Postcards from Canada: Stasis Recordings

“We fit in where people decide they want to give us space to fit in, because of our label DNA, I believe we can fit in a lot of places – crevice or chasm. I tend to describe Stasis Recordings like a person and the styles represent character traits one sees depending on the vantage point …” – Sanderson Dear

The next edition of the blog’s label profile series is about a brilliant boutique record label from Toronto, Canada. I admit I’ve been late at the party, as I only discovered it six years ago, but I’ve tried to catch up pronto. Though not a bona fide drum & bass label, in fact Stasis Recordings covers a wide range within the electronic music spectrum, still their musical output is perfectly aligned with my personal taste and aesthetics; mesmerizing and emotional music transcending genres and styles, gracefully combined with beautiful imagery and artwork.

I have manifested (ad nauseam) in previous posts the importance of a strong visual identity. Of course, attractive logos, names and artwork don’t compensate for dreadful music. Our culture of distraction and minimal attention span seems relentless on burying new music beneath an endless scroll. Everything has become too derivative, which has effectively rendered filtering and discovering new labels and artists a perpetual challenge. Therefore, an appealing visual presence is definitely a head-start, at least from a collector’s point of view. I realize that there might be shades of pretentiousness and elitism in the above statement and I can see eyebrows raising already. Not every artist is a graphic designer, aesthetics are de facto subjective, design, packaging and manufacturing can be costly beyond reason and most importantly artwork should not sideline music per se. However, as a music producer, artist and friend of the blog has accurately pointed out: “… in many cases artwork has been hugely responsible for the image and longevity of a label/artist/band and without it they might have been portrayed completely differently”.

I have the privilege and pleasure to host for a mini-interview Sanderson Dear, music producer, graphic designer, owner and curator of the label. Sanderson narrates the background story and vision of Stasis and shares his articulate views, which extend well beyond the musical sphere.

Stasis Logo

The label name instantly struck a chord. ‘Stasis’ is a Greek word with multiple meanings (stop, suspension, station, posture, attitude, riot/mutiny) depending on the linguistic framework. How did the label name come about?

Well, first off I’m glad you found us. There’s a lot of music being made and released these days. To say the skyline and landscape is dense would be understating the obvious. As far as ‘Stasis’ is translated to Greek, that’s really interesting, because some of the meaning crosses over to the English one too. Back in 2002, I decided to start up an imprint to primarily handle my own musical output or at least what I planned to have as output. Names can be a tricky deal, some folks put a lot of thought into them and others just go with the moment. For a couple of months I had ideas floating, nothing really sticking for longer than maybe a couple of days. Then, one day, I was watching an episode of the Twilight Zone (the original Rod Serling series for those wondering which iteration) ‘The Rip Van Winkle Caper’ and the idea of suspended animation led to stasis pods. From there, I looked up the dictionary meaning of stasis, which I have listed on our website: ‘A condition of balance among various forces; motionlessness’. That same day I was watching ‘Alien’ later in the evening and stasis pods got mentioned again and the name was hammered home as the one for the label.

That definition sums up a lot of how we operate, like an ecosystem where it takes the combined activity of a lot of organisms to sustain life. In our case the roster makes up Stasis’ identity, because the crew is so super talented and varied. We tend to cover a good bit of genre ground considering our size and everyone has their uniqueness, which they bring to the table, be that through a remix or an original production. It’s that DNA thread that tethers things. It’s a bit difficult to put it into words without a person listening to a few titles, but it’s definitely there.

The label’s mantra is: ‘Striking a balance between the nightlife sound system and the living room listening experience’. Stasis covers a wide range within the electronic music spectrum from ambient to techno and drum & bass free from expectations, genre constraints and musical agendas. I love labels which are bold enough to change styles with almost every release; however does it come at a price? Are hardcore fans, who expect a certain consistency in the label’s output, alienated by this attitude or the appeal to a wider audience compensates for versatility?

That’s a mixed bag. On the one hand there’s the notion of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but at some point you run the risk of each release sounding the same, even if there’s a tonal shift somewhere that a discerning fan will pick up on. The more casual person might just hear the same notes patterns etc and what was fresh for one release comes across as stale to some by the fourth title in a catalog. Every label is different with what they want to do and their comfort zone. I tend to describe Stasis Recordings like a person, and the styles represent character traits one sees depending on the vantage point. For the longest time I’ve had a really difficult time pinning the ‘Stasis sound’, because we’re not like say Metalheadz or Auxiliary, which both have very identifiable styles and sounds, or Silent Season, who also have their pocket of aesthetic, or even say labels like Delsin or Transmat, which have very specific zones they operate in. The fan bases of those labels know that the catalog from first to present isn’t going to veer drastically from their paths. Aural Imbalance described it like this to me during a chat some time back; I’ll have to paraphrase: ‘it’s not even a sound or style, it’s more that you get unencumbered felt efforts from every artist, because they know nothing would be creatively off the table or they’ll have to conform to a constraint’.

