5 Mag’s Label Profile series is a new feature, with curiously in-depth overviews of some of our favorite House Music labels. Recognizing that most labels (especially these days) are a labor of love of just one or two founders, we’re not just looking at the slabs of wax that have found their way into your crate but talking to the people responsible for getting that music to you.
This month, we’re interrogating DJ Mes (facebook, soundcloud), the head of Guesthouse Music, Guess Who and a fantastic producer and DJ in his own right (check out our review of Mes and Sonny Fodera’s One Night in Oakland EP, posted just yesterday).
Starting out in the ’90s in the hippiesh ambiance of San Francisco’s underground scene, Mes remembers those days as “all about undergrounds, warehouse parties and one offs. You had your ‘Gathering’ parties, ‘basics’ parties , ‘Wicked’ parties and of course, ‘Sunset’ parties. In recent years that ‘hippiesh’ underground vibe has mostly died off and gone above ground into mainstream clubs. Some key players are still doing the underground thing and keeping that vibe alive. We just had a 19 year anniversary party for ‘The Gathering’ which is one of the first parties I went to in the early ’90s. They popped my cherry way back when!”
Guesthouse has launched the careers of several producers who are now well-known figures in the House Music scene. The first that comes to mind is related to the massive heat generated by their 2009 release of GMD027 – Gramophonedzie’s Swingin’ With The Fishes! EP. We talked to DJ Mes about the subsequent bidding war by major labels over “Why Don’t You”, run through some staples of Guesthouse’s awesome catalog and ask the vexing question on everyone’s mind in the Jackin’ House scene: “What’s up with all of these Australians?”
I think we gotta start any discussion of Guesthouse now with Gramophonedzie’s Swingin’ With the Fishes! 12″. What did you think of the track when it was submitted and what did you foresee in terms of sales from it?
I knew it was a hit the instant I heard the demo but I had no idea it would go viral and cross over so many boundaries. It was in the top 5 for Beatport’s top selling tracks of 2009 and got licensed to major label, Virgin… That’s the biggest record we’ve ever had!
What sort of terms did they offer during the weird bidding war that went on with “Why Don’t You”?
That’s the million dollar question everyone wants to know! There was a hefty bidding war and we even tried to replay the parts and have the vox redone so that we didn’t have to use the original Peggy Lee version. That didn’t work out so hot in the end as we weren’t able to capture “the magic” of the original recording.
Let’s just say that we were able to keep all the earnings from the downloads and we got a pretty sweet advance with a very small percentage of royalties. Not bad at all for not clearing the sample in the first place.
From what I understand, Guesthouse is not your first label?
Guesthouse is my first label but not my ONLY label… We do a side project called Guess Who? which mainly consists of very sample heavy tunes that are more just for fun than anything else.
Tell me about the One Night in Oakland EP. How did you collaborate with Sonny on this one and were you ever in the same time zone when doing so?
We had so much fun making that record! Sometimes it just flows and all works and that’s what happened one night in Oakland while Sonny Fodera was staying with me on his last US tour. We had been wanting to collaborate on something for some time so as soon as we got together we both jumped at the chance to lay down some boogie. We we’re tossing around some ideas before he got to Oakland and we really wanted to have a stab that the T-Connection’s “Do What Ya Wanna Do”. The track just came together in a matter of hours. Once we had that down we jumped on to two other ideas and nailed them down all in one night. To be honest, there was fine tuning and a few structure changes made but we laid all those ideas down in one night.
What’s your connection with the HAWT music guys?
HAWT is a crew from Los Angeles. The founder was a close friend of my girlfriend at the time and he asked me to play their very first house party. For the next four years, I was the HAWT resident DJ. They did some really memorable events like the infamous “Jack Frost” parties which originally included myself, Justin Long and The Sound Republic.
Let’s say the entire world’s library of music made up of every song ever recorded is available in whatever format you like. What media are you using as a DJ and why?
Currently, I’m using all CDs when I DJ. I have been slowly recording my entire collection to .wav format so I can play older jams (Not out in digital format) without out having to worry if the club will have turntables, etc. Also, most of the new music I’m getting is ONLY put out in digital format.
Idealistically, if I had my druthers… vinyl! Analog vs. Digital argument aside, there is something about putting tha needle on the record and letting it spin on a turntable that you just can’t capture any other way. If I could put all of the promos and new releases I get on a vinyl record as fast as I could burn them to CD, I would play all vinyl again!
