Man Recordings – one of the labels setting the the corner stone, building a foundation for the global recognition of “non-Western”, locally specific, Electronic Dance Music – is celebrating 5 years in the business. Perfect occasion to sit down with label-founder Daniel Haaksman and talk about his relation to Baile Funk, about his reasons for running a label like this and about the special situation of being located in Berlin.
Don’t forget: there will be series of anniversary parties throughout Europe, kicking-off in Berlin this weekend. For detailed dates see below ;)
Well, 5 years of Man Recordings, many, many releases – how many releases are there up to now?
Exactly 50. Although we already reached number 51, as the compilation that will be the 50th release is a little late, so that we had to bring up Man 51 earlier.
What was the initial signal for Man Recordings, how did you come to the first release?
Actually I was running Essay Recordings before, 1997-2004. I’m from Frankfurt/Main and had a Club together with Shantel that was called Lissania Essay. We deejayed a lot, threw many parties in the 90s and then decided to make a label. That we named Essay Recordings. The first release on Essay was Bucovina Club and that was a mega success. But at the same time, 2003, I discovered Baile Funk through a friend who studied in Rio Janeiro and brought me a stack of CDs when returning to Berlin – it was the time when file-sharing and blogs were not in bloom like now and when it was practically impossible to get this music in Europe. I started to play this tracks in my DJ sets and when I realised how well Baile Funk worked in this context, I thought: why not go to Rio and make a compilation and bring it to the outside world. As I’m also a music journalist, I felt that this hidden gem called Baile Funk was also a super story. Everyone loves Rio, everyone loves Brazil – but everyone associates Rio rather with Samba and Bossa Nova and nobody knows that there is contemporary Electronic Dance Music referring to the many of the influences dance music in Europe is, to a larger extend, relating to: Kraftwerk, Electro Funk, Miami Bass. Besides these references the most exciting thing about funk was: People in Rio didn’t care about copyright laws and were sampling like in the big heydays of late 1980s Rap or early UK Hardcore which I found very refreshing.
Anyways, to cut a long story short, I went to Rio in 2004 and collected tracks there, on the streets, on CDs, and made the first compilation out of it: Rio Baile Funk Favela Booty Beats, released on Essay. Which became a veritable hit with a lot of press attention, especially in the US. At the same time the first M.I.A. album was released, featuring Bucky Done Gone and Diplo released his Favela on Blast mixtape. So within 3-4 months there were 3 releases that were referring to Rio Baile Funk – accordingly generating a huge media echo, because everyone started to write about this new music from the favelas from Rio. I started to work for the second volume of the compilation in spring 2005, but had already split with my partners at Essay as they weren’t the biggest Baile Funk fans and wanted to pin down the label on that Gypsy sound. That was when I decided to start an own label, but in a rather grotesque and bizarre way didn’t do a Baile Funk release as Man 01 but a compilation titled Não Wave. That was material I found during my first Baile Funk research, Post-Punk from São Paulo in 1977-82. […]. Thereupon I said, OK, what I wanted to release is Baile Funk, followed by the first vinyl releases: D.M. Project, a record by DJ Marlboro, and then there was the first Edu K single, Popozuda Rock’n’Roll. […]
The first time you travelled to Rio to look for this music – how did you experience that? How did you find those people? I imagine it going there, asking here and there, getting to know someone here and someone there. How was your impression of this music, this whole scene of artists?
I have to admit that my first trip to Rio was rather bizarre as I couldn’t speak any Portuguese at that point. I came to Rio thinking the people would understand English or my Italian would help a bit – I was totally wrong with that [laughs], I couldn’t communicate with anyone! But I knew a German guy in Rio, Andreas Schoyerer, who was interested in Baile Funk too. I went to the parties with him and he translated for me every time I wanted to talk to DJs. But for the most people it was totally absurd that there was this Gringo from Germany who was interested in this music. At least at the first visit it wasn’t like that I was welcomed with open arms, but merely with indifference. It was more that people in Brasil laughed at me and were like, you are from Berlin, the world capital of Electronic Music, and want to bother with this crap from the slums here? In Brazil and especially in Rio the whole middleclass dismisses Baile Funk as gutter sound.
