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Essential Listening: Soma Records

Essential Listening: Soma Records

In terms of supporting and driving forward the British dance music scene, Soma Records are one of the pivotal record labels to have come out of the UK. Headed up by Scottish techno duo Slam, the label has been pushing dance music in new directions for the best part of its 25 year existence. Ahead of Abstruse bringing Slam to Mint Club this coming Easter Thursday, Josh Plews puts Soma under the microscope and picks out some of their foremost releases along the way. 

The spread of British dance music can arguably be pinned down to a small number of cities throughout the UK, with select individuals in each of these places being more specifically to blame for the genres growth and its high quality output. Although there are a few cities in England that fall under this banner, there is only one particular destination in Scotland that springs to mind when we travel north of the border, that being Glasgow.

Home to Sub Club and The Arches, two nightclubs that play very important parts in the history of Glasgow’s nightlife, the city could very well be described as the home of techno in Scotland, perhaps even the UK. This is largely down to two individuals, known on the international DJing circuit as Slam, and their co-founded record label that reaches its 25th Anniversary this year, Soma.

Abstruse x slam cover photo

The Beginnings Of Slam and Pressure
Formed during the back end of the 1980’s, Slam is the partnership between the DJs and producers Stuart MacMillan and Orde Meikle, from Glasgow and Oxford respectively. The first home for the duo was the back alley night spot Tin Pan Alley on Mitchell Street, which, along with Sub Club, was the only space where you could hear new dance music from Detroit, Chicago and around the UK played in the city during the late 80s. Slam moved to Sub Club a few years later, shortly after which they were scouted for a countrywide tour, which ultimately led to Slam’s residency at T In The Park, where still to this day their eponymously hosted dance tent is a highlight of the festival.

In 1992, one year after the club opened and one year after Slam launched their record label, the pair moved their club night to The Arches, having been the flagship event at the club up until their departure in 2014. Starting out as ‘Slam at The Arches’, the party saw performances from Underworld and more famously Daft Punk during its early years, whose first UK appearance was here in 1997. In 1998, the party was rebranded as ‘Pressure’ and took place every month. Since then, the legendary party has welcomed a who’s who of house and techno, with the club entering the history books for putting Glasgow on the dance music map on an international scale.

The Launch of Soma Quality Recordings
In 1991, which was the same year Slam’s spiritual home opened its doors; Stu and Orde launched the Soma Quality Record label with Dave Clarke, who would act as the label manager right through to today. With Soma’s first release Eterna, the label quickly resonated with the British dance population and has only got stronger through the many releases it has coined up unto today. The first release saw the three co-founders labelling the middle of records themselves to send to shops. At that time, it may not have crossed their minds that the imprint would become one of the most important record labels in British dance history.

With the second of their singles however, which is around the 10th on the label altogether, Soma rocketed to being the hottest property in the genre. The single in question, Positive Education, is an undisputable classic and brought Slam and Soma to the eyes and ears of DJs the world over, also in the words of label manager Dave Clarke “travelled around the world before we did”. Selling over 30,000 copies on vinyl and even reaching the number 44 spot in the UK Chart, it was a spark that was noticed globally.

The Growth Of Soma
The release of Positive Education attracted attention from two young Parisians who would eventually play during the early days of Slam at The Arches, those two individuals being Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, also known as Daft Punk. Daft Punk’s meeting with Soma however brought something even bigger, that being their ‘97 single Da Funk, which was the duo’s second release on Soma Quality. Following this, with the help of a few other promoters from around the UK including Back To Basics’ lynchpin Dave Beer, who also spotted Guy and Thomas’ talents, the duo went major and, well, you know the rest.

Throughout the early years of Soma Records, the likes of Otaku, Sidetrax, Funk D’Void, Liebzeit and Ewan Pearson released singles on the imprint, building on the strong roster of mainly British, but also international music producers. As years progressed the roster became more diverse, with other seminal releases being brought out such as Funk D’Void’s Diabla and of course Daft Punk’s classic LP Homework, which although coined by Soma, saw Daft Punk leave the label to sign to Virgin.

Soma-ny Good Tunes
Parliament Funkadelic, Scott Grooves, Gene Farris, Silicone Soul, Slam’s second alias Pressure Funk, UNKLE, H-Foundation and Alex Smoke all released music on Soma throughout its first 10 years as a record label, with the roster really beginning to expand after here as it became one of the most sought after labels in the industry, which is remains today. Recent releases have come from producers of the ilk of Gemini Voice Archive, Rebekah, Ilario Alicante, Dax J and Clouds, however Slam’s EPs on Soma are still mounting up too, with their most recent being the Parallel Phase EP that landed in February.

Furthering Efforts
Looking elsewhere, Soma has become a lot more than just a platform for music in recent years with so many different things now coming from the imprint. Soma TV streams live performances; Slam Radio keeps people up to date with releases and showcases exciting new talent. There is now a Soma Skool, which provides music production courses and the label also endorses a mastering company. There is even a limited edition Soma branded Rum called ‘Rum & Techno’.

Although the party left The Arches last year, Pressure is still going strong at SWG3 and their former home of Sub Club, nearing the 25th anniversary there, with Len Faki, Karenn, Matt Dear and Karotte appearing over Easter. As Soma turns 25 this year, there are a number of dates up and down the country celebrating the quarter of a century spanning life of one of the most important labels in British dance music, including a three house performance from Slam at Mint Club in Leeds on Easter Thursday.

Abstruse Leeds bring Slam to Mint Club on Easter Thursday (24th March) for a 3 hour set with support from Alter's Amnist and Abstruse residents Bhrisc and Commonplace. Tickets are on sale now.

Words by Josh Plews
Photos courtesy of Soma Records & Abstruse Leeds

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Essential Listening: Soma Records

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