Shane Gobi is a DJ and owner of Alchemy Records. He’s a South African always on tour, if you will, having moved to London many years ago, but always returning for a few parties every year.
You’ve been an active DJ since the late 90’s. Tell me about your beginnings in South Africa.
Hi, guys. Firstly, thanks so much for your support. Well, bit of a long story, but here goes the short version. Music has always been a big part of my life since I can remember, and I started collecting and playing music while at high school in Port Elizabeth. This was purely a hobby with a few friends at school, exchanging tunes and trying to mixing them on cassette by adjusting the speed of the tape player’s motors with a Phillips screwdriver.
These old school skills served me well a few years later. We also managed to build our own mini sound system, by playing school disco’s, birthday parties, fete’s… really we played whatever came our way, spending whatever spare cash on buying more music. After leaving secondary school, we all went different ways, studies taking a lot more time and surfing every other spare moment I had, music kind of went along the wayside.
Moving ahead, many years later, I moved to London, with the intention of staying for a year [laughs]. After a few months of settling in, I started spending a lot of time exploring London music venues and music stores. Soon I found myself back on the old music drug, spending all my spare cash in second hand record stores, collecting anything from Dutch House, Psytrance, Jazz and even some Beethoven Symphony No.9 on vinyl. A few months later a friend asked me if I would be up for spinning some tunes at his house party, I agreed, as it gave me an opportunity to spin on some DJ gear other than playing on friends Technic turntables when they let me. I only had an old belt driven turntable I had picked up off the street at the time, which only allowed me to listen to my records, but could not practice mixing them. Next thing I knew I started getting invites to play other friends house parties, which was really good fun. At one of these events I met the now infamous, Sally Doolally and Willkie, who were doing one of London’s up and coming Psytrance club events, called ‘Doolally’. They really liked my set and invited me to spin the opening set at the next event. This all went really well and I soon got loads of other invites to perform and get paid to do so, amazing! Since then, I kind of never really looked back.
How did you end up forming Alchemy Records?
Alchemy Records was started by myself and a good friend Stuart, whom I was sharing a flat with at the time. If was never my intention to start a label, it all basically happened by chance. Back in 2000, while playing an Alien Safari gig in Cape Town, I was approached by Ryan, label manager of a Brighton based Psytrance label. He really liked my set and had heard about me and knew I was not signed to any label, so he invited me to join Sphere Records as label DJ and A&R. This all worked out perfectly for me, as Sphere was quite a well respected label with some really good artists.
One year after joining the label I was asked to compile a DJ compilation for them, it took me a few months to get it all together, and then hand it over to the label. Some days later I was called to attend a meeting with Ryan at the label office, and discuss the final preparations for my release and set a release date. To my surprise, I was told the label was having some cash flow issues and would not able to release the compilation until this problem was solved. He advised me that the compilation was very good and he could help me sell the compilation to another label or give me full support if I choose to release it myself as he felt really bad for messing me around.
Later that day I got home a little deflated, myself and Stuart sat down for a few beers, and I told him what had happened, many beers later he convinced me it would be a good idea to release the compilation ourselves as it was too good to fail. We both had some cash to fund it so all we needed was to start a label as Sphere Records distribution had already expressed interest in taking the release for international distribution. That’s was pretty much how Alchemy Records was born. The compilation was called Electrum, it was a massive success and sold over 6000 copies worldwide, much higher than anyone expected. After this massive first release success, it was only natural we had to continue.
How has the running of the label changed since it started?
When we started Alchemy we were releasing CD albums and compilations. Good labels could afford advance royalty payments and artists and labels were able to exist on record sales. Producing a CD is a costly affair and a lot more time and thought was put into releases as to ensure the music was of a good quality and would be a good representation of the labels music policy. In today’s market, CD releases are becoming far and few in-between, it’s all about digital really and there are many positive aspects to the digital releases format. Digital releases are much more cost effective and cancel out the ever rising shipping costs that were largely responsible for the shift in format. Also, it enabled people in far fetched countries to access new releases without having to pay large import taxes set by their governments.
On the negative, we have seen a large increase in the amount of music releases and with that, we having seen a large amount of very average releases coming out daily. One of the main contributors to this rise is, an artist that formally could not get releases on a established label can now start their own label over night. No need to register a company, just choose a label name and publish a one track EP release with a digital distributor, with only themselves to control the output. It’s not always the best solution for un-established artists. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying all self released artists are a bad thing, as there are many that have done well by releasing their own music for whatever reason, which I respect and support if they adhere to a high production quality. I personally choose to release my own music on as many other labels as possible, but that’s just my preference.
