There are so many different DJ and producers who decide to start a record label. Whether it be because they have the means to create and expand, because they want to share music, or just because they’re bored, there’s almost too many in our day and age, and quite frankly, it’s hard to keep track and take any of them seriously anymore.
However, when you think about legitimate dance music labels, run by legitimate guys who want nothing but to showcase new music, Fool’s Gold Records is hands down at the top of that list. Started in 2007 by Nick Catchdubs and DJ A-Trak here in New York City, Fool’s Gold has become one of the most coveted labels of up and coming producers. To be signed by FG or to play at one of their killer parties basically solidifies that you are in fact, one of the cool kids. And with over 5 million followers on Soundcloud, to be reposted by their account it is truly an internet honor.
I had the privilege of sitting down with the creator of it all, Mr. Nick Catchdubs, and I am excited to report that not only is he one of the most down to earth label heads I’ve chatted with, but also one of the most willing to speak about anything I asked. He and I sat at the 25-foot bar in our Jukely office, as he sipped on a little Starbucks coffee, and after telling me a horrible tale of his first experience with Coldbrew coffee unknowing of the fact it must be diluted, we got right into the interview. We chatted and chatted about what it’s like to run one of the dopest record labels in New York City, separating A&R and DJing, and the most organic way to get found in music.
Up-and-coming producers, take note.
What was the moment in which you decided you wanted to work in music, and is music the end all be all for you?
Well I think I always wanted to in some way or another. When I was a kid, I would be obsessed with MTV and I would buy records at Sam Goodie at the mall, and then that morphs into going to the section with the import records, and you know, it was cool knowing the tracks, pre-internet era. It’s like “I’m gunna save up and get that Nirvana single that nobody has heard of.” Also you know, reading magazines and finding bands that you had never heard of or see on MTV and really seeking that stuff out. Being the kid who knew the weird records to being the guy who MADE the weird records. But I wasn’t always trying to be a DJ. I had played in bands, and performance kind of music and when I graduated, I would go to DJ events, like when Diplo played and Mark Ronson was putting out his first couple records. They were playing rock songs and hip hop and weird dance all together and I thought “well those are all the things that i like, so i could do that” and connect all my interests and not have to worry like, ‘do I get along with the drummer, is the bass playing going to quit his job to do this…’ and in terms of the end of all be all I mean no, I have a lot of interests. Whether it’s art or writing. I would love to be involved in film and video stuff in a bigger way. When we do that stuff for Fools Gold I always think well this is cool I could see myself doing this, and being able to take the idea from a day dream to a finishing field. I don’t think DJing and being involved in a record label is end of chapter.
What records did you listen to when you were growing up?
Uhm, you know, when I grew up it was a very cool moment for alternative rock as well as hip hop at the same time. You had these phenomenal records…it’s funny, like all the records having their 20 year anniversaries are what I listened to when I was like ages eight through 11, and you remember hearing them for the first time, and it’s funny to read about something like Nas now. You’re a kid in New Jersey when you first listen and you don’t know his industry back story…you’re just like “this is cool awesome but slightly depressing song with the piano…” you dont know RZA used to be kinda cheesy in his pre Wu-Tang days…you just heard this record and it created a mysterious world. It was a cool time to be involved in that…and I love that I can still get that same feeling out of new music. If I hear a dope record, I’m excited about it. I wanna hear more. I wanna find out more, and so much stuff that you learn doing this shit behind the scenes, can kind of make people bitter and not excited, and it becomes your job. So I feel lucky that I still get excited when hear music.
So what kind of music makes you most excited?
I don’t know, I’m just attracted to stuff that feels good and different. I love things that pull from a couple different spaces at once. The cool thing with hip hop and electronic and sampling, you can take a piece and flip it and make something that didn’t exist before. The kids who do the showtime dances on the subway like ill tape it and try to find them on youtube, try to find stuff you cant find on iTunes. Like with Fools Gold, I like sharing things with other people.
Describe a day at the Fool’s Gold office.
The way the label is set up is interesting. A-Trak and myself are not in the office daily, me more than him because he travels so much, but I’ll head over there in the morning and start the day, do the stuff that has to be done, approve banner ads, and you know, the typical “this margin doesn’t work, move it.” We talk about things that are related to a project rolling out. We brainstorm a little bit of new stuff. And then I’ll go to my studio in Bushwick and work on my stuff.
But I still keep my turntables at the crib. It’s like theres something thats putting together a DJ set in a studio is kinda antiseptic, and it being in my space makes it a little more comfortable. Like my girlfriend will come home and I can bounce ideas off of her and be like “do u like this song?”
