Blacklink have released an impressive amount of high quality music within the last year carving a solid and conducive sound rooted in grime whilst vearing into new found areas of urban electronic music. After their most recent EP by Australian producer Strict Face, we caught up with sole founder Josh to find out more about the music, the artwork and how it is to grow a label in Bristol.
"The most interesting music you'll hear is from a skilled bedroom producer (usually), because they haven't been given much of a chance before and they're frantically trying to show everyone how g'd up they are/can be"
Talk us through how Blacklink began...
Blacklink came about in quite a hectic, transitional stage in my life (music stuff among other things). I was quite unsure what opportunities I wanted to take and I was in my first year of studying music production. Considering running a new label wasn't anything new for me at this stage - I ran Mixclique Records with a guy called Joe for a few years leading up to Blacklink actually. Anyway, University was pretty crap in all honesty, i wanted to learn/do new things, but the course was badly put together and I seemed to know more about producing than my main tutor even did. The course was pretty easy after 2 years of college prior studying the same subject, and we were going over the exact same stuff, so I had time on my hands and became bit complacent. I was hearing/being sent so much refreshing music i wanted to put out on vinyl but Mixclique wasn't really the platform for it, and me and Joe lived far apart, so it became difficult to get anything done eventually. So I parted ways to start my own label with a much broader taste pallet. The first tracks i signed were the ones by Rabit, Strict Face, Sharp Veins, etc from the first record - Black Label Volume 1 (BLACK001)
What was your initial vision for the label and how has that changed?
I wouldn't say my current stance on the way I sign/release music has changed much since the initial launch of the label, I've just became much more stubborn with what I want to sign I'd say. A lot of the music i want to release is unobtainable these days, mostly because more experienced, slightly "bigger" producers are making the stuff I like or generally because I'm not hearing anything I consider true to the (growing) sound of the label. The vision from the get-go was to release my favourite music, by my favourite producers on vinyl - It just so happened that a lot of that stuff was fairly unheard of at the time and so were most of the artists, but I do aim to put out stuff by less profiled artists, just to bring something to the table that other labels haven't yet. The most interesting music you'll hear is from a skilled bedroom producer (usually), because they haven't been given much of a chance before and they're frantically trying to show everyone how g'd up they are/can be.
How would you choose to describe the sound you work within? So, a small few people have gotten fairly triggered by they way I label the Blink stuff. I LOVE Grime music (I have from a young age) and I consider everything I sign to Blacklink directly or indirectly derivative of instrumental Grime. So it is Grime music to me mostly, but a lot of it is up in the air really.
Blacklink definitely has a sense of a definitive and crafted sound, was this intentional or did it happen very organically? Thanks for pointing that out! Thankfully a lot of people point that out about the label, and it is very intentional on my part. I've strenuously, curated the label to have its own distinguishable visual and audio aesthetic. I design all of the artwork myself, I spend a lot of money on the records to make them look exactly how I want them to (alongside the artists of course). And on a good few occasions I've mixed the tracks to get them to sound their best myself. Its experimental, I try to get stuff that does something new or relatively new sonically - ideally. We've covered the audio side of the label exactly how I wanted to so far, but the visual direction has a lot left to elaborated on, but I don't want talk about that yet.
"When you live somewhere that makes you happy, has tons of opportunities and great people, you'll find inspiration in anything/everything around you. Perfect for the label."
Have you found compilations a useful tool to introduce the label to it's audience?
Definitely! I love the free compilation we launched with, it taught me a lot and did a lot of good profiling for all of the artists involved. It was awesome to show people all of the delicate sounding stuff in the same project, alongside some authentic fuckery Grime stuff (still can't believe i released that YNGN war dub on a compilation). Got us all started really nicely - but only because all of the music was hand picked and put contextually next to the right surrounding tracks.
Were there many unexpected challenges that came with running a label?
Mostly just trying to get the music to the right listeners. Its all great having 20,000 plays on some of our tunes on soundcloud, but plays don't equal sales and I don't think people outside of the label circuit recognise that. Records can get 1,000 plays and sell out immediately, some i've released got 15k plays+ and sold worst than Rain Cuts which only has less than 4k plays and that sold quite well - especially for that style of record. Distribution is still a pain even if you use a distributer, I use White Peach - they're one of the best for Grime distro - and even they struggle with getting our records in the same stores everytime. The reality is, stores are so careful choosing stock because they don't want to sit on stock they're not confident will sell anymore. Vinyl is a tough industry, with way less money to be made than people really know. Losing money here and there teaches you this in's and outs pretty quickly though.
How do you find Bristol as a base for Blacklink?
Bristol is a great base for Blacklink, although I'm sadly living out of town for a hot minute. Such and an amazing place to live, all the crazy/dumb shit i've seen living on Jamaica Street/BS2 is why I love Bristol. A drunk guy stumbled off his bike and stacked it onto his face (hard) out the front of my yard, as I walked out one time. Before i could say anything, my g jumped up quick and asked me for spare change and baccy - Bristol in a nutshell! When you live somewhere that makes you happy, has tons of opportunities and great people, you'll find inspiration in anything/everything around you. Perfect for the label.
What can we expect from Blacklink in the near future?
Surprisingly, nothing for a little while, I'm gonna jam for a sec while i move house with my girl, decorate, furnish, change job, do my taxes etc. Although, I'm finishing off my own music projects that i've been quietly making/perfecting under the name "Modelle" for a long time. Me and Lemzly Dale from Sector 7/Pearly Whites have been working on something quite special these last 12 months that will be dropping this year as a vinyl and digital release. On top of that; collabs with Asa, Timbah and Joe Petersen inbound and i've got loads of solo stuff DJ's will be getting soon after 2 years of keeping quiet. One thing i never want to do with Blacklink is put stuff out for the sake of it, i want it to have a spotless discography. We'll be back though!
Lastly, an advice for someone wanting to start a label?
Don't rush into it, know what your goals are. What do you want from it ideally? Mostly, just do it for the right reasons and don't be a bellend. It's not that time g.
You can listen to their latest EP below from Strict Face
and find them on Facebook