Label of the Month: SCI+TEC
Label of the Month: SCI+TECApril 6, 2021
Marcus Barnes hears the history of SCI+TEC Records, straight from label founder Dubfire.
For someone who has described himself as a “workaholic” in previous interviews, Ali Shirazinia — better known as Dubfire — has had his hands full lately, and is all apologies as we finally connect on Zoom after several missed attempts.
As well as his regular appearances on the post-pandemic podcast DJs & Beers, Dubfire has been spending time with family in Washington, where he spent the majority of his formative years after arriving in the States from his native Iran when he was seven years old. He’s also been enjoying the world of gastronomy, a pre-existing hobby that the pandemic has allowed him to explore in greater depth.
“I had to refocus the work. I’ve been doing sourdough, baking at home. I became obsessed because there was a schedule attached to it; you had deadlines, you had timelines, and you made it with love. It took a lot of effort and time to get it right and then you gave it to someone you love,” he says. “And when they appreciate it? It’s like playing for an audience.” Now his obsession is pizza, he confides, explaining the technicalities of baking the perfect, dehydrated pizza base in a home oven, as opposed to a traditional Neapolitan one.
This is Dubfire all over: meticulous, obsessive, hard-working and doing it all for the love. That may sound as cheesy as his pizza, but it’s a genuine work ethic that has placed him, and his label SCI+TEC, at the top.
“I think this is the first time that we’re [talking about the label] in over 11 years, with anybody actually,” he explains. In fact, it’s been 14 years since SCI+TEC was conceived as Science + Technology Records, with Dubfire’s own “I Feel Speed.” The label was christened during a visit to Don Quijote in Japan, a “weird department store” that represented exactly what the label stood for — uncomplicated, cutting-edge and progressive.
In the fallout of his split with Sharam, the other half of hugely successful ‘90s-era dance music act Deep Dish, Dubfire was displaced and seeking to find a new home. He straddled two worlds — commercial electronic music and the so-called underground — for a while. But days and nights spent at DC-10 in Ibiza, among other influential spots, nudged him towards the minimal sound that was popular at the time.
He was initially met with distrust, and found it difficult to get his music considered, or even listened to, by many of the most influential labels. HIs answer was to bypass the gatekeepers by setting up his own platform. “A lot of it stemmed from my insecurities,” he reveals. “When I was breaking away from Deep Dish, I wasn’t sure if the musical direction I wanted to go in was going to be taken seriously. Certain people seemed a bit wary of this new direction. They were questioning and wondering why I wasn’t just sticking to the successful formula that we had going on.”
Despite prior commercial success, Dubfire had to go back to the drawing board and start afresh. Still hurting from the Deep Dish split, he needed something to anchor him, to be grounded while in freefall. And once the music started to speak for itself, SCI+TEC gave him the validation he needed. Among his earliest releases was the iconic “RibCage,” which Loco Dice also eventually picked up for the launch of his own label Desolat. Though he’d given the track to Dice several times, it wasn’t until Loco Dice heard “Dubby” (as Dice calls him) play the track at the launch of his Global Underground compilation at a New York strip club that he finally gave it the attention it deserved. Another cut, “Roadkill,” was getting a lot of love from Armin Van Buuren around the same time, so his connection to different ends of the dance music spectrum remained intact. In fact, Steve Angello was behind an early release on the label under the alias Mescal Kid. These early successes and acknowledgements rebooted his confidence and helped steer him out of a dark period, which culminated in artists beginning to approach him with demos, as well as the next phase of SCI+TEC — building the crew.
“I looked around at Richie Hawtin and others who had a crew around them and I thought that might be a cool thing for me to build,” he explains. “Like the little crew that could spread the gospel of the label, and we could do events together and be road dogs together. We all want to feel like we belong to certain social cliques, or to feel connected to something, and I really needed that at the time.” This next step in SCI+TEC’s evolution has become a cornerstone of what drives Dubfire and keeps him inspired — nurturing newcomers and passing on his knowledge.
Around SCI+TEC he has assembled a core family of artists, who are closely affiliated with the outlet, but also given the freedom to release with any other label they want to. Carlo Lio, Shaded, and Alex Mine are central to the SCI+TEC family tree, each of whom has benefitted from Dubfire’s experience and genuine desire to see them do well. “I realised that it gives me great satisfaction to pay it forward,” Ali reveals. “[Danny] Tenaglia, Carl Craig, and people like that took Sharam and I under their wing and mentored us. So I felt a strong responsibility to do that, and it filled a void in me that I had when I was in Deep Dish. It gave me a lot of satisfaction to really A&R those guys.”
Dubfire’s early experiences with the label still inform its running today. He operates from a place of creative freedom, centred on a difficult-to-define yet ever-present sound, informed by his own personal taste. Within that loosely defined space, he welcomes artists new and old to come on board with their own unique flavours, with less focus on genre and more attention given to character and soul.
Like many of the most prominent and influential figureheads, Dubfire never really had a grand plan. He navigated the world of label management through feeling and instinct, choosing intuition over clinical business strategy, music with soul over music for sales.
SCI+TEC’s artist development is what Dubfire describes as an “underground version of a 360-deal without the deal.” Artists who join the family are also signed up to the booking agency he part-owns, Bullit, giving them greater visibility and more opportunities to tour the world. “There was no deal,” he explains. “It was just like, ‘Look, I’m going to do all this for you, because it makes me feel good to see you guys succeed.’”
