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Occasionally a record label transcends its function. Far from being merely a provider of music or a collection of disparate artists, it assumes an aesthetic quality, an agenda or belief that enhances and embellishes the end product. It's hard to separate New Order and Factory and similarly difficult to think of Depeche Mode without the Mute connection. However, a label's initial intentions often crumble leaving them as homogenized and sterile as many of today's major... Read more
Occasionally a record label transcends its function. Far from being merely a provider of music or a collection of disparate artists, it assumes an aesthetic quality, an agenda or belief that enhances and embellishes the end product. It's hard to separate New Order and Factory and similarly difficult to think of Depeche Mode without the Mute connection. However, a label's initial intentions often crumble leaving them as homogenized and sterile as many of today's major players. Plus 8, a label born over ten years ago, the brainchild of two fanatical Canadians, Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva, never abandoned its militant and single-minded stance. Resolutely independent and fiercely determined, Plus 8 provided a welcoming stable to artists from around the globe, establishing a name for itself as a forward thinking progressive label that refused to pander to whim or fashion. What follows is a classic tale of how to succeed without selling out.
Born in Oxfordshire, England, Richie Hawtin moved to Windsor Canada at an early age when his father took a job at the nearby General Motors factory in Detroit. By his teens Hawtin had developed a fascination with the embryonic electronic scene in neighboring Detroit making regular voyages of discovery to the motor city. By the late '80's Hawtin was both DJing regularly at The Shelter in Detroit and presenting a show on a local radio station. Keen to develop his musical ambitions Hawtin found it difficult to catch up with the fast paced movement within the famously insular Detroit scene of techno labels. He was already experimenting using a primitive array of equipment and had managed to record a number of rudimentary tracks with his friend Kenny Larkin. The breakthrough came in early '89 when Hawtin met fellow Canadian John Acquaviva.
Acquaviva, from nearby London Ontario, was already familiar with the rudiments of record production. A renowned DJ in his local area, Acquaviva had a fevered interest in hip hop, a fascination which led him to write and produce an elementary track on his self financed Flava Records. With a basic studio set up and a shared interest in the goings on in Detroit, Acquaviva was to prove to be a perfect foil for Hawtin. The link up came via Karl Kowalski from Dr. Disc, a local independent record store. Kowalski knew of Hawtin's desire to further explore his fascination with writing and recording and by the summer of 1989 the pair met and began plotting furiously. Rich started making regular trips to London as the pair started drawing up plans to record their debut, a release that would mark the inception of Plus 8.
The initial plan to record a Derrick May mega mix for DMC was soon scrapped as the pair became accustomed to the limited equipment they had at their disposal. By the end of 1989, they had started recording what was to become Plus 8's debut release, States of Mind's "Elements of Tone". Released in mid 1990, with funding courtesy of Acquaviva's credit card, States Of Mind proved to be a minor triumph selling out of it's initial pressing of 500. Encouraged by the success of the first release they immediately set to work on their second offering, "Rubbernotes" by Kenny Larkin. By the autumn of 1990 their third release, a track by Cybersonik featuring Dan Bell, sold well over 3000 copies. By now interest was growing in the label, especially in Europe. An encouraging fax from Guy Oldhams at Eastern Block in Manchester confirmed the labels burgeoning reputation. Requests to license tracks flooded in and demos from previously unknown artists started arriving. What had begun as a part time concern was rapidly developing into a full time proposition.
From it's inception the label always had a clear vision of its purpose. Isolated from the Detroit scene, the label quickly assumed a global perspective realizing that like-minded individuals existed far beyond the metropolitan confines of the motor city. Holland's Jochem Paap, aka Speedy J, was an early recruit, an artist who would benefit from Plus 8's open-minded approach. The label quickly established itself as a progressive organization, always keen to embrace the future and celebrate the forward-thinking nature of the music they were promoting. Resolutely independent and ferociously single-minded, the label provided a safe haven for developing artists to nurture their embryonic musical agendas. By 1991 Plus 8 had gone far beyond its initial remit and had developed into a label with a strong sense of purpose and identity.
