Essential albums from Chicago-based from singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Gia Margaret. “Instrumental music it can be kind of endless. Sometimes you wonder if what you made is music at […]
Labels We Love: South of North (Amsterdam)
- Ambient /
- Electronic /
- Jazz /
- Labels We Love
John Jones in conversation with South of North founder Dominik Rodemann.
I was first introduced to the Amsterdam-based label South of North by way of their 2018 debut release, Ronald Langestraat’s album Searching. Since at the time little was out there about the newly established label or of Langestraat himself, I listened without presumption. Searching had a ‘70’s jazz-funk feel, but the general tone of each track felt oddly modern and of its own world. The more I listened, the further I was from identifying the origin point. Upon further investigation I learned the album was self recorded by Langestraat in 1984 to a 4-track tape machine. Needless to say, I was intrigued to see what came next from the label.
South of North didn’t disappoint. In 2019 they released another Ronald Langestraat album and (their 2nd label release), Apollo, a collection of live recordings from Langestraat’s time performing at the Apollo Hotel in Amsterdam from 1991. Tracks like “Music From Outer Space” and “A Fast Drive Through the Universe,” with a briskly paced hotel lounge cosmic jazz sound, only added more otherworldly mystique to my idea of who Ronald is/was. Both Searching and Apollo provided sturdy roots for the newly established label to grow from.
In 2020 the label followed up with their third release, Peter Graf York’s album Expedition Bahn. It was the first indication that South of North was not just a reissue label, but a label that had an affinity for the more eccentric side of music making. Expedition Bahn felt like a modern stew of K. Leimer’s minimalist Palace of Lights output, Mad Professor’s dubby studio wizardry, and Dieter Moebius’ far-flung electronic explorations. Stylistically separate track to track, the album displays an openness to genre and form.
Now in its fifth year of operation, South of North has continued to blossom with an impressive string of releases from distinctive artists. And while no two acts sound alike, South of North has clearly curated a specific and unique energetic feeling that permeates each of release. Funk, dub, ambient, rock, hip hop, and jazz all radiate in weird ways throughout the label’s catalog. The only constant seems to be the shared sense of playfulness and impartiality to music.
One of their most recent release is their third album with Ronald Langestraat, Light Years Away, which features all-new music with labelmates Nicolini and Lyckle De Jong helping out as the backing band, Fizzy Veins with the liner notes, and label head Dominik Rodemann taking care of the sequence. It’s a family affair at this point. Ronald, now in his 80s, just finished a brief tour performing live with other groups from the label opening and taking on backing bands duties.
Last summer while visiting Amsterdam, a mutual friend introduced me to Dominik. We hung out and got Mexican food and briefly talked about doing some kind of feature for In Sheep’s Clothing. After a few months of volleying emails back and forth, the following interview transpired. I also asked Dominik to share some of his favorite releases from the past couple of years.
I’d like to start by asking you what exactly prompted the start of South of North, and where’d the name come from?
The encounter with Ronald (Langestraat) was definitely the starting point. The name was just an idea that had popped into one of my best friend’s head while driving in a car through Germany. He called me and said we gotta call this South of North. Just felt right somehow, so we stuck to that. Guess it’s nonsensical and leaves some room for everyone’s own interpretation.
Were there any specific labels or artists that you found to be inspiring when starting off?
I’ve always been a fan of labels like 99 Records or On-U Sound or more contemporary ones like Tax Free, Wah Wah Wino, or 5 Gate Temple. I suppose the striking element is that they document something that’s happening in a closer surrounding. For us it’s more interesting when artists and labels collaborate and start working with each other to create new projects. Sort of like a platform to experiment, where everyone feels comfortable to contribute to each other’s music.
I’m curious how your relationship with Ronald Langestraat began. Were you aware of his music before meeting him?
No, not at all. I just met him while playing records in a bar here in Amsterdam. He was the only one paying attention to the music and dancing around. At some point he came up to me and mentioned he would head home to get a CD for me. That CD turned out to be Searching.
Searching was a collection of songs recorded to a 4-track tape recorder in 1984; his latest release with the label “Light Years Away” Is a collection of all relatively new music. What was your working relationship like for each of these records, considering they represent such different points in his life?
Searching was compiled from the CD Ronald gave to me in the bar back then. He basically just said we could choose whatever we thought felt right from the tracks that were on there. The idea of Light Years Away came to mind when setting up the first live shows after Searching came out. He started playing more and more new compositions and we thought it would be good to take some time to actually work on a new project for those. By that time we had also released music by a bunch of other people, amongst them Lyckle (de Jong) and Nic (Nicolini), who were both down to join Ronald on this and start a new formation together.
How long have you been living in Amsterdam? In what ways has the city/community changed you and your relationship with music?
I moved here roughly 9 years ago – I guess that was the first time I encountered such an accumulation of music-obsessed people who somehow managed to turn this music thing into their day-to-day life.
It seems as though you’re pretty close with the artists on the label. Have you ever sought out an artist you never knew personally or do you tend to work with people in your orbit?
We definitely tend to work with people that are around. I wouldn’t say that it could never happen to seek out an artist that we don’t know personally. It just hasn’t really happened yet. The idea is to stick together with people and create this interaction and exchange – so it’s not as important to know everyone for a long time beforehand, but definitely important to have a feeling that it’ll be a fit for some time to come.
The label doesn’t seem bound to any specific genre or style, yet there's a certain type of playfulness and emphasis on groove that defines the label for me. Are there traits or sounds you’re drawn to when looking for new music to release?
I think this whole process is very intuitive. There’s definitely no specific sounds or even ideas when looking for new things. I guess a feeling of honesty and generally fun is always important. But in the end it just has to feel right, really.
When we met over the summer you mentioned that you had recently rented a house in the German countryside and set up two separate studios to record with people from the label. Can you give us some details about your ideas of jamming and recording in this remote streamlined manner?
The idea when renting the house was actually to find a place to record a few new things for the Devon Rexi project. But since the timeframe fell in between two events we had planned, and the whole crew was gonna be involved, we thought it would be cool to just head there all together and use the space to spend some time and try out some new things. I think the idea of spending time together in this group and just finding places to accommodate ideas is something we’re all pretty much into. We just started renting a studio space here in Amsterdam as well, so the same thing can happen more locally and frequently now.
What's next for the South of North?
Lots of new things are coming, some of already familiar people, some completely new ones. Definitely trying to have everyone play live as much as possible and arrange our own nights at places or venues we feel connected to.
Dominik’s Recent Favorites
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