Debuting last fall with the sumptuously deep and unmistakably UK sound of Beyaz’s Felt, the past few months have seen upstart label ANA doubling down on their thoughtfully effortless aesthetic with three more releases: Gamba’s Hessian, Beyaz’s Karanlık Plate (officially due in October), and the various artists-authored Diktat. Largely focusing their marketing efforts on getting their records in stores they admire—what a concept!!—the crew behind the label are confident enough to let their music do the work, taking a sincere and classic DIY approach that feels downright radical in this age of social media DJ’s. I recently had the pleasure of talking with Gamba to learn more about what the label is about and why what they’re doing feels so goddamn refreshing. Enjoy!
Zurkonic: Could you tell me about how the label started, where y’all are based, and the general thinking behind the label?
Gamba: Myself and mates have been making music properly for a few years now, and we’d discussed the idea of a label for a little while and fancied the idea of having creative control. It wasn’t till Beyaz came out with Felt last summer that we thought to go for it. As a broader motivation for setting up the label I guess, it was really an opting out of the whole PR infrastructure that seems to me to have forcefully coupled itself to many of the labels we were into. In terms our general thinking – it’s pretty much just to release music we think is worth putting out.
Z: Did y’all grow up together? And where do you all hail from? What’s the dance music culture like where you’re from?
G: Yeah, all of us involved went to school together. I guess we were all pretty studious, so that meant we were all researching and getting into different music. We grew up just beyond the London commuter belt area – the provinces. A couple of us are based part-time in Manchester as well at the moment. The scene back home is non-existent – shite drum and bass and nowt else.
Z: Did you travel to the city for music stuff, or were y’all kinda holed up, making your own world?
G: Oh yeah London was very important. Goin to clubs underage on photoshopped ID’s, sleeping in tube stations waiting for the first train out etc. – pretty dumb really but was a laugh. Think all those bleary-eyed treks home definitely heightened that sense of a slight disconnection from the city.
Z: And how else have you guys educated yourself with music? What role has the internet played in your learning about the history, production, etc.?
G: Record shopping has definitely been a big part of it, and probably the primary reason for heading into London these days. Internet has also been big in finding new music. This is probably a broader point - but I think music has always been pretty fissiparous, though I reckon the internet has really exacerbated that with all these small niche scenes you can find in corners of the web. Additionally, I think the internet has made a lot of pretty leftfield/outsider stuff actually at least mildly viable in finding an audience, and allowed people to do their own thing to a greater extent. It’s definitely a double-edged sword though, as it has also facilitated the rise of a lot of these kinda big hype machines that just seem to try and cement themselves as THE way new music gets out there on the web. A friend summed it up pretty well the other day in that a lot of these “premiere” sites and accounts seem to be positioning themselves as some sort of pseudo-label.
Z: Srsly. Kinda feels like a flat earthing of dance music at times. Like, trying to wrap up this inherently complex, infinite beast into some tidy PR narrative…goddamn music writers, haha.
G: Yeah, I think it’s just them trying to impart knowledge, albeit a shallow one, to lazy folks. That probably sounds bad – think it’s more them tryna present music research for people in such a way that is basically the same as them scrolling through Instagram.
Z: Agreed. Do you see the internet as a tool that’s enabled you to connect with other likeminded individuals elsewhere that otherwise woulda been off-limits? Or primarily as a research tool? Or both?
G: On this deffo a bit of both. The internet is definitely my go to research tool I’d say – though half of the time that is via record store websites so I don’t know to what extent that is like pure internet research. Typically, I prefer to connect with folks on an in-person basis but that obviously isn’t always possible. Heavy Teeth on the comp is a good example of one of those sorta solely internet-based connections in which we have only ever communicated via the web off the back of us stumbling upon each other online.
Z: Well, and pivoting to the comp and his contribution to it, I was really delighted to hear the non-explicitly dance music contributions on there. Are you guys trying to be more than just a “dance music label” or perhaps, find that concept inherently lacking and are to trying just follow the sounds that get you excited?
G: I definitely wanted to do more than just pander to a club environment for sure. We’d been into post-punk and EBM before we properly got into dance music I’d say, so that maybe modulates what we’re doing. Yeah largely it is about following sounds that excite us but hopefully doing so in a way that’s coherent.
Z: Who are some acts in particular that you’ve drawn inspiration from or that you feel are at the inspirational core of what you’re doing?
G: John T. Gast is a big one. His whole kinda esoteric vibe and approach to music is something I have a lot of time for. Ossia as well is another person we respect a lot. There are a quite a few more - but yeah people doing things for themselves really.
Z: And going back to the post-punk thing, have you played in bands or are your musical backgrounds primarily in electronic music?
G: Not properly, no. The final track on the comp is a joint project between myself and Rezka, which is a revisiting of those interests I guess. It was only really since we founded the label that I think I’ve properly joined the dots with a lot of those types of music we’re into, and in doing so I think the role/importance of that post-punk/DIY aspect has definitely grown in my thinking.
Z: And how do you conceptualize/think about that importance?
G: Hmm I think it hopefully comes across most in the way in which the tunes are put out. Hand-stamped, self-distro, etc.
Z: Kinda like letting the music speak for itself?
