While an exponential increase in badly written, poorly maintained blogs seems to be a given in the digital age, there’s also a string of passionate individuals providing insightful and consistent online coverage of things that matter to them, and Melbourne’s revered Scatterblog is one such group. Initially started as a means to expose exciting, under-represented party music from around the world, it’s grown to encompass a label and a series of idiosyncratic events. To coincide with their fifth birthday, ACCLAIM caught up with Mat Cant, Scattermish and Lewis CanCut of Scattermusic to talk the label’s origins, motivations and future.
The music you cover and release, from digital cumbia, through moombahton and all manner of tropical sounds, is significantly under-represented in Australia. How did the group of you come together over what is, essentially, some fairly niche music?
The fact that these sounds are so under-represented meant we all found each other very quickly. Basically Hamish [aka Scattermish] started writing a blog five years ago and we all gravitated towards that because we understood the sound he was trying to push online. At the time it was a combination of hip-hop, bass music, house and world music which over time all combined into the guise that we now aim for with each release on the label.
Being a Melbourne-based collective, how do you think the city’s music scene has influenced Scattermusic?
It’s helped us remain really eclectic as a label. We all DJ, and in order to do that in Melbourne you’ve really got to be quite diverse, in one night you might play a dancehall set, a hip-hop set and then a straight up club set. A legendary Melbourne DJ once said, “Hip-hop and house are both culturally irrelevant in Australia so we’re free to do whatever we want,” which can definitely apply to how we work.
There seems to be quite an international network of artists, blogs and labels all with a stake in – to steal a term from the Generation Bass blog – ‘trans-national bass’ music. Do you think tightly bound geographic scenes are a thing of the past in the digital age? And are we seeing a shift towards dispersed ‘online’ scenes?
Music has definitely become more global and less geographical recently, some new genres such as moombahton seem to originate from within the Internet itself. Having said that though, people would be foolish to think that the ‘net now encompasses everything, there’s still so much out there that can’t be represented online. Going to a rave in Mexico is definitely going to be a far richer experience than hearing it on a podcast; the music itself would be experienced very differently.
How do you differentiate Scattermusic from other labels/blogs like Dutty Artz or Generation Bass? Or do you see them as part of the same community?
I would say we would be part of the same community, but obviously we have our differences from them. The great thing about starting our label as a blog first is that we have really good relationships with other bloggers and labels and they always support our releases just like we support theirs. When it comes to such niche music I think it’s good to help others out trying to push the same thing as you, it all helps everyone out in the long run.
What was the initial aim behind starting the blog?
It really was fuelled by a lack of representation of the music Hamish was into at the time. There weren’t many places around Melbourne where you could get away with playing an hour-long set of funk farioca/baile funk. The time the blog formed is considered to be the ‘second generation’ of music blogs and it was at the beginning of easy accessibility to rare international music genres. Hamish has a DJ mentality at heart, and with that much music in his sights it was going to get wasted if it just sat on his hard drive.
Is there a philosophy that guides Scattermusic?
We’ve always been about new and exciting underground music. We love finding it, unearthing it, sharing it and watching people get as excited about it as we do. We are always on the look out for innovative thinkers in music, and try to help foster and develop artists so they can reach their full potential. We do it all for the love – we fund most of the label expenses from our Scattermusic Soundsystem live shows and push everything ourselves, with the help of some very talented friends.
Since starting it, how have your goals and priorities shifted over the last five years?
We’re more relaxed about it all now, having seen so many acts be touted as the next big thing only to be completely irrelevant 12 months later has definitely shifted our priorities to focusing more on local acts and music that will sound good for years to come. The most satisfying thing though is seeing those who release on the label, grow; seeing their sound develop and providing them with a wider audience for the music to be received.
From the outset, was it always the intention to expand beyond the blog and move into the realm of a digital label as well? How have the two complimented eachother?
It was a really natural thing that seemed to happen without us realising. As the blog became bigger, more and more people began submitting music for us to post, plenty of which was of a really high standard and way more interesting than a lot of stuff out there on established labels. And really, that’s what the blog has always been about, finding new sounds and musicians and breaking them. So really it was a logical step to become a label.
What defines a successful blog?
Hard to say, but the fact that we get thousands upon thousands of visitors every month listening to us talk crap and share relatively unknown music, and then support us through our 12 releases as well as playing live, means we can be pretty proud of ourselves.
