Name: Damian Harris aka Midfield General
Nationality: British / European
Occupation: Musician / Bon Viveur / Founder of Skint Records
Current Release: Reach Out (Crooked Man Remixes)
Recommendation: Van Morrison - You Don’t Pull No Punches But You Don’t Push The River. Last year I had a big Van Morrison epiphany and thanks to Spotify I have been able to go through his stunning back catalogue. This record from his album Veedon Fleece is just immense and I’m very glad to have it in my life / Excession - Iain M Banks. I am a huge fan of the author Iain Banks. Sadly, he died 5 years ago but left us a series of science fiction novels about the Culture, a highly advanced post-scarcity civilisation that pursues equality, education, hedonism and doing the right thing. Despite all this they still need to play dirty occasionally.
When did you start with your own label - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started the label in 1995. My older brothers were really into music, they had a punk band called The Ignerants and put out their own records. So, I was always surrounded by music & records. It was The Clash that led me to early New York funk, hip-hop and graffiti art. I was 11/12 years old and at that age you are really open to new things - it was so exciting that it became a life-long obsession.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as a label curator and the transition towards your own approach? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Both Skint and my own music as Midfield General were heavily inspired by other artists & labels. J Saul Kane, Mantronix, Public Enemy, Andrew Weatherall, Mo’ Wax, Boys Own, Kevin Saunderson, MK, Beastie Boys and many more. When I first got into a studio all of those were there in the room with me! It takes time to build your skills before you can build your identity. I still cringe when I hear one of my first ever remixes, it was a bad copy of The Chemical Brothers, but it got me started and taught me a big lesson about originality and from that moment on I always tried to bring something new to the party.
What were your main label-related challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, it’s all about surviving while establishing your name at the same time. I was lucky to have a business partner who looked after the money and stopped me from spending too much. As for the music… after we had released our first few records, producers could see that we were doing something different and as a result we got sent lots of great music to put out.
So that was good for the beginning of the label - once you’re established and successful it’s all about staying ahead of the game. That’s much more difficult, as suddenly everyone is watching but as long as you stick to your original ideals & motives then you should be ok.
How do you see the role of labels in the creative process? What is the scope and what are the limitations of what you are capable of doing?
The label acts as a filter between the artist and the public. It was my job to make sure everything was in place to take that demo tape to the finished record. It changes from artist to artist, some producers can deliver the finished article and you don’t need to do anything other than make a cool video perhaps. Others need more help, improving the sound, suggesting small changes of directions. We were never a label that would ‘manufacture’ artists - it was always a collaboration between artist & label. Sometimes it worked - occasionally it didn’t!
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the buyers, your own demands in terms of quality?
All of them! Ultimately, if you can say to yourself - I love this record and I’m happy to put my name to it - whether it appeals to 500 people or 5 million, then that should be enough.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect labels in general and your own take on running a label in particular? What role do social media play for your approach?
It’s all part of ‘the game’ - everyone has to play it to some extent, if you are releasing underground techno or launching a pop career. The PR game has changed immensely in its form but it’s function remains the same - it’s still all about getting people to hear your music.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Skint started in 1995 when analogue was still king - we ran parallel with the digital revolution and the effect was enormous. Machines have made it much easier to copy and recreate art but originality is still the most important element in whatever you make.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, including the artists on your label?
Collaboration is essential to the creative process - it’s easy now, especially with the technology available to us, to think you can do it all yourself… and some people can, some people have genius running through them, but it is rare. For us mere mortals it is important to have someone that you trust and will listen & communicate with you honestly. When you find that person - hold on to them!