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Label Lounge: Exploring Hummingbird by BPZ with Benjamin Philippe Zulauf

Benjamin Philippe Zulauf

Benjamin Philippe Zulauf is a house music producer and record label owner with a love of hardware, machinery, and analogue sounds. His deep and raw take on house music is often released via his own record label, Hummingbird by BPZ, and he recently dropped a new EP via the imprint titled In a Sea of Random Noise. You can grab your copy here:

We invited Benjamin Philippe Zulauf for this interview so we could learn more about his record label and new releases.

Thanks for joining us today. Where are you talking to us from, and what have you been up to over the last few weeks?

“Hi guys, thanks again for getting in touch. I am currently speaking to you from my work studio, where I usually split my time between producing music and running my label, to creating graphics and videos for my other occupation as a graphic designer. The past few weeks have more or less followed a similar pattern of balancing graphic with music work. I just completed a 3 track EP for a new label while creating digital, video and print designs for a TV media agency in London and for music event Fump in Bangkok, so my weeks tend to be varied and do keep me busy.”

Introduce your record label, Hummingbird by BPZ, and tell us about the influence and vision behind it.

“The label came about in 2010 when I was at my old studio in Switzerland with my old music partner Laurent Charbon, and we were discussing at the time about having more options for our music. I began contemplating on starting a new label so I could put out some records. The label name was spontaneous as we were bouncing a few ideas around and I wanted something easy to remember. I added the ‘by BPZ’ part because that name was used a bit already in songs and titles, it keeps it clear that it is associated to me.

The vision or concept back then was focused on my own output along with my work with Laurent, then to also look for new up-and-coming artists I liked as well as remixers, and as a platform for their releases. I have loosely followed this format for the last 14 years and it has worked out in some ways and it hasn’t in others. Releasing electronic music is subjective and so presents all kinds of new challenges which can alter your vision of your label as time goes on.”

What artists have released on the label, and what artists would you like to sign music from in future?

“I have been lucky to have been able to work with good artists who also became good friends over the years, this is not usually a common thing in some cases as it’s still business, careers and egos in this industry, so relationships tend to be professional and short term. That being said, I do need to mention the likes of Andrés Bucci, Simon Li, Laurent Charbon, Violett, Dean Dixon, Georgios Papamanoglou and Dan Noël, have been great close connections for me. Along with Doubtingthomas, Kindimmer, Andre Gardeja and Perseus Traxx who have all contributed incredible music to the label.

There are a lot of artists I would dream to sign to the label, a kind of wish list if you like. There are some amazing artists here in the UK, especially from Liverpool, I would jump at in a flash. Then there are the greats coming from Detroit and Chicago, a few heroes there personally for me, who knows what the future brings, maybe one day.”

Benjamin Philippe Zulauf

Tell us about the new release on your label, as we understand it’s an EP of your own music.

“My new release is my own and it is made up of three new tunes produced this year. Titled In a Sea of Noise, I wanted to reflect how I see the music industry at the moment and the enormous volume of music vying for all our attention, it is simply insane. As an artist, it just makes it feel impossible to reach anyone with the sheer amount of new material on offer weekly. It is quite annoying really, and I feel a lot of good stuff gets missed because of this.

My three tracks are influenced by the sounds from house and techno, they are deep and edgy, full of analogue sounds. I like to always incorporate my Rolands in my productions, so you will hear for sure the 303, 909 and 808 throughout, along with Moogs, Junos and plenty of saturation and distortion. I like warmth too in my sounds, so pads and chords are often in my music. Feedback has been great on these three, they are for the dance floor and function well I believe.”

What do you look for when curating releases for your label?

“I like to create a visual or a story behind the release. It doesn’t need to be super deep or poetic, but just a connection to either a track or perhaps to the artist. The EP or LP name could be that link, then that can be followed with the artwork design which brings it all together. I think it is important to have this relationship with the artist and their musical works, even if it’s as simple as naming it after their goldfish or something, it becomes a point of reference for us and something to remember later.

Naturally in the curating it is all about the music itself, the style, the vibe, these character points make the song. Quality and skill are also important and it needs to be of a certain level of production. When I like a track, I like it as it is and how it comes, I don’t like to interfere with someone else’s idea, I won’t start making demands to amend this or that for example, if I sign a song it is because I like it as it is, end of.

I also take the same stance for a remix, I leave it to the remixer to do their work, I trust in who I ask to do a remix and do my homework before hand so I know what level of quality they have, this approach has worked well for me so far and as an artist I would expect the same thing for me, you trust in what I do and I will deliver it for you.”

What release on your label has had the most significant impact and why?

“There are a few tracks and some EPs that have had significant impacts in different ways, be it from media feedback or other DJ reactions that have been positive. From the disco remix by Akufen, to the bassline in Mike Shannon’s mix, or Someone Else’s mix definitely turned heads. Signing Yaya and helped put the label on the map for a lot of people, the remix from Jamie Lloyd and Dean Dixon was special as well. Doubtingthomas’ work has been epic. Inkipak, Kindimmer and André Gardeja more recently, all very talented producers. Livis First Dance :)

Over the years, my own productions have evolved as well and get good feedback now which was always a big goal of mine to achieve with my label. Personally, any projects with my friends have been significant, from working with Laurent Charbon, Dan Noël, Andrés Bucci and Georgios Papamanoglou to Simon Li and Violett. We even completed a few label events together which have become very special moments for me.”

