This article originally appeared on THUMP NL.
It'd be pretty hard to find anyone who likes electronic music and doesn't know about Clone Records. This year sees the Rotterdam imprint celebrate its 25th birthday—a quarter of a century of releasing incredible music by the likes of Legowelt and Dopplereffekt, Drexciya, and Alden Tyrell. We could have listed names all day long, by the way. In fact, they've put out so much great material under their own name that you'd be forgiven for forgetting about their online record store and distribution services, which are absolutely essential for those of use who lean towards, house, techno, disco, and everything in between.
The man who made it all happen is Serge Verschuur, who decided 25 years ago that he wanted to put out his own records independently. "I was inspired by Armando's Warehouse Records, Underground Resistance, Bunker Records and had a lot of respect for Alleviated by Larry Heard," he tells me as we browse through some shelves of records in the store. "But I was also looking at smaller labels," he says. "There was a huge DIY culture back then, people who were doing something that they loved on their own little platform." Clone became much more than just a small label, but the idea of releasing revolutionary music remains.
The 25th anniversary is being celebrated with a tour named Return of the Future. The name of this set of gigs doesn't just sound cool—it stands for the direction the label is taking in the years to come. We talked to Serge about staying young, avoiding trends and buying up all stock in your own store.
THUMP: Clone is 25 years old. You've got people working in the store that were three or four years old when you started. How does that feel?
Serge: I think that's cool and even essential! I try to avoid getting stuck in routines. That fresh perspective, that naïve mindset, that is what I really like about it. The interest young people have for Clone confirms that what we've been doing for all these years wasn't just some trend, and that we've made the right choices. What we're doing is here to stay. And we did all of that by following our gut feeling. I see young people taking night trains to go to our parties—it's exactly what I did when I was their age.
Have your customers changed as well?
No, not really. The people who visit the store want to get their hands on new music. I never had a specific target audience in mind, except for maybe wanting to sell the type of records that my friends and I are into. Our records are as mixed as our customers.
Dealers like to say: "Don't get high on your own supply." Do you agree?
No, I love to get high on my own supply! I try to listen to every record that we sell, and I buy a lot of them myself. I think I'm the best customer the store has.
Do you think more people listen to electronic music these days than 25 years ago?
No, I don't. But there are a lot of hypes these days – music isn't valued solely on its qualities anymore but on the image. Everything is clickbait and it kind of bothers me. Techno and house used to be music made by anonymous artists. Take our compilation The Men You'll Never See for example: all faceless, imageless artists. Nowadays it's all about the press photographs and the social media. A lot of musicians wouldn't be popular if we valued them only on their musical output. That was different in the 80s and 90s. Maybe it's all a lot more superficial now.
What do you mean?
Well, the visual aspect is so utterly important now. Independent music shouldn't be about that. But of course there are positive sides to social media—it connects people and you can find a lot of quality music on there without the help of old media, but it's easy to manipulate as well.
And you don't participate in that?
No, our music is about expression, emotion, atmosphere—you have to feel something while listening to it. You need to recognize your own frustration, fear, desire, fantasy and energy in it. Whether gay African-Americans from Chicago produce it or some heterosexual surfer dude from New Zealand, it doesn't matter: music is the connection. The first raves were very diverse, but these days everybody goes to their own little party. But maybe I'm overreacting – there are still a lot of good things happening.
Let's take a look at the future: where do you see Clone going in the next couple of years?
I really don't know. House, electro, techno and disco were always setting sail to the future and it was all about making progress. Electronic music was connected to the latest technological developments. It was the sound of the future, but the last ten or twelve years we were mainly looking back. Electronic music has grown up. Now it's time to look ahead again.
How do you do that with old relics like vinyl or an 808 and 909?
There is a connection between tradition and innovation. No artist with a brush and some oil paint will have the same impact as Mondriaan had with his straight lines and colored squares. But electronic music is about and emotion, building on existing principles and ideas. Classical musicians have been using violins for a very long time, but Stravinsky still did something else with that instrument than Wagner or Mozart. How will it be in 2030? Or 2100? Will it be like rock music that has been stuck in the same place for years now? Or will we gaze forward and develop our music, like we've always been doing. That's also the concept behind the name of tour, Return of the Future.
One last thing: what is your most cherished memory in 25 years of Clone Records?
There are a lot actually. That one time I turned on the radio and heard my music on there for the first time. Playing the Acid Planet parties in the Blauwe Aanslag. Or when I was waiting for an order of fries when all of a sudden I got a phone call from an artist who wasn't with us anymore the next day. That was heavy. Or my first time in Detroit, when I was visiting an artist during his shift in a fast food restaurant, which had bulletproof glass and better security than the banks in The Netherlands. All of the friendships that have been lasting for decades. But the thing I love most about the past 25 years are the times that I played a demo that came in the mail and instantly thought: Yes!