From Switzerland, Jamie Lewis, has been rocking the tables and carrying the flag for House Music for more than 20 years. As a producer and remixer, he’s responsible for dozens of instantly recognized songs – dancefloor anthems embedded with a spiritual message – both of his own creation and those of others released on his Purple Music imprint.
5 Magazine spoke to Jamie ahead of an ambitious (and secretive!) triple CD release representing the best of his entire career.
Tell me about your early days. From what I understand, you were playing underground Disco in the mid-1980s and then discovered the new House sound?
It was over 22 years ago. I started my DJ career playing in the Swiss club circuit – one night parties and the first big clubs in the country. I discovered House Music thanks to the records I bought from DJ Service record shop… before the shop became mine!
That was one of the first DJ-centric record shops in Switzerland. As a former shop owner, do you miss record store culture?
I bought the record store “DJ Service” in 1986 and I had it for 17 years. It was the meeting point for all international DJs coming to our country as well as the only one importing House Music from the USA.
I’m very nostalgic about those days. Everything was genuine and people were very attracted to House Music. I’m missing the vinyl smell when I opened 20 boxes of imports – thousand records were sold weekly. I was importing from around the world (Techno was also very popular at that time.) It was really different: the DJs listening to records and talking for hours at the shop… Great days…
On a related note, Purple Music is one of the handful of labels that still presses vinyl. Can you tell me if this is still profitable from a business perspective?
Yes, it’s true: Purple Music is actually the only Swiss record label and one of the few worldwide that is still printing and selling good vinyl.
Of course, it’s still a good business if you release quality music. And of course being a vinyl junkie, I’m glad I can continue to release in this format for as long as possible on my label.
As a label owner (as well as a former record shop owner!), how do you feel about the current state of the dance music recording industry?
I can tell you my point of view from the side of an ex-record shop owner and current owner of a record label, publishing company and a DJ.
Everything has changed. The industry has big problems due to easy illegal downloading. Moreover people from the music industry in my opinion don’t do anything to help the world market situation. Instead, everyone became very cheap. Now, with less than one dollar, you can buy a mix that cost someone a lot of money to produce (singer, recording studio, sound engineering, promotion, etc.)
But despite the bad situation worldwide, I think my case is proof that you can still make a good living on music and records. Even if it’s not easy… Nowadays, you have to work twice as hard to get half of what you made five years ago (in terms of sales, in terms of money, etc.)
But if you have the passion, if you are professional and work hard – even without having “big commercial hits” – you can be happy.
This is also a business where many people have been extremely lucky, and made lots of money from just one release. But these people are the same ones who disappear quickly.
With the economy and everything else, I’ve been told that the scene in Europe is going through some changes – from huge mega-events to something more intimate and underground. Is this accurate from your perspective, and do you see this as good or bad?
Probably yes, there are less big open air or huge events as people have less money to spend. But some legendary events still go on (Streetparade Zurich, Southport Weekender, and more Trance and Techno-based events in Holland and Germany). And they still attract a lot of people from around the world.
I’ve seen in my DJ tours that big, famous clubs are still going strong in countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, France… But yes, there are lots of smaller venues, especially in countries like the UK, Holland, Asia, the USA and also in Switzerland.
Purple Music has been going for 13 years strong now. Unlike some labels created by producers, you’ve always featured a lot of artists other than yourself, like Bob Sinclar, Sandy Rivera, Dimitri from Paris… Do you think this commitment to solid A&R is responsible for the tremendous longevity of Purple Music?
Yes, I think so. I created Purple Music with my wife Manuela who came with a 20 year business background in the music industry. We mixed both of our experiences to create a quality House Music record label. I’ve done some good productions and a few remixes for Purple Music but we like to feature some legendary gems as well as discover new talents.
We like our job, too – I think this is also the key to our success and longevity.
Purple Music releases have always had a spiritual aspect, a very positive and life affirming message. Is this by design – and have you ever felt the temptation, as a record owner, to throw out something more commercial?
I have always loved Gospel and I’m happy to have incorporated many spiritually positive messages in my productions. But I’m personally very open-minded. We released some more uplifting, deep, and tribal tracks on Purple Tracks, and I think that some electronic productions can also be good if the music is made with quality. Even if electronic music has a short lifetime, minimal and electro sounds attract more young people.
Our “different” productions have been more or less along the lines of the label as our music represents us, represents my DJ sets. I’m eclectic but you know what you can expect from me!
I don’t want someone to buy one record from Purple Music and say, “What’s this sh*t?!”
You’ve been doing a lot with Michael Watford. Can you tell me something about the production “Michael’s Prayer” that came out in early 2009 (originally released in the 1990s)?
Yes, we’ve been working together since 1997. The first song we did was “For You” – that’s still a floor-killer today!
“Michael’s Prayer” was always one of my favorite songs from the time when it originally came out on Roger Sanchez’s label. And after 19 years, I asked Michael to re-record it on Purple Music. Michael and I also recently released “It’s On Your Face” on Purple – another successful club tune.
I have to ask: where did the title of your DJ mix series My Girlfriend is Out of Town come from?
It was my wife’s idea (as was the title for the My Boyfriend is Out of Town series).
It began as a fashion idea, and I made a nice red tshirt with silver glamour paillettes and wore it during my sets in Europe for one summer (not all the time of course!) Everyone was asking me “Where did you buy it?” “Nice one!” “Funny!” etc. So Manuela decided to create a CD series with this name. We registered the trademark for Europe and I did a tshirt collection (aka Jamie Lewis) with this name as well!
What new material do you have coming up in 2010 for us to sink our teeth into?
Quite a lot of interesting things. My main projects are my “Best of” CD (the name is still top secret). It will be a triple CD collection (unmixed) including only the best, legendary productions and remixes I’ve done during my career. It will feature remixes I did of songs by The Weather Girls, Etienne de Crecy, Cerrone, Ten Percent, Billie Ray Martin, Alexander O’Neal, Gene Farris, Bob Sinclar… as well as the hits with Michelle Weeks, Michael Watford, Kim Cooper… as well as my first productions for John Acquaviva’s label… and my latest productions with Lisa Millett, Kim Cooper and so on.
I’m very excited about this project. I’ll be promoting it from March to September 2010 with tours worldwide.
I’m also releasing a video clip of my forthcoming production with Cynthia Manley and the song will be also featured on the triple CD album.
I’m also working on a new special project with Kim Cooper. It’s something more unusual with lots of oriental/Arabian live elements – in a modern House mix.
And I have two new projects with Lisa Millett I still have to finish. And of course there’s Volume 5 from the My Girlfriend is Out of Town mix series.