Keeping true and parallel to the musical vision of Vested as a Chicago-based music and event brand, Vested Recordings is the home of a range of forward-thinking electronic music sounds, ranging from deep to tech-house to progressive to techno to house, with the common thread being the timeless low-end prime-mover groove that proper progressive house has always championed.
Vested’s second outing offers a compelling contrast to the label’s first release, a two track EP by 17 year-old German “wonderkid” Emod that fuses techno grooves and percussion garnished with progressive house melodic elements and textures. Inspiring creative elements give each of the two tracks their own distinct themes and moods, and are great selections to play during a music-forward peak hour DJ set. The title track, “Videogame Warfare”, features clever use of NES videogame samples giving the track a retro flavor with killer energy, while “Ablaze” features a higher tempo and sounds reminiscent in tribute of classic techno, while both compelling the listener’s attention with a cutting edge sound of “now”.
Enjoy a premiere of the full EP and read on for an in-depth interview with DJ, producer, party curator and Vested label founder RJ Pickens.
Hi RJ, congrats on the second release on your label! Can you tell us a little about how you discovered Emod?
Thank you. Even though the first release was several months ago, I feel like this time has flown by, as I’ve been putting work in on this imprint everyday, in a variety of different efforts, and now have some great stuff in the pipeline. I came across Emod’s work through an open submission. Vested Recordings is set up under the Proton label umbrella, and they have a submission portal set up, which they then send all the submissions to all the labels under them to put labels in touch with those artists who submitted, should there be a good fit. I was cruising through the weekly promo reel, came across a pair of nice tunes from Emod, I got in touch and checked out more of his work, started an open ended channel of communication, and the rest kinda of it kinda wrote itself, so to speak.
What about the two tracks in the EP convinced you they were right for Vested?
Well, it was the combination of a serendipitous situation and great timing, to be honest. The label has a defined spectrum of sound, ranging from deeper sounds, tech house, house, techno, and proper progressive house, with the low-end drive and peppered-in melodies commonplace to proper progressive house being the common thread in everything featured. The first release was a lovely melodic and vocal piece that took a bit more of the grooving deep progressive avenue, and I wanted the second release to be a bit contrasting in sound to the first one. These two tracks are a great fusion of techno and progressive sounds, and the intersection of those sounds is currently a pretty happy musical place for me, as a label head, producer, and DJ. The release, on the whole, features driving single note tech-inspired basslines with progressive-inspired melodies tastefully layered in. I also thought there was a really creative direction to the release, as well. Emod described his tracks well, and I’ll summarize what he said. The title track, “Videogame Warfare”, features the crafty use of video game samples and has a killer energy to it. The accompanying track, “Ablaze”, tips its hat to the techno of yesteryear, with a higher tempo and sounds reminiscent to those in tracks from the early to mid 2000’s.
I came across these tunes earlier this year at just the right time, as I was looking for a sound very much like this to showcase for release number two — and after getting to know Emod and getting inside his head a bit, I went with my gut feeling to give him and his sounds a proper showcase with this release, and I feel great about it.
Tell us a little about Emod, we hear he is quite the wonderkid!
(laughs) “Wonderkid” is kind of an appropriate term here, actually. Emod, or Domenic Heyer, as he’s known in his day-to-day, is a smart and forward-thinking German music producer, and at the impressive young age of 17, is cranking out music in a caliber and quality that rivals that of some veteran producers. He’s got a classical music background, and took an interest in producing electronic music several years ago. He started by getting into producing trance sounds — which I can relate to, as an earlier part of my own musical path was heavily influenced by guys such as Paul van Dyk, Chicane, System F (Ferry Corsten0, and the likes — and he’s started evolving into making a variety of different stuff. I’ve heard tracks of his, besides this techno infused release, where he’s made compelling stuff in the realm of drum and bass, progressive house, and tasteful trance as well, so this youngster is clearly no one-trick pony. He takes inspiration from some really great producers in a wide variety of dance music sub-genres, that I’d really not expect to be on the radar for someone his age, and it’s exciting to see someone as developed as he is at a young age, with so much time on his side. It’s been really interesting working with him throughout this process, and it’s been great to share some of my industry knowledge with him, as it’s quite rewarding to pay it forward and help him, and others, as I’ve been helped in the past. Bottom line, he’s a talented music producer, he’s only going to get better over time, and you’ll quite likely be seeing more of him in the future in a prominent light, on both Vested Recordings and beyond.