In the past, if you started a label, you firstly needed to find a distributor to release your music, which was not a simple task as they would only work with you if they felt that your release was of a good quality and would meet the market they were selling to. Unfortunately this is not the case with digital distribution outlets, as they will take on almost any release and it does not matter to them if they sell 2 tracks of your EP as in the numbers game the distributor will still be making money. Most importantly, the concept of buying music that has been designed for a complete listening experience has gone by the way. In the past you bought a CD and you had 4 favorite tracks you would play to death. After a month of listening, you discover other tracks that you did not gel with on the first listen. To me, this is one of the most important things that are lost in the rise of the digital market, as you have the choice to buy the tracks you like and will never discover the hidden gems.
What are some of the duties you take care of as label manager?
As label manager, my main task is to control the quality and direction of music output on Alchemy. Other than that, I am the general come to guy, as a label manager for an indie label you soon learn every aspect of the business from designing artwork, producing clothing lines, mastering, to accounting and so on. It’s a never ending story.
What do you look for in signing new artists?
I am always inundated with new music and new artists wanting to join Alchemy, but it’s not really easy finding the right artists you feel comfortable working with and feel they would fit in the alchemy puzzle. We do have a few general guidelines as to how we sign new artists. Firstly, we look for originality above all, even if the music is not quite there in terms of production, we would gladly invest the time in developing the artist, as we did with Rinkadink in the beginning and Sonic Species more recently. The next import issue is finding artists we like to spend time with. When you sign an act to your label you end up spending a lot of time on the road together, so we try to choose our artists on that basis, if we can party together, we can work together – it’s as simple as that.
What is the process like of putting together a compilation?
The process is never straight forward to me. I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to creating stories with a collection of music, I have a lot of tracks in my bag I am playing all over the world, but when you try and bring a 3 hour set into a 60 minute CD format, it becomes a challenge. I like to work on concept compilations, rather than just a collection of music you like.
You’ve briefly produced alongside Dark Soho (as Groundzero) and Rinkadink (as Whiplash). Do you see yourself returning to producing at any point?
Over the last 10 years or so I’ve been in and out of studios, mainly working with friends. This was all about having fun and hanging out in the studio, never a serious thing as I never aspired to become a performing producer.
I have always been more interested in playing DJ sets that allowed me a lot more creative freedom. Over the last few years, for lack of a better explanation, I became a little lazy and uninspired by the music I was producing. So I took some time out to formulate my ideas, it’s been a while.
You’ve played Boom Festival and Glastonbury, among other large festivals. Is it more important to get noticed within Psytrance, or the music scene as a whole?
With regard to getting noticed, hmm, I think firstly it’s more important to be noticed and respected for your work in Psytrance, and if by doing that you may get noticed by other music scenes, then great. I think if your aim is purely to get broader recognition, you going to find yourself a little lost.
I have been very fortunate to play some of the biggest trance events all over the world over the last year, but it has to be said, the Boom Festival has become my spiritual home. Boom Festival 2004 was my first European international festival booking and when I walked off the decks after my set I had promoters lining up to book me for the next summer events, got 7 bookings on the spot, quite amazing, but then it’s the Boom.
Everyone from around the world gathers there and if you do well, the Boom will do well for you. The Boom works for me on so many levels, it’s never just about the music and the people that run the festival are complete visionaries.
The Boom has always had the rule of booking different artists for each consecutive festival, so as the festival is only every second year, as an artist, you could only play every 4 years, but they love me there and have made an exception. Happy days, I tell ya!
Is it important to return to the scene in South Africa?
It’s always a pleasure for me to return home, but lately its becoming harder to find the time to visit South Africa with my international calendar getting busier every year. At the same time, playing in South Africa annually is very important to me as this is where my roots are.
Everything I am today is all about where I am from. South Africa seems to be quite removed from the trends that exist abroad, I remember a few years back just before playing Vortex I was reading the event page and so many people were not really sure as to who I was, or where I am from, which I found quite funny. But it also showed me that if I do not play in South Africa at least once a year, I will be long forgotten with the influx of new trance-heads in the South African circuit every season.
Thanks for the interview! Any last words before we finish off?
Hope you guys are ready to blast, I sure as hell am. Please keep the Jack Daniels flowing my way while I am playing! See you soon!