I like to think, because of our sonic makeup, we have a little bit of something for almost everyone under the electronic dance music umbrella.

When I was much younger, I’ve always imagined Canada as this exotically secluded place, where it’s snowing most of the time and artists are isolated in their log cabins in the forest writing music. Of course this stereotypical image couldn’t be further from the truth. There have been several prominent Canadian electronic music producers over the years from Venetian Snares and Hatiras to dedmau5, artists who haven’t been born in Canada, but have strong ties with the country like Richie Hawtin and Amon Tobin, as well as renowned Canadian drum & bass artists like Rene LaVice, John Rolodex, Gremlinz, Stranjah, Marcus Visionary, NC-17 and more. Also, ‘Silent Season’, a label and collective I admire, is operating from British Columbia. Tell me more about the Canadian music scene, your own experiences growing up and where do you think Stasis stands within the Canadian and international scene.

You know something; you’re not too off the mark in describing what it’s like as a producer here writing music in the winter 😊. Jokes aside, that’s probably an apt description applicable to any artist anywhere. The relationship between seclusion and creativity is a complex one.

Canada is in a weird place when it comes to electronic music. Our own scene isn’t necessarily strong enough to financially support its producers, so most tend to migrate to Europe or the US to establish their beachhead. What all those artists you mentioned have in common is persistence, fortitude, and a commitment to be taken seriously. Silent Season is probably the most known imprint right now to most in a pocket of the dance scene, so when they think Canada and get asked about labels Jamie’s is rightly the first one off the tongue.

Where we fit in … it’s really hard to say. My own experience has been moments of frustration and wariness with the entire mechanics of the music industry on the whole. I won’t get into it because that’s a whole other discussion on motives, agendas, and presumptions. One definitely needs mettle if you’re not going to become jaded. I’ll go with this: ‘We fit in where people decide they want to give us space to fit in, because of our label DNA, I believe we can fit in a lot of places – crevice or chasm’.

Mosaic

I have an obsession with artwork and record sleeves. Whether they are hand-made or mass-produced, meticulously arranged or spontaneously created, the cover artwork adds a literal dimension to the music that a digital thumbnail simply cannot replicate. I will ‘borrow’ a quote from a recent interview with Dennis ‘36’ for the blog regarding the visual side of music, an analogy so pertinent that has deeply resonated with me:  “… I can’t understand those musicians who make the most beautiful music, but show little care or attention for the visual side. It’s like stuffing a Rembrandt painting inside a £5 plastic frame from IKEA…”

Many Stasis albums revolve around a specific concept or theme, augmented with stunning artwork, which complements the musical narrative. Who designs the digital posters/sleeves? Are the artists directly involved?

Thanks! That’s a great quote. One I agree with. It depends. Sometimes the artist already has the idea or theme laid out and I just add label annotations. Other times it’s a collaborative effort; and then there are moments where they trust my eye and ears and leave me to put something together based on how I’m reacting to the music. In the end, everyone has say in the visual direction, because they should be as proud of a release as I am and it’s always a good thing to feel involved in the process. I have a little bit of a background in marketing and one of the core things I stick to is: keeping designs simple and clean. Have the artwork mirror or compliment some aspect of the recording. A fun fact there’s usually an overarching theme or storyline happening with the release slate each year.

Elaborate please!

There is always a theme or points of connection usually happening each year within the slate. Take for example 2020’s focus was about LPs and coloured vinyl. The year before, 2019, it was about digital and physical pairings. We’ll usually try and have a theme or one organically manifests itself as the slate is being organized, it’s not always obvious.

The design work for our sleeves is all internal, I’ll usually tackle it with input from the producer and we’ll tweak it until finally settling on something. Other times the producer already has something in mind and we go with that. I will definitely shout-out our good friend Bjørn Christian Tørrissen in Norway, he does a lot of travelling, has published a photography book and has a blog chronicling his locales. He’s been kind with licensing a few pics for sleeves and they’ve fit the mood of the music perfectly; like Adriano Mirabile’s LP. Another good friend Alexander Bosika took some random pictures, which have also helped with the visual narrative of our releases. But for the most part it’s done in-house.

