Marc Houle, Magda, and Troy Pierce might have been surprised by the measure of column inches devoted to them in 2011, but minimal’s biggest break-up was always destined to be one of the stories of the year.
The three longtime friends have been affiliated with Richie Hawtin and his Minus imprint through it all: from the halcyon days of warehouse parties in Detroit and Windsor, to the birth of Minus, through the shift to Berlin and the popular rise of minimal techno, and via their each of individual paths as artists and performers – Houle’s wintry minimalism, Pierce’s broad techno palette, and Magda’s oft-quoted position as the most popular female DJ and producer in electronic music today.
Then there were the celebrated releases and the accolades, the tours and arena shows, the ‘cube’ and the documentary, followed by rumbles of a growing backlash. Yet even as the lustre of minimal techno was fading, no-one anticipated the next move: in August Marc, Magda, and Troy unexpectedly announced that they were leaving the Minus family, amicably, to focus their attentions on their joint-yet-dormant imprint, Items & Things.
In the five months since, the trio have proven to be as wholly committed to their mission – to “pursue our own unique musical styles even further” – as stated at that time. Items & Things has been on a hot streak of momentum unearthing new newcomers Danny Benedettini and Madato, releasing new music by its founders, and hosting a number of purposefully intimate parties that take the focus of the label back to its underground club roots.
2011 was a watershed year for the Items & Things trio, so in the pause between that year and this one we fired over some email questions to Marc Houle and Troy Pierce, to get their take on everything that’s happened in the past year, and clue us in on their moves for the future.
If you had to describe Items & Things in one sentence to someone with no background knowledge of the label, what would that sentence be?
Troy: Items & Things is run by three close friends who all share a similar aesthetic when it comes to dance music. Think stripped down spacey disco with a splash of techno funk.
Marc: It’s a label making fun, strange and interesting techno and house tracks.
Were you surprised by the amount of press attention you received when you announced that you were leaving Minus and reviving Items & Things?
Troy: Yeah i was very surprised, I wasn’t really sure anyone would care.
Photo Credit: Robert Bellamy
After Jimmy Edgar’s Funktion Of Your Love EP in 2009 things went quiet with Items & Things for a couple of years. What was that lull due to? And was it always your intention to revive the label at some point?
Troy: after that EP Minus decided to focus on their own projects (they were handling the business end of our label). The three of us were really busy with touring and all of that so we put it to rest for a while. Magda was the first to bring up the idea to relaunch the label and once we found a proper label manager it all made sense.
2011 was a busy year for Items & Things, what were some of the highlights?
Troy: The first Down & Out party we did in Berlin was really special. Cool people into cool music and having a blast.
What unique thing do you think Items & Things brings to what is already a fairly crowded landscape of electronic music labels?
Troy: I think we have an interesting angle; Magda, Marc and myself have each been into dance music for a long time and were lucky enough to grow up close to some of the most influential cities and artists in techno. Because of that, we hear things in a similar way and pick out the music that references our foundation, but with a modern twist.
Can you tell me something about each of your label partners, about a unique quality that they bring to the mix?
Troy: Magda is super picky, in a good way, and obsesses over the details. Marc lives in bizarro Marc-land and has ideas that Magda and I would never dream of… again, in a good way.
Marc: When it comes to finding new talent, Troy and Magda are key. As DJs they can play out all the new demos and find all the treasures. As for the label and releases we really come together to make a sound and aesthetic that is unique. It’s really tough to pinpoint exactly what’s going on but we all make up for each others’ ineptitude somehow.
You’ve all known each other for a long time, do you naturally fall into roles within the label, like one person is great at A&R, or another is great with visual branding, etc?
Troy: Yeah sort of. The three of us try to agree on everything in the end so whatever part of a project gets the focus, each of us gives our input in the end.
Marc: It all sorta blurs together. One week I might slack but the others step up and get things done. The best thing we did was to surround ourselves with a great team. They are really working hard and getting so much done. So we get a giant list of things to go through and have meetings and get work done in between all the joking around.
Are there any lessons or advice that you’ve taken from Richie and Minus that you’re now able to apply as label bosses?
Troy: Of course. It was great to be a part of the label and its success and hopefully that experience can translate into our label.
Marc: For sure. Being on Minus really showed me the difference between a regular label and a label that pushes the boundaries. Minus always had a great aesthetic and a great eye for marketing, so we picked up on all of that and we’re also trying to learn from mistakes here and there. We’re not looking to be a label like Minus but sure, everything we learned has had an impact on our approach.
How do you think the relaunch year of Items & Things has changed you as an artist?
Troy: I feel more focused and more driven to make our own label a success. Taking more control and responsibility for things.
Marc: For me personally it was more or less me taking care of my career because now the days of me just doing what Minus said is over. It was very nice to just sit back and watch as the label did all the work but it’s much nicer to take it into my own hands.
How do you feel that your Down & Out parties have gone so far, and what are your plans for the future?
Troy: Each one has been a massive success I think. We have a few coming up in Mexico, Miami, Chicago, Detroit. I am really looking forward to these parties outside of Europe to see how the rest of the world reacts.
Marc: So far the parties have been great. The music has been very fun, the locations have been special and the people coming out were really there because of the music. It makes the biggest difference when you know that everyone there is on the same page. Our goal of the party is to return to the smaller, less known clubs and do a sound and experience that we all control. It’s great to play in big clubs and festivals but somehow the best shows are always the small underground places with a crowd that loves music and is there to party 100%
Are there any upcoming Items & Things artists or remixers that we should keep an eye on, and is there anyone on your wish list to work with?
Troy: Madato and Danny, these two guys are amazing and I truly believe they will continue to release awesome music. Wish list.. hmmm I hope to get together with Bruno Pronsato and make some ‘adult contemporary dance music’.
by: Christine Kakaire (MEOKO)