Darker Than Wax's Valentine's Day Mix Serves Up Soul From Singapore to New York
Co-founder Funk Bast*rd tells us why there's "no fixed criteria" for the international label's success.
Darker Than Wax photo by Ungku Ibrahim. This post ran originally on THUMP Canada.
After DJing and performing together in Singapore for more than a decade, Dean Chew (aka Funk Bast*rd) and Kevin Guoh (aka Kaye) were frustrated by the lack of avenues to release music in their home city, so they decided to take matters into their own hands. In 2011, inspired by the island's once-rich cultural scene in the 70s, they started Darker Than Wax as an online platform for fellow Southeast Asian producers and likeminded others to distribute their work.
Since then, the label's put out critically-acclaimed digital and vinyl releases from over two dozen genre-spanning artists worldwide, and expanded their operations overseas. Last year, core member MARCOWEIBEL started a popular weekly show on Brooklyn-based The Lot Radio with Mawkus, which led to a monthly broadcast from Red Bull Studios New York via Radar Radio. Most recently, DTW teamed up with Casio on a collaborative watch and accompanying mixtape to celebrate the former's fifth anniversary.
Today we're premiering an exclusive Valentine's Day mix courtesy of Chew, based "loosely around different interpretations and songs about love, emotions and relationships," and featuring many of the artists on DTW's roster. Opening with little-known 70s Japanese group Zerosen's sultry "Sunrise," the selector ventures through an hour of deep soul, funk, hip-hop, and house, and songs by newcomers including Groningen's Jasper Staal, Singapore's fzpz, and Toronto's KEI-LI.
Stream the mix, check out the label founders' upcoming European tour dates, and read an interview with Chew below.
THUMP: Can you tell us a little bit about your Valentine's Day mix?
Funk Bast*rd: It's half digital, half analog. I've been a record collector for almost 20 years, so some of it was from my own personal stash, and obviously some more current, up-to-date electronic stuff. It's a collage of everything together, really.
What's the most valuable record you own?
I was in Japan when I chanced upon this jazz record by this musician called Wendell Harrison, An Evening With The Devil. Really, really good record. I paid about $200 for that one. The vinyl game now is becoming crazy. It's like buying stocks.
The label has roots in Singapore and now in New York. Is it difficult to run an imprint internationally like that?
Obviously this is only possible because of social media, and because of internet technology, and the way we communicate has obviously changed so much. It's actually not a problem. In fact, it has made it so much easier for us to reach out to certain artists that we discover online. It allows us to communicate, say hey what's up, we really like your music, let's have a chat. I think the mechanisms of social media has proliferated the label in general, and it's gotten quite crazy ever since.
How do you decide what artists you invite to join the label or collaborate with? Is there certain criteria?
There's no fixed criteria, but obviously, we are rooted in African-American music, and jazz, soul, funk, and all those various diasporas and forms. I think first and foremost, music needs to have soul. Soul is obviously something that you can't explain, but when you hear it, you know it. Sometimes I hear something and I know this guy has potential, because he's able to consciously or subconsciously embody all these various influences in his music. I think that's really the qualifier.
You're coming from a very poetic stance in the way that you approach music. Does Singapore and its landscape have an influence on that mentality at all?
Oh, definitely. It's interesting that you say that, because in the 70s, we actually had a very creative cultural scene. Music was proliferating. There was a very healthy recording industry here, because of the British. Once the economy started expanding, a lot of things just started to disappear. There's still an underbelly of independent musicians—all forms of creative people—struggling to get their voice. We are a response to that. We are a response to that whole lack of resources and lack of musical industry to support us. That's how DTW was formed. It is very much connected to what's available and not available here.
Zerosen - Twilight
Gabriel Garzón Montano - Crawl
Jasper Staal & J-Rican - Untitled
Sunrise LTD - Our Love Will Grow
Stimulator Jones - Soon Never Comes
Wayne Snow - Rosie
silo - So Fine
KEI-LI feat. ANDES - Love Submarine
Swindle & Daley - Sympathy
Madd3E - Talk
Yvon Rioland & Jean-Marie Hauser - Roll Dance
Giorgio Oehlers - Untitled
Facade - Take It Slow
Tuxedo - Lost Lover
Dudley Watts feat. Kaye - New Day
Hot Ice - Dancing Free (John Luongo Remix)
Dan Kye - Like You Wanna
House Shiraz - Test
Kerem Akdag - Steppin' Out
EVM128 feat. Oliver Night - Warm 'n' Easy
Sugg Savage - Let'z
Tokyo Megaplex - Pump This
fzpz - Untitled
April 6 - Golem - Hamburg
April 7 - Club Gretchen - Berlin
April 8 - Kurt and Komisch - Wurzburg
April 13 - Cafe 1001 - London
April 14 - L international - Paris
April 21 - Miranda London (Ace Hotel) - London
April 22 - Kompass - Ghent
Corinne Przybyslawski is on Twitter.