After a decade of releasing records Lick My Deck opened their doors to Trommel. We take an in-depth look behind one of electronic music’s finest labels and discuss some important moments that have defined their 10 Year history.
London based Lick My Deck was created by Shaun Soomro & Matt Jolley who have both been involved in the music industry for years although with totally different backgrounds.
Shaun grew up in West London. Record digging at an early age in Honest Jon’s, which introduced him to a world of music and his love for Jazz & Dub. Listening to pirate radio got him into UK Garage & Drum & Bass, which lead him to host his own weekly show on Rude FM. Progressing through the years to become a respected club DJ.
Matt grew up in Bristol. Influenced by bands such as Massive Attack and Portishead. He became an agent for film composers working on soundtracks for films such as Snatch and The Beach. Having become a fixture on the London party scene he moved into PR and began working at the BBC.
A chance meeting with Shaun at the BBC London studios turned into a friendship based on their mutual love of music and curiosity guided by their respective backgrounds and differences.
After years of DJing and PR they both felt the need to build something concrete and decided to combine their talents and knowledge and create something for themselves. They decided to start a record label.
Wanting to create a label with a punk ethic, which fused the old school with the new school and released more of a daring leftfield sound for the floor. They took inspiration from their love of the Rolling Stones. Combining old-school musical terms that Jazz & Rock musicians used with new age musical terms that DJs use: (Lick: a phrase used by Jazz & Rock Roll musicians that represents a hook or musical idea. Deck: another name DJs use for a turntable, that plays the vinyl format). Concept: Every record that is released is a new “Lick” for the “Deck”
Lick My Deck came together pretty organically. Shaun Soomro, the creative man behind LMD visualised what he wanted but creating it out of nothing was an enormous challenge. Starting with a name, logo and not much else Shaun began to approach Artists he most admired: Akiko Kiyama, Pheek, Mikael Stavostrand, [a]pendics.shuffle.
The first Artist Shaun approached and also the first Artist to release on LMD was Akiko Kiyama. A Japanese artist making a name for herself in Berlin with a distinct and unique experimental signature to her music. Showing great faith and belief in Shaun’s vision she licensed some material to the label, which is when the real work began. Funded entirely by themselves they began the long process of getting distributors to believe in them too. This was at a time when UK distributors were going bankrupt left, right and centre. Luckily legendary Glasgow institution Rubadub believed in their vision too and released their early records.
Now distributed by Berlin distributor Diamonds & Pearls, Lick My Deck have released music from the scenes most highly respected Artists: STL, Petre Inspirescu, Bruno Pronsato, Thomas Melchior, Ion Ludwig, Barac, Hieroglyphic Being. Plus killer remixes by Ricardo Villalobos, Schatrax, Brother’s Vibe, Marcellus Pittman & Baby Ford have all graced LMD wax.
What is the process of signing music to LMD and what do you look for in a track?
Matt Jolley: The A&R and creative vision at LMD has been done by Shaun for the last 10 years. He has an amazing ear for what he thinks will work well for the label and most importantly always tries to bring out the best from each artist. An important thing we look for is if we can see working closely with an artist on a long-term basis. For us, there has never been an urgency to release records which gives us more time and focus to release something we really believe in.
Shaun Soomro: There is never a clear set way of putting together a release on LMD, every record has a different approach. Sometimes it is a 1-minute sketch/idea that an artist will send me or something I have heard in a live set that we talk about and expand into a finished piece. Or sometimes I get sent something finished which is just perfect and gets signed immediately. The main thing is to work closely with the artist and always try to put out records that fully express them and their sound.
Lick My Deck was hosting parties at T Bar in the early years, tell me about those experiences.
Matt: Before East London became super gentrified one venue that was really a go to place was T Bar run by the late great Mr Derren Smart. It had a phenomenal Funktion One sound system and regular guests like Craig Richards and Andrew Weatherall. It held proper weekday parties that went on till late in the morning and a huge factor was free entry which was unheard of.