On top of that it was hard to get access to the scene or to meet up with producers as there were for example no record shops where DJs would meet, as Baile Funk was already played exclusively digital at that moment. Indeed did I meet artists not before my second visit, when the first compilation was already released with a super international media feedback. This was also when some of the key Funk artists in Rio started to understand that this foreign attention could open some doors for them. […].
Why do you think Baile Funk has reached this media echo in Europe, and why does it appeal over here to a rather, student type, middle class audience?
Of course in all this there are various cultural misreadings: I always think if European audiences could understand all the texts sung in Baile Funk, most likely we would see everything a bit different too. If you put it simple, Baile Funk lyrically as pubescent as 2Live Crew´s We Want Some Pussy– in 90% the lyrics are about sex. In Brazil Baile Funk is always associated with violence, pornography, drug dealing and the misery in the Favelas.
But it is only slowly now received as a very radical musical genre that was created from scratch coming out of a total poverty context. When people in Brasil recognized that there were Gringos coming the long way from the US or Berlin to pick the gutter music from Rio and praise it in their homeland, with media reports it flipped a switch. Maybe the music had to travel as far as Berlin to be recognized for its musical qualities. But then this is the case with many artists or music styles – they have to travel first to the outside, get appreciated by foreign audiences before they get any recognition by their home public.
At the time of your first visits and releases, in which stage was Baile Funk as a genre? Was it completely new, exploding right then, or was there already a historical lineage?
Baile Funk was already around for many years. It is in fact rooted in the Black Rio Movement, which started in the mid 1970s in the Zona Norte of Rio, which is the poor part of Rio, the area of the favelas and Samba schools. At that time, there were public dance parties at the weekends, often taking place in the squares of the Samba schools for those that couldn’t afford going to the clubs in Ipanema or Copacabana. These parties were the first baile funk parties, baile literally meaning dance, so these were the parties where people would dance to US Funk from artists like Ohio Players, Kool & The Gang, James Brown, Sly Stone etc. These parties were visited by an essentially black audience, which through the U.S. music got informed about the Black Power movement of the US. Then Brazilian bands like Banda Black Rio emerged out of this scene, which made their interpretation of US funk.
Since the 1960s people in Rio were very actively following what was happening in the USA musically, which means in the 1970 and early 1980s it was everything from Funk to Disco to Electro Funk that was played in Rio. Later on, it was Miami Bass, some Italo Disco tracks and 1980s Euro Dance hits. At some point these parties took a life on its own, people started to sing over instrumental tracks, someone had the idea to record this cumulating in the Funk Brasil compilation in 1989 which became a surprise commercial hit in Brasil and kicked off Baile Funk as a proper music genre with artists, labels and later entire radio stations dedicate to this sound.
If you listen to the music today, it is bizarre that you still find all this 80s sounds in Baile Funk. You might ask if they didn’t check the 90s?! But indeed the majority of DJs and producers in Rio are living in a sort of bubble, they’re poor people which will never be able to travel, hence have a very different understanding of an outside. For them, Europe or whatever happens here musically is a far as planet Mars is for us. Minimal Techno or Dubstep for example have absolutely no meaning to the average Funk DJ. They are much more relating to a very rigid set of samples and beats that have been around for ages. This means what has been accepted musically in Rio on a larger scale, will be teared to shreds or worked over till infinity. That’s why many of the tracks still used Miami Bass samples or obscure LA Techno Hop records from 1985 people in Europe never heard of.
I think if someone had played Baile Funk here in Europe in 1997, nobody would have understood it. Back then, Drum’n’Bass was the hot shit in Europe, nobody wanted to hear any 80s samples in their music. It really didn’t make sense until 2003/2004 – also against the backdrop that Electronic Dance Music in Europe was in a total crisis at that point and caught in nostalgic loops. Then the kids that hadn’t any relation to the club music of the 1990s and said: “it’s time for something new, let’s party!” They had a completely different relationship to Pop Music and contrary to 1990s Club Music, weren’t ashamed to play pop songs in their DJ sets, the whole mashup movement was very liberating for this. So the pop-plundering Baile Funk tracks in which The Clash, Madonna or Rick James would be put through the MPC shredder of a Baile Funk producer was the most far out form of mashup you could play in Europe. Hence Baile Funk could be put in the context of European club music of 2004, 2005. Soon after, all these Ghetto World Music styles were played, Baltimore, Kuduro, Electro Cumbia was all of a sudden the hot shit.
