Champion Sound Music Keep it Electronic

Lyndon Stephens, founder of the music management company and record label, gears up for Belfast Music Week

What is Champion Sound Music?

It's a Belfast-based music management company. Champion Sound Recordings is the record label associated with the management company.

The label was meant to be an outlet for our initial signings, but our second vinyl release sold out and people seemed to like what we were doing, so we formed it all up officially and decided to make it part of the plan. It's our first birthday month, just in time for Belfast Music Week 2013. It's been a very bumpy but fun ride. Amongst other things, we've released ten EPs or singles in that short time.

At 46, aren't you a little old for electronic music?

That's like telling the Rolling Stones they are too old for rock n roll! I got introduced to house music in 1988 while in London. I had been into hip hop and post-punk before that, and I suppose it depends what your understanding of electronic music is. This year one of my favourite albums was the Jon Hopkins one, Imunity. It has one foot in classical music and the other in techno.

But I'm not a great one for genre tags. I listen to all sorts of music and I think there are only two kinds: good and bad. I suppose the reason I got involved in electronic music for a living was that I get bored very easy and love innovation. Electronic music is more like jazz in that it's a big blank canvas and literally anything is possible. It's hard to get bored with that.

It's a genre of music that just keeps evolving – is this a golden age, or are we in transition?

I think it's always going to be relevant, as any kid with a laptop now has access to what could only be achieved a few years ago with a huge room full of hardware. My understanding was that in the late 1980s and early 90s, electronic music was fairly new and grew to huge proportions in a DIY scenario, before the big labels cottoned on to how to sell it. This led to the huge superstar DJs of the time. It got so big that it imploded while the labels moved on to britpop. 'Dance music is dead' parties were held.

Then along came the internet and the bottom fell out of all music sales. Everyone was file sharing happily, but DJs were more particular about bit rates and file quality, so they were more inclined to purchase their music. Nevertheless, it caught on again, and there has been much industry attention on electronic music in the last few years, with lots of artists breaking into the mainstream charts.

It seems like these days kids have aspirations of becoming producers rather than guitar heroes, which is a pretty seismic cultural shift in comparison to previous generations.

A lot of it comes down to expense. Instruments are expensive, rehearsal space is expensive, recording studios are expensive, putting a band on the road is expensive. Not every kid or their family has the financial capability required to be in a band, but they all have tablets or laptops.

For those in the dark, how has Northern Ireland impacted on the world of electronic music over the years?

It's had a fairly sizeable influence. Back in the late 1980s, David Holmes went from running a local club night to becoming a well-respected DJ and Hollywood movie soundtrack producer in a relatively short period of time. Since then we have had Phil Kieran, Space Dimension Controller, The Japanese Popstars, Psycatron, Feel My Bicep, Boxcutter, Calibre and Ejeca. All have 'made it' internationally.

But one of the most interesting times has to be now, with labels such as DSNT, Extended Play and ourselves and our artists starting to get recognition outside of Northern Ireland. The level of interest and creativity occurring in Northern Ireland has never been stronger.

And now there is a new generation – tell us about your acts.

Ryan Vail was the first act we signed. He's not a solo artist, the band is actually a two-piece, Ryan and Katie Vail. They make beautiful analogue electronica, no computers involved, with live guitar, bass, analogue synths, flute, a drum machine and vocal harmonies. They have been compared to James Blake, The xx and The Postal Service, but they are quite unique in what they do.

Unknown has an interesting story. He was a placement student with the company and one day he played us some of his music. He had started his own YouTube channel and was posting his music anonymously.  We put out his first EP as Unknown - #001-004, and people seemed to really enjoy the mystery. It sold out completely on vinyl.

On his third EP he teamed up with Dublin vocalist Gemma Dunleavy and together they produced the I Cry EP, a thing of beauty that caught the ear of Radio One and other established producers who invited them to collaborate on various projects. Since then they've got together full-time under the moniker UNKNWN.

Ghosts are a two-piece pop outfit blending dark, melancholic songwriting with bass heavy, dance floor productions of various musical styles, most notably garage and house. Tipperary natives, Kevin Gleeson and Padraig Ryan have been in operation since the beginning of 2012, but have already made themselves known internationally and at home boasting over half a million plays on Soundcloud and YouTube.

We have also signed two new acts, JBR Project and Replete, but they are mostly in the development stage.

Where can we see them playing next?

Ryan Vail will be playing as part of Belfast Music Week on Thursday, November 14 at the Limelight Complex for the Belfast Music week Showcase. Admission is free but tickets need to be applied for by emailing musicweek@limelightbelfast.com. UNKNWN and Ghosts are both playing at Distillation 06 at the Oh Yeah Music Centre on Friday, November 15, also as part of Belfast Music Week. Tickets are available from Oh Yeah.

So what's the future for CSM?

Lots of touring and albums for both Ryan Vail and UNKNWN. Hopefully we will also be popping up stateside at SXSW and other label showcases in the UK and Europe, and releasing an album entitled Re Introducing: The Best of Spree, who were a seminal drum and bass act from Belfast who played Glastonbury a few years ago, but were just a little bit ahead of their time.

How can artists get involved?

We get so many demos at the moment that we can't cope, so we have decided from January of next year to run a monthly night called FeedBack where artists can come and play a track and we can give them advice on what is the best way forward for them. We will be promoting this in early January, so either follow us on Facebook or Twitter or join the mailing list via the website.

Belfast Music Week runs in venues across the city from November 11 – 17. View the full programme of events. Visit the Champion Sound Music website for more information.

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