We held the first ever Lick My Deck party at T Bar. Thomas Melchior DJ’d and we flew in [a]pendics.shuffle from Los Angeles especially to play LIVE. The night went off and then some. We were invited back by Derren to throw more events.
Lick My Deck artists throughout the years. From L – R: Shaun Soomro, Ion Ludwig, Bruno Pronsato, Akiko Kiyama, Mikael Stavostrand, [a]pendics.shuffle, Petre Inspirescu and Baby Ford, Thomas Melchior and Matt Jolley.
Did you do any Lick My Deck showcases outside of T Bar? Where there any really special parties?
Matt: We have done some really beautiful showcases all over the world but I think the three events that were really special to us were when we celebrated our five year birthday party at fabric as this club was a major inspiration to us.
Doing a showcase at Club Eleven Tokyo before it closed down also meant a lot, as it was our first time performing in Japan. The first LMD showcase in Berlin at the Hoppetosse was another special moment. It went on for nearly 24 hours starting at Hoppetosse then moving over to Club Der Visionaere midday.
I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of troubles along the way. Any interesting stories?
Matt: I suppose the biggest is when Neuton went bankrupt and we almost had to close the label! Our first releases were distributed by Rubadub so we must say a big thank you to Martin for believing in us in the very beginning. Sometime after signing with Neuton we found out from a news article on RA that they had gone into administration, which was a shock, as we never received payment for any of the releases we did with them.
This was a major punch in the guts as we had only just started to get into the flow of releasing records and had lost a serious amount of money that was floating the label. The next day it was the dreaded phone call to find a new distributor which came to no avail, we were on the verge of calling it a day as we had no funds to move forward but Shaun wouldn’t give up and after a lengthy conversation with DNP, they decided to take us on. Since then we have built a really strong relationship with Johannes & Chris who run DNP and all our current and future releases are distributed via Diamonds & Pearls.
What is the process behind the LMD artwork?
Shaun: LMD is an artist-led label so with every release we try to put enough personality, character & interests of the artist into the artwork. We usually start by looking at the artist’s vision behind the release, music, track or EP name. Then we start to build up a concept to get the feel of the whole project. Dibo our graphic designer and myself will then go back and forth with ideas and present them to the artist. Then once we are all happy with the design we start to build and tweak the artwork until we get the right visual interpretation for the artist and release.
For example, on LMD010 (Bruno Pronsato’s) , we took inspiration of the sound design on “Lies About Nights” and knowing Bruno used to be a punk rocker we put together a visual design as a nod towards his Slayer days. On the flipside “Truths About Days” we took a completely opposite approach and created something light and airy to connect with the concept of night and day. On LMD015, Thomas Melchior’s record Tracking The Psyche, we designed a constellation star map to create a visual representation of the cosmic energy in the music and his interest in Psychological Astrology.
We always start by hand painting or sketching the layout then slowly expand on the design.
Matt, how did growing up in Bristol shape your music taste?
Matt: Growing up in Bristol and being gay during the 70’s and 80’s music was both an escape and an inspiration. I used to sneak into gay clubs when I was 14 and dance to artists like Grace Jones and Bronski Beat. This was when the age of consent was 21 and laws like Section 28 which made even talking to a teacher at school about being gay illegal. Artists like Grace Jones gave me the strength to believe in myself and I came out when I was 13.
The Bristol music scene is incredible, it’s such a creative city but it felt like a cultural backwater in the 80’s. It wasn’t until the Wild Bunch and later bands like Massive Attack started appearing on the scene that I took the time to discover exactly what Bristol had to offer. Clubs like the Dug Out, Lakota and Thekla played a huge part in opening me up to different sounds and genres. My favourite tracks from those days have to be Massive Attack’s Safe From Harm, Tricky’s Ponderosa and the inimitable Glory Box by Portishead.
Years later I was working on some projects at the BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol and I managed to persuade both Massive and Portishead to create something unique for the programme’s music. It was such an honour to work with them.