The next step on your label was the Baile Funk Masters series – what was the concept, what was your goal with that?
It was all about giving the beatmakers a platform, as most Baile Funk compilations and mixtapes focus on the MCs. While the guys that are making the beats (the point which was of the biggest interest for me) remained unknown. So I gave them a name and a face, and some toured Europe afterwards. DJ Sandrinho, Sany Pitbull, DJ Edgar as well came to Europe because of this release and still play here very often. And were able to do more stuff, produce remixes etc etc.
A by-product of making this label and releasing this records is to give people who wouldn’t have access to Europe/USA otherwise a platform with the Berlinbased label, and establish them in Europe. Like Edu K, MC Gringo, Deize Tigrona and many more MCs and producers I released.
You started quite early to work together with western producers for remix stuff. Was that born out of a need, were you looking for an adaption to western clubcontexts or was it your wish to intervene creatively in the development of Baile Funk?
Actually both. On the one hand it was a necessity as I realised the missing links between Euro and Baile Funk sound in my DJ-sets. So I was like, why don’t do hybrids: take a Baile Funk vocal and mix it with an Electro beat. So the Funk Mundial series came to life.
That it would have an effect in Rio was the second step. I never assumed people in Rio would listen to this music. Electronic Dance Music has a totally different standing in Brazil, above all it’s present in completely different social groups. House and Techno in Brazil is rather gay and upperclass, and has definitely no place in a Favela. You won’t find Techno on a Favela Party, even something like David Guetta will only be found in middle- or upperclass discos, and they´re mostly mixed gay. But that changed through my releases, in many student clubs they suddenly started to play these hybrids, because they worked in an Electro context. But Electro with Portuguese texts was relatively unknown. Then came Bonde Do Role, who became famous in Brazil too, funnily not out of Brazil but not until they released their album on Mad Decent.
Somehow that’s always a parallel phenomenon of running a label: you never know where the sound will touch down that you released. For example in Berlin the sound never arrived. I’m working here out of an insular position, what’s quite comfortable in some points as I have some peace and quiet here, it’s not like that everyday someone drops by or artists ringing the bell asking for money or attention [laughs]. I do everything via internet or telephone, travel a lot, but in Berlin everything is totally blanked out.
I think there are various reasons. First it’s the predominance of Techno in the city. I mean Techno became to what it is in Berlin. Though it was created in Detroit, it was Berlin and it’s lust for extreme music where it thrived. And it´s still the dominant sound in 90 % of the clubs. Indeed it’s very simple dance music. The straight bass drum of is very easy to follow, in contrast to the complex rhythm patterns and constant break downs in Baile Funk. You have to have a good body feeling to dance to funk and not be ashamed to get down your knees and grind your bootie to the floor! Plus musically, Baile Funk is the absolute musical opposite to Techno: In Techno, any drum roll is considered uncool, not to talk of vocals. Baile Funk is basically all about vocals, drum rolls and hype!
Then you have a very peculiar social situation in Berlin. Berlin is a big city but it isn’t a global city. The few immigrants living here in Kreuzberg, Neukölln or Wedding are only very rudimentary integrated in the cultural life of the city. The Berlin that has become worldwide known as the hip center of fashion, art, clubbing and music is essentially the white, German Berlin, with absolutely no visibility of any migrant culture. Baile Funk had a much bigger impact over here in Europe in countries like Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland or Scandinavia where there´s a much bigger migrant population and people are much more accustomed to non Western cultures and especially beats.
You also released full artist albums. I imagine it quite difficult to find people with the calibre to fill whole albums. What was your motivation for choosing particular artists (for example Edu K)?
The reason for the albums was that in 2005/2006 I still had one foot in the traditional structure of music business, where you release 1-2 singles, then an album, and then the artist goes on tour. But that was also the time when the blog thing started and the diminution of the music market couldn’t be denied anymore. And you realised, that the album as a format became more and more difficult – on the one hand less artists able to fill it, on the other hand people just downloading single tracks and not listening to an album from A-Z anymore. But I thought, well, you gotta try… [laughs].
