Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on May 10th 2011 7:30AM by Julian Marszalek
Having been approached by London's legendary Roundhouse venue, Mute Records will this weekend curate the annual Short Circuit festival that will bring together artists from the label's eclectic and highly influential roster, including the return of Erasure, Liars, Laibach and Nitzer Ebb as well as DJ sets from Moby, Depeche Mode's Martin L. Gore and Can's Irmin Schmidt.
Spinner caught up with Daniel Miller to find out more about the Short Circuit festival, why he inspires such loyalty in his artists and how he balances artistic development with the bottom line.
What's the impetus for the Short Circuit festival and how would you define it for the novice?
How it came about was that we'd been thinking about getting a lot of our artists in one place for ages and the Roundhouse put a festival together every year called Short Circuit and they approached us to curate it. It seemed like a very good opportunity to us to bring our artists together. It's a great space and there are lots of different areas in the Roundhouse and so you'll have lots of different artists, some of which who go back to the very beginning of Mute and some who we've just signed.
What keeps you motivated after so long? It's been 33 years since the first release by the Normal.
What keeps me going is that I work with great artists and I get a lot of satisfaction watching them develop and watching an audience grow. I love going to gigs and watching people getting into a groove and all that stuff I find very satisfying. But obviously, there's a lot of frustration as well; quite a lot of the time that doesn't happen and things fail for whatever reason. But taken as a whole, I enjoy it. I enjoy working with artists and I enjoy working with a team of people who share a common view.
You mentioned artistic growth which seems to be something of an alien concept these days? Are you being old-fashioned or has the industry lost sight of this?
Artist development and long-term artist careers are something that have drifted off the last 15 or 20 years. There was a time when you didn't really expect artists to reach anywhere near their potential until their third or fourth album; now they've got to reach it in the life of their first album. And that's very tricky. That's not something that I personally subscribe to and the idea that a debut album that doesn't go gold is a failure is ridiculous.
So how do you strike that happy balance between artistic development and financial constraints?
Well, I often get it wrong! Half the time you get it right, half the time you get it wrong. The biggest risk –- and I'm prone to this -– is that you continue with a project longer than you need to go. But I'm an optimist.
You once told me that Britpop nearly killed off the label in the mid to late '90s yet here you are still standing. Do you feel vindicated?
Britpop made me feel very disillusioned about where music was going and that was kind of reflected in the signings that we made. Britpop was not the kind of thing that I was interested in but it was the only thing that was being exposed over those three or four years. That was very difficult for me and it discouraged me a lot but we still had a lot of big artists like Depeche Mode so that was fine. In terms of regenerating some of the roster I feel very positive about the musical landscape. There are a lot of really good things out there. I don't know where things are going in terms of rock or dance or whatever but I'm hearing lots of things that I really like. And I'm really encouraged by that and they're not just in one genre. People are much more open to different types of music now.
Mute was once associated with electronic music but the roster has broadened over the years. Is there anyone or anything that could be characterised as a typical Mute artist?
In my head, a Mute artist is someone who is original; who gives something that hasn't been done in the past and that in the future people will be copying them. It's somebody that I can personally get on with and work closely with in order to build a career. I think the most important thing for me is originality. When somebody says to me, "Oh, I've heard this really good band and I think they'd be good on Mute" then almost inevitably they're going to sound like someone else on Mute. I'm not interested in the next Nick Cave or the next Depeche Mode or least not ones that sound like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds or Depeche Mode. All the artists that we work with are originals and that's where my heart lies. But if you're looking for a typical Mute artist, they tend to be very intelligent, very creative, they tend to have a very good sense of humour but it's not about genre.
Some Mute bands have spent their entire careers on the label –- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Depeche Mode spring to mind. What inspires such loyalty?
It's definitely a two-way process; some artists we don't even have contracts with. First of all, from our point of view, we do our job. We have to the best job we can and make the artist feel they're getting the best artistic freedom and to get the records released. It's a whole combination of things that we need to do for the band to feel happy that we're doing the job. We just want to do the very best for the artist all the time. There are other good labels around but I do hear some real horror stories from artists; I make sure artists get their royalties and that's very important. You also have to like each other to a certain extent to make sure that there's a creative dialogue going on. My loyalty to the artist is based on liking what they're doing and I continue to believe that they'll carry on making great music.
Is there anybody that you let slip through your fingers that you wished you'd signed?
Not that many, really. Partly because there aren't that many things that I want to sign. Most recently was the Klaxons, who I thought were a great group and completely original with what they were doing. They had great songs, were driven and performed these shambolic but great gigs and there was a lot of creativity about them. It was unfortunate that it didn't happen. There was also the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but that was a long time ago now...
Is there one artist or album from your label's back catalogue that typifies Mute?
That's a good question! Most of the albums that we've released, I suppose but I can't really think of one album or band that typifies Mute. You've got something like 'Violator' by Depeche Mode –- which is obviously huge and their most famous record and it has a lot of the qualities that I feel about Mute - but you also have Diamanda Galas. They're very different artists but in my head they link together. It's a very good question but I can't really answer it. Especially when you consider the early albums. When you sign an artist and you hear what they're doing and you think, "This is right for us" you hope that, in a sense, all of their albums will be something about what Mute is about.
You also have to let some things happen that you might not necessarily think is the right thing but you know that it's part of the artist's development. Moby's a very good example of that. We made a great album with him with 'Everything is Wrong' and then he made 'Animal Rights' which was a punk rock record. And that was something that he felt was very important to his development but to go from a techno artist to a punk artist was too much of a leap for a lot of people to take. But then, the next album that he made was 'Play' which went on to sell over 10 million records worldwide. Would he have made 'Play' if I hadn't let him make a punk rock record? I don't know but him going through that process ended with him being a huge-selling artist. If you believe in the artist then you have to go through the process with them.
If you want to typify Mute, it's not so much individual albums but the creative process that makes them. It's about Nick Cave's career or Depeche Mode's career or even the less well-known artists and having a long, creative career. That, I like to think, is what typifies Mute and that we continue to make really good music.