Label of the Month: Sincopat
Label of the Month: SincopatOctober 2, 2023
When Sincopat founder Marc Martinez Nadal, aka AFFKT, appears on my Zoom screen from his office in Valencia, Spain, my eye goes to the brightly colored arcade console in the corner. Its colors and design are instantly recognizable to anyone who has scrolled through the label’s cover designs.
Nadal smiles warmly, very much at home. He’s recently returned from a tour of Japan and South Korea, where he shared the Sincopat sound to appreciative, dialed-in dance floors. I begin by asking if he shifts his sound at all when touring outside Europe. “Seventy percent of what I play is my own music or other releases on Sincopat,” he says, adding that he always road-tests upcoming label releases.
Given Sincopat’s prolific output to date, it’s no wonder the label can power the bulk of a DJ set. Nadal founded Sincopat in 2010 and has kept it humming ever since, right up to last month’s Airy EP from Brazilian techno mainstay Renato Cohen — the 114th release in Sincopat’s core series. Throughout its run, the label has defied easy genre categorization, with interlocking shades of indie dance, house, techno, and electronica. Its overarching aim, as Nadal puts it, is to release music that induces goosebumps.
Released on October 6, Sincopat 115 is a new AFFKT EP, Footloose, featuring a trio of tracks that showcase the label boss’s genre-blurring sound. With a happy shrug, he describes EP closer “Corfa” as a “sort of experimental techno with some breaks.” As an artistic statement, the EP is a compelling evolution for both Nadal and Sincopat.
Over Zoom, Nadal scans the camera around the office, pointing out the DJ booth where he records radio shows and podcasts and the pair of studios beyond. In addition to his label duties, Nadal is the Chief Engineer at Pobla, the mixing and mastering company that shares Sincopat’s HQ. His tight-knit team of five completes around 4,000 mixing and mastering jobs a year for many of dance music’s top labels, including Suara, Sol Selectas, Filth On Acid, Parquet Recordings, Kitball and of course, Sincopat. Nadal runs the label alongside his wife Raquel, who handles everything from design to contracts and distribution, with support from the Pobla crew. “It’s a family here,” he says.
When I ask Nadal about the history of the label, he flies through the story with ease. In his telling, Sincopat’s precursor was Barraca Music, which was spun out as a label in 2008 from Valencia’s famous underground club of the same name, where Nadal took care of the sound and lighting. With Nadal and fellow producer Alberto Sola setting the tone, Barraca Music captured a heady moment for house and techno in Spain. Its first 12” release, AFFKT and Danny Fiddo’s El Prologo, featured two tracks, “Points” and “Cartas Para Geisha,” that attracted remixes from scene heavyweights Ricardo Villalobos, Radio Slave and Luciano.
Nadal, who came up as a producer making drum & bass, spread his wings in the early days of Barraca Music, also releasing EPs with Rafa Siles and Alberto Sola that pushed outside the typical tech-house mold. Following output from the likes of Dana Ruh, Tale Of Us and Andrew Grant, the label folded after a few years amid the European debt crisis.
Nadal, however, still had the bug, and he decided to travel to Berlin to “have some meetings and learn how to make a label.” His meeting with studio guru Matthew Styles, who at the time was working as a label manager at Beatport, left a strong impression. Nadal returned to Valencia buzzing, with “a clear idea of how to create a label.”
Photo: Darlyn Vlys & AFFKT
Nadal launched Sincopat in 2010 with his own “Once Upon A Time,” a chugging tech-house weapon that scored an exemplary remix from then-emerging talent John Talabot. From the beginning, Nadal also used the label to spotlight other producers in Spain who shared his sensibility, such as Darlyn Vlys, Piek and Samuel Dan. “I had the feeling that I could have a label that was different to what was out there,” he says.
In 2012, Nadal released his debut album as AFFKT, Punto 0, on Sincopat. Nadal partly recorded the album in Cuba, where he worked with local musicians and created a making-of documentary that featured their insights. Not a straightforward tech-house album, Punto 0 typified Nadal’s sonically adventurous aspirations for the label. At the time, he also wanted Sincopat – whose name nods to ragtime – to honor the rich lineage of Black music that paved the way to techno. “It was a kind of obsession for me to understand the story of Black music,” Nadal recalls. “Searching for the essence was important.”