What other labels are you currently enjoying and why?

“At the moment, I find myself diving into a lot of older labels and artists that have been around for a good while. I also listen to a lot of new material too, but mainly I find inspiration in classic tracks that have a timeless sound. I just prefer a lot of the older tracks, as anything made with the classic drum machines and sampler is gold to me. I have spent hours going through entire catalogues, checking every track from specific producers or record labels. DJ Duke was a recent educational dive, but if you want more recent references, then I would say Decius Trax, Kyle Hall, Paranoid London, L.A. Williams, Tai Davis, Il Bosco, Mark Forshaw, Deep Series, TR One, Stu Spandex, John Heckle, Kindimmer, Fourier Transform, Inkipak, Client_03, Perseus Traxx, We’re Going Deep, and Placid. I’ve mentioned a few more artists here than labels, but all are currently releasing or making music at the moment.

What I like with all the aforementioned is the simplicity of their style, because they make analogue sounds that I absolutely admire, and wish I could make something close to the quality of what they do. There is a ton of music being made, but not a lot of it gets my attention, as I can be pretty picky with what I like. Those artists and labels really do the business for me, and I recommend anyone looking for serious cuts to look them up.”

What is your favourite track ever released on the label and why?

“Ah this one is a little impossible for me to answer really, I like all my label’s output, but I guess you really want an answer for this, so I will try at least to give you one. The EPs and LPs from Andrés Bucci have been special to me, he is such a talented producer and very much underappreciated, but he’s stayed strong to his sounds and is constantly evolving and exploring, I call what he does art.

My LP that I made under an alias Fork-Tailed Woodnymph (a species of hummingbird by the way) is also a favourite simply because I really allowed myself to explore and try very different ideas with my own music, something I had wanted to do for ages but never really found the time to do it, so I was glad I did and the results were liberating, I will do more of this soon that is assured. A recent track I made called “Honkytonks” also got a lot of attention and the feedback was insane, a lot of my heroes reacted so that was very special for me.”

Benjamin Philippe Zulauf

What characteristics make a good label boss?

“Insanity, perseverance and a strong distain for money… I think that covers it really. If you want to start an independent label then you are pretty crazy and very optimistic to do it in this current climate. I think the best times were in the past, as the days of shifting large volumes of sales is done. Digital doesn’t seem to have replaced the revenue from vinyl, and now with the streaming format, it seems to have all gone to shit in my opinion.

It just feels kind of wrong to me to be placing my music on a tech companies streaming platform so people can access it almost for free instead of getting a copy from a record shop. Say what you want, but I feel like something has really been lost here, and it will never really go back to those better days. If your goal is making it onto playlists for a streaming site… OK, but maybe have another think about it, as the revenue is near non-existent.

My label remains a platform to release my own material and that of others who I trust and want to work with. If you are starting a label, then I would say this style of approach is a good one to follow. Patience is imperative, as this business will test you a lot. I would advise trying to save a bit of cash flow before launching, as this gives a buffer to cover any mistakes, and unforeseen costs can often mount up very quickly. Find a good distributor… this is vital, but that can be like searching for gold under a rainbow. If you are lucky enough to find good distribution, then this will improve your chances to do well.

I would also say it’s important to be strict on your music policy, and whatever your style is, don’t cut corners or compromise. You can say “no,” and it’s OK to move on. At the end of the day, it’s your own finances at risk, so don’t be rash, do your research, and always ask for advice.”

What advice do you have for other potential label bosses and aspiring artists?

“For potential label bosses, well you can read the previous answer for insight but I would advise on planning, no rushing, good accounting, strong selection of music, don’t be shy to ask questions and be ready for f ups because there will be plenty. The music industry can be brutal and will leave no prisoners if you are ignorant, so watch your relationships and look to work with trustworthy partners, as much as it professes to be a professional industry there is a lot of very unprofessional behaviour within it, so be warned.

For artists, do the work, do the time… don’t expect it to come easy and on a plate for you, don’t go looking for that. Earn your way, the hard way, and put in the hours. Find the sound that means the most to you and consume it, learn all that there is on it and then make it your own. Explore, experiment and push the bar further with each session, don’t compromise and don’t cut corners, you can’t hide once it’s out there so don’t cheat yourself. It is a process, it can be love hate too and you will constantly battle yourself over small details but there’s the method in the madness, this is why there ain’t anything else like it, so enjoy the journey… and one last thing, not everything is up for release, so don’t worry about it, move on to the next idea.”

Lastly, what can we expect from your label in the coming months?

“I have many projects on at the moment and a few new directions I would to take such as an ambient album. I am always working and buying new tools for my studio so the researching process is never paused, but I will also take a step back and keep my eye on where this music industry game is going. I am curious and concerned with how AI will impact it with copy clones and instant made music, it does not fill me with a lot of optimism. In a few years time the whole scene could look very different to what we know and probably become very hard for a label or artist to achieve anything within it, let’s hope it doesn’t simply become redundant.

I definitely don’t fancy seeing my musical work as background music to a Tik Tok clip or as filler sound for a playlist in an elevator, that kinda just puts a nail in it for me. But stay tuned, there will be more from myself and the label, updates are always on our socials. Appreciate the interview, it was fun to do and also insightful, hopefully some of my points were helpful.”

Benjamin Philippe Zulauf


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