for the “more deeper melodic underground sound,” Normen signed music from the French duo Esoteric Circle, Berlin-based Yannek Maunz and also his own tracks for the label’s first releases. Future Romance has also released remixes by Recondite, Hunter/Game, Fur Coat, Lehar and Shall Ocin. The fifth release on Future Romance is coming in March.
Before that lands, Normen is gearing up to release his seventh solo album as Solee dubbed Nothing Lasts Forever on February 4th (exclusively available on Beatport). “I’ve already had some amazing feedback,” Normen enthuses, “including from artists like Stephan Bodzin, Timo Maas, Fideles, Oliver Huntemann, Kevin De Vries and Nick Warren.”
As for the label’s future, he says that “no matter what genre is popular out there, on Parquet Recordings you will find the more melodic and emotional style of house and techno music.” He simplifies its signature sound down to three intertwining parts: “functional and intelligent yet accessible. Sometimes a little bit deeper, sometimes a little bit more powerful, mostly enriched with some trance elements. It’s always been like that and it will always be like that.”
His “15-year-old baby,” Normen enthuses, has become “a platform where I can let my artistic creativity run free.” It has also enabled him to discover “so much great music” and get to know “many great artists” who he helped reach a bigger audience.
Solee notes several highlights of the label’s history, including several Beatport Top 10 positions over the years in the Progressive House, Deep House, Melodic House & Techno genres. More than anything, though, Normen says Parquet has allowed him to “live out my passion as a music lover, and I can pass on to other artists what I have learned during my long way in the music industry and can still learn more. The label has become a very important part of my life — it’s my daily business but still so much fun.”
Solee’s seventh studio album Nothing Lasts Forever drops February 4th, 2022 via Parquet Recordings. Check it out on Beatport.