ART:CAST #21 & INTERVIEW VVerses

With tasteful and acclaimed releases since inception and more notably, recently, Chapter 24 has been currying the favor of music enthusiasts, and despite the assiduous biblio-references, drew in both booklovers and non-readers alike. After a decade and a half of friendship, the co-founders and brains (and brainy, at that) of the well grounded and versed label, once and for all decided to take their dynamic tandem into a more artistic level. Having done well with their record label, and in their individual careers as DJ and DJ/producer respectively, Marcus Blacker, widely known as Mas Black, and Sam Pauli, further their relationship with each other and with music through their VVerses project. Fresh out of the bag in their new moniker, the promising and complementary duo had a quick chat with Torture the Artist in Amsterdam during ADE, and picked up where they left off, now right from their homebase in London, to talk about the past as Sam and Marcus, present as Sam & Mas Black of Chapter 24, and future as VVerses (and of course, still as all above), meanwhile indulging in some of their favorite activities – ‘storytelling,’ reveling in contradictions and even a bit of music compilation.

We work together but we also leave each other to our strengths.

Torture the Artist: What are some positive and negative attributes of your partnership as co-founders of a record label as opposed to your artistic collaboration as VVerses, and vice versa?

Marcus Blacker: In terms of running the label, I think that we complement each other well. I’m good at spotting new opportunities and suggesting new directions the label might take, and then executing those ideas efficiently. Sam is more conceptual and takes a much more considered approach, he likes to let things sit for a little while before taking action, which can often be a useful counterpoint to my ‘dog with a bone’ personality.

Sam Pauli: Yeah, it was clear fairly early on that we had a nice balance of skills and a good working relationship. It took a while longer for us to be sure that our musical tastes would be in close sync over the long-term, but when that became clear as well, we decided to take it that bit further and form VVerses.

Here again it’s about complementary opposites: Marcus is the crate digger who loves to DJ, and I am the producer who loves being in the studio. We are in regular touch, sometimes too much. <laughs> We work together but we also leave each other to our strengths.

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Torture the Artist: When did you two meet and how long did it take for you to decide on founding a record label? Given the opportunity, would you have sequenced the events any other way?

Marcus: Sam and I have been friends for over 15 years actually, as we met at our university, and have been going out clubbing in London together since 2004. We both came from an indie background and really got into things during the electro/breakbeat days of Fabric, although house and techno was the sound that really endured.

Sam: I had done about three years of production with my good friend and very skilled tutor, Paul Nolan before we started the label, but never properly DJed. Marcus had also never done much DJing. But by 2014 it just felt right for us all to start down this path. We have been really lucky to work with some of our musical inspirations – Ripperton, Petar Dundov, Johannes Brecht, Matthias Schober, Aera and Manuel Tur to name but a few – as well as our core family of artists including the likes of JOBE, Stevie R, Kieran Apter and KatrinKa.

We always saw our music as being about tensions: between light and dark, happiness and melancholy, the organic and the more techy.

Torture the Artist: Contrary to Marcus’ ‘Más Black’ moniker, most press pics have Sam wearing black and Marcus white or lighter colors. Your official bio mentions ‘the dance between darkness and light,’ which ‘will always remain’ does this pertain to the two of you, and does the wardrobe choice appropriate which is the former and latter in this so-called ‘dance’?

Sam: When we started Chapter 24 with our co-founder Paul Nolan, we were clear that we wanted to present music and art that had real meaning. It would be the only way to do something of value. Our original inspiration was Chapter 24 of the I Ching, which relates to the winter solstice, the moment of greatest darkness before the light starts to return.

So we always saw our music as being about tensions: between light and dark, happiness and melancholy, the organic and the more techy. With VVerses, the idea was to carry on with these ideas of duality and opposites. Hence the black and white!

It’s not meant to suggest that I’m the evil one and Marcus is the good one.

Marcus: The wardrobe thing is not something we had thought of, haha! Might need a costume rethink for the next press shots…

Sam: Yeah, it’s not meant to suggest that I’m the evil one and Marcus is the good one…I think! In fact, when Marcus plays recently, he has been wearing some interesting shirts. Very natty.

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Torture the Artist: One of VVerses’ visions is embracing contradictions, do you often contradict each other? What was the last decision you both disagreed with and how did you get to a resolution?

Sam: One thing is that A & R decisions for the label are always joint decisions between me and Marcus. That means we might occasionally miss out on tracks that only one of us has a gut instinct about, but it also means we keep each other in check and decide with both the head and the heart. It leads to stronger decisions, I think.

Marcus: Yes, we won’t mention the ones that got away!

Torture the Artist: With a record label named Chapter 24 and now an artistic duo named VVerses, it seems like there is a bibliophilic motif in your artistic endeavors, would you consider yourselves bibliophiles?

Marcus: Certainly, storytelling through music is a big passion for us, and the label’s motto is ‘stories in sound’. I guess we are both quite bookish, I studied law at university and Sam studied modern languages.

Sam: Mainly though, it’s because we believe the essence of electronic music should be storytelling, that’s why our releases are called ‘Chapters’, our remixes ‘Editions’, our compilations ‘Seven Stories’ and our mixes ‘Telling Tales.’ It all comes back to music having a depth of meaning, spinning tales you can get lost in. On balance, maybe we think a bit too much about these things.

I stood on the Terrace in Space and just decided right there and then, I wanted to become a producer.

