Alan Fitzpatrick's techno label is going from strength to strength right now, and a forthcoming Skream release certainly isn't going to hurt any...
We Are The Brave is not yet two years old, and is less than 20 releases deep. Nonetheless, Alan Fitzpatrick's label has already managed to carve out its own niche in the upper echelons of the UK techno and tech-house scene, attracting such luminaries as Sasha, Darius Syrossian and Skream to its roster.
The label's first release was Fitzpatrick's own We Do What We Want in 2016. The track remains We Are The Brave's biggest seller to date - and was even featured as a soundbed on Match Of The Day. But other highlights have included Boxia's Point Of No Return and a remix of Fitzpatrick's Magnetic Dog by Trevino - AKA the late Marcus Intalex - which was released, with his family's permission, after his death.
So far most of the label's output has come from Fitzpatrick and his peers, and only in digital form. But we're told that We Are The Brave will "eventually embrace a broader range of electronic music, in various formats, from the traditional through to the avant-garde. We take a long term view with this, with the immediate priority being establishing the label with music that fans are comfortable with. The next step will be to evolve the label both in terms of the sound, with some more experimental repertoire, as well as bigger projects such as artist albums."
Based in Fitzpatrick's hometown of Southampton, We Are The Brave isn't just a record label, either - somewhat unusually for such a fledgling label, the WATB umbrella also encompasses a merchandising line and an events brand. But then as the man himself says, "You can’t go and call yourself We Are The Brave then just play safe all the time, can you?!"
In fact, when we asked Alan about the We Are The Brave story so far, he had lots to tell us. So let's skip the long intro and just dive right on in...
Your next release comes from Skream, with yourself on the remix… how did that come about? I know he remixed Friday Night Dancing previously but is there a longer history there?
"When I started the label I had a list in my mind of producers and writers that I really wanted to work with, and Skream was up at the top of that list. Oli and I didn’t have any history before he remixed Friday Night Dancing but I’ve always been a big fan of his music. Not much needs to be said about his influence on electronic music over the past decade and more, but I have a massive amount of respect for the way he's gone about reinventing his sound and for being a ridiculously talented DJ.
"What I didn’t appreciate until that remix happened was just what a genuinely sound, open-minded and infectiously enthusiastic person Oli is. I was a bit nervous asking him for the remix as we’d never met or spoken before, but I was blown away by his enthusiasm for the project. He started work on his version immediately after I sent him the stems and he really took care over it - asking for certain additional parts to be sent over and tweaking and testing things until it was just right.
"He's a true professional and it's always a pleasure to be in his company, whether we're playing B2B like we did at Loveland Festival this year or just on the same line-up. His vibe is so positive. In fact, the story behind his Poison track for We Are The Brave sums this up. I woke up one February morning to find an email from Oli saying, 'Easy bruv! literally just finished this track and I reckon you’ll like it'. Fast-forward just a couple of hours and a whirlwind of activity has occurred: a vocal has been added, he's sent me parts and out of nowhere something special has been created. Not bad for barely a day's work.... but when things are meant to be, they're meant to be!"
Another big release for WATB was the Sasha collab El Jefe. Again, tell us the story of how that came to happen, especially given that Sasha doesn't tend to work with other producers that often?
"Yeah, it’s pretty mad isn’t it? I've been a fan forever but our paths had never crossed professionally until early 2015, when I was asked to do a remix of a Dubspeeka track for Sasha’s Last Night On Earth label. Around the same time, I became aware that Sasha was playing a couple of tracks of mine - Turn Down The Lights and the Jel Ford remix of For An Endless Night - so I started to send him some of my more melodic music, like the remix I did of Drewxhill's Bullets which he was really into.
"So that was the start of the connection, but the idea for the collaboration came from my management and Sasha’s. They suggested the idea to Sasha and I, and we talked about it whenever we bumped into each other at gigs over summer 2016, but it wasn’t until the winter that we got around to actually bouncing ideas back and forth. From that selection of ideas we’d work individually and from there we very naturally found some common ground.
"Sasha had this melody that was wicked - really emotive and powerful, but subtle and warm too. So I set about writing some beats that I felt worked and happily Sasha agreed. From there we took time to develop the original idea into a full track, sending versions back and forth. The creativity really flowed and we ended up with two versions that we loved, so it was a very simple choice to release them both as a package."
All of which begs the question - any more big name collaborations coming up?
"I actually got a message today about a collaboration idea which is pretty massive, but I’d better not say too much about that right now. Sorry!
"I can tell you about a couple of projects that are in the pipes though. I’ve done a track with Scuba that's been signed to Drumcode and should be released at some point over the summer, plus I'm working on some ideas with Redlight. People might think that's a bit of a curveball combination but I really like that element of surprise and I'm excited to see what Hugh and I can come up with."
I'm told you've got releases coming up from some new artists as well, what can you tell us about those?