G: Yeah, exactly. The no press release and minimal blurb is a very conscious thing. Probably me being very cynical, but all that sort of stuff feels very tied in with the aforementioned PR thing. Feels like you’re justifying the tunes with some big verbose word dump.
Z: When I listen to the comp in particular, it feels like this very natural, organic connecting of dots that goes much deeper than, let’s connect A with B with C. Do you feel that maybe comes through not trying to totally intellectualize the act of music-making, and just letting the connections come through simply making and putting out music?
G: Yeah definitely. Our ethos thus far has been that if it sounds good to us and feels exciting, we should put it out. I’m not sure how sustainable that approach will be going forward though. Some folks seem to massively fall into that trap of over-intellectualizing things. I always get a bit worried when I see it - puts me in mind of when past-it comedians seem to be obsessively doing interviews about ‘the craft.’
Z: Lol. And also, it kinda feels like trying to pander to the existing music business infrastructure…like, everyone needs a conceptual hook and we’ve given up on trusting our ears.
G: Yeah, massively. I think the biggest thing in how I judge music these days is the intention with which it’s been made. It’s normally a pretty ineffable quality, but it’s just a certain touch in the music, where you can sense it’s been made for the right reasons. I think all the Jolly Discs label stuff would be a prime example of that, as music I probably wouldn’t typically be drawn to, but just has that touch which I feel like I can only attribute to that idea of its intentions/origins.
Z: And how do you qualify those “right reasons”?
G: I think when people are making the music they wanna make without cutting corners or relying too heavily on tropes - that’s for the right reasons I’d say.
Z: Heard. I was wondering if you could talk about the way the UK dance music tradition, whatever you wanna call it, comes through in the music. Do you guys find yourselves consciously trying to create functional “dance music” or are you more just trying to make stuff that feels true to yourselves and where you’re from?
G: Yeah, I was grappling with this one in mind this morning. I think it’s one of those things that’s inevitable really with us coming of age musically in UK clubs and record stores. I know some people are very keen that they can see their music lying in that continuum of UK music, and that is fine, but I feel like that is nigh on impossible now, not to mention pretty stultifying. I think, going back to the internet, that whilst it is a connective network, in many ways I feel like paradoxically it has created an environment in the UK where scenes are more purely geographic again these days rather than genre-based. Now obviously I was not born/very young in the nineties and early noughties, but from looking back at the period as someone who had no first-hand experience, it feels to me like the lack of rapid connection between different places lead to different styles inevitably forming somewhat in isolation, such that a mark of where you were from was the tunes you were playing/making. These in turn came to be defined as distinct genres, and then with the emergence of internet proper, that allowed people making similar tunes in different places to connect better and coalesce around a given genre for the music they were playing. Then in turn the internet allowed for greater cross-pollination between different genres leading to this point now where the borders feel pretty blurred. And so I think people are again placing greater attachment to where the music is coming out of – like the ‘Bristol sound’ now is far too broad a church to be discussed in terms of a genre, which I think is great for allowing interesting things to come out.
Z: So, the provincial element has come back to the forefront, you feel?
G: Yeah, I think so.
Z: What influence do you feel your immediate geography has on the tunes you and the other label members create.
G: Umm, it’s difficult to say. I think the provincial element is something I can conceptualize in terms of how the music is put out- but not something I could readily locate in the music itself.
Z: There’s a just a spaciousness to your tunes that seems to circumnavigate the more drop-focused stuff that clearly influences a lot of UK producers. And that’s no diss to that approach, just cool to hear something different.
G: Oh yeah, well that’s definitely a conscious thing. The idea of making an archetypal club tune always seemed a bit redundant.
Z: Or that anything “UK” needs to have immediate, identifiable “rudeness”….
G: Yeah. Like soundsystem frequencies have a lot of importance, but it’s about using that aspect in a (hopefully) interesting way. Formulaic dance tunes are a massive whipping boy for us – ‘fun’ tunes for unimaginative people. A lot of it seems like it is not coming from a good place.
Z: Y’all seem to just be enjoying the process of creating sound and watching it unspool at its own logic.
G: Yeah, it’s definitely about tryna enjoy the creative process as much as possible whilst still getting something we deem good out the end. Fun in the dance is a massively overlooked quality to my mind – fun in the sense of things be varied and interesting. Playful tunes with some heft is what we try to achieve in the club-orientated stuff. Outside of that, we still definitely gravitate towards darker tunes, but hope to put stuff out in that space that is still inventive/interesting to us.
Z: Whether light or dark, dance music is a joyful thing and that seems to fall by the wayside when the business side of it comes to the forefront.
G: Yeah, exactly.
Z: But is there a very real anxiety of like, is there that audience still, and can I keep this afloat? Or can they even be reached through all the signal noise? Has the feedback you’ve gotten so far given you hope that the audience is out there?
G: I think there is definitely a market for the music we’re interested in putting out. It’s just about finding that audience on our terms. Getting the records in at stores we respect has been a reassurance. Frankly, even without this being commercially viable, we would still be doing it - but that’s the luxury of the fact I don’t plan on working this full-time.
Z: Just quickly, what do you have planned for the label (so far) for year two?
G: Well, we have two runs of dubplates forthcoming at the end of this year, a USB release from myself and Rezka, and a party with [redacted] which remains under the wraps atm. In the more distant future, we’re hoping to put out more tunes from some of the folks on the comp.