Small Black Dots: For the love of wax

    Boutique distribution company Small Black Dots has long been cited as one of the most respected outlets for the more discerning record labels in Europe and further afield. What started out as a vehicle to publish underground electronica has grown to become much more than that. Founding partners Alex and Nick have always been involved in music but it was interesting to learn exactly where they came from, (Nick) “We both come from a town called Padua in the North East of Italy. We’ve known each other since the end of the 90’s, when we were involved in the local clubbing scene. Small Black Dots came to life many years later, around 2013 when Alex asked me some help in running and self-distributing his vinyl labels, “Illegal Series” initially, and “seekers” a few months later.

    With both Alex and Nick coming from label backgrounds it was clear that with the vinyl market being the way it was around the early 2010’s it was time to take matters into their own hands, “Up until 2013, we had both managed other record labels which were distributed by different companies, but we were considerably unsatisfied both with the economic results of running a vinyl label at the time, but also with the quality and genre of music that it was released on the scene.” It is hard to believe given the state of the vinyl market but at that point but vinyl was not the favoured medium for the growing demands of DJ’s, “The vinyl market had considerably shrunk and even the more popular electronic labels were suffering a lot on the physical medium, while instead the digital sales had increased and taken over pretty much the whole market. Small Black Dots was born out of love for the vinyl format and for a certain, specific sound we were trying to pursue at the time and that we couldn’t find so much on wax.

    Alex gives us a look into where it all began for him and Small Black Dots, “It was early 2000 when, while I was DJing and promoting events in Padova with Nick and a group of other friends, I felt the need to start producing my own music and have my own label…In the years leading to the opening of Small Black Dots, Nick had moved to Barcelona and I moved first to Ibiza for a summer season and then to Berlin where I resided for almost 10 years. During that time, I was involved in running some record labels: “MUS” and “Vae Victis Music” and I had also started a bootleg label called “Illegal Series”.” Alex also echo’s Nick’s sentiment on the state of the vinyl market at that point, “As Nick mentioned, around the year 2010 it had become quite difficult to sell vinyl and make any profit out of it, even for the most popular labels. My labels were underground projects which I was running for the love of the format, but they were losing money with each release. This was the time when digital marketplaces like Beatport and systems’ like Traktor were quickly becoming the standard for any DJ.

    It is clear both Alex and Nick have and always will be heavily involved in new genre pushing music but perhaps their backstory is one not well known. For instance, Nick alongside friend Shlomi Aber were responsible for setting up the well-known imprint Be As One. Only leaving the setup a few years ago to concentrate on Small Black Dots a few years he had been involved in all aspects of the label, “Working with Shlomi in Be As One has been a very important developing experience for me through which I cut my chops in running a label, licensing’s, A&R, scouting and networking all of which I bring today into the distribution.” Alex on the other hand a more producer led avenue to explore, “In 2005 I was often going to Berlin to check the nightlife there and to jam in the studio with Lucretio (from Analogue Cops) and one of our productions (Berlin Dub) was signed by Detroit’s DJ and producer Buzz Goree, owner of the label Mixworks.” As well as his time spent in Berlin studios Alex was heading to the White Isle where minimal was experiencing its original heyday, “During the Summer of the same year I was going to Circoloco in Ibiza and one time after listening to the sets of Luciano, Villalobos and Tania Vulcano, I went back home very inspired and produced some music which I then sent them. The feedback was great and they were playing almost all the tracks I had made. Then in 2009 Luciano released my first EP on his label Cadenza, and subsequently I joined their booking agency and started touring.

    Both parties would most certainly add these rewarding experiences to their already blooming ideas that forming in their heads, “As I’ve mentioned, Be As One has been a rewarding experience for me and during the time I was involved with it I saw the electronic music scene and DJ market radically change… and I can’t say that I was completely happy with how things were going. Nothing to do with the label, but rather the type of market we were involved in (let’s call it “more mainstream”) and in this environment, I started to feel I needed to connect back more to my roots and the sound I grew up with, which was the sound of the 90’s.

    Nick regales a story that stuck with him since that day that would prove to be the catalyst for Small Black Dots, “One day Alex told me he and his wife were producing the first release of their newly-born “seekers” label and dropped the idea of the vinyl-only distribution, in a time when digital had pretty much gained 99% of the market. I first thought it was a crazy idea, but eventually I realized it could be an opportunity to further pursue what I loved. Running a distribution, a record store, consulting labels on what to do, and many others daily tasks we’re faced with in SBD is something I couldn’t have done if I hadn’t the experience I had in Be As One. But now looking back at it, I could see why this evolved for me into SBD.