Can you give us some tracks that got you into electronic music?
Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy
An amazing 80’s anthem from my youth that was groundbreaking in it’s political message.
Air – La femme d’argent
Otherworldly and my stand out favourite of all the chill-out sounds that appeared in the late 90’s.
Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead
This 1979 track is darkly atmospheric and turned me on to a whole new genre of music.
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing
Pared back reggae version of Iggy Pop’s classic that Grace manages to make her own.
The Fall – Blindness
Hypnotizing and original, one of my favourite tracks from this visionary group.
And Shaun, how did London shape yours?
Shaun: Growing up in West London in the early 90’s I was very lucky to have Honest Jon’s and Dub Vendor around the corner from my house. As a young teenager I would regularly go into them to dig for music or just hang out. This opened me up to a world of knowledge of various music styles like Jazz, Dub & folk. Record shops, clubs & pirate radio were the most important ways of getting to know new music and parties that were going to happen as there was no internet at that time. In the 90’s, pirate radio in London was huge, stations like Ice, Kool & RudeFM were my go to for UK Garage and Drum & Bass. Listening to these stations really influenced me and got me properly into electronic music and DJing. When I was old enough to get into clubs that’s when it took things to another level.
London venues like; Gas Club, Bagley’s, Plastic People, The End & fabric were my real introduction to the world of clubbing and dance music culture. This is when I decided to take things seriously and dedicate my life to music.
And some tracks that got you into electronic music?
Miles Davis really reshaped Jazz and took things way beyond the genre. His masterpiece Bitches Brew is a perfect example of this. I first heard it in Honest Jon’s in the early 90’s and bought it immediately. Then over the years I have gone back to it for inspiration and each time I seem to hear new things that I never heard before. Electronic music has a connection to this, as there is plenty of freedom to explore and evolve and a big reason why after all these years it still keeps me interested:
Dub & Reggae was quite a local sound in Ladbroke Grove where I grew up due to a strong Afro-Caribbean community in W10. Record shops like People’s Sound, Dub Vendor and Honest Jon’s stocked great Dub, Reggae & Soul music that I used to listen to heavily. King Tubby was definitely a huge influence on me:
Pink Floyd dropped The Piper at The Gates Of Dawn way before I was born and I actually didn’t get on to them until my early teens around the same time I discovered Funkadelic. It was their sound design that captivated me, which is what got me hooked on the more out there, psychedelic side of music:
There was a point in time were Drum & Bass was the most innovative, forward thinking music anywhere in the world and South Londoner Karl Francis aka Dillinja was most definitely a key innovator of the sound. London was the epicentre of D&B and there really was no other producer I could mention that had such a huge impact on me and really got me into Electronic Music.
So guys, what’s the main ethos behind LMD?
Matt: The main reason and I guess ethos behind LMD is doing it for the love of it. Running a record label nowadays even though vinyl sales are on the up is still very difficult and costly with no real financial profit, anything you do make covers production costs and goes back into the label to float the next release. That’s why all the hard work and time we put into each record doesn’t really feel like work at all, as we really love what we do.
Shaun: The quality aspect is very important to us. Making sure we are delivering the highest-grade physical product possible. We focus on every aspect of the mastering and lacquer cut, to the artwork, to the thickness of the sleeves. Every little piece is extremely important and triple checked by us before it goes out. Sound quality is a major focus on LMD, we work closely with Mike Grinser at MMM who has mastered a lot of our records, we always aim to deliver a vinyl cut where DJs and music lovers can experience the record at optimum volume in a club or home environment without having to push the gain up to the max.
Releasing music we love and presenting it on a quality physical format is what we always strive for. There is a certain excitement and beauty of releasing something you believe in without any restrictions and hearing people from all corners of the world say how much joy our records give them is priceless.
Listen to a rare recording of LMD co-founder Shaun Soomro playing at London’s T Bar for their first showcase.