Release/Liner notes are another fine and intricate detail – a ‘lost art’ which brings back fond childhood memories. Sadly they are often neglected or considered redundant in electronic music. Of course, music should do the talking, but some pieces of art call for an extended narrative.

You’re so right, it’s a lost art. That’s the downside of digital from a visual standpoint. The fun part of traversing a sleeve for notes or connections gets lost. I bought a lot of my records back in the day based on production notes: composer credits, who did the producing/engineering, or remixing. Those factors played in the purchase decision as much as visuals on the record or CD itself. It was always fun tracing the connection between releases on a label or across a bunch.

The merit of music writing is to live and breathe through various shades of shifting interpretations, so the listener can conjure his own imagery and vision. I am an enthusiast of thought-provoking track/album titles, apparently one of my many compulsions. I delve into the semantics trying to deduce and identify hidden messages, themes or allusions that might or might not be there. Like photographs, individual chapters of a book or torn pages from a diary, song titles sometimes create streams of thought that might stray into parallel narratives and ‘sliding doors’ type of endings.

I’m curious to hear what you’ve found if anything within some of our releases.

Usually my train of thought is nowhere near the artist’s vision and purpose, but since you asked:

‘Dancing With Fireflies’ immediately alludes to the brilliant Japanese animated war tragedy film ‘Grave of the Fireflies’. Probably the only film I’ve watched and actually cried. The titles of the compilations “Who We Are” & “What We Do” brought to mind the short surrealistic animation film ‘Who I Am and What I Want’ based on the 2003 eponymous book by my favourite graphic artist David Shrigley (watch here). ‘The Day Before The Return’ might revolve around the philosophical inevitability of fate as an element of tragedy and broken promises. ‘The Imaginary World of Oliver’ reminded me of the modern retro video game ‘Oliver’s Adventures in the Fairyland’. I could go on forever, but I’ll stop before anyone reaches for their sedatives 😊.

Artists

Sanderson Dear, Urenga, David Roiseux, Sebastien Legz, Off Land, Louis Haiman, Adriano Mirabile, Diahgonal, Driftsystem, John Beltran, Maps Of Hyperspace, Anders Peterson, Sascha Barth, Aural Imbalance, Minimal States, Glo Phase, SubDan, Mellonius One, Tomi Chair, Midnat, Volca Massaker Orchester, Jonathan Krisp, Francisco Foo, Pageant.

An eclectic variety of artists, composers and collaborators graces the label’s roster originating from the four corners of the map. Sanderson explains the A&R process.

This maybe the simplest or most ambiguous explanation. It’s all on the ‘do I like what I hear’ basis. The A&R routine is like most labels: people asking if we accept demos and then they send something to check out. I’ll reply regardless, because if a person takes the time to write me, I’ll take the time to reciprocate. Over the years the language of communication and conversation has vacated with a lot of people in music and in a lot of circles now it feels like the electric fence is meant to keep more people out than invite voices in. Since I’ve know most of the gang for years now, I know whatever they decide to send me to check out is something we can kick around a date for or plan in the future and leave more than enough runway to complete all the tunes wanted. The only thing off the table for us is one-off releases, that’s really the only thing we steer away from and I say that upfront, when folks onboard with us. Obviously, people’s plans and circumstances change, but on the whole we like to think multiple releases and longer term with our producers and artists. The catalog reflects that and to me that can say as much about a label as anything they release or how much they release.

One of the reasons Stasis has had such a strong appeal to me is that the music and imagery mirror my own influences. I believe that anyone who grew up listening to electronic music in the 90’s has an attachment to bass music and its offshoots somewhere along their musical tree. So in that sense, overlooking genre and tempo, I can hear echoes of the revered atmospheric 90s sound with a contemporary twist.

Everyone has their strong pockets of influence and we’ve all got an overlap in the musical Venn diagram. There is definitely an intersection carved out for 90s dance music… it’s pretty difficult not to have been touched by a seminal release from one of the genres be that Bukem or Goldie in D&B, Transmat or Warp in Techno, and so on across the spectrum. The 90s definitely leave their footprint on the catalog, as much as any other time period. I will admit it was a fantastic time to be a fan and producer.

There is a common misconception that unless pressed on vinyl, music is of second-rate quality or even disposable. Why did you eventually decide the transition to physical products and what are your thoughts on the alleged vinyl resurgence and the importance (or non-importance) of the musical format?

