It’s a pleasure to talk to you today Pete. On The Corner Records is more than just a label. You represent cultures and sounds from across the globe and these times of unrest and division you are a beacon of hope and compassion. Label of The Year at WWFM Awards 2018, respected by many including Gilles Peterson. That is a truly remarkable stamp to have.
Your music comes from all over the world, in far reaching places. Can you tell us where you are from? Where are you based?
I’m based in Stoke Newington; I’ve been fairly nomadic over the last 20 years. Mostly in South East London but now North. Originally, I’m from a village a few miles away from Ashby de la Zouch (its where a lot of pub snack and Adrian Mole comes from)
Have you always lived in the UK or did you spend time growing up in some of the countries you represent musically?
Mostly UK, I built myself the privilege of being able to take a year exploring street corner vibes in various part of Africa. Linking up places I’d been on shorter trips but and having a bit of a beat odyssey. I’ve had extended stays in the Moroccan end of the western Sahara and a decent run out East on the island of Zanzibar.
How did the label On the Corner Records begin?
From a night really. I was living central, doing a bit of online radio and crashing my career. I used my overdraft to put out a dark white label featuring Emanative, Rocketnumbernine, Earl zinger and Collocutor. The night was the summer of 2013 and not much was really happening, and I wanted a space to play Theo Parrish, Albert Ayler, L.I.E.S and all that jazz.
Did you start with a specific music policy in mind? What was your first release on the label?
Not really, I wanted to support music that banged, that I loved and was not being picked up. That’s not changed really, I’m loving looking for artists that push their own boundaries. The first white label style 12” release was the OVER EP featuring Emanative’s remix of Collocutor and then the dark, odd ball, cosmic electronic title track. I hand stamped and screen printed those 12s and I’ve still got a few white labels kicking around somewhere!!! OtCRLP001, Collocutor’s ‘Instead’ in October 2014 was the first full release nipping in ahead of the resurgence in UK Jazz.
Collocutor – Instead (Emanative Remix)
Would you say that the musical vision you began with is still in place? Has this changed?
I think it’s still developing, there’s lots of sound and artists I want to work with. Innovating with future bangers whilst keeping rhythmic roots upfront will always require vision, hard work and innovative campaigns to bring the artists to an audience they deserve.
How do find artists for the label? Do you travel to discover sounds?
I do travel but I don’t go out seeking to uncover bands in that way as it’s for DJing mostly (I’m almost missing Stanstead right now). Some music comes from long time connections. Often, I’ll be sent music, hear it on the shelves or it will come recommended by fellow DJs or artists.
Tell us about someone you met on your travels which lead to them appearing on the label? Bet there are many great stories!
There are plenty of stories! The Santuri release came about from dredging my Traktor around Zanzibar. David Tinning was yet to begin the East African electronic music collective Santuri and I was just there to write about and play music. We shared lots of the local spirit, Konyagi and remained in touch as we both developed our own initiatives. On another occasion I can tell you about being bounced off a flight in Uganda and being arrested for murdering a police! At the end of an interview last year I was asked at the end to clear up a rumour that I’d been kidnapped. It made me laugh but then I realise stories do turn into myths and I had ended up in a military compound in the Sahara on a couple of occasions and another time I just managed to get out of Timbuctu before it fell to the Sahelian Al Qaeda, that was definitely a situation I’d like to avoid happening again.
Santuri Safari – M.I.X.G Jinja Pearls (Sam Jones construct)
As a DJ, how would you describe your style of music when you play out?
Hang on, let me just check my bio. It’s a good times rave up. Big grooves, a few unknown weapons, unrealised unreleased fire and plenty of kick. Reacting to the room or festival is important so bringing the dancers on board and getting that backroom sweating.
Are you also a producer?
I’m not at the controls though my input ranges from giving the thumbs up, making tweaks or imbibing the vibe.
Do you still buy records? Are you precious about what format you play?
For sure I do, when I travel, I try to pack smarter but USBs are a welcome edition and lighten the load. Sometimes the only option is to play from the Mac but that’s only when I absolutely have to. Short run white labels and unreleased label gear are essential to keeping a deeper connection to future sounds and evolving myself. Digital can add vast amounts of agility but if that’s all I’m working from then it becomes a bit two dimensional.
Is there a secret spot in some far-flung country you go to for precious gems?