And the cool thing about the label is that we have an office space and a then retail store for the store front and the website shipping and fulfillment. It used to be all in one space. We used to do the store in the front and label in the back and it was very much a hub of activity, and really very cool until you couldn’t fit anyone anymore. My dream is to one day have a store and then the office space in the back, and then have the studio space somewhere within, because then I don’t have to go to another studio..and when guys are in town everyone can collaborate. I’ve seen people in other parts of the country do that. In LA everyone kinda collaborates, and in NYC everybody kind of goes in their little bubbles, its hard to randomly run into somebody in a session here. In Atlanta, someones in studio 1, someone else is recording in studio B, and you can go outside and another producer is smoking a joint on break from working with another guy in Studio 1. In New York its just, I don’t know, I guess it’s just the New York spirit. There’s a concrete feeling here, ‘I’m gunna blaze my path and fight the fact that its so fucking expensive.’ I mean, I’m always going to live here but it doesn’t mean you can’t learn from other places and try to implement some of that here.
So what is the most typical way you guys find new artists and new music to release?
I feel like the best stuff has always come from some kind of a personal connection. Whether it’s a friend you’ve known forever who’s like “by the way, I also make music” or a person you meet and you sort of get to know them. Like the Worlds Fair guys – I met them just as dudes you would see out at events. I would be DJing and I would see Nigel and he would be like “oh whatsup man you know, by the way I rap” without trying to give me the hard sell. I think a lot of guys are like “yo fam, fam, let’s build” and its very corny and it’s like being a used car salesman for music — its a huge turnoff. But the people who are very sincere, like “look, you do this, I do this…just letting you know.” Sometimes it might not necessarily be ‘let’s release your music on my label’ but like ‘hey i make music, let’s try to make music together.’ It doesn’t have to be for a Fools Gold or business thing, it’s because making music is fun. So you know, I feel like the personal connections are most in the spirit of what we do, there are people we email out of the blue just like ‘Yo, I heard your shit on Soundcloud it’s dope we wanna release it.’ There are people, very rarely, who send in demos or some other weird intermediary, who share our stuff with us. However, someone you get to know always feels stronger – just kind of keeps it in the spirit of what our label actually does.
I feel like when A-Trak and I started the label it was because there was music our friends were making that didn’t have a home. In 2007 you think about it and on the hip hop side of things dudes were still wearing big ass jeans and velour, and so the stuff we were doing people didn’t really understand it, and then on the dance side of things, there wasn’t ”EDM” it was every man for themselves. Music lived on blogs. That was just starting to pick up, but there wasn’t necessarily an American festival yet. Being into raving was like being into dungeons and dragons, so very niche. So if you had a record like that, who would you take it to? There wasn’t a cool American label. And the way a store like TTL (turn table lab) would have the best new rap record, and import dance song and then some cool markers and a cool teeshirt was so cool, and there’s a reason you like going to that store cause it’s well curated. So as Fools Gold as a label, we want to be as well curated as your favorite boutique or favorite store, and I think the big thing with us is we never made it feel like an exclusive club you cant be a part of. We have always made it be like “were calling you to come to our shit, were sounding the alarm for you to find out about this music”. I think a lot of people have this attitude of “this is for US.” It’s like, this isn’t Mean Girls, you cant sit with us. We’ve had song that have been a hit and crossed over, but we didn’t and don’t force it. We don’t pay a radio dude or pester him to play it, its all organic. We just made songs that resonated with people. We’re not sitting around being like “songs with “twerk” in them are really popular, you should get in the studio and write a song about twerking”. We’re not trying to introduce a new flavor of Oreo for the cookie market. We have a savvy mind for business, and try to tighten up the business structure of what we do, but from a creative standpoint, its the same as it ever was — *cue Talking Heads* “do you respond to this music emotionally, yes or no.”
A-Trak and I are the A&R engine of the label, and I might not be into a record that he’s into and well argue back and forth and he’ll say something like “well you don’t like this cause it’s trendy.” But like, no, not that, but this particular person just doesn’t do it for me, let’s find another guy in that zone who does.”
There is so much music both good and bad, so many super talented people, so many precise engineers, they’ll always know how to make this stuff and continue with is. There’s this vast world of people who are great but aren’t going to have that X factor to kind of take it over the top. So why waste time on someone who isn’t great, that also doesn’t have the X factor. There is so much music, period. Time is limited, so I wanna work on stuff that Im most excited about. So Fool’s Gold is like, well, let’s just try to have the best roster that we possibly can. I could give you 200 songs this month, but the 12 best from that.
Do you ever put a potential release in a mix of yours? Or do you keep DJing and A&R completely separate?
Well the type of records we release are the records I want to play. Testing stuff out to a degree is super helpful. Everything I do on a professional level of that is proving context. You know like, people can put out records on their own, I’m not a wizard, I don’t hit you with my wand and now all of a sudden you can release a record. Putting your stuff on Fools Gold is just putting your stuff out in a different context. I feel like we’re elevating these artists, you know, they were doing their thing solo and now you’re part of a team and an artistic family. Having that logo on your shit means something, because we’ve built this brand that means something. So, yeah, if I find somebodies music that I like, of course I’m going to start playing it out, immediately. But I think a big thing too, is having sort of an ear. There’s guys who have made great demos, and we can say “hey look, this is how you can turn a great demo into an AMAZING song, work on the mix this way, EQ these drums that way, let’s send it to a professional mastering engineer and get everything super tight.” Plus the artwork, and biographies, telling a story about this artist as opposed to just throwing a link out. Also, in terms of DJing and mixing, people respond to what they already know Being able to sneak in new artists next to these huge hits – this guy is worthy of going up against this album.