You’ve been in the industry for quite a while as a DJ, producer and party curator but your work as label-head is pretty recent. How has it been going so far?
It’s been an extension of the work I’ve done in other areas in some ways, and it’s been a whole new animal in others. I’m trying my best to keep all my music and event avenues (curated club events, radio show, independent DJ gigs, production projects) parallel in sound and purpose. I’m also trying to be a bit choosy with what I’m releasing on the label. Less is more to me (in a quality over quantity sense), and I want it to be an engaging experience for people to click through the label’s release catalog. This will come with time, given my quality-over-quantity approach to all of this, but I’m in this for the long haul. It’s been challenging at times, for sure, but it’s a journey and not a destination, and I’m embracing all parts of this path I’m on.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced and how have you been overcoming them?
I’ve been really fortunate in being networked-in with some awesome people in the industry, ranging from artists to agents to managers, and many of whom I can call friends after all these years. When I’ve had questions or needed pointers regarding anything music or label related, it’s been possible for me to get real answers from individuals who’s opinions I respect. Having knowledgable people to consult in times of uncertainty and challenge has been a game-changer for me in this regard. Self-admittedly though, one of my biggest challenges, and perhaps my biggest challenge, has been that of balance. It would be a lot more easy to execute things more efficiently when it comes to the label if I were wearing one hat, and one hat alone — label manager. However, I don’t work like that. I like to have my hands in many different cookie jars, as I often like calling it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The biggest challenge I’ve had is to accept that fact that I can’t do it all myself, and that it’s ok to ask other people for help. In fact, that’s the only way this endeavor is going to have any real longevity.
Can you tell us some of the most rewarding parts of running a label?
There’s a few things that make me happy about this whole process. For starters, running a label gives you the opportunity to curate the musical agenda that you want to push to the world. You don’t have to answer to anyone — you can release what you want, whether it be your own work, or the work of others. Now, whether your content is good or bad is up to the listener to decide, but there’s a certain freedom that comes with being the one curating the roster of releases. It’s also a great way to network and ultimately work with artists who’s work you know and respect, and and to also showcase the work of up and coming artists who’s efforts you feel deserve to be shared. This label is very much a reflection of me and my personal tastes in dance music, and being able to carve my own humble little path in this industry that I love is probably the most rewarding part of it all for me.
Any tips for readers who may be thinking of starting their own first imprint? Any lessons you’ve learned so far?
Well, there’s right and wrong things to do in establishing a music imprint, but there’s no real written law in how you need to go about doing it. Some folks might want to hit the ground running and learn it all as they go through trial and error, while others may take a more slow and calculated approach. Go about it however you like, but if I were to give aspiring label owners one word of advice, it’s to give some thought and planning as to why you want to start your label, and don’t lose sight of that. No matter what your motivation is for it (releasing your own music on your own terms, showcasing a spectrum of music you believe in, an outlet for artistic release for talented artists you know, or even just to impress girls), know that if you’re gonna do it right, it’s gonna be a lot of work for little to no financial gain for at least the first year (and possibly forever, due to the digital nature of music shared freely on the internet now). Make sure you’re ready to undertake a labor of love.
Now that you have a second release under your belt, do you feel like your objectives for Vested have stayed the same as when you started or have they changed?
My goals have essentially stayed the same, but in many ways have evolved into more complex versions of their former selves, I guess you could say. The more work I’ve done and and further along I’ve gotten with things, the more ideas I’ve gotten to grow things in new and exciting ways that enhance and stay parallel to the vision for the label that I suppose I’ve had all along.
What is your ultimate goal with this project?
As I mentioned, this label, and brand in general, is a reflection of me and the spectrum of electronic music that I feel compelled to showcase, so bear that in mind when reading this response. Also note that it would be impossible as I have no interest in trying to showcase all sub-genres of electronic music equally here. It’s an impossible task. However, the term “Vested”, by definition, is an adjective that means “to hold completely, permanently, and inalienably”. I have an unwavering, vested, interest in showcasing the proper, forward-thinking dance music that moves me, and aspire to have this brand be one day synonymous with intelligent dance music of the highest tier of quality, inclusive of established high-profile artists and budding up-and-coming artists alike. Granted, not everyone’s taste in music is going to be the same, but the concept behind this event brand and record label is about holding ourselves accountable with an intention to want better music in our lives.
