London and Berlin as often seen as twin pillars of taste-making within the dance music scene in Europe, as discerning clubbers don’t just look to the more established or more popular labels, but lately, more often than not to underground fledgling ones for their fresh new music. Whilst here in the UK it’s people like Hypercolour and Futureboogie who seek out new sounds and artists, over in Germany their counterpart stands as Shir Khan’s Exploited Records.
Originally a DJ, Shir Khan (real name Jan Simon Spielberger) now considers himself a jack-of-all-trades; label-founder, talent-spotter, radio host, remixer and promoter are all talents he can lay claim to. It’s clear he’s the type to be constantly pushing himself and evolving his multitude of projects in order to stay abreast of a industry always in flux.
Exploited’s genesis began around 2007 when Khan’s wish to make a DJ Kicks style compilation, but lack of label willing to clear all the necessary rights and release it on his behalf, led to him taking matters into his own hands. In the way of all good projects, it naturally led to him discovering a desire to take it further than the initial idea. As he spoke to different artists for the purpose of collating their music he came across tracks that he wanted for EPs instead.
However the very first Exploited Records release was a vinyl-only affair from the Parisian producer Surkin, that he modestly explains happened by accident. “A friend of mine was the A&R at Berlin label City Slang and he’d just recieved a remix for one of his artists by a French newcomer. He told me that the original artist hated the remix so much that they didn’t want to put it out. Since he’d heard I was about to start a label he offered the remix to me to put out as an original Surkin release…. and I did it and it was a pretty good start. Erol Alkan, Boys Noize and Soulwax all loved it around that time.”
Nowadays, of course, Khan doesn’t simply wait for music to fall into his lap. A considerable amount of work goes into discovering and nurturing the artists on Exploited, and into the music they subsequently produce. Taking unknowns like Amsterdam’s Homework, Austria’s Joyce Muniz and homegrown talent like Adana Twins, Claptone and the teen duo Cocolores, and establishing them as hot names to watch out for in relatively short spaces of time is a point of pride for Shir Khan. “I think it’s great to work with new faces – but it is normally a tough and long way to get them where you want them to be.” he says.
Maybe it’s the thought behind the artist selection process that sees him first question whether considering whether they click as individuals that ensures strong bonds between the label boss and his protégés. He states, “Of course the releases are all about musical quality but still personal style comes first.”
This dedication to keeping relations tight-knit is somewhat at odds with the rapid rise of success. As new releases turn into instant Beatport and Resident Advisor chart-climbers, all industry eyes naturally turn towards the label. Shir Khan admits that (and apologises for) a large number of emails and phonecalls go unanswered as things get more hectic, promising, “Exploited will expand in the future. That’s for sure.” With the debut from Purple Velvet, a recent side project from Coat Of Arms member Chris James, hitting the front page of Beatport upon release; they look set to be expanding sooner rather than later.
Indeed, they only seem to be building upon success after success at the moment, as Exploited’s popular disco edit series Black Jukebox hit its third edition a fortnight ago with Doctor Dru reworking the Italo disco classic Voice Of Q and rather aptly renaming it Voice Of Dru. With its souped-up, dancefloor ready sound, familiar and yet more exciting, it’s no wonder it too has made its way into Beatport users hearts and made a dent in the overall Top Ten.
If anything it is the Exploited Records ethos that truly sums up this label’s recent rise to fame: “Connect the dots. Destroy the genre…. Exploit popular culture by recombining elements from the past, twist them around, mix them up and make it sound fresh.” And therein lies the secret. Exploited aren’t recycling the same old deep house sounds that are starting to seem like an emcumberment to the scene, they’re looking to the past for that element of familiarity that keeps clubbers happy but providing a new, modern take on it. As Shir Khan himself says “In the end I don’t care if its house or disco or whatever – it’s only about music that can excite you – even if it’s only for a certain amount of time. It’s hard to make timeless dance music these days. Time seems to move faster and faster.”
You can catch Shir Khan and other members of Exploited on a special label showcase on Beatport’s Ustream channel on Wednesday 23rd May 16:00 – 22:00 C.E.T
Words: Rachael Williams