Imprints brings you regular profiles of the most exciting record labels the world over, with input from the movers and shakers who contribute to their local electronic music communities.
Name: Jungle Funk Recordings
Vibe: Good quality house music
Founded: August 2012
Location: Toronto, Canada
Although Jungle Funk Recordings was founded only a few short years ago, label heads Michael "Deko-ze" Babb and Jerome Robins have been planting their tech-heavy seeds in Toronto soil since the early 90's. As long-time business partners, party-throwers, and local dance music icons, their latest endeavour boasts a frisky roster of artists. A curated mix of house music genres, the sound effortlessly reflects the label's playfulness and feel-good mentality. Having recently celebrated its third-year anniversary, Babb spoke with THUMP about the label's vision, its role in the gay community, and how to stand out in the digital age.
THUMP: How did Jungle Funk transition from a concept to a practicing Toronto-based record label?
Michael: For me, moving from Saskatoon to Toronto was a big step. I was writing for a magazine; I did my own radio show; I was throwing my own events and I had my own club night. It got to the point where I needed to be somewhere with more opportunity. When you look at Toronto you've got Art Department, you've got Deadmau5, you've MSTRKRFT, you've got DVBBS—this whole massive crew of people pushing forward, trying to get ahead.
How do you and Jerome's differing experiences with the music industry compliment each other?
Jerome ran Release Records for eight years, so he had a lot of experience with the logistics of running a label. Release Records was also a one of Canada's most popular record stores. What I brought to the table was that I was regularly DJing both in Canada and all over the world. There's no ego between the two of us. He can bring something to me and say, 'Hey, what do you think of this?' and I'll be like, 'This sucks,' and vice verse. We won't take it personally, there won't be hard feelings, we'll just move forward.
What inspired the name Jungle Funk?
We like the attitude of jungle, not necessarily the music, but the energy, the tribal vibe, the heartbeat of the kick-drum. That's all from African drum music. I think the concept of taking that very root drum sound from the jungle and adding some funkiness and a grooviness to it, I think it's essential to what we're about and what we do.
What type of sound are you trying to cultivate?
When it came to Jungle Funk, we wanted to go for fun, clubby, uplifting music. There's way too many nights where it's very dark, very serious. People have their heads down, sunglasses on and even the way they dance is kind of introverted. It's not what we're all about. Especially as we get older, it's easy to get a bit jaded, so it's good to have fun at the same time.
What has been the label's proudest moment thus far?
One of them was Beatport giving us the #28 Best Selling House Label. That gave us a benchmark because now we want to become one of Canada's top labels. The other highlight was going to ADE in Amsterdam and seeing how many people knew our label and were familiar with our work.
How do you distinguish yourself amongst all the other dance music labels in Toronto right now?
We've done several parties. We do them at Comfort Zone. We've done them at Coda, The Guvernment, and now we're doing some at Lilly. We also have a residency in Hamilton and our main thing is really to push the Jungle Funk brand outside of Toronto.
You've mentioned before that Jungle Funk is targeting the gay and lesbian demographic? How are you doing this?
One of our favourite club nights is Industry, and it was really important because it opened minds for a lot of people. The music was incredible, the sound was incredible, the crowd was incredible, and it was very unique from every other club in Toronto. It was very mixed, you could have the ravers, you could have the college crowd, you could have the gays, you could have the lesbians, you could have the goths. Jerome has been a strong supporter of the gay community and I've been in the gay community all my life. Not only do we market the gay crowd, we feature some gay DJs, and we have gay hosts.
What advice do you have for artists who are just starting out?
First, find your sound. You can make really unique and really different music, but if no one's interested, that's one thing. However, on the same token, you need to carve out your own niche, you don't want to be an artist that just copies what everyone else does. The second thing I would say to new artists is promote, promote, promote. I know tons of kick-ass DJs that won't play outside of their bedroom because they won't make any effort to promote. I hate to say, it but get on Twitter, get on Facebook, get on Instagram.
How do you choose which artists to work with?
The number one thing is whether the track is good. When I'm sitting in the studio listening to music, when I'm grooving—that's a very good sign. If I'm looking at you like "who is this"—that's a very good sign. It also depends who the artist is. If it's a well-known name who sells well, who has a lot of followers, who has a really strong track record, who has a really good resume, that plays a big part too. We also keep a look out for some of the new fresh artists coming around the corner.
What's your favourite label that isn't your own?
The first one that jumps to mind is Toolroom. No matter what they, do if they put up deep house, if they put up tech house, if they put up techno, the quality is always going to be top-notch. Swara is another excellent label. They have really good quality music, no matter who the artist is.
Where do you see Jungle Funk headed in the future?
We want to make Jungle Funk one of Canada's top labels. We are doing our special series, Jungle Funk After Hours at the Comfort Zone on September 25, and then we're travelling to Hamilton for a special event. We have a residency, so it's going to be Jerome and I versus another two of Toronto's top DJs, Manzone & Strong. In December, we're going to be doing our annual Jungle Funk Christmas party. There will be treats, beats, maybe someone dressed up as Santa, and it will be happening at Coda.
Rebecca is on Twitter.