“Every man and woman an island, every label a virtual one.” These seem to be two truisms of the digital age, in which labels come and go with no great effort, releasing records made and distributed with no great effort.
But not the good ones. Comes the hour, comes Apollo Music Group, a collaborative label presided over by industry veterans DJ Heather, Lil’Mark and Dan X. Begun in the Spring of 2016, Apollo has released tracks from Jacob London, Justin Harris, Alinka, Luke Solomon, Hector Moralez and more, as well as from each of the three founders. And here’s the part where we pick their minds and ask Why This? and Why Now? and hear the answer back: Why Not?
You’re all not just in different states but even different countries. How do y’all know each other?
Mark: I think we first crossed paths in 1997 when I was staying at Derrick Carter’s place, and I also saw Heather in various UK spots.
Dan I met in Leeds at a Back 2 Basics party – I think with Justin Long? Since then social media has kept us negotiating.
Dan: We’ve all got quite an extensive history together. I’ve known Mark for at least 11 years, dating back to when he worked with us on a track for Peaches Music. And like he said, we’ve been in touch since. I’ve also been pretty good friends with Heather (and husband Erik) for at least 11 years as well. Heather and I have a lot of mutual friends here in Chicago, which led to meeting, hanging out and a collaboration with Justin Long and I years ago on a remix we did of Iz & Diz’s “Mouth” on Greenskeepers Music. Family since.
Heather: We have known each other for long time via the international network formally known as underground house. Mark and Dan summed it up quite nicely.
How did the label come together?
Mark: It’s like a cosmic pizza. It had a good base and then we added some moonrock to it. I think it was a conversation Dan and I had. The current state of the dance music industry is all about fashion, trending and whose got the most fucking likes on social media. The larger labels have dictated to artists: “You need to make tracks like this or like that.” The underground has changed with the times unfortunately and nobody seems to be painting their own picture anymore. I’m not down with some office jock telling “Van Gogh” to paint a “Rembrandt” but that’s what we see.
Dan: Mark and I were talking over a year ago or so and we basically got on the soap box about a few things, ha. He asked me about any interest in running a label together and then we reconnected on the idea in Fall 2015 if I remember correctly.
It actually started out with a project with Heather. We worked on a new Dirty Sole release, Mark did a remix and then we all started discussions about shopping the project. Ultimately we all felt that it would be more beneficial to release the project ourselves, and as a team effort, we formed the Apollo Music Group.
Heather: The fellas were already in cahoots so after the Dirty Soul project Dan asked me if I wanted to get involved. Of course I was down for the cause.
You have three bosses. What do each of you do or bring to the label?
Mark: We negotiate every aspect of what we do and we have to be 100% in agreement or it gets put on the back burner or trashed. Sometimes it’s not that easy! We each have family commitments so time is tricky. We add what we can when we can and because there are three of us it works. Hashtag-JobShare.
Dan: We have a great balance. We all have very similar taste in music and respect each other’s opinions. That being said, we A&R every project together and make sure that we all feel strongly about something before we give it the thumbs up. We also bring the approach of purely looking for good house music. As some outlets may be “about the name,” we are all about the music. Also, like Mark said, we all have families and a lot going on in our lives, so having more hands on deck allows us to take advantage of a collaborative effort.
Heather: We are really busy with little humans it helps to have partners to defer to. Takes a bit of the pressure off as well.
Working for 5 Magazine, I get this question all the time so now I get to turn the tables: what does the name mean? Where did “Apollo Music Group” come from?
Mark: Its actually the name for some European butterfly I believe but today we can pretend it came from the planet Proxima B.
Dan: Haha! We threw around quite a few names before we settled on the name. The actual meaning is that Apollo is the god of music, poetry and art. Other variations have been used in music and business, but our variation is original and unique to our audience.
Heather: And the words “Music Group” add an air of legitimacy. Take us seriously damn it.
You all had your own labels. Do you still? Like Blackcherry has a solid… two decades? on flyers in little (parenthesis) after Heather’s name. Is this where all your work is invested now?
Mark: No we all have other projects. I am working on new material for MFF, Twirl and helping out Bump Music with its general stuff.
Dan: Like Mark said, we each have other projects in the mix. Nobody is tied up here. When we started Apollo, it was meant to be a home for not only our music, but our friends and family, both old and new. Personally I’m also heavily focused in Dirty Sole, which is more of an electronic indie project, so Apollo is my home for house.
Heather: Everyone has their own thing going which is great. I think it only enhances the APG profile and vice versa.
As for Blackcherry it began in much the same way as Apollo. A project needed a home and what seemed to be the best move at the time was to release it on my own. Hence the impetus for the label. That was way back in 2005 when “Picture of You” with East Coast Boogiemen (Ken Christensen and Juan Zapata) marked the debut. Regardless of the output I try to keep the “brand” synonymous with myself. I’m putting somethings together for another release and hope to have something new by years end. Finally.
How do you decide what is released where then?
Mark: There are no “ifs,” “nots” or “buts.” We’ve all been around the block.
Dan: Right, we are all adults here and free to shop music as we please. Additionally, if we have other projects or labels, we support each other 100%.
Heather: The submissions have been pretty great so far. I think it’s a been a matter of putting the right pieces together and to agree on them fully.
So the label began in the Spring. Can you run down the first releases you’ve done?
Dan: We kicked it off in March this year (2016) and we have released one single a month since. So far, we have put out original and remix work from Dirty Sole with Heather, Lil’ Mark, Jacob London, Justin Harris with Della, Alinka, The Outfit, Luke Solomon, Leaf Project, Hector Moralez and Katal and J.A.M.O.N.
Is there a common thread between them?
Mark: We use a secret algorithm which gives us a code and then match the letters we end up with to an artist who has submitted some shidazzle.
Dan: Well, we all love acid house, so if anything stands out, it’s our love for the 303.
Heather: The default modus operandi of the label is to release what we like, with a specific nod to the raw acid side of things.
And what’s coming up?
Mark: I recently signed up with MAM artist agency who are in the process of organising a tour.
Dan: We have some killer music coming up on Apollo. I feel like every release just gets better and better. In September, we have a release from CMOS (an old school artist under a new moniker). Following that, we have new material from myself as “System 5” with a remix by Rob Mello. Mark also has a killer release coming up called “Vernon Park” which includes a remix I did. After that you will see us kick it off next year with more acid house from me under “The Outfit” in a collaboration with Mikey V. Our guy Mikey also has his own release called “The Jones” which includes a JT Donaldson remix. We are also working on releases with Diz under his “Bertha” moniker, Natural Rhythm, Downtown Trouble, Scrubfish and follow up releases from CMOS and J.A.M.O.N.
I really can’t even tell you how excited we are for 2017 as it’s going to be one after the next, in terms of how many bombs we’re going to drop. You’ve been warned!
Heather: To reiterate D’s point we are all excited whats coming up on Apollo. Exciting to have projects in the works. One of my fave things to do is play stuff out, road test it and have people as what it is. As for myself I am perpetually touring, solo dates as well as annual Second City Sessions events with Colette, Shimmy soirees alongside T. Mixwell in Chicago.There’s an upcoming limited edition coffee release along side local roaster Passion House. I’m just chipping away at projects and trying to be the best mommy I can.
Support! This was originally published in 5 Magazine Issue 137 featuring Demuir, Igor Jadranin, Apollo Music Group with DJ Heather, Lil’Mark and Dan X, a DJ’s guide to music streaming and more. Support Real House Music and become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full access to everything House Music for just $1 an issue!