But since Edu K and MC Gringo I didn’t release any albums, but honestly I’m working on two that should be released this year: Ku Bo, the debut album by Stereotyp, and the Bert on Beats album […]. I think, a good album with enough tracks from A-Z, which are working in a context, is a statement. Single tracks or artists, which are just releasing one single a year and apart from that remixes, are hard to grasp. I’m always asking myself what remains when you look back in five years? Such an album is more consistent. And it generates much more press than a solitary single or a remix. The press still thinks in the old patterns: album, then you get a cover story.
Even though the blog scene has a completely different approach. They more or less forget an artist who doesn’t drop a remix every month.
You mentioned Ku Bo and Bert on Beats – they are not really Baile Funk artists respectively positioned in this scene. How would you define Man Recordings musicalwise: Is it a Baile Funk label, or a label that deals with local music in a clubbing context, or is it a Brazilian label?
No, Brazilian was it always just rudimentary. I live in Berlin, I might have a large sympathy for Brazil and it’s culture, but it’s definitely not a Brazilian label. My label communicates in English from A-Z, what by any means excludes many Brazilians.
I might release music in Brazilian language, but back then it was also a political decision for me: I started the label in 2005 on the height of the Iraq War, and this war accumulated the Anglo-Saxon hegemonial ambition which essentially claimed that the Other, the Non-Western is the enemy, and that the US + UK are still the rulers. I begged to differ. To form a pop-cultural opposition, as well out of the frustration that Hip Hop was down back then, and every music that at that point came from the UK and the USA was totally boring, I decided: why don’t do a label that exclusively releases music in Portuguese language. Portuguese has always been an alternative language in Pop, as early as in the 60s/70s. Not in the sense of avantgarde, left-wing or oppositional, but it was at least a pop-cultural parallel language to which people in the West still could relate.
I wanted to connect to this, but also to a kind of virginity that I had as a teenager, when I was listening to texts I couldn’t understand. It always thought of that as very liberating, because as soon as you understand the text or subject of music you have to carry a lot of ballast with you. Or you instantly know, that is really bullshit, I better don’t even touch it. And the advantage of Baile Funk is that you can keep up this virginity and listen to bellowing or shouting MCs without knowing what they say. But it still sounds cool and you can dance to it.
I would say, Man Recordings is an European label against the background of Berlin club culture, the special social situation in this city, and even my isolation here. Ku Bo and Bert on Beats have only rudimentary bounds to Baile Funk too, but they are both musicians again and again emphasising how much new inspiration they got from Baile Funk. You can still hear the love to beats and bass and percussion in their music, and that’s somehow the link to Baile Funk. In the next months or years the label will definitely have a take on this more global prospective, also wishing to work more with artists from Europe. It’s quite difficult to work with Brazilian artists from a distance. There is still the difference in languages, although I speak rudimentary Portuguese in the meantime – it’s still extremely difficult to kick people’s ass via email […].
In the beginning when the label started, there was just nobody in Europe doing something similar. That’s one of the nice things, to see that after 5 years a crowd of listeners, labels, DJs, blogs has grown. Also that there are like 5 blogs in Germany now dealing with this issue is really great! When I started I was the only one, at least I thought I was [laughs]! Of course there were always people around interested in it, but they were not able to connect. And Schlachthofbronx, So Shifty from Hamburg, many people coming from a former Reggae/Soca/Dancehall context or even Hip-Hop are now interested in it, that’s super! That’s where I come from too and that are my references too.
You said, the initial start for Man Recordings and Mad Decent was quite similar. Now both labels have developed, but do you still see parallels?
The musical preferences are still quite similar, there’s artists like Crookers, Bonde Do Rolê, Sinden, Douster or Diplo that have released tracks or remixes on both on Mad Decent and Man Recordings. Mad Decent would always call us “our sister label in Europe”, but I think that only relates in some parts to the music. Contrary to Man Recordings, Mad Decent is working in very efficient corporate structures thanks to its alliance with Downtown Music. They have a major label distribution, and Mad Decent have the funds and structure to advertise and do event co-operations with huge brands. Above all Mad Decent is Diplo’s label, who has become a very powerful figure in the American music industry so whatever’s released on Mad Decent automatically receives a different attention. Man Recordings is run by me single-handedly from a small apartment in Berlin-Mitte, I don’t have any corporate music industry ties whatsoever, so in terms of visibility, market presence and outreach, I’m much more limited than Mad Decent . I’m happy to say though that I’ve released more music than Mad Decent in five years of running the label, and I’ve occupied myself more in detail with Baile Funk.