    Berlin has always been the epicentre of forward thinking music and when Alex was living there Nick points out why it was such a hotbed of creativity, “Alex was living in Berlin, which had always been the center of clubbing and music in general. Renting and life in general was cheaper than in any of the big cities in Europe and many artists could live in Berlin with just the profit of their art, without having a standard daily job. For this reason, the city was full of artists that produced interesting music and many needed help to distribute their projects.” Nick goes on to point out the benefits for setting up the new venture in Berlin, “also, and this is not a secondary matter but a very important one, business-wise Germany is the best country in Europe to start any kind of business: the way the government pushes entrepreneurship of any kind and size, how the tax system works, a smoother bureaucracy compared to the rest of Europe make it the perfect place for doing business.

    The co-operative ethos that Berlin enjoys means that Small Black Dots would be a welcome addition to the vinyl market rather than any competitor for already established outfits, “Today, there are way more distributions catering for this sound, but considering the variety of music and subgenres, and the number of producers increasing each year, it’s just better if there’s more to offer……As long as there is a good, quality output, we think there’s space for everybody.” Now that the decision to form a vinyl distribution service was becoming a reality it was interesting to discuss which labels would be distributed by Small Black Dots. Obviously, Seekers and Eticone would be a given but how did they decide which labels to bring on board, “One of the basis of SBD is that it should be of a small enough size to be able to keep a friendly and direct relationship with the labels we work with, as opposed to what happens when you’re in a very big company with many “clients”, were you kinda become “just one of the many” and the relationship has a less personal touch. This is something we both experienced with our previous projects and was one of the driving ideas behind opening SBD.” With the focus being on smaller independent imprints with a similar ethos the “family” approach was at the top of the list, “Following our ethos from the start, many of the labels we started with were ran by people we knew personally and were coincidentally looking for a distribution for their labels, many of which were, like us, newly born. It then organically evolved along the years by keeping faith to our fundamentals of having a shared interested in the music and the vision a label has into its future.”

    By this point Small Black Dots were forming close working relationships with some of finest labels so what is next? Well, going back to their roots and growing up to the sounds of DJs like Italian Movement DJs like Ricky Montanari, Flavio Vecchi, Claudio Coccoluto and US DJs like Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Satoshi Tomie at Riviera Adriatica’s house and Techno clubs like Echoes, Peter Pan, and Cocorico. Nick explains how their influences hugely inform their musical choices today, “Having lived the Nineties as teenagers, our influences today are based in an analogue sound: the feel of how a record was produced and sounded back then is today one of the fundamentals of what we do. In the years leading to opening Small Black Dots we were playing mainly second hands records and to us the vinyl market quality had gotten very bad (or at least it wasn’t what we were after) so we really wanted to go back to a specific way of doing things from the era before.

    It is this respect for the music of years gone by and the quality of the production that led the pair to their next venture selling records to legions of new music lovers. This passion for sharing music was only going to lead one place, “Since the beginning, we had a clear vision of one day having a record shop, both physical and online and be a hub for creating and delivering music, which is what is fully happening today with our in-store fully analogue recording studio: from the producer to the consumer you could say. It was also important for us to have an online spot were lovers of the sound could find all our labels catalogue in just one place.” Nick continues, “our vision is to be a creative hub where a certain type of music is not only sold, but also created, promoted, distributed and shared. Also, since we’re both DJs, having a physical place where we’re daily exposed to new and old music on vinyl keeps fuelling our passions and not just our business.

    Taking the idea of a creative hub further still their arts in store events at their Barcelona record store would go hand in hand with the city in which they are based, “The Born district, where we are located in Barcelona, is a popular spot where many artists live…same like Kreuzberg is in Berlin. My wife, Mona Bit, is a painter, so when we had the chance to rent an ex art gallery space for our HQ, we decided to inaugurate the shop with an expo of her works on the walls. After that we decided to make it a recurring thing giving the chance to other underground artists to expose their art in a record shop.” Coincidentally their Barcelona record store was also opened during one of the hardest points that the world has had to endure but as always they approached the project with a smile in their heart, “Let’s say that we took all this with the right amount of humour since the first week of renting the premise, which was, tragi-comically, the 1st of March of 2020. It took us a few months to be fully operative with the shop and we eventually opened doors at the end of July of the same year. It’s been a ride for sure which we approached just focusing on going forward. Compared to other type of businesses in our neighbourhood (especially bars and restaurants), we’ve been quite lucky to have been open pretty much all this time so we’re just grateful for that.

