Ten years is a long time.
Ten years ago, the Credit Crunch was an unknown term, Jose Mourinho coached Porto and the Libertines seemed like nice, stable people. In amongst all this, though, noted crate digger, producer and DJ Ben Watt was busy launching a new label.
Dedicated to left field electronics with a dancefloor bent, Buzzin' Fly trod its own path. Shunning trends in favour of something with more depth, fans showed a rare dedication to the label which was perhaps in line with the loving care and dedication which went into each release.
Building up an imposing back catalogue, Buzzin' Fly was swiftly joined by sister imprint Strange Feeling. Sadly, though, both are set to shutter on their tenth birthday with Ben Watt deciding to start a few fresh - and rather more personal - ventures.
"I loved every minute," label boss and founder Ben Watt said in a statement, "but all good things come to an end. It simply feels like the right moment. Buzzin' Fly was born out of my commitment to the culture of DJing and helping young artists, but these days I am edging away from it towards other challenges - a new book I'm writing, research for another one, and a long-planned solo music project."
Fear not, dear reader: Buzzin' Fly's back catalogue will remain in print, while Strange Feeling is set to remain open as a home for Tracey Thorn's solo material. Answering our pleas, Ben Watt recently opened up to ClashMusic about his new solo material and of course ten years at the helm of a top class label.
Why close the label now?
Strictly speaking - as I made clear at the time of the announcement - it is only a partial closure. A closure to new music and new releases. The catalogue is still available. The office remains open too, and the systems are still in place should we wish to reactivate things, or start a new imprint, or simply to deal with Tracey Thorn's next stuff through our sister imprint, Strange Feeling Records. But the reasons for the step-change are mainly two-fold: on the one hand Buzzin' Fly was born out of my immediate contact with the world of DJing and clubland. As I have stopped DJing these days, I felt I was no longer in the right place to put out the kind of records Buzzin' Fly had become well known for. And secondly, running a label is even more time-consuming than it ever was. There are new challenges and a lot of competition. Lots of people are out there doing double the work they ever did. I simply had no time for my own writing and recording. Something had to give.
What do you feel your greatest achievement with Buzzin' Fly has been?
Making people happy. Giving a platform to young producers. Lasting ten years. Quitting while ahead.
How does the landscape for independent music differ now from the time the label started?
The barriers to entry are so much lower. It is cheap to produce music and cheap to distribute it. Anyone can be an artist or have a label. We are wading chest-high through a deluge of music. Of course this is a good thing in some ways. But in other ways it creates huge problems for small labels trying to stay afloat. The competition is fierce. And a lot of the money is in a vast delta of micro-payments from streams these days. Accounting accurately is the single biggest challenge to small labels. In the end, I think the current climate in the dance world suits big aggregator labels who can cope with putting out compilations and paying accountants, and also at the other end the tiny hobbyist labels who handstamp three-hundred pieces of vinyl, but still have day jobs. It is the labels in the middle that have been squeezed the most.
What you do think you'll miss most from running the label?
Getting a hot track, mastering it within a few days, and playing it at a Buzzin' Fly party at the weekend to a great reaction. It is near instantaneous gratification.
Do any tracks stand out as highlights / personal favourites?
That would be like picking a favourite child.
Are there any which you feel didn't get the credit they deserved?
I think both the debut albums by Flowers and Sea Creatures, and Mademoiselle Caro and Franck Garcia should have much bigger.
The anthology project is coming up, how did it feel to work on those? What memories did it bring up?
When I added it all up, all the twelve-inches added up to just under twenty-four hours-worth of music. A decade compressed into a single day. I think I was so lucky to discover Rodamaal right at the beginning. I got three artists for the price of one - Rocco, Alex Santos and Manoo. All three of them became total cornerstones for the label. We have unearthed an unreleased track by them called 'Fortune' that we are going to release as a final twelve-inch in the summer.
John Gilsenan played an enormous role in the design of Buzzin' Fly, did you want the physical product to stick with the label to the end?
The visual side of the label was always central. I grew up loving great jazz label artwork from the 1950's and the great designers of the UK indie scene of the late 70's and early 80's - people like Peter Saville. John has always helped push the boundaries on the art side. We rarely argued. I gave him the title and he came up with the sleeve. I always trusted his instinct.
You're focussing on your own work, what can we expect from new book 'Romany And Tom'?
My dad was a working-class Glaswegian jazz musician - a politicised left-wing bandleader and composer - whose heyday was in the late 1950's. My mum was a RADA-trained Shakespearian actress, the daughter of a Methodist parson. They were both divorcees from very different backgrounds who came together at a fateful New Year's Day party in 1957 like colliding trains. The book is my portrait of their lives and marriage, from my own wide-eyed London childhood, through years as an adult with children and a career of my own, to that inevitable point when we must assume responsibility for our own parents in their old age. It's also about the post-war years, ambition and stardom, family roots and secrets, the death of British Big Band jazz, depression and drink, life in clubs and in care homes - and about who we are, where we come from, and how we love and live with each other for a long time.
Can you envisage yourself staying out of music for long?
No. The complete opposite actually. Partially closing the label has freed up my own songwriting again. I have written six new songs. I am going out to America next week for ten days for a road trip with an old friend, but before we set off I've agreed to do a free after-hours gig in his record store - it is like the Rough Trade East of Indianapolis. I haven't sung with a guitar and microphone for thirteen years, not since Everything But The Girl stopped. It is also technically thirty years since my last ever solo gig back when I was recording with people like Robert Wyatt as a precocious twenty-year old on Cherry Red Records. I intend to rise the occasion! If it goes well I might do some stuff in the UK.
Would you ever start a new label?
Never say never.
For future Buzzin' Fly announcements check their website.
Listen to Ben on BBC 6 Music's 6 Mix, bi-monthly.
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