"Yeah, there are three guys I am working with who will be new to people. Leonardo released his debut EP for us in February and has a second release planned for the end of the year. He's a real talent who writes a crazily varied range of music, from ambient soundscapes to wigged-out minimal house to lush melodic anthems to chugging dub techno. He writes incredibly naturally and surprises me with his ideas. He's also a brilliant technical DJ who only plays vinyl and really understands the art of warming up a room. He did an amazing job opening up Room 2 at fabric for our label showcase back in April.
"Then there's A.S.H, whose debut release is coming at the start of August and includes two tracks, Vortex and Stranger Things, that I've been playing in every set for months. In fact I must have about 10 new A.S.H tracks right now and they're all wicked! Proper face-melting peaktime techno with big moments and loads of personality. I really can’t wait for everyone to hear A.S.H’s music.
"We will also have a release by unknwn, which will be the first music they have ever released, which is an exciting prospect for the label. The track is wicked, too: properly big but distinctive-sounding techno with an epic vocal. In fact I loved the vocal so much I couldn’t resist doing a remix!
"This is the part of running the label that I enjoy the most: discovering and helping to develop new talent. I always wanted We Are The Brave to be a platform for emerging artists that I believed in, as well as being the main outlet for my own music and an attractive home for releases from other established producers. I think this variety is important. I want people to feel that if they follow We Are The Brave then they will be introduced to artists they might otherwise have missed. To me, that's what makes a record label exciting. Plus, I benefited greatly from the belief shown in me when I was starting out, by Adam Beyer in particular but also John Digweed, Len Faki, Sven Väth, Slam and Fergie. So it feels like the right thing to do - to try and offer the same to others and do my bit to keep our scene thriving."
Looking through the WATB discography you don't really go in for big packages with half a dozen remixes - in fact many releases don't have any remixes at all! That's quite a different approach from a lot of labels, so what's the rationale there?
"We don’t have any hard and fast rules but you're correct in your observation, we do like to keep it to a minimum when it comes to the number of tracks in each package. I don’t think the way music retail works now lends itself to presenting fans with three or four tracks as an EP, or a bunch of remixes.
"In the main people buy or stream individual tracks, not whole releases, and inevitably there's always one track that gets the most attention. I've released plenty of three- or four-track EPs that almost feel like waste, because the third or fourth tracks, which is usually my more experimental stuff, get ignored by everyone - DJs, press, retail, fans. It's actually quite upsetting to see your music passed by like that.
"So it's not something we tend to do on We Are The Brave. It just makes more sense to focus everyone on a couple of tracks and use them to make the most impact."
You launched WATB with an extensive merch/clothing range from the get-go. Quite a brave move! Was that about setting your stall out as a serious brand, or is there more money in t-shirts than I realised and it's actually a vital revenue stream?
"No, there certainly isn’t any money in merchandise at the level we're operating at! It's break-even at best, once you factor in all the stock you end up giving away or the odd bits you get stuck with. Honestly, it was just something I really wanted to do. I'm interested in fashion and because of the way we set things up with the image of the label, it was all about the lion logo.
"You will rarely see We Are The Brave written on a flyer or our artwork. I like brands that have a strong visual identity, so that's what I want to create for We Are The Brave, and what better way to get the awareness of the logo than to stick it on a a few hundred t-shirts and snap-backs and have people walk around the planet spreading the word?"
WATB is also an events brand, isn't it? I know you had Alan Fitzpatrick's Day in March and recently hosted a room at fabric...were you pleased with how those went, and what other events are coming up?
"The events side of what we do is very important because as far as I'm concerned, ultimately the rave is what our scene is all about. That's where you experience the vibe, that's where you hear the music in the best context, that’s where the feelings and memories are made that are the foundation of dance music. So I judge the success or otherwise of what we do based mainly on the reaction from the ravers to our music and events. That genuine human reaction is way more important than sales or chart positions or media coverage or social media hype.
"Happily so far all the events we have done have absolutely smashed it, so I guess we're doing something right! fabric in April was wicked, the club was packed and the vibe was as good as any time I've played there over the last 10 years. Reset Robot was the hero, with his debut live performance that he prepared from scratch. The effort Dave made to make that live show happen was massive. I’m working on building a crew of artists on the label, so to see that commitment meant the world to me.
"The Dublin show in March was just incredible, too, despite the weather doing its best to screw things up with blizzards and freezing wind! I'm very proud of the fact we were able to host a party on such a scale and that the 5,000 people who came all had a memorable experience. I can’t wait to do it all again next year. But first we have a few things planned including a boat party in Ibiza, another House Party tour, and more showcase club shows towards the end of the year."
Last question - a personal WATB fave of mine is the Felix remix you did, Don't You Want My Cat Food? Out of all the rave/club classics the world has to offer, though, why take on that one in particular - does it have any special memories for you?
"Ha! Nice one, I'm glad you're into it. I was only nine years old when Don’t You Want Me was released, but I really got into dance music when I was 13 so all those classic tracks from that era hold a special place in my heart. I like to dig out the odd classic now and again for my sets and Felix just happened to be one of those tracks I played a few times, and that gave me the idea to rework it, just as a bit of fun really."
Words: Russell Deeks
Skream's Poison is out on We Are The Brave on 13 July - preorder it here.