What has been your favorite Fool’s Gold release to date?
Awh man. This is going to sound kind of ridiculous, but I would say my favorite releases are my own records. I have two singles out now leading up to an album in January called Smoke Machine. Being involved in the label side of stuff ties into what I am as an artist but it’s also completely separate – there’s like a Clark Kent // Superman thing. So to see it from the artist side is super satisfying. Cause you get caught up in all the record label stuff so then you’re like “Actually, I make all this shit but I never put any of it out on my own label..let me change that.” And I’m a pretty chill person so it’s not like I’m there just scheming about my own music…but you wanna take pride in the shit you do. I wanted to hone my stuff in the studio to a point where I knew it sounded like me. You know, nobody is putting out this kind of sound that I really like, let me put it out.
How did Fool’s Gold Day Off come about?
We’ve done parties pretty regularly, when we celebrate the anniversary of the label we don’t celebrate around when the first record was put out, we celebrate when the first party was. Our first party in NY was CMJ in 2007. And that was right at the nexus of all this stuff happening. That party was their first taste of what this stuff was, and we wanted it to feel like a house party we wanted it to feel like it had an energy to it, a life to it. It had a really good energy, and from then on we would do showcases — you know SXSW, WMC, we just kind of realized there was a void in New York for a big summer blowout. And we didn’t want it to feel like a showcase per say, but kind of like a mini festival. And when we first did it, it was in the back parking lot of this country-rock venue in SoHo, but we took it over and put our stamp on it. Each year it grows and grows, and has been shut down from too many people…to a water front show that we now sell tickets to. We’ve built it into this mini tour festival and now its NYC, LA, Miami, Toronto, and now Atlanta for the first time this year. We enjoy working on the show and putting together a show — and figure out who and when plays in what cities. Cause we’re fans! We put together a show we wanna attend.
So then are you doing a different line up for different cities?
Yeah, definitely. Part of that is due to scheduling, but we try to incorporate a good mix of label artists, obviously A-Trak, myself and Danny Brown play each one, and we have a lot of different acts. But like yeah, if you’re in LA, fuck it – lets get Kurupt from Tha Dogg Pound let’s get Gladiator. They rep LA so hard. And for Atlanta, like Lex Luger and LOW PRO’s, they HAVE to be a part of this. OG MACO has our fave song, Makonnen has the shit that everybody is singing. Let’s let this [FG Day Off] be a time capsule of what summer 2014 is.
What is your favorite NYC concert venue?
Good question. I’ve seen and played so many good and bad parties, but I think from a purely musical perspective, I love seeing someone at Hammerstein Ballroom. It’s big but not too big, you can see everyone. Bowery Ballroom is good. My favorite New York venue – I used to do a party with DJ Ayres and Jubilee – and we took over a restaurant in Chinatown called 88 Palace and it was so “yo, you are not supposed to be here” and we lost money every time cause we had to rent the equipment, but the vibe was so dank and so fun. It was right before the big dance music shit took over. Like we could play a Crookers record at this party and it didn’t sound like a festival. It just sounded like a weird fucked up basement. They still do parties there, clearly not the same as how we did them, but it was a cool controlled chaos. So 88 Palace is my favorite, but a lot of fun places to DJ are in Brooklyn. Like Output’s cool cause you can see everyone on the split levels, and both Panther room and Main room are cool. I used to really love Studio B in Williamsburg, I like the stuff that’s a little more like “here’s a dark room to get lost in where shit can happen.”
Who is somebody up and coming in music you think we should keep our eyes and ears out for?
Hmmm, one of the coolest guys making beats and remixes right now is this dude TroyBoi from London. We signed his first EP and leaked a track on this Fools Gold compilation we put on BitTorrent, called “Draft Picks”. We signed his record then did a remix for Flosstradamus.
I actually really like these guys in London called PC Music. They’re sort of popular on a press and writer level, cause the music they make is inspired by video game shit, it sort of sounds like Pokemon adventure music. The way they twist vocals kind of has a robot R&B element. So rave sounds and Spice Girls sounds, it’s like a collage of different things. There’s something so cool about it, even in it’s cheesiest moments, they warp it and make it sounds really post-modern. They are doing very clever and quirky things. The only thing, is that none of it bangs, so I can’t DJ it, it’s a cool continuous buildup – but to me it’s extremely inspiring. And they have a cool visual element, they take bad computer graphics and make it their thing. They take that British Chav style, like a woman with a baby in McDonalds and a pink velour Juicy jumpsuit and make it CGI and it’s really cool and different.