The '3am Wax Vol 1' EP is out today and features tracks from Al Bradley, Carlo Gambino, Ben Dean and Michael Scott
Anyone who was reading iDJ way back in 2003 may remember that as part of our Miami coverage that year, we shadowed a couple of guys from Yorkshire as they went around the Winter Music Conference talking up their new record label.
The label in question was 3am Recordings, and those few days in the Florida sunshine were the start of a fruitful relationship that saw iDJ covermounting a 3am mix CD in 2004 - and 3am Recordings going on to become one of the UK's most respected and longest-running deep house labels.
Well, fast forward to 2016 and we can't help having a slight sense of déjà vu. Because just as iDJ was busy being reborn at the end of last year, 3am boss Al Bradley got in touch to tell us that he's going back to releasing vinyl, having run 3am as a digital-only label since 2008.
So with the first of 3am's new vinyl releases – a three-track EP entitled 3am Wax Vol 1, featuring cuts from Al himself, Ben Dean, Michael Scott and Carlo Gambino – going on sale today, and already riding high in the Juno deep house chart on pre-sales alone, we got Al to talk us through why he's returning to vinyl now, and what his plans are for the label moving forward.
So… 3am are back on vinyl! Why now?
"A couple of reasons, really. For one thing, I’ve become a little disillusioned with the digital side of things, where it’s harder and harder to have any kind of profile without resorting to ‘massive’ names, which is never what 3am has been about. However it’s mainly because I’ve found myself gravitating back to vinyl from a DJ perspective over the last few years, and feel much more at home there. I’ve bought more new vinyl in the last two years than the past five or six put together, so it just felt right to move back with that feeling.
"The digital aspect has been great, as it’s allowed me to keep the label going and it’s a strange irony that as people have become a little bored with digital, the way to stand out is to use vinyl again."
There's definitely an upsurge in interest in vinyl again. But who's buying it, do you think - is a new generation discovering the joys of black wax, or is it mainly older buyers?
"It’s both, I think.The diehards have never left, while anyone below around 21 will only have ever really known digital, so vinyl is almost ‘new’ to those people, both for the DJ side of things and also just for buying artist albums. But the local Tesco near me has started selling turntables now, so it’s definitely not just us 'old DJ' types buying it!"
Was it hard picking tracks/artists for the EP, given that it's such a 'landmark' release?
"Nope… mainly because I wanted to be on it, ha ha! I thought it might be the only way I’d get on vinyl (although that proved totally incorrect, as I’m on another for Midnight Social soon). I wanted it to be '3am people', and the guys on there, Carlo, Michael and Ben, have all been a part of the label regularly and all offer up slightly differing styles. So yeah, it was pretty easy really."
Are vinyl releases going to be a regular thing for 3am again now, or is this a one-off?
"Quite the opposite - if there are any ‘one-off’ releases now, they’ll be digital. The 3am Wax Vol 1 EP might not come out digitally at all – I’ve not decided yet. But essentially, the label will be vinyl again, with fewer releases each year: two, maybe three. I’ve been doing this 13 years, so I don't feel I need to be doing a digital release every month just to keep in people’s faces. I’d rather step back, focus on a couple of releases each year and invest more fully into them."
We first spoke when you were launching 3am Recordings, way back in 2003. And 13 years later you're still here, when so many labels have been and gone in that time. What's been the secret of your success, do you think?
"I have absolutely no idea. It’s not because of money, I know that much! I guess some people became really downbeat if they lost money, like I did, so decided not to bother carrying on. I like to think I’m pretty positive overall, so keeping the label going digitally made sense to me and meant I kept ‘involved’."
...and what have been some of the high and low points of those 13 years?
"I’ll start with the lows. There’s only really been one, which was coming a cropper with the initial vinyl crash around 2006-ish. I won’t say how much money was lost, but it wasn’t pretty! So that was the only low.
"Highs – well, there've been plenty! Getting respect from your peers, the guys who influenced the label to start in the first place, that was a huge thing. Feeling like I’ve stuck to mainly using ‘lesser’ known artists and seeing people who started on 3am, or were on the label very early in their careers, go on to bigger things has also been a high - people like Pete Dafeet, Ceri, Carlo Gambino, Roland Nights, Ben Dean, Michael Scott and Nick Devon. That’s always been something I’ve been pretty proud of.
"One of the massive highlights was the label hosting its 10th birthday at Fabric back in 2013. After the issues when the vinyl crash happened, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to carry the label on at all, so to get to 10 years and then have the label host its birthday bash there was a very special thing."
Would you say the 'sound' or the ethos of 3am has changed at all over that time?
"Not really – it’s always released music ranging from slow-ish electronica through to techy stuff. I guess the core sound for the label has been what is deemed as deep house, but really I’ve tried to just put out stuff I like and play out. Also supporting new/upcoming artists, that’s been a real ethos. Moving forward, the vinyl will be predominantly for artists already on the label, but again with opportunities for a few hand-picked artists who’ve never graced the format before."
What advice would you offer anyone thinking of setting up their own label today?
"Hmm... I suppose, 'Don’t do it for the money'! It’s so different now – you have to be the marketing person, social media expert, promoter etc, it’s more intense than back in 2003. So really I think if you’re doing it because it’s something you’re genuinely passionate about, then you’ll be fine.
"Be prepared to put a fair bit of your own cash into it, and don’t expect to have immediate success – especially on the digital side. If your release comes out on Monday, by Tuesday you’re on about page 12 of that week’s releases, and by the end of the week you’re on page 25. So it’s hard to stand out and get noticed, particularly if you’re pushing newer/lesser known artists.
"But if it’s something you love, do stick with it, because longevity can bring results. It’s a really rewarding thing to feel part of something, but that doesn’t happen overnight."