Everyone is online now; I mean unless you really want me to bang on about CD shacks selling bootleg MP3s in Bobo Dioulasso (Burkina Faso). The guy rips the hottest cuts from the streets of Abidjan while you wait. Props to Sofa records in Lyon and 33 Revoluciones in Las Palmas. There are a few places popping up in Morocco with small but interesting collections. I still rely on SoTU, Phonica and Bandcamp.
What’s your favourite On the Corner release, why is that?
Your only as good as your last game, right? Siti Muharam – Siti of Unguja is just out and it’s an incredible work that started with me being a cultural consultant for a pioneering housing development on Zanzibar. I brought the concept to the table and that spiralled into a remarkable recording which I had to release. Sam Jones was at the controls and it’s been three years of hard cross-continent team work realising what I think is a significant record for the musicians, the label and Zanzibar.
With the global pandemic, the horizon has changed for all of us. How has it changed for you? Are you concerned about the label? Are you continuing with your release plans for 2020?
The festival season has obviously gone, it made me realise I’m going to need an extra pair of hands when that is resurrected. I am concerned for the label, of course, until very recently, without DJ income, the label wouldn’t of survived so the timing for us could have been worse, luckily I’d diversified and built in a few months resilience. We’ve releases dropping now and with stores gradually opening my fingers are crossed. The Guedra Guedra debut EP was scheduled for festival season but it sold out anyway. Other releases may be impacted though. Nov 2021 is looking worrying and the coming winter could be tough but we’ll try to adapt. The state of the global economy may take choices out of our hands.
With the recent unrest in the USA after the tragic killing of George Floyd, and OTC being a label that is huge supporter of equality by nature of the music you support and nurture, what is your message?
Black Lives Matter: I feel there’s a great opportunity for us as allies to confront our own prejudice, examine our history and how the fabric of society is unequal, prejudicial and out-and-out dangerous. As a label I feel we have an artistic family across the globe. Black history, people and culture matters. Being in the cultural industries is easy to show the influence of black art and music without addressing the reality affecting the artists, their families and their people. There’s lots of voices out there that can guide you to a better understanding of the reality affecting people different to yourself. I recommend following nowhitesaviours on insta and artists like Saul Williams, BLM UK, Big Joanie. Now is the time for change and it’s our fight to take forward under the guidance of and for, black people. No one is exempt, we all need to understand privileges, history and sub-conscious bias. I’m racist until society is not and that when structural there is true inequality is addressed.
Can you tell us a little about your forthcoming release Door To The Cosmos Volume 1?
So it’s a dancefloor sampler ahead of a triple vinyl compilation due to drop on Sept 11th. The artwork from Victoria topping is a cosmic heart attack and the music comes from a raft of new label artists, some guest and the OtC old guard. It represents artist all knocking at the door to the cosmos loosely in the vein of Sun Ra’s mantra. Its the sound of undergrounds popping On the Corner across our cosmos.
It’s such a varied sampler. What is the common theme that connects the tracks for you?
That they all bang, push borders of genre and present fresh ideas. Not everyone is going to be ready but that’s where the thrill comes in.
Is there anyone in the music industry that you admire right now? Who’s hot?
There’s a pretty expansive list, dumama + kechou debut is stunning, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Moses Boyd, Emma-Jean Thackray, BCUC, Saul Williams continue to roll stronger and stronger. I can’t wait to hear more from Tom of England, DJ Sotofett, Azu Tiwaline, Bergsonist and Bakongo.
Some call you the nicest man in music, is this true?
Nah mate, I’ve got a ‘shit list’. If you’re an exploiter, cock womble, creep or come with the attitude then you’re on the list and then I won’t work or associate with you. OtC is a family and I’m protective where I need to be. Having a vision and being trusted with artists work brings a the responsibility for and it means that sometimes you have to break eggs, chase invoices, give it the hard ‘no’, cut out the mediocre and let it go to pasture out of view.
What’s up next for Pete On The Corner?
Keep on with the back room raving. My Ibiza, U.S. and Boomtown debuts were cancelled due to Covid, but I’ve been hard at the label, literally round the clock for lockdown. I can’t wait to get the party going and I need to cut loose. I’m going to enjoy myself, rave and rest and then a good deal more of both, thanks for the chat and support!