You started up in 2004, we started up halfway through 2005, and we both have had a front row seat to the collapse of the music industry (as we knew it). How has stuff changed on the business side for you?
Guesthouse started as strictly a vinyl label. Nowadays, more people are buying digital tracks than vinyl, so as a business we had to adapt to that to keep things out of the red. It’s been good for us because it allows the label to take more chances and give some artists a shot that might not otherwise have a forum to release their music.
On the other hand, there is a lack of quality control and anybody out there with a computer and an internet connection can have a label, make a track and put it for sale on the internet.
There are hundreds of those tiny labels pushing stuff out the door on an almost weekly basis. How do you compete in terms of publicity and the like?
I think being consistent with quality releases is a big part of keeping any label in the public spotlight. Of course, the music has to be good to start but it helps to have proper artwork, proper mastering and proper distribution. For vinyl, Guesthouse is distributed by Downtown 161, they are the driving force behind the Guesthouse vinyl sales and distribution. Without their support, dedication and hard work, we could not do what we do.
I’ve talked to labels who mix vinyl with digital releases. I’m sure when producers submit music, they always want their music released on vinyl. How do you decide which track gets which kind of release?
These days it’s a tough decision as it’s so hard to predict what tracks are really going to HIT in the vinyl market. The bottom line is this: Vinyl is expensive and the demand just isn’t there like it use to be. From a business perspective, I need to be very selective and choose releases that I think will move units. These days, I usually do the “bigger names” on vinyl – your DJ Sneaks, your Gramophonedzies and your Sonny Foderas…
But if I’m really feeling something and I think it has longevity, ill get it out on wax. The next 12″ coming out on Guesthouse is from Jangatha & Jeff Service, neither of whom have ever had a 12″ out, but I felt like the music warranted a proper vinyl release.
They’re everywhere in the Jackin’ House scene, they’re mostly young and full of piss and vinegar and they make great music. What’s up with all of these Australians?!
Guesthouse does have a stable of Australian producers. It all started with DJ Freestyle who has been putting it down in OZ since some of these kids were wet behind the ears. We were nmates long beore I started Guesthouse so naturaly once I started a label I signed him up. I did a tour in OZ a few years ago and met Anjo (who’s released on Guess Who) D-t3ch , Ricardo Rae and Sonny Fodera… From there it just snowballed.
Several folks have told me that you’ve “broken” a lot of new artists on Guesthouse. Who of these guys did you see as a future star, and who of the people you have releases with coming up do you think are ready to bust out?
Top of the list, The Sound Republic! When I heard the demo I hopped on the phone straight away and signed everything they had whether it was a demo, a sketch or a finished track. Their sound helped shape and pave the way for the NuSkool movement and I’m proud to have released their music on Guesthouse.
[The Scrambles McSuperStuff EP] was the first project ever released by the Sound Republic and for me, it’s the record that spawned the NuSkool movement. I remember people bugging out to this “new sound” and going crazy for it.
Future stars… I think guys like South of Roosevelt, Dimitri Max, Manjane, Jangatha & Jeff Service are all going to do big things this year and in years to come.
DJ Mes on some selections from the Guesthouse catalog:
Demarkus Lewis: The Houseguest EP
MES: What can I say; this is the record that started it all for us and I’m very thankful to DeMarkus for crafting this EP special just for me. I love you D!
Cosy Creatures: Show U The Way
MES: This one is special! While GM001 and GM002 did very well, this record is the one that really put us on the map as a major player in the underground scene. I remember passing out the promo at WMC like crack rocks and hearing it at nearly every party that year. It was a special time for the label.
DJ Mes: Trax from the Vault
MES: HA! No you didn’t… these tracks we’re both signed to labels that never put them out so I reclaimed them and re-issued both on Guesthouse. They are some of the first tracks I ever did as a producer… Yikes!
Jeff Bloom: A Bump In the Road
MES: A solid yet underrated EP from Chicago native, Jeff Bloom. I think a lot of people missed this one because it’s when Jeff decided to produce under a new Moniker, POINT FIVE. Personally I love this release and I still play all three tracks!
Tommy Largo: Pictures EP
MES: Tommy Largo – or as we call him “The Dutch Master” – can turn anything into a proper House track. He is truly gifted and this release was the first in a string of release that were widely accepted in Guesthouse. Stay tuned for more from Tommy in 2011.