Visions and ideas in the making
Innervisions is an electronic music label. It was founded by Steffen Berkhahn, aka Dixon, and Kristian Rädle and Frank Wiedemann of Âme, in 2005. Together they form Innervisions’ unique audio-visual universe. With Berlin as its home, Innervisions evolves from within the city and evokes impressions from all over the world with its releases. Yet Innervisions‘ name reflects something more personal. It reflects the intuitive push toward certain ideas. The name was chosen out of the belief that all art forms, not just music, are a materialized sphere of ideas. The encounter with such a materialized sphere of ideas in a book, an exhibition or a track triggers certain sensations and sensibilities. Following on from this, an inner vision not only allows sensations and sensibilities to evolve inside one’s mind. It keeps on spinning from there to generate new ideas.
Permanent travelling helps the Innervisions crew to stay engaged in the loop of generating new ideas. Whether continent-hopping from Bogotá to Bombay or taking a train ride from Mönchengladbach to Arnhem, the loop does not start with a deliberate search. Like finding a coin in a pool of mud, it’s about letting yourself be thrown into situations where spotting the precious comes by chance. In January 2010, Dixon travelled to India for the first time. In Mumbai he went to Crawford Market, letting the traders drag him from stall to stall. Finally he ended up sat down on exactly the roll of cotton fabric that would become Innervisions’ iconic 2010 shawl: checkered with hand-stitched, polymorphic flowers in colours so sharp they could almost poke your eyes out. Yet what turned a piece of cotton into a shawl – or a fabric into an Innervisions fabrication – was the logo: not just a print on a big ugly tag, but a hand-stitched red rectangle that blends into the lovely loudness of the shawl without disrupting it. That the rectangle spelled out the label’s name was only visible at second glance.
An example closer to the core of Innervisions’ productions is the release of Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra’s “Too much information” remixes right at the end of 2015. In a year when Frankey & Sandrino’s “Acamar” effortlessly scored one superlative after the next, “Too much Information” could have been just that: too much, diverting attention. Yet the far less driving, less swirly and quirky, but heavy in agendas track is evocative of Innervisions’ diverse roots. It’s a testimonial to the auditory amicability the label has cultivated toward West- and South-African influences, encountered not only by travelling but by imbibing through the senses in clubs, bars, museums and friends’ kitchens. So “Too much information” was picked up because it beautifully reflects many aspects of Innervisions’ journeys: the courage to transgress genres, to disrupt trends, to give in to impulsiveness and to taste the untasted. What’s more, all these aspects demonstrate an ignorance toward planned hits.
2015 was an important milestone for Innervisions. The label turned ten. If Innervisions were a child, it would start to move away from childhood now, reaching its decisive developmental phase. It would become a teen. And like every teen, Innervisions has reached the age of restlessness and exploration, disposing of dependencies and pushing for uncharted territories.
In 2011 the Innervisions crew jumped ahead of this development by taking a risky move toward independence. In Muting the Noise they founded the first label in electronic music to introduce self-distribution and sales as a sustainable business model. It did so not just to ensure the quality of its artistic output, but to allow itself to continue producing analogue releases with such great attention to detail throughout the manufacturing process to this day. Contrary to popular opinion, this was done to ensure the survival of record culture. So however bold this move toward independence was, it was also a decision against staying calm and waiting for change. The decision was about cultivating diversity and even contingency, which were becoming rare in an age when tastes were tending toward uniformity, streaming was taking off and music was being snatched up by corporations.
Although Innervisions has grown in recent years, it still considers itself a small label. Its growth is tied to the growth of the people on the team. Dixon and Âme have been coming of age throughout the course of this development. In the past decade they have turned Innervisions into their gravitation and navigation centre. If we think of the label as a self-evolving algorithm, learning by being, following calculated, yet unpredictable protocols, then Dixon and Âme are its programmers. They seek not so much to control the Innervisions algorithm as to bend and tinker with it, attempting to maintain its perpetual state of change. Michael Quack, Innervisions’ general manager, compensates perfectly for this constant change. He is the decelerating accelerator, the structuralist of the given protocols. Together they work in a team that swears by horizontality and camaraderie. These principles don’t just imply cooking together at the Innervisions office or attending most label-related events together. It’s about caring rather than taking care of business; it’s about dedication, not just decision-making.
Along with its permanent employees, Innervisions regularly opens up internships. Interns are guided through and instructed in the procedures of music production and management. Most of them are fully responsible for some part of these procedures, allowing them to develop creatively as well as professionally. By the end of their stay the interns will ideally have acquired profound experience and knowledge of label management with a dash of unique audio-visual intuition. Job Jobse and Musk’s Lennart Döring are just two of the birds of paradise who found their voices through Innervisions internships.
