Artist collectives have become a dominant force in dance music's flourishing underbelly and they're fast replacing the traditional record label model with a more DIY, collaborative approach to releasing music. Their niche, often abstract aesthetics have empowered young bedroom producers by bringing power in numbers and an egalitarian ethos. A bevy of crews have already risen to the surface: Hegemon, Team Supreme, Moving Castle, Flow-Fi, Soulection, the list goes on. The unifying trait is that they're embracing a community-influenced delivery to slingshot producers from URL to IRL and back again.
"How often do you witness competing blogs, managers, labels, tastemakers or even artists working together to further the greater good of the scene?" asks Shorne Markley, founder of the fast ascending Hegemon collective. "The commonly held belief is that success is an individual accomplishment, and that everyone else is ultimately a source of potential competition. The unfortunate result of this misinformation is that bulging egos have made collaborative efforts increasingly difficult – artist collectives tackle this issue from a perspective that is beyond reproach."
This mentality has become the definitive foundation for the group, helping Hegemon develop a sought after roster that includes Skrux, Daktyl, and Kasbo. These producers collaborate and support one another, opening themselves up to all new levels of previously untapped exposure. London's own TroyBoi understands the importance of this, noting that "being part of a collective such as Hegemon has given us another platform to connect our music with a wider audience and share our music with each other's fan bases, therefore allowing a continuous organic growth."For example: An artist releases a song, and within moments it can be shared, reposted, and retweeted on the socials of every other producer in the collective. The result is a wildfire-like spread, allowing tracks to rack up massive plays before blogs even have a chance to pick them up. Burgeoning collective Moving Castle has mastered this technique, starting in 2013 and quickly building their expansive network by executing a thoroughly calculated approach to utilizing the modern Internet. Millions of plays have been amassed since then, but the original desire to build something together started with humble beginnings.
Co-founders Manila Killa, Robokid, and AObeats elaborate on this: "The rise of Moving Castle came about from a group of friends who were each other's biggest fans. That's what created such a strong bond between our members – we were each other's support groups. With this, we were able to collaborate, mesh, and organically grow within our brand and artistic development, eventually reaching out to other artists we found would be beneficial to the Moving Castle family."Not only have the Internet titans made serious waves on the music front, but their now ubiquitous shirts are consistently being repped by heavyweights like Skrillex. This idea of merchandising and unique branding has become equally crucial to each collectives growth, backed up by co-founder Andre Power of the powerhouse Soulection crew: "Consistency is key when it comes to the visual branding of a collective. Something I strongly believe in, and have aimed for since becoming the Creative Director, is having a visual art that everyone recognizes as being "a Soulection artwork," and my team helps me achieve that."
This grassroots desire to meticulously construct each individual aspect of a collective was arguably spearheaded by Soulection, launching in January of 2011 and feverishly adding producers, DJ's, and vocalists to the team. What started with a weekly radio show on a Long Beach college station turned into episodes on Rinse FM, along with official albums, white labels, and successful compilations. More than that though, it was their unrelenting desire to bring their soulful, Dilla inspired aesthetic to real life by spreading "The Sound of Tomorrow" mentality and showcases to different corners of the world.
Understanding and expanding on this approach is Flow-Fi, forming just over a year ago and already receiving major support from Joe Kay on Soulection Radio. The framework of three beatmakers (aywy, Fortune, subdaio) in different cities transitioned into a fully functional operation, dabbling in a dark tinged approach to trap and hip-hop production. The renowned crew acknowledges the significance of working together and pursuing organic growth, but they also stress the importance of discovering your own and expanding beyond online circles."We've gotten to the stage where our sound is recognizable and our producers are getting placements on commercial records, all through creative collaboration and just conversing with each other constantly over the course of the year," explains Flow-Fi's co-founder and globally respected producer aywy. "What sets us apart is that our sound is pretty diverse and we're not afraid to experiment. Plus we're truly worldwide because the Internet is our birthplace. The aim this year is to do everything at a higher level and think outside of the SoundCloud bubble."
This approach has worked for Flow-Fi, and also helped Trapdoor Records construct a team of future bass superstars like Phazz, Maxx Baer, and Milo Mills. The collective thrives by encouraging producers to pursue originality, helping create a wildcard-esque that already landed them an official release with Mixmag.
Founder Mark Evenden explains their perspective: "The bond that makes Trapdoor cohesive isn't within a particular sound, but instead stems from the love of experimentation and desire to create something different. We prefer to let artists build their own identity through Trapdoor, pushing them beyond SoundCloud stats and ultimately encouraging everyone to support each other, which is essential to the success of a collective movement."These groups are connecting fans, artists, and creative minds all across the world, encouraging collaboration and a family-orientated approach to spreading music. This new wave has already made major steps, but only time will tell just how far they can push. No individual artist is more important than the next, and everyone in the collective simultaneously benefits from the success of others.
In many ways, the function of a collective is similar to that of a label. The main difference is that their ultra-grassroots mentality puts financial gain on the backburner in the immediate, freeing them to organically grow and assume roles without the bottom line of red and black. Take, for example, Soulection giving away their entire discography for free. This, in addition to the feverish synergy of many of these groups, has shifted the creative energy of the underground away from labels and towards collectives.Soulection's Director of Global Communications Jacqueline Schneider acknowledges this, adding her own final opinion on the matter: "Having a collective increases visibility for the individuals within it and reinforces a message as a group. With this Swiss Army Knife mentality and structure, the ability to create change on a global scale can increase exponentially."Catch 'em all: Hegemon // Moving Castle // Flow-Fi // Trapdoor // SoulectionJordan Calvano is on Twitter