Feedback from the roster’s artists reflects the payoff of that mentality. “It was the label that really launched my career,” Carlo Lio says. The Canadian artist first appeared on SCI+TEC with the Colors EP in 2010. “SCI+TEC was the label that showed “Carlo Lio” to the world. It’s a very diverse label, so as a producer it definitely lets me have an open mind when creating tracks. It’s nice to never be restricted as an artist.”
Alex Mine got his break in 2014 with the Enigma EP. “After my first release I immediately felt that I took a step forward,” the Italian producer says. “Your artist credibility grows and you start thinking about building your own career. For me personally, SCI+TEC opened the door in both ways: as a recording artist and as a DJ, since the release worked really well. It helped to catch the attention of the promoters and I began to tour around Europe.”
Dubfire is a seasoned mentor. He’s seen the very top of the music business and all of its pitfalls, and now he’s taking young people under his wing, schooling them for a life in an industry that chews people up and spits them out on a regular basis. Artist development is one of the key catalysts behind the label’s longevity, along with its timeless sound and conscious swerving of trends. With the constant flow of new ideas and energy, SCI+TEC operates in its own lane, resulting in a strong following and a discography full of classic material. Nick Curly’s 2012 remix of “Slob” by Zoo Brazil, for instance, epitomises the label’s tech noir groove: sultry, lascivious, and built for the dance floor. Elsewhere in the catalogue you’ll find ambient gems such as the 2020 album Dream Interpretation by Kazuya Nagaya, which is the subject of a remix package that’s being pressed onto marble-effect vinyl for release this year.
The conversation moves on to low points. No label makes it this far without its share of challenges and, for Dubfire, the pandemic has — shock, horror — proven to be the most difficult time for his label since it launched in 2007. “Without question, the pandemic” he states. “It’s the first time that we hit the pause button. A year ago, I wasn’t sure what was happening. My gigs got cancelled. And then you’re having to look at like, what your overheads every month for everything, every aspect of your life and business and you’re like, ‘Fuck, it’s this much?! I have no income coming in how the hell are we going to do this?’” Not only that, he also started to wonder whether it made sense to even release music, especially during that initial dark period in those first few months of global shutdown. Legal expenses were cut, they had to release a few EPs with generic artwork, and the running of the label had to be reconfigured with a new, more economic outlook.
Remarkably though, as time went on both vinyl sales and digital sales began to pick as the shockwaves of the pandemic dissipated and fans began to appreciate music again. This, coupled with several of the label’s closest allies and contributors offering to defer their fees and continue to work with SCI+TEC, gave him the strength to continue. “Everybody that we’ve been working with, that we had a great relationship for all these years, stepped in to help us navigate through this financially until we got to a point where things were ok,” he explains. “Then sales also started to increase, and that was the other catalyst that gave us the confidence to keep going.”
A year since the world entered a seemingly endless dark tunnel of woe, there’s increasing optimism, and projects such as the Dream Interpretation remix package demonstrate that a renewed sense of confidence has returned to the label. In keeping with Dubfire’s consistent efforts to nurture new talent, the roster of artists on the huge release includes the debut of EVS (AKA Evan Sugerman), a jewelry maker-turned-producer. Evan had been sending Dubfire his music after they met a few years ago. “His music was quite experimental,” he says. “I had some established names, but I was also looking for some names nobody had heard of before. I’m like, ‘I can send you this album, if you like something maybe you can see if you can take a crack at it.’ And Evan loved the album. He ended up doing something, my engineer gave it some polish and this is going to be the first thing he’s ever released. That felt good.”
‘Dream Interpretations (The Remixes)’ drops on April 23rd via SCI+TEC. Pre-order on Beatport.
Feeling good, having fun, surrounding himself with a crew — these are all simple, yet fulfilling achievements that Dubfire set out to integrate into his life while unpacking the messy Deep Dish divorce back in the mid-2000s. Sitting in his Washington studio over a decade later, he appears satisfied and content. The work he’s put into himself, the label, and the crew of artists he’s assembled has paid off, and now he’s focusing on the new generation.
In 2019 he was involved with a mentorship project at a music academy in Barcelona called Bridge_48. Young producers were encouraged to submit their demos, and Dubfire listened to all of them, selecting a group of finalists and, eventually, a winner. Of those final few, three were from the UK, including the winner, and they ended up on SCI+TEC, with “Dubby” encouraging them to form their own little crew, perhaps sparking a new chapter for his label in the process.
Though he’s renowned as a headline act, Dubfire’s behind-the-scenes efforts to push other artists forward is probably his proudest work. He lights up when eagerly talking about Bridge_48, or his crew of artists at SCI+TEC, explaining how good it feels several times throughout our chat. It’s an outlook rooted in legacy, making a lasting contribution to the music culture he’s been immersed in for most of his adult life, beyond his own productions and performances.
“If I can continue to pay it forward, keep the next generation going and preserve the healthy future of our industry, then I’m happy,” he says. “In my role, I’m just a spoke in the wheel when it comes to all of this. But if I can make sure that I’m coaching new artists and taking them out of their comfort zone and having them achieve success, that’s the ultimate.”
Marcus Barnes is an author, journalist, copywriter, and tastemaker with over 15 years experience in print and online. Find him on Twitter.