I wanted the label to have a tangible archive. As convenient as digital is and I’m not going to sh*t on it or labels who solely swim in those waters, because we started out with digital and CD releases. Digital content can get to feeling like it’s disposable if you’re not careful with how you utilize it. We switched to vinyl, actually, more like added vinyl to our output options in 2016. There needed to be tangible proof that ‘we released music’, that was my thinking. It’s not a jump I took lightly, spent 2015 thinking about and sound boarding the pros and cons of it all with a couple of our label crew. Also, our margins on digital weren’t great, still aren’t if I’m being frank; unless you’re moving top40 level units you’re not making enough coin to then split. So, my thinking was if the label is going to lose money, we might as well have something physical instead of virtual. Years from now, when any of us look back at our music collections or our kids dig into what we’ve got stored on a shelf or in a box, stories can be told if asked.

The vinyl resurgence I’m iffy on. I’d actually want to see and hear honest numbers from dance labels, stores, and/or distributors… because the hype machine for wax does a great job, until you begin to look and see the reality in the details. I’ve been of the opinion for years now that the whole thing is being buoyed by re-pressings of classic rock albums on majors who have seen their CD sales take a hit and reintroducing vinyl is one way to utilize a stagnant back catalog. But hey, that’s just my opinion. As much as I’m a fan of vinyl, I’m also about the best format for the music. Fortunately, the crew has that same mindset, because as much as pressing vinyl or any other physical product shows a commitment from the label to the artist… you don’t do that for every tom-dick-and-harry who comes at you with a demo, regardless of how big a name or not they are; it’s cash you don’t throw away on strangers.

Discography highlights

If it’s all too overwhelming and you need somewhere to start, here’s a selection (with links to preview/purchase) with my top-5 Stasis releases in chronological order. I have also coerced Sanderson to share his own top-10.

  1. Sanderson Dear – The Lexicon of a Romantic [SR019, 2012]
  2. Aural Imbalance – Propagation of Light [SRCD05, 2017]
  3. Glo Phase – In The Pale White Woods [SR055, 2018]
  4. Various Artists – Time Capsule [SRBOX, 2020]
  5. Maps Of Hyperspace – Against All Ends [SRWAX013, 2020]

I love a good list, so I am devising one as a starting point for first-timers looking to dip a toe. Gosh, this was way more difficult that I thought it would be, and it isn’t like I’ve not sat and mulled this type of question over in the past. The list is always changing weekly, sometimes monthly. Right now these ones:

  1. Maps Of Hyperspace – Against All Ends LP [SRWAX013, 2020]
  2. Louis Haiman – 12 (Twelfth House) [SR038, 2014]
  3. Glo Phase – In The Pale White Woods (SR055, 2018)
  4. Off Land – On Earth CD [SRCD06, 2017]
  5. Adriano Mirabile – Mirabile Dictu LP [SRWAX14, 2020]
  6. Diahgonal – Spiral LP [SRWAX04, 2018]
  7. Urenga – Floating Island [SR012, 2012]  
  8. David Roiseux – Sommar EP [SR037, 2014]
  9. Aural Imbalance – Propagation Of Light [SRCD05, 2017]
  10. Various Artists – Time Capsule [SRBOX, 2020]

I firmly believe in the maxim: ‘If you want to make a statement in music, you write an album’. However, I would also like to share a few thoughts about a misunderstood and under-appreciated art form: compilations. Streaming platforms have effectively become a substitute, as anybody nowadays can tailor their playlists according to their preferences, mood and tastes, but I would still argue that VA compilations are still there, meticulously curated and still as relevant as ever.

I admit that even the word ‘compilation’ evokes images of those formidable ‘Jungle Massive’ and ‘D&B Selection’ volumes of the early days, followed later by the more streamlined ‘Logical Progression’, ‘Platinum Breakz’ ‘Artcore’, ‘Promised Land’, the regional Moving Shadow series etc. When I started collecting records, buying compilations was more of a necessity rather than choice. I couldn’t afford buying each and every single. Sometimes I was too timid to do so, just in case I bought the ‘wrong record’. I have a few regrets, which I compensated for at a later date and at a greater cost, but that’s a story for another day. Furthermore, the distribution in Greece at the first half of the 90s was limited, so I would usually find what I was looking for concealed and buried into VA Compilations. I didn’t mind the silent or lousy pressings, or the edited versions of the tracks, as long as I could listen to the music. And the exclusive tracks in many cases pretty much subdued my second thoughts.Over the years, I did carry on buying compilations albeit at a lower rate, selectively and mostly on CDs.