    Nick goes on to point out why Barcelona is such a great fit for SBD, “Art and creativity are part of Barcelona’s DNA and this is true independently of any type of current situation. Electronic Music has always had a place in the city and even today with the current situation there’s a huge amount of producers, promoters, and clubbers that all together add to the big picture of making it a relevant spot worldwide.” As dynamic as Barcelona is every city has its draw backs, “The main problem of this city is the lack of proper spaces that could allow more realities to be created and local laws that are definitely unfriendly to the culture. It’s not like London or Berlin where you can pretty much throw a party anywhere. Where complicated and unfriendly bureaucracy makes it really hard for smaller realities to find proper spaces. But luckily regardless of this the spirit of the city scene find always ways stay alive.”

    There has been a massive shift in popularity within the vinyl market since the days of setting up SBD and this has both been a good thing and bad thing. It is clear that vinyl has resurged far beyond its previous incarnations but at a cost to smaller independent labels, “We try to be flexible in our approach and vision and to adapt to the changing situation quickly. There are factors which we cannot control: from the recent increase of prime materials for the manufacturing (be it plastic, paper, energy) to the increased leading times to a finished product; from the invasion of the market (and pressing facilities) by music majors who didn’t really care about the format until it became cool once again, to the increased offer (and subsequent lowered quality standards) in electronic music itself. These days life has become totally unpredictable so we just try to make wise decisions based on our experience and a bit of dreaming (and luck).

    Now, that like many other parts of the world Barcelona is starting to emerge from the worst winter on record and with it will come a slew of art and music events as well as fire releases from their stable of labels. Nick gives us the lowdown on their plans beginning with their art led events, “We just closed the art expo with painter “Hanna Perry Saucier” and are opening the new one by “Unsquared” and pretty soon we will inaugurate it with an in-store event with DJs sets and live painting.” He goes on to reveal their label based action, “Music-wise, we’re both very active with our own labels: in Spring, Twig (seekers’ sublabel) will release an EP by Lapucci and one by Eversines will follow up in the summer. OCD has an upcoming Scott Featherstone EP while its in-label series “The Secret Sun” just released Vol.3 of Ballet Mechanique’s collection. The two of us are also launching a new label together with Mattia Lapucci called “Backward Futura” with a sound inspired by the soundtrack scoring of Eighties TV series and movies, something both of us are very excited about.

    With all great families, new additions are the lifeblood of the name and they have some excellent new arrivals coming up, “We also are expanding our family of labels. Firstly, we’re trying to push some of the talents that live Barcelona: the city is full of promising producers and collectives which we feel need to be helped and pushed into the scene. “Paruro Elektroniks” and “SIKU” are two labels by a group of friends from Peru that are very active in town. “Holistico Records” is another Barcelona-based collective from Uruguay which we recently welcomed in SBD. From Italy the label BeBop joined us and from Germany Deadsound Records. They all join our longstanding roster of “veteran” labels: Discarded Gems, Lowmoneymusiclove, Faciendo, Red Ember Records, Phi, Polarity, Montevideo Electric Recordings, Deeper Audio Cuts, Hypnotic Mindscapes, HistoryBeginsEveryMorning, Rawbeats, Activ Analog and Abstracta Audio (and sorry if we forgot anybody!).

    Music and art goes hand in hand with fashion and this has produced a collaboration between Small Black Dots and Trommel in form of a multi-function record bag. The limited edition roll top bag has many uses other than holding records but obviously carrying wax is what connects all the elements together.

    Features
    – water repellent and strong fabric
    – waterproof zips
    – 2 big external front pockets
    – 1 deep inner strap pocket for laptop or documents
    – 2 smaller zip pockets inside the bag
    – USB plug to recharge mobiles and USB devices via a power bank (not included)
    – three-way bag: handbag, backpack, shoulder-bag
    – for DJing needs as much as for daily use, sports, trekking
    – holds approx. 45x 12” inch records
    – frontal Velcro strap for patches (Trommel and Small Black Dots patches included)

    To get your hands on the bag head to our shop.

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