Throughout the 2010s, Sincopat also released music from the likes of Dave Seaman, Audio Junkies, Tim Engelhardt, Just Her and Uner, with each artist bringing their own unique touch. In 2016, Nadal released his second AFFKT LP, Son of a Thousand Sounds, which further expanded his musical palette and showcased his commitment to the album format. Two years later, French-born, Valencia-based producer Darlyn Vlys chose Sincopat to release his debut album, Prince In The Rain. “For me, an album is like a director making a film, and EPs are short capsules,” Nadal says.
The typical Sincopat release, Nadal says, features three originals and a remix. This format encourages artists to experiment with moods and textures beyond pure club functionality. “We’re trying to release amazing music for the dance floor,” he says. “And I always ask the artist to make something different, to create something they might not have a chance to do for another label. They expand their sound and their color.” In recent years, standout examples have come from the likes of Squire, blaktone, SNYL, and UK club veteran James Harcourt.
In addition to the core Sincopat releases, including AFFKT’s upcoming Sincopat 115, the label has several offshoots, which brings its total tally of releases closer to 300. These additional series include Sincopat BeenTouched and UpSideDown, which both invite artists to try new things, and Sincopat Remixed, which has featured remixes from AFFKT, Vlad Jet, Tom Zeta, Jimi Jules, and Audio Junkies, to name just a few.
Not all of Nadal’s music ends up on Sincopat — his most recent AFFKT album, The Big Picture, was released in 2021 on Berlin’s Mobilee Records. He smiles wryly when I ask how he knows what goes where. “It’s a big challenge to be objective about your own music. Sometimes a track is for Sincopat from the beginning. Sometimes, I’ll send a demo to a few labels, knowing they won’t take it, just so I can take it for Sincopat.”
Sincopat’s eye-catchingly bright cover designs came about as a happy accident. In the early years of the label, Nadal planned to switch illustrators frequently to showcase varying styles. Then, on his first tour of Japan in 2015, he encountered the work of illustrator Junya Matsuyama, who designed an impressive flier for the AFFKT show in Shizuoka. Nadal asked the promoter to connect him with Matsuyama, and the pair struck up a partnership.
Matsuyama is responsible for some of Sincopat’s most distinctive designs, which reflect the label’s playful, adventurous spirit. (In our conversation, Nadal shares his admiration for Kompakt, another label with a clear visual identity and a flair for the unexpected.) “I found that Junya was representing perfectly what I had in mind,” Nadal says. “I wanted to show that Sincopat was an open-minded label; really colorful and full of different influences. When I asked Junya for his inspiration, he said it was one of his LSD trips.” In more recent years, Nadal’s wife Raquel, herself a professional designer, has taken over some of the cover designs while retaining a unified feel.
Artwork by Junya Matsuyama
Having explored the roots of dance music on Sincopat’s earlier releases, Nadal is now looking to the future. He’s confident that the label can keep evolving with each new release until its 15th anniversary in 2025.
“It would not make sense if I had the same mission as 15 years ago,” Nadal says. “I want this music [on Sincopat] to be listened to in 20 years, and still feel fresh. It also has to be understandable for the people and give them a real feeling. I think technique and concept must always go together hand-in-hand. For me, the music has to be technically extremely great and also extremely great conceptually.”
As a DJ and producer who’s always chasing new ideas, Nadal is equally optimistic about the future of AFFKT. “Coming from drum & bass, I used to not play my own music,” he says. “This has changed over the years. I went from not so much believing in my music, even when it was good, to now totally trusting in it, because it really represents what I am.”
Now the father of a five-month old, Nadal is also taking stock of this new phase in his life. Whatever comes next, he’ll still be chasing those goosebumps moments to share on Sincopat. “I’m obsessed with this idea that something you create, that comes out of your mind, will be felt by other people in other countries and cultures,” Nadal says. “That’s some kind of magic, you know?”
Jack Tregoning is an editor and journalist from Sydney, Australia, who has worked for over a decade in music media, while also writing about movies, TV, and culture. Find him on X.