Uniform Group and Their Ascension From Holodeck Records
Thanks to a certain Netflix show and the hype that followed, Holodeck Records built a name for itself on the backs of artists like S U R V I V E, Marie Davidson, Symbol, Ssleeperhold and more. Within the world of experimental and abstract electronic music, Holodeck has slowly curated themselves to the top of the food chain. Formed by This Will Destroy You member Christopher King, occasional TWDY violist Jonathan Slade and Adam Jones of S U R V I V E, Holodeck was dealt a blow following King and Slade's exit to start another label, Uniform Group.
But why would Slade and King leave a nationally recognized and highly successful label in order to start from scratch? Their goals with Uniform Group were the focus of our recent discussion, the details of which are below.
How did you guys arrive at the split, and what was the story behind it? What are the reasons behind stepping away from Holodeck?
Jonathan Slade: We were originally talking about this in the context of reviving Light Lodge, the label that Chris did quite a few years ago. His first release was in 2009. Those conversations eventually led to discussions about working on a new label together. Chris and I have spent a lot of time on the road together touring as our solo projects, and I have also been playing strings with This Will Destroy You from time to time. Ultimately, I think we both wanted to do different things sonically. Chris released the first Pure X singles back in the day, and I was on tour with the band long ago in 2013, so we were both very familiar with Jesse [Jenkins]’ previous work — I even played strings on Pure X’s last album, Angel. Jesse is a really good friend of both of ours, so his debut release was something Chris and I were really interested in. It, and some other things we have planned, fit into a different context, I think. We wanted to work on projects that we had a personal inclination towards, and felt like a different outlook was necessary to do so.
Christopher King: My involvement was as a silent partner. My interests began diverging from where the label was headed, and I think that’s what started stirring ideas around of trying to start something new.
Considering the manifesto of Uniform Group, is it more about releases that you believe in, as opposed to a singular aesthetic, which is kind of what Holodeck was cultivating a little bit? There was a broad range, but it was within a lane.
JS: Certainly, with Uniform Group we are focusing on releases that we believe in, regardless of genre or categorization. All the stuff we already have planned is pretty all over the place. Some of it is very experimental, while some, like Jesse’s debut, is way more rooted in a pop realm.
CK: There are so many great labels that are doing something very specific, but that felt very limiting to me and cemented my inclination to try something new. I wanted to expand on ideas and not be limited in any way.
Understood. What do you think are some of the strongest lessons that you’ve learned in the wake of Holodeck and the creation of Uniform Group?
JS: Quite a few. There have been no small amount of lessons. I can boil it down to at least one huge lesson: the importance of being able to dis-identify from your work or business, and by that I mean detaching oneself enough from an entity that you are involved with so that you can look at it more objectively. The things that you are doing are not you. This is not exclusive to Holodeck, any label, or any business in particular; it’s a very common thing, and a lot of psychological identification happens within all these processes. It can really muddy the waters as far as what one's goals are, what one is doing and why. That dis-identification has been a huge thing for me. You have to keep learning, too — that’s a huge lesson.
Maybe this is just lost on me, but everything that you are saying screams “diversity,” and yet the name of the new label includes “uniform,” which, in a lot of ways, means within a single structure.
JS: That’s a good question, because it only revealed itself over time that we were actually not doing anything that was uniform at all. We originally started talking about wanting to make a ... we just really loved dystopia, works that exist in that realm. And the idea of having a kind of “faceless, evil corporation” look and feel appealed to both of us. I don’t know where the inspiration for the label’s name came from; I don’t even know how conscious it was. Disappointing answer, but it’s been very organic. At some point, that name came up and we were like, “That sounds cool; I like that,” and went from there.
So, you think it's more about being ironic with the name, and in a lot of ways you guys are striving to be the exact opposite?
CK: I think from an aesthetic perspective, I was enjoying the idea of having a hyper-contrast between the visual aesthetic of the label while being very direct; all of the imagery is black and white, and it looks like propaganda. I enjoy the disparity without it being too tongue-in-cheek, but I also like it being a little heady, and there’s a very stark contrast within that.
As bands go more and more independent, what do you think is the importance of a label in 2017? Outside of essentially being a bank.
CK: There’s this collective consciousness of wanting to keep this art form alive because it is getting more difficult. It is a challenge, but it’s also a welcome challenge. I think there’s a will to keep this beautiful medium going still, while trying to just put our own mark on it. It’s not necessarily going to get easier. I do feel like there is an importance to maintaining a standard, and it's not something we wouldn’t do if we didn’t enjoy the process and all the things that encompass creating something like this from the ground up.
You guys have had some pretty big successes with Holodeck. Do you see yourselves working with any of those bands in the future or is Uniform Group a clean slate?
JS: It’s definitely possible. We have already talked to some artists that have been involved with the label.
What’s going on with each of your individual musical projects?
JS: That’s a great question. I wonder myself sometimes. Silent Land Time Machine is slowly recording a record that is primarily focused on impermanence and death, and it’s going to feature a lot of piano, cello and viola. That’s what I’ve been working on for a while, so ... it’s slow progress, but progress nonetheless. I’m playing some shows here and there, maybe more toward the end of the year.
CK: This Will Destroy You just did a large tour with Deafheaven. Symbol has several releases coming out in the next year. I’m doing an 8-inch record, which is unusual, but I’m pretty into it. Then I have another release in the fall, so several things on the horizon on my end. I’m constantly working on music.
Are you guys going to keep your personal releases off the label? Has that been discussed?
JS: I don’t know. That’s a good question. We certainly haven't prioritized our own work in the scope of Uniform Group. Self-promotion is very low on the priority scale. I’m definitely really excited, and it feels profoundly nice to be excited about doing a label again. I took a pretty sizable step back from everything, even my relationship to music. It was something where I was really asking myself why is it that I’m doing this, and who am I doing it for? All of those things came to mind. After a lot of reflecting, time and learning, it feels like we had — and have — a lot of space to move within this effort. The intentionality is there, so I’m really excited about that.
CK: I’m excited as well! I’ve been taking a step back from being involved in label work for a long time. It was very affirming wanting to proceed with this label. Another advantage is that I am in in Los Angeles now, and Jon is back in Austin. It widens the territory gap and makes this endeavor less provincial, in a good way.