Innervisions’ audio output reflects, first and foremost, the musical cosmos of Dixon and Âme. Innervisions releases the kind of music that Dixon and Âme play in their sets. To continue the algorithm metaphor: Innervisions is what its protocol is until it becomes what the protocol wants to become. As much as Innervisions runs recursively, it is Dixon and Âme who repeatedly disrupt an otherwise endless cycle. There is no Innervisions sound. Several tracks released by the label over the years might have given some the impression that things are repeating. On closer inspection, recursion is far more intricate than repetition. And treacherous, because it doesn’t cause any easily perceivable transcendent change. It causes minute changes constantly. In German there’s a word for it: changieren. Changieren denotes gradual change, as seen on the iridescent layer inside a mollusc shell or in a smooth baton transfer in a relay race. If you don’t tilt the shell in your hand, nothing changes. If you don’t look closely, you don’t see the baton changing hands on the screen. In relation to music, Innervisions is about finding and uncovering tracks that capture the instant of changieren, the instant of change at work.
Taking this a stage further, we can say that Innervisions subscribes to a certain philosophy of sound. It’s the philosophy of house. More than thirty years after its first introduction to the music scene in Chicago, Detroit and New York there are very few labels, producers and artists today who can still capture the progressiveness of this philosophy. Some try to take up the role of the conservator, dragging music into regress. What is lost today is the immense openness house had toward different styles. Its attitude was to acknowledge the future and be willing to push for change. Nonetheless, that very same philosophy led to a fragmentation and compartmentalization of house. More and more subgenres were formed and separated themselves from the main stream of house. Compared to decades ago, the protagonists of these micro-house genres are quite narrow-minded. They replace the philosophy of house with a dogma of distinctiveness. Innervisions’ success is based on the refusal of this dogma. Instead, the label endeavours to explore the full breadth of house by subscribing to its versatility. This is a way of paying respect to the grand philosophers of house like Lil’ Louis and Masters at Work without falling into nostalgic tribute. Simultaneously, it is a path to true distinctiveness, the distinctiveness of versatility house always embraced. Regardless of “genrefication”, afro house, tech house, vocal house and deep house remain equal elements of Innervisions’ musical cosmos.
This versatility is incorporated into the work artists release with Innervisions. The label, however, never works with the same artists again and again. Innervisions is not a collective; it’s more like a school. Human-centred thinking automatically equates schools with teaching the young and inexperienced. This is not the case in non-human societies, which display multilayered actions when grouping up in a school. In a school of fish, for example, species share a form, information and skills while navigating through the ocean streams together. Yet they only stay together for a moment in time. By choosing the school format, Innervisions invests in two areas: firstly, it invests in artists, usually for one single release. Secondly, it invests in an almost bespoke editing process, and in unique visual design. What’s more, this is done for an extremely small selection of releases – typically six per year. Both investments disassociate Innervisions from market strategies sustained by the music industry, like generic production and promotion, and too many redundant releases. Both these investments keep the format fresh for artists while also making it rewarding for Innervisions. In the music industry the rewarding effect is commonly measured by a release’s placement and time spent in international online charts. And of course by revenue, which is linked to chart success and subsequent re-signing for compilations, record companies, etc.. Another kind of durability is forgotten in the process: durability in the history of house. History in this case is a body of knowledge that incorporates change in order to be able to envision the future. For Innervisions it’s rewarding to see how durable its first hit – “Rej” by Âme – still is. A marching band remake of “Rej” is one example of how a track can still break the internet a decade after its release and facilitate the sudden success of a community and its artists who, for a moment in time, connected up to the history of house.
Innervisions signs works for its visual design on similar terms. Each year a different artist either produces original pieces or permits the label to reuse existing works. So far there have been collaborations with Jan Paul Evers (2011), Christian Aberle (2014), Miroljub Todorović (2015) and Shannon Bool (2016). In between these collaborations, Innervisions commissioned graphic designers to visualize the intuitive push toward certain ideas. Pierre Becker of TaTrung has worked with the label as often as Frank Wiedemann himself, graphic design being his lesserknown profession. So far Innervisions has explored abstract photography, concrete poetry, collage, outsider art and constructivism with its covers. Over time, an aesthetic is being assembled that, in combination with the releases, makes an essential contribution to Innervisions’ versatility and changeability.
All things considered, Innervisions has no formula for the future. It’s about the teen running away. No need for a plan. Quite the opposite: the act of running away makes space for independence to grow. If there’s one thing Innervisions sees for itself in the future, it’s independence in all fields of label and artist management. And the ability to adapt to changing tides.
Text by Ana Ofak