What does a label need to do in order to succeed and keep ahead of an industry that is rapidly changing? And how are you putting that into action?
The music industry thrives on the idea of ‘the next big thing’, which as an idea that really drove us hard in the beginning. But now we’re more of the opinion that a great record is one that’ll still be great in 12 months. It’s nice when the hipsters like what you do, but aiming to solely please them is a fairly vain exercise. The best thing about Scattermusic for us is that it’s run by three music nerds, if we want to put out a record that we believe is totally amazing but know won’t sell, then we can just do it anyway. That’s the beauty of being a completely independent label.
You’ve opted to release all your own music, along with other artists on the Scattermusic label, for free. What’s the reasoning behind that?
Our first ten releases were all free. At the time we felt it was relevant to the industry, because it felt like no one was paying for music anyway. No one had tried running a label releasing all the music for free and the whole business model worked its purpose for us – that was to get us, and our artists, known. We’ve now switched to priced releases because we feel there’s something philosophically good about applying a value to music. It forces us to treat our own product with grater respect, as well as our listeners because we hope they’ll hand over some of their hard earned money in support of our artists. If people really want to avoid paying a tiny amount for something that took hours of work to create then they’ll be able to find it somewhere online anyway. We’re not too fussed but it’s definitely a philosophical decision rather than a financial one.
Is that an acknowledgment on your behalf that the old model of disseminating music – the one major labels seem so bent on holding on to – is flawed and in desperate need of a rethink?
Yeah, the whole music industry business model was in desperate need of a rethink, it just wasn’t really looking out for the most important people of the whole process – the listeners and the artists. The music industry seems to be taking a shift for the better in a lot of ways, there’s heaps of music out there getting support and recognition that just wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago. This whole new era is still definitely in an exciting developmental stage though.
Outside of your own music, what are you looking for in a prospective release on the label? Or a track or artist you feature on the blog?
We really just love people who are on their own thing. Music production software and the Internet have made it that anyone can squeeze out a track and distribute it online. So many tracks we hear just sound like a particular sample library, but it’s those people whose music is instantly recognisable that stands out and makes for an interesting release.
Is there a Scattermusic ‘sound’?
Most of our records are very percussive, it wasn’t a conscious thing but looking back over our past 12 releases there’s definitely a particular sound that’s emerged. Also there’s usually a playfulness or at least a very slight element of humour involved. Maybe that’s all that’s keeping us sane at midnight before a distributer deadline.
Obviously the label and blog has been an important outlet for your own music. How important is artistic control and freedom to you guys?
It’s definitely an important one for us as we hate the idea of an executive producer sitting in a room thinking a tune needs more cowbell to speak to teens. We’re signing people because we love their music and what they do, and it’s really fun seeing what they’ll come up with when they have your label in mind. That being said, we definitely won’t release anything we’re not happy with, and don’t believe in releasing filler music or stuff just because it’s from a big-name artist. We’re very picky about a release, we make sure it will fit on our label.
There’s a fair few of you involved with Scattermusic. How much of what you do is a collaborative effort?
There’s definitely a great understanding between the three of us. We’ve been working together for a while and have a lot of trust and faith in each other’s abilities. We all have our own jobs and titles, but most of our creative decisions – definitely what to release – need the tick of approval from each of us.
Is it hard to accommodate everyone’s viewpoints and ideas?
We’d be lying if we said there was never a disagreement on ideas, but that’s half the fun and all part of the process isn’t it?
Looking into the future what’s your vision for Scattermusic?
We’ve got heaps in store for Scattermusic in the future. We’re re-launching the blog with a whole heap of new writers and contributors, really turning the blog into a music entertainment hub. That includes a brand new store pushing our own stuff and heaps of favourite stuff from our awesome friends. It also includes a new forum, which we hope will be an epicentre of discussion for everything we’re into. We’re really focusing on harvesting a local scene and developing our sound and the great sound that’s rising in the Melbourne club music and producer circles. And we’re just gonna keep at doing what we’re doing – pushing young, talented and unknown artists and getting their music out to as wide an audience as possible. And of course we’re gonna keep throwing hectic and amazing parties!
Curious? You can find Scatterblog here.
Words by Harry Pearl.