How much do you know about !K7? They’re the German label that does the DJ-Kicks mix series, the one that includes that Kruder & Dorfmeister mix that routinely tops Best Mix Album Ever charts, right? Well, yes, all that’s true, but there’s a lot more to !K7 than that. On the 27th anniversary of the company’s existence, the label is taking a look back on nearly three decades of playing an integral role in the trajectory of electronic music, and the independent music landscape as a whole.
The !K727 celebration – see what they’ve done there – will involve a special release of new music, a multi-media event centered around this year’s Berlin Festival, and a website highlighting the company’s history and featuring thoughts on the changing musical landscape from a varied group of musicians and industry leaders including DJ Jazzy Jeff, Richard Dorfmeister, Mark Arm of Mudhoney, Peter Silberman of The Antlers and many more.
Horst Weidenmueller founded !K7 in Berlin in the mid-’80s. As a young man he’d moved to the city (at the time still divided by the Berlin Wall) and become inspired by the nihilistic noise of industrial pioneers like Einsturzende Neubauten. Compelled to engage with the creative dynamic around him while not playing an instrument himself, Weidenmueller began video recording the live shows of the artists that inspired him. Indeed !K7 was originally conceived as an outlet for these video recordings, including work with Nick Cave,Swans, Lydia Lunch, Testdepartment,Psychic TV, Shark Vegas, and others.
In the ‘90s, as electronic music and techno became more and more a part of the youth culture in Berlin, Weidenmueller noticed that it was this community that best exemplified the spirit of independence and creativity that he prized in the artists with whom he’d been working. It also occurred to him that the grassroots aesthetic of the scene at the time and the ephemeral nature of the live events limited the appreciation of the music to an in-the-know few. !K7 pioneered the idea of long-form videos of DJ sets with their X-Mix series, a concept that has since become a staple of websites such as Boilerroom. Then, in 1995, the company launched the DJ-Kicks series, which took the DJ mix from a hand-to-hand promotional tool to a fully licensed album, available in any record store.
DJ-Kicks went on to become the best known and most influential mix series around, acting as an up-to-the minute reflection of the electronic music landscape. More than 15 years after its genesis, the series remains strong with outstanding recent additions from house DJ Maya Jane Coles, bass music veteran Photek, dubstep-minimal hybridist Scuba, New York nova disco crew Wolf + Lamb & Soulclap and German electronic maestro Apparat.
!K7 has never been just about mixes though. The label has maintained a high standard of artist signings including projects from Tosca,Funkstörung, Bomb The Bass, Princess Superstar and many more. The label is currently home to Danish band When Saints Go Machine, Canadian synth pop duo New Look and classical techno fusionists Brandt Brauer Frick, whose 2010 debut album You Make Me Real is one of the most forward-thinking electronic records of recent times.Phil Howells, !K7’s Head Of A&R, sums up where the label is at as a whole: “We have rebuilt the roster over the last two years with artists who are progressive and thoroughly modern but also compliment the label’s history. We are thrilled that DJ-Kicks continues to top critics charts and sell very healthily, but the greatest compliment is the standard of artist that wants to contribute to the series.”
And let’s put !K7 in its wider context as a champion of quality independent sounds of all sorts. The label heads up the !K7 label group, which includes Rapster (Jazzy Jeff, Pete Rock, Roy Ayers,Madlib), Gold Dust (El-P, MF Doom, People Under The Stairs) and, of course, Strut, the UK label founded in 1999 to release lost gems from dance music’s past, from Nigerian afrobeat to obscure disco and rare groove. Far more than just a reissue label, Strut is a history lesson, putting music into context and telling the stories of the people, clubs and movements behind it. Strut’s releases have included new studio albums from legendary figures including Mulatu Astatke, Kid Creole, Grandmaster Flash, Dennis Coffey and more.
Adding to !K7’s international network of quality independent music makers are the labels which the company distributes (including Ghostly International, BBE, Moshi Moshi, Crosstown Rebels and more), as well as the publishing and management arms, working with artists like Hercules And Love Affair and Brandt Brauer Frick, with whom the company help transform the artist’s concept of a 10-piece classical ensemble playing live techno from a dream into reality.
These days Weidenmueller continues to dedicate himself to giving independent musicians a voice via his political involvement. He’s a member of several independent label associations and is passionate about giving smaller concerns the tools to co-operate and survive. He helped found Merlin, an organization that represents the rights of independent record labels, and is an active member of Impala, a not-for-profit trade body that represents the independent music sector in Europe.
It is safe to say that the recording industry has changed significantly in nearly three decades: electronic music’s ever-rising profile, the vitality of independent artists and labels, even the fundamental means of music distribution and discovery. With the ability to claim an influence in all of these areas, and accepting the new and significant challenges ahead for independent artists, Weidenmueller says that he’s happy with where !K7, as a whole, not just the label, are currently at. It’s something to celebrate.
For more on !K7, go here.