By late 1991, Hawtin was regularly DJing across the globe to promote Plus 8 while John remained in Canada running the label from his home in London. Sales were at an all time high with singles routinely selling over 10,000 copies. In a short space of time the label had developed into a globally recognized concern, a fact reflected in the constant licensing interest from labels across the world. Demos were arriving in rapidly increasing quantities and the label found itself in an awkward position of being unable to accommodate all its artistic concerns. Probe was established as a label in 1991 catering for the functional end of the electronic spectrum and by 1992 a third label, Definitive had been founded to release house oriented tracks. Concurrently Plus 8 was consolidating it's reputation as many of its artists began exploring far beyond the single format and began to embark on album length projects. Expansive and highly experimental albums by the likes of Speedy J and Hawtin's own alter egos - FUSE and Plastikman proved milestones not only for the label but electronic music in general. Relationships with the likes of Warp and Novamute in the UK only furthered the labels respected status. By now Plus 8 had become a globally recognized brand revered for it's minimal aesthetic and futuristic perspective.
With three functioning labels, 1995 was to prove a pivotal year for Plus 8. With the help of Richie's brother Matthew and John's wife Carla, the pair set about establishing Intellinet, an umbrella organization that encompassed a total of 15 labels. The intention was to provide a service to the many satellite labels offering help and guidance. Although not directly responsible for the running of many of these labels, Intellinet proved to be a step too far. The pair realized that the focus that had helped them get to this point was beginning to fade under a mountainous workload and with this in mind Intellinet was soon disbanded as they begin a process that would eventually see the organization shed many of it's peripheral concerns. Definitive and Probe were laid to rest allowing the pair to concentrate on the running of Plus 8 and by 1996 a question mark hung over the future of the label.
With John's DJing schedule increasing they begin the query the validity of the label. Plus 8 had been established in 1990 as a conduit to introduce and nurture new and exciting talent. It had succeeded in developing many of its artists helping establish names like Speedy J and it was now faced with a choice. Not prepared to embrace the mass market and dilute its manifesto, Plus 8 made a decision in 1997 to terminate its activities. The pair felt their job had been done; the label had acted as a test bed for some of the decades most forward thinking electronic artists and had become a highly successful and globally renowned organization. And so after over 70 releases, Plus 8 came to an end in 1997 having achieved all it set out to achieve. "It's the end of phase one I suppose," ponders Hawtin. "Plus 8 fulfilled its role in bringing through so many talented artists, but we can't baby-sit everyone forever. It's time to move on now."
With an eye to the future in his own minimalist vision, at the turn of 1998 Hawtin went on to launch Minus, a home base for his own productions and concepts. After its first two years of existence, the 'label' achieved its own level of success, hence Hawtin's reflection on expanding with the next chapter of Plus 8. "Now is a perfect time for phase two," says Hawtin. "Since John and I never diluted what we did with Plus 8 during the 90's, the Classics are approached as a celebration of that mission during those years. It also puts me in the correct mindset to move forward into the future with Plus 8 as a label again."
By way of documenting and bringing to a close the end of 'phase one', Plus 8 Records is releasing the Plus 8 Classics series, beginning with Volume One on October 10th. Featuring many of the labels successes including Plastikman, Speedy J, Kenny Larkin and Cybersonik, the album chronicles the labels development from its awkward adolescence through to its celebrated maturity. A near perfect snapshot highlighting the label and its artists desire to progress far beyond the rigid confines of any given genre, Plus 8 Classics is series full of far reaching pieces of music.
"There was never any one to guide us," comments Hawtin. "There was no book to read or internet to refer to, we had to do it by ourselves." Plus 8 was an inspired label. A futuristic vision brought to life by the drive and enthusiasm of two enlightened Canadians, it's hard to image the history of electronic music in the last decade without Plus 8. It continued to diversify right to the end in an attempt to remain one step ahead of the trailing pack. And this was its strength, it's single-minded approach and refusal to be swayed by fad or fashion marked it out as an individual. Few labels have come near to achieving what Plus 8 achieved in its short history, in seven years it managed to alter the course of electronic music forever. Here's to phase two. Show less