You hear a lot these days that things just aren’t like they used to be. In an era dominated by algorithmically assembled playlists and the “need” for a social media presence to make a splash, it can sometimes feel like the underground and DIY qualities that defined the dance music of yesteryear have been flattened to fit the screens and speakers in our pockets. There’s no arguing it’s easier to have your finger on the pulse with show alerts and release notifications, but it’s hard to deny the feeling of falling in love with a tune for the first time without any pre-existing context.
With this in mind, consider the three absolute heaters that caught many off guard in November of 2020; without knowledge of the creative force behind them, reputable artists and tastemakers alike were floored by a triptych of tough-yet-nimble tracks. At the time, the artist was unknown, and the tracks were all untitled.
And so was the label that released them. With their debut record (the aforementioned cuts collected as uu001) and each one since, unknown – untitled is a label that has absolutely struck a chord in the dance world, scratching an itch that many of us didn’t know we had. unknown – untitled previews their releases anonymously and unveil artist and track info initially on the inside of the records they ship out. This gives listeners the opportunity to imprint their full imagination and subjective experience onto each unique outing. We now know several of the artists responsible (we won’t ruin the surprise, go dig for yourself).
Today we speak to the mastermind behind the label (and an intrepid selector in their own right), uu rhythm, whose curatorial mind and impeccable taste has fuelled the unknown – untitled project since its beginning. Alongside an absolutely stellar exclusive mix for Bolting Bits, uu rhythm agreed to peel the curtain back a bit for us.
Thanks so much for popping out of the shadows briefly to chat with us and demystify the unknown – untitled project a bit. How’s this new year treating you so far?
The pleasure is all mine Daniel, and thanks so much for having me on as your first guest for the new label feature, is quite the honour! For some reason the start of this year has felt a bit more productive than previous (maybe because I am drinking less!) so been really trying to capitalise on that whilst it lasts so I can make as much new ground and progress for both the unknown – untitled and uu rhythm projects as possible. Really looking forward to sharing that graft with everyone soon though!
Can you tell us how the project came to form in its earliest iteration?
Excuse the lengthy explanation but it needs to be told in its entirety for full context!
unknown – untitled as you see it now is actually the second iteration of the initial project idea which came about 11 years ago. In 2012 I made two tracks with a good friend of mine who was in an established project at the time, under a brand-new alias. Those tracks received quite a lot of attention online (especially on hypemachine) and one of the blogs that posted about wanted to sign them. Due to plan conflicts with my friend’s other alias, we weren’t able to release the record in the end, but as we didn’t want people to stop being able to hear them I came up with the solution of changing the page name ‘unknown’ and changing the track titles to numbers, so both would be anonymous, removing any potential conflict issues with my friends other alias.
What I hadn’t considered though was that these tracks would gain even more traction by the ID being hidden as it ended up creating a lot more hype unintentionally. After watching that process unfold, I became increasingly fascinated with how a record could become more alluring by not knowing who had initially made it and this was the thought process that lead me to idea and concept for unknown – untitled. After the success of that first upload on the page, I turned it into a platform where I would host artist’s and labels forthcoming tracks, releasing the info when the records came out so more of a promo service than a record label.
Something I would often do is trawl deeply on Sound Cloud finding random, obscure unreleased gems from small artists. It became this challenge to find the best track from someone with the smallest profile possible that I could help launch on the page anonymously which proved the quality of the records were king… what ended up happening is a lot of those tracks were signed by external labels off the back of those successful uploads when the ID was finally released which was a great result for those artists, but created frustration for me in not being involved properly in the creative process… so during covid lockdown when I had a bit more time on my hands I finally sat down to figure if and how this could work as a record label. After a huge amount of internal debate on how the anonymous release roll outs might work factoring both vinyl and digital, alongside a huge uphill struggle of confirming the first release on a completely untested label roll out concept, I relaunched at the end of 2020 and as they say, the rest is history!
The artists you work with and release may start out as unknown, but all have astounding careers to speak to once you share them – is there a static process when figuring out who might be a good match for your label format?
My signing policy remains fluid, however it relies on one essential core ethos: do I love the music that I am hearing enough to release it or not?
For example, my focus definitely can’t be on whether the artist has profile or not as that isn’t what is going to make these records a success, only the quality of the music carries the vinyl sales which is why I need to be so careful with what I am putting out, otherwise it could become a very risky and anxiety driven venture banging out multiple 500 vinyl runs records every year that I don’t believe in, because I would likely not last very long! I do think this plays to my advantage a bit though as it gives me more laser focus when it comes to making decisions on signing records as it weeds out the releases I was sitting on the fence about. Less is more and all that!
unknown – untitled began with direct records, but has evolved into a bit of an ecosystem consisting of a handful of podcasts + mixes by artists and yourself alike, as well as the hotly-tipped uu rhythm playlist on Spotify; was this always the intention or more of a natural progression?
I have always had the intention of expanding unknown – untitled outside of just being a straight up record label, applying the same conceptual idea in many different ways and you will start to see that develop more and more now the label has been established over the past 3 years. For example with our first unknown – untitled club show concept in London on the 7th of April at Venue Mot, the line-ups will be un announced, but there will be a structure to how you find out who played, similar to how you might found who the artist was that released on the label in the vinyl sleeve. I am still trying to figure out exactly how it’s going to work but I am keen to come up with a refreshing concept for radio or DJ streams, and maybe even some collabs with designers anonymously on merch… lots to come.
uu005 was a bit of a deviation for unknown – untitled: it’s the first release from a returning artist (Cameo Blush) as well as the first digital-only release from the label so far. How has that release structure fared for you, and do you see yourself continuing to experiment with different approaches as 2023 cracks on?
It feels important that the label keeps evolving and remaining refreshing by trying out new release formats, which you will see with uu006… so expect to see more unexpected variations of the uu format in the future :-)
The mix you’ve shared with us today is spaced out, psychedelic, occasionally pummelling; it feels like one of the most comprehensive snapshots of the unknown – untitled mission. What can you tell us about your process on this one?
I do think I unintentionally applied a slightly different process of curating this mix than normal, probably because I reached for a slower bpm, and when I dug for it, I looked more in the past than focussing on the ‘now’, however I like to think all of the tracks fit together nicely as a collection regardless of what year they were made in. It is definitely one of my favourite mixes I’ve put together so far, I think.
Thanks again for hanging with us. As we wrap up our convo, care to share any details about the upcoming uu006? Or is that sacrilege given the mission?
Likewise, been a lot of fun and thanks so much for having me on. Definitely don’t want to ruin the surprise for uu006, but let’s just say it will be a label 1st and will likely come in the next 2-3 months (subject to vinyl delays!)
Interview by Dan.