There was an existing electronic music scene in the US dating back to the birth of house music here in my hometown of Chicago, but we never experienced the kind of growth in the scene stateside like we did in the last 10 years. The “EDM boom” in North America years back was great for the scene, in terms of creating droves of new dance music fans, but the downside was that it provided the masses with music that I, and many others, view as the lowest common denominator. There’s really only 3 possible outcomes with dance music fans that came into this scene during this boom.
1: The first group of people will see it as a fad, or as a phase in their life, and they’ll grow out of it. These are the people that likely fist-pumped to cheesy festival main-stage garbage after spending years making fun of people for liking “techno”, and then embracing it all fully while in the midst of it because it’s the “popular thing” happening culturally, and then finally will move onto something else after this all loses its initial sparkle to them. I say “sayonara” to these people — they should keep moving on to whatever the next “thing” is for them. I’m not in it for these people.
2: The second group of people are music fans who get into whatever entry-level music they get into first, but who’s musical tastes never evolve further than the realm of music they were first introduced to. These people often find it easier to remain comfortable in their musical bubble and ignorant other stuff out there that they might like. Or maybe they just have terrible taste in music. I’m a little torn sometimes with this group of people, since I, and many others, might feel the need to try and help them expand their musical horizons. However, people who don’t want see anything new will never feel the need remove their blinders; and likewise, sometimes you just can’t teach good taste. There will always be people out there that like bad music, and if that makes them happy, then I’m fine just letting them be. I realize that sounds elitist and somewhat arrogant, but not everyone is going to be willing to give your agenda a chance. While I will try and extend an olive branch to someone like that, and if they come around after a while, that’s great — but I’m not in this for people like that either.
3: I’m in it for the people that find that proper dance music brings happiness to their lives. These people can be longtime fans, like myself, who have been spoiled with amazing electronic music for many years, or these can also be people that have only been participating in the electronic music sphere for a much shorter time, but now realize that they want a more evolved and intelligent sound. For the benefit of the people that have been involved in this scene a much shorter time, I strongly and passionately feel that it is the more-seasoned fan’s responsibility to be inclusive and help show some of these newer music fans the way. This music scene, as a whole, was founded on love, unity, and community, and in order to keep the community alive for the decades to come, it’s our responsibility to nurture and facilitate the continual growth of it. That means being inclusive, accepting, and welcoming.
That all being said, I invite dance music fans and artists to join my cause — in a vested love for music, friendships, and a celebration of life — because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s really all about.
We imagine young up-and-coming producers may be reading this and listening to Emod’s EP right now… what should they do if they feel Vested may be the right label for their productions? Do you accept demos?
I will always try my best to give submissions a listen — especially if someone has done their homework on me and what my agenda is for the label, and goes out of their way to send their music to me because they feel it would be a good fit. If someone has gone through all the trouble of making it this far through reading my chatty little interview here, and connects with what I have presented here, they can feel free to send a submission to email@example.com. Please no file attachments in the email. Instead, I kindly ask that they include a private SoundCloud link for streaming, and a little introduction to who they are in the body of the email, along with a description of their work and why they chose to submit it. I like getting into the minds of creative people, and this is a great first step to that kind of conversation.
What do you look for in a track when deciding whether Vested is the right home for them?
There’s no set formula I go by, but I definitely weigh things such as production quality, arrangements, flow, creative ideas, and little things that set a good dance tune apart from the rest of the pack. I usually will have a gut feeling right away about whether or not there’s a potential fit, and that’s usually what I will go by. Conversely, if I listen to something and feel like it’s just a copy of something else that’s the flavor of the month, I’ll pass on it right away. I challenge artists to do the same thing that I’d ask of myself or anyone else: DO GREAT WORK!
Any plans of hosting more label nights in the coming months?
There’s a few Vested nights happening in the coming months here in Chicago.
Fri, June 16th, a lovely and intimate boat party with our friend Martin Roth
Sat, June 24th, Primary: Oliver Giacomotto, and possibly with a surprise special guest TBA!
Fri, July 21st, Spybar: Eeelke Kleijn
Hope to see peeps out and any and all, and invite you to follow me or the label pages on social media to keep up with stuff in the future!
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