Aristotle argued that there are three types of music; ethical, of action and cathartic—with their respective purposes to educate, influence and heal. The labels celebrated in this article fulfil all three variances, not least because they are run by highly perceptive, intuitive and progressive thinking women; Glasgow-based Nightwave, Manchester-championing Madam X and London-dwelling Timanti. Even if you're a keen bass music fan and you're familiar with them in their capacities as DJs, producers and club night promoters, you might not as readily connect them to their respective imprints because female entrepreneurs, according to a landmark study conducted by Cambridge University, are often "too modest," despite being "significantly better organised, more extraverted, more competitive and more emotionally stable than men."
In his 2009 book The Music Industry Patrik Wikström states that the music economy "consists of companies concerned with developing musical content and personalities which can be communicated across multiple media." But what the women discussed here have managed to achieve is combining content with personality, which in today's market, where (according to Charles Fairchild in Pop Idols and Pirates) "products have become far too easily available" and brands are needed to "act as conceptual containers," is essential for success. Moreover, for a brand to flourish, it must have "a belief system attached to it. It must possess what experts call a 'spiritual' dimension to produce the added value needed to transcend mere monetary calculations of profitability."
Which might sound like pseudo-academic nonsense, but bear with us. Each of these labels—Heka Trax, Kaizen, and Templr—have a transformative backstory. Madam X has risen through the ranks of the Manchester bass scene, and is now affiliated with the city's most notorious crew, Levelz, as well as running her own club nights and labels. Timanti has developed a unique developing a unique philosophical approach to producing following overcoming a debilitating attack of the nervous system which left her terrified of never being able to play again, and Nightwave's try-anything approach to life translated into her eclectic music policy has seen her given the Red Bull Music Academy stamp of approval.
Launched in 2013 Nightwave's Heka Trax has so far released diverse offerings, such as Hit Da Blokk by Big Dope P and the recent "Want Some" by Glaswegian R&B duo Bossy Love, as well her own diverse output, typified by high BMP bangers such as 2013's "Rave Hard" and 2014's "Fire Hoes" from the Hit It EP featuring ghetto-house legend DJ Deeon, while underground tastemaker Madam X launched Kaizen earlier this year with the Griddled EP by Manchester's Biome, and the second release by Silas & Snare is coming soon. Timanti's first Templr release is scheduled for June, following the success of her Nixwax released first EP, 2014's deep house leaning This Time.
While Nightwave dreamt about having a label since she was a teenager, "drawing logos and record sleeves," Madam X finally took the plunge after the success of the 2014 KAIZEN Movements Vol 1 digital compilation, saying that prior to starting the label she "already knew which artists [she] wanted on board and approached them all individually," while Timanti was driven by a desire to keep evolving following her illness, asserting that she came to realise "the only thing consistent in life is change," with her mission to "heal and elevate people with my sound."
Although their respective accomplishments could make the move to running a label appear seamless, there are pragmatic reasons and real struggles under the surface. While Madam X says Kaizen wouldn't have been possible without finance backing accrued from her DJing career, Nightwave notes over-saturation of the market as one of the main reasons behind setting up her label. "So many amazing releases get lost as it's impossible for press to cover them all," she says. "Even sending out promos can be hard these days as they just get swallowed up by the inbox tsunami. The challenge is to plan the release timing and the PR campaign effectively." This, she notes, is tricky due to "the ongoing pressing plant issues, with vinyl delays almost inevitable." Madam X concurs, saying that "the 'vinyl only' thing becomes quite challenging, due to Record Store Day delaying presses etc. But in my opinion it shouldn't stop people from buying the music. If they like the release they'll buy it regardless."
Indeed, having ultimate confidence in what they release is at the heart of these labels' operations. Firmly in the post-genre camp shared by fellow Manchester based artists, like the collective Grey, Madam X says that she doesn't "really see the label as representing a certain type of music. The producers are so unique, I feel like putting it inside a genre bracket is a limitation in itself." With writers such as Ben Ratliff, author of Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now arguing that "we should do away with conventional ideas of genres and become more flexible as listeners," categorising music into concepts that "cut paths across genre – like 'dense' music, for instance, or 'sad' music," Madam X's approach makes sense. Timanti confirms she too was driven to set up her label by a desire to break out of genre restrictions, saying that, "I was kinda fed up of others constantly trying to tell me to try sound more like this and that so they could put me into a bracket," with her club night and imprint giving her "freedom to support other artists I believe in, who are not only great musicians and DJs but something more akin to 'vibe creators'."
With female entrepreneurs more likely to produce products and services unfamiliar to the market, women run record labels are a necessity in a male dominated and sometimes stagnant music industry. Madam X confirms this, telling me "I've had people come up to me before I've even announced a release telling me they can't wait for the new Biome, Silas & Snare or Walton to drop. It's nuts how these Internet ninjas figure this stuff out." Timanti says that although she "highly rates guys that can play the same genre for twenty years," that kind of approach blocks her creativity and was part of the reason she set up both her label and club night, Timanti and the Tribe. But with female ran labels still so few and far between, it begs the question, why is it still so much harder for women to break through on the business side of music?
Madam X (photo by Vicky Grout).
With the creation of music so diasporic and some scenes existing almost entirely online, social networks are of the highest importance. This is arguably why now is the time for women to shine, thanks to their unique advantage over men as better communicators. Nightwave agrees, saying that, "social networks are crucial for connecting with artists and the audience. Same goes for distribution, as it mainly relies on online delivery, driven by online PR campaigns." Madam X says that at Kaizen she "didn't do any PR because I already saw an online community buzzing off the label release. People were hitting me up directly, shouting KAIZEN on Twitter, I got to see firsthand how and where these people were engaging with the music."
Within the context of the music industry, perhaps a part of the reason for the under-representation lies in a deeply ingrained culture of women who both, feel like they have to go the extra mile to prove themselves, thus shunning help from peers, and because of the still existing prejudices towards them within the business side of music. Although progress has been made to encourage women to get into producing there isn't yet much of an equivalent for becoming a label owner. Indeed, Nightwave reveals that she wasn't mentored by anyone, while Madam X says, "I knew what I had to do already due to what I'd learnt running BPM."
But perhaps it's this drive to do it on their own terms, grinding for the love of music and without hanging on anyone's coattails, that's what makes these particular imprints so exciting and the women's careers to date so impressive. Madam X is quick to assert the label side of her career "definitely isn't a financial endeavour," with her unlikely to "see a return for a couple of years," due to being a vinyl only operation, while Nightwave tells me that the most important thing for her is to "share not just my own production but other people's as well." Meanwhile Timanti says that she concentrates "on making music that means something to me."
On the actual subject of gender equality, they have varying views on whether it's still an issue. Madam X says that she doesn't "really believe in gender stereotypes. I think if you have a clear idea of what you want, and what you're setting out to do, everything else is pretty straightforward as long as you take action," while Nightwave has previously expressed she felt there was gender imbalance within the Glasgow music scene, citing this as one of the reasons for starting her own club night and a DJ and producer workshop for young girls.
Looking forward, what's most likely is that for the next generation of women in their position, the context and conversation surrounding female run record labels will be altered dramatically, as the world (hopefully) most past the patriarchy once and for all. So alongside the sounds they're championing thanks to their proven record of excellent taste, this promise of progress is why you should be paying close attention to what these women and all female label heads are doing right now. They are pioneers —heed their warnings.