Torture the Artist: You both seem very eager to tell stories through sound. Coupled with fine handmade artistry by Simon Vaeth, this interest comes off very strongly, what is a story you are dying to tell, does not need to be anything profound as you don’t have time to produce a track by the end of this interview. Perhaps a funny encounter, anything.

Sam: It’s a cliché, but the turning point came when Marcus and I went to Ibiza for the first time in 2010. I stood on the Terrace in Space and just decided right there and then, I wanted to become a producer: being a spectator on the sidelines wasn’t enough anymore.

Marcus: Around three years ago, when we had only just started Chapter 24, Sam, Paul and I gatecrashed a private 30th birthday party as we really wanted to see a DJ from Berlin who had been booked to play. We didn’t know the birthday boy, or any of his friends. We pretended that we knew the DJ, though we had never actually met him in person and because he was playing incognito at the time, we didn’t even know what he looked like! It was there that we met KatrinKa (a fellow gatecrasher). We signed her first release on Chapter 24 a few weeks later and she has been one of our core artists ever since.

I would love to work in the music industry full time, but right now this feels like a distant dream.

Torture the Artist: Chapter 24 is a part-time endeavor fueled by pure passion for music, run by you both and perhaps a small team of friends, what exactly, if any, are your ‘full-time’ professions and will the VVerses project attempt to immerse you completely in the music industry?

Marcus: I studied as a lawyer and have been working as one for around 10 years now, on a part time basis for the last 3 years so I’ve been able to free up more time to run the label and related projects. I would love to work in the music industry full time, but right now this feels like a distant dream. Let’s wait and see how Chapter 24 and the VVerses project grow.

Sam: I work in local government and am also mostly part-time. It’s definitely a challenge to do it all: work, produce, DJ, run a label, promote events. It would be nice to be able to clone myself to do it all as deeply as possible. However, we also know we are lucky to be able to spend so much time on music.

Torture the Artist: You are based in London at the moment, has the English capital always been home?

Marcus: No, I’m originally from Yorkshire, in the north part of England, but when I was younger I was lucky enough to spend 18 months on the road visiting some amazing places and also called Madrid my home for six months.

Sam: For me, yes – Londoner born and bred!

Torture the Artist: With Chapter 24 you have worked with many artists around the globe, or at least spread throughout the continent. How would you compare the London music community to other cities’ and what is one thing you feel needs the most improvement. How can the VVerses project contribute to this change?

Sam: London has a very fragmented scene, but it’s also home to almost nine million people from all over the world. So, it is a really inspiring place to live, work and meet people, and music has brought us lots of fantastic new connections and friends.

Marcus: The key challenge in London these days is finding good venues, particularly for smaller promoters or labels, to be able to hold regular events. Much of London’s land is being sold off to developers to build flats, which imposes noise restrictions on venues, despite the fact that many of these flats aren’t even lived in.

Sam: But the new ‘Night Czar’ and the ‘Agent of Change’ principle should hopefully do some good and we have a couple of interesting venues lined up for December.

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Torture the Artist: Let’s set your perfect 5 o’clock drinking session scene in London. Where, with whom (besides each other), drinking what and how many rounds?

Sam: On a rooftop somewhere if it’s the summer, or a traditional cozy English pub if it’s winter.

Marcus: It would have to be with our good buddy Patrice Bäumel, of course. We always make a point of meeting up with him when we are in Amsterdam or when he’s in London – he has such a big heart and is in the zone right now with his productions and DJ sets. From a non-music perspective, it would also be very inspiring to sit down for a drink with lifestyle guru Tim Ferriss.

Sam: If I’m drinking pints, 4 rounds is my limit these days.

Marcus: Or tequila for me, it’s impossible not to have fun when drinking tequila!

Âme are the ultimate power duo in electronic music for my money!

Torture the Artist: Name some of the biggest artistic influences in your musical careers. Is there a particular duo that closely resembles your plans for VVerses?

Marcus: I think Pink Floyd have to be right up there for both of us. I visited the recent exhibition at the V&A (twice, in fact), which really brought home the pioneering nature of their experimentation with sound (particularly their work with Peter Zinovieff, the ‘grandfather of synths’) as well as the importance of having a concept and delivering a message through music.

Sam: This is a cheesy one, but Âme are the ultimate power duo in electronic music for my money! There’s no getting around what they have done for the scene, they deserve everything they get.

Torture the Artist: Let’s make the perfect EP. 1. Sam, a track that reminds you of Marcus. 2. Marcus, one for Sam. 3. A track that best describes your friendship. 4. The perfect backdrop to the day you met. 5. The track you would love to remix as VVerses, if given no limitations.

Marcus & Sam:

  1. Booka Shade – In White Rooms. Marcus was always mad into Booka Shade, I didn’t quite get it until too late, and their initial moment had passed.
  2. Sebastian Tellier – La Ritournelle. This one was played at Sam’s wedding and also reminds me of his French heritage.
  3. The Killers – Mr. Brightside (Jacques lu Cont’s Thin White Duke Remix). The original came out when we were students together, then we have some great memories of hearing the remix together in Fabric’s second room years ago.
  4. Human League – The Things That Dreams Are Made Of. This represents that we were both indie kids at the start, mad into the electro revival.
  5. David Bowie – Let’s Dance. Bowie is a true hero and, as it happens, we have remixed this one – it will be coming out as a free download through Chapter 24 when we hit 10K followers on Facebook, which happily is soon.