I’d love to hear your thoughts regarding artist albums and compilations. Especially your ambient collections and the ‘Who We Are’ & ‘What We Do’ compilations are brilliant.

Compilations are like second nature to me, because as a kid I used to buy a lot of cassettes and also record tunes off the radio, so there was always some form of mixed tape compilation happening. That spilled over to soundtracks later. When I got into buying records in my teens, I wasn’t as much about LPs and compilations, my record collection for the longest of time was mainly 12” singles and EPs. Funny, I can vividly remember the first vinyl I bought but couldn’t tell you the first vinyl LP. Sorry got sidetracked there for a sec. In terms of compilations as a label manager I really view those as either a sound sampler for people unfamiliar with an imprint and want a quick spectrum sample size so they can decide if they want to dig into a catalog more, or a way to archive/snapshot what’s happening in the here and now moment.

Our ‘Ambient Collection’ CD came about because I wasn’t seeing the type of ambient compilation I wanted to buy at the time, this was around 2009/2010. Most of them were Balearic Chillout or New Age sounding releases masquerading as ambient. I wanted something more beatless and soundscape like but with musicality, not so much in the typical Brian Eno or Biosphere framework. If you can’t find it elsewhere, you make it yourself. Since we were a very small label at the time with no roster, the first disc was primarily made up of tracks from people I liked and a few label mates I kind of knew through a Belgian netlabel I’d released my very first productions on. When we revisited the ambient thing for a sequel CD Stasis had more of a roster, so it’s all crew contributions, we didn’t have to look outside the circle.

With our digital side of the catalog I really wanted to do snapshots, as I described above, what Stasis Recordings looks like at a given time, so we put together a compilation every 25 digital titles. Think we’ll be coming up on the next one soonish, SR075. “Who We Are…” and “What We Do…” are purposely titled, so anyone who’s not familiar with what our imprint sounds like gets the gist, without needing to do a deep dive into the releases, unless they want to.

We haven’t done that many full length releases, relative to other labels. We had grandiose plans of doing artist-centric full lengths after the first compilation, at least that was my vision at the time, but that path never came to fruition the way I was hoping until later. It’s one of those many times where you just trust where you’re going and what’s going to come to you is what you need. ‘Superspace’ by Maps Of Hyperspace – Mikael, RIP my brother – is the first artist we did a physical full length for and from there it’s just been a natural progression of the existing crew deciding they want to do their own and we try to get it all organized and then throw a dart on a date in the future to fully realize it by, with allowances for speed bumps, shifts, and detours if possible.

After all a label should be about expanding its branches naturally and not just maintaining its roots.

Forthcoming releases

We’re adding yet another physical format to the mix. I grew up as a kid with tape, long before records, that was the format of choice in my preteens. I had given the idea considerable thought when we were manufacturing ‘Time Capsule’, but didn’t want to compound an already expensive project with a cassette version. But the tape thing stuck around and then one day was bouncing something off Aural Imbalance and that led to revisiting the idea. And boom here we are, couple of tapes on the docket to start: one from Glo Phase, and another from Inhmost. Vinyl projects to press from Diahgonal, Louis Haiman, and Tomi Chair. This year’s pandemic has put a bit of a clamp on our vinyl output, not from a pressing stand point just the outlets for sale. We’ve been pressing our wax through Vinyl De Paris since 2018, they do fantastic work at hitting their order times without the insane delays I’ve seen other labels mention when getting their titles pressed elsewhere, so anyone reading who needs suggestions on manufacturers, hit them up. Suffice to say we’re a bit behind our desired internal schedule but optimistic we’ll get everything pressed for this year we’d originally planned to do. On top of the titles I mentioned earlier we’re also gonna try and squeeze a repress of John Beltran’s ‘La Manana’ EP in there somewhere. That’s a lot of vinyl in the works. I had to remind myself this year we’re now coming up on our 16th vinyl release, 17th if you include last year’s boxed set. We’ve got a good bit of physical releases still on whiteboard and in the lab.

Afterword, links and social media

Last but not least, I would like to mention the meticulous and detailed way the Stasis archive is structured and presented in their official website: minimally designed yet super easy to navigate, everything you need at a glance here. The news section is updated regularly, the release section is chronologically ordered and sorted by format, and there are also tabs with  artist profiles and label podcasts .

You can find Stasis on the usual social channels.

Official Site

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

bandcamp

soundcloud

In memory of Mikael Syréhn (aka Maps of Hyperspace)

Published by GodIsNoLongerADj

What the sleeve notes never tell you and ramblings about all things jungle/drum & bass and modern electronica

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