You see yourself in a more European context?
Totally. The music that has been released on Man Recordings is principally made from a European perspective, for European club audiences. I’m always wondering though why there’s no other label in Europe releasing anything similar to what I put out. The only European label that comes to my mind is Enchufada in Portugal. In the UK there’s practically no label dedicated to global bass. There’s ZZK in Argentina, Mad Decent, that’s it.
It is quite interesting that you mentioned earlier you would locate the label in a European context and also see yourself against the background of Berlin club culture, even though nothing in this direction is happening here. But for me regarding the visual aspect Man Recordings was always quite iconic for Berlin, through the graphics by Paul Snowden. What I think is quite surprising with regard to the music you release and that there isn’t any scene for it here.
Well, Paul Snowden always liked crass music, extreme sounds. He has never been a big fan of the stuff I released, but he realised that it is ghetto and tough shit. I always liked him and his work, I was especially fascinated that he was able to translate the music into graphics. As the music works with big beats and a kind of roughness he typographically realised it as block-like giant letters. This distinct visual identity certainly added to the label’s success. Through the continuity of this big, in Paul Snowden style arranged letters you just know, this has something to do with Man Recordings.
But you also can see a Minimalism attitude in some tracks, kind of Protestant. Especially the stuff by Oliver $, with whom I’m working for years now as an engineer for my music, is totally low-key when it comes to hype music. The tracks I make with him are never just “boom boom” with a fat bassline It’s always quite reduced.
Totally Berlin. The Berlin understatement, never too much as it could turn into uncool.
It’s also interesting that, if I may say that, Man Recordings is highly appreciated in Berlin, but no one is dancing to it.
Yes, I know, that’s quite grotesque. When I do parties in Berlin, hardly anybody comes. Often labels emanate from certain contexts, circles of friends, DJ groupings – somehow I was always alone with it […]. However, I found combatants quite soon, just not in Berlin but in other cities. I don’t think that this will change significantly – I’m too old to hang out in Berlin clubs every day and promote myself or my label. That’s a factor – being locally rooted and having a local relevance demands for a certain presence, going to the clubs, spinning in Berlin.
But somehow I’m totally happy how everything went in the last years. Even though I almost went broke one or two times, but that’s how it goes. And the label is still alive, and the reputation got even bigger.
But there’s still the ambition to be musically ahead or even pave the way for things to come?
That’s hard, it’s changing so rapidly, the flavour of the month is 2 month later already over. Also Baile Funk is definitely not the flavour of the month anymore, it was the hot shit in 2005/2006, I know that. If I tell someone that I play Baile Funk today, he will be like “so what?” But everybody knows it, what is actually super. In the meantime so many other local sound emerged on the surface, Kuduro, Cumbia, recently Guarachero – who knows what will happen in half a year.
I never had the ambition to be ahead of my time. I work from a DJ’s perspective so I like to play the hottest shit nobody knows, but nonetheless I want to inspire the audience with it. Next year my solo debut album is going to be released, we’ll see. Joao Brasil will release a new EP, Isa GT is talking about an album too. There are many people with a lot of material. If the digital sales volume remains stable I will most likely be able to continue with the label. Anyhow, it’s not like that I earn much money with it – it’s an enthusiast’s project. Through which I get gigs and have the opportunity to give friends and people whose work I like a platform.
Dates for the Man Recordings Anniversary Parties:
03.09. BERLIN / BRUNNENSTR. 70 / Schlachthofbronx, Zombie Disco Squad, Chernobyl, Marina Vello, Daniel Haaksman
08.10. PARIS / LA FACTORY / Zombie Disco Squad, Daniel Haaksman
21.10. AMSTERDAM / ADE / Schlachthofbronx, Bert On Beats, Daniel Haaksman
06.11. WIEN / FLEX / Schlachthofbronx, Ku Bo feat. Joyce Muniz, DJ Beware, Daniel Haaksman
Interview by Martin & Jelka