Azuli – in case you didn't already know – is the world renowned Dance music label that was ultimately credited with the growth of House music in the UK over 15 years ago. Azuli built a sound reputation for presenting quality House music with every release, its events were over attended and they became a formidable force in Ibiza, hosting Fridays at Space and their infamous secret beach parties. It remains to this day one of the longest running dance music label in the UK.
Behind most successful labels is a pioneering leader and in Azuli’s case this position was filled by Dave Piccioni. He was the man who set up the infamous Black Market Records in Soho; a place that could be likened to the ’Beatport’ of its time, where all the world’s biggest DJs and dance music fans would congregate to get the hottest new releases.
We caught up with the renowned label boss to find out about what makes a track worthy of his attention, why he's being forced to take a break from DJing, and how he went about compiling the latest Azuli Ibiza mix...
Let’s talk about Azuli. What is your personal philosophy about the label?
Well it’s changed over the years but the main philosophy is to present the cooler edge of the dance scene without being too underground. There’s a wide spectrum of dance music out there and I was never fully 100% behind the real electronic underground scene and then I wasn’t into the handbag house scene either. It was always presenting the underground scene without being too up its own ass really.
So you would position yourself within the middle of that?
Yeah, somewhere in the middle. You would never really see our albums plastered all over TV or see our CDs in supermarkets.
So, how did that work for A&R? What factors would a track need to have?
People ask me that a lot, especially when people make tracks and I don’t want to sign them. So they’d want to know what’s missing or what’s wrong with it. It’s an impossible question to answer. A track needs to have a certain vibe, regardless of the genre. When you hear a certain track, you know its got longevity, you know that it’s going to be around for quite a long time. For me, that was always the big thing to hear. There are some tracks which sounds great but there’s no real substance to them. So we are looking for some sort of character, some kind of identity within the tracks, that’s what makes them stick around for a while. It’s what turns them into classics.
Let’s move on to people you have worked with in the past. I know you’ve had a great influence on a lot of people…
I don’t know if I’ve had an influence on anyone but I’ve worked closely with a lot of people. From the early days of working with Tony Humphries, Frankie Knuckles David Morales. It brings me back to my previous point. It would be about you help me out, I’ll help you out. Without contracts, agreements and definitely without agents and PR. It was just friends helping each other out, but you don’t get that anymore. I remember being in a difficult time with Azuli and I think it was Mousse T who just had a hit record and David Morales who said here are a couple of tracks, put them out and see what happens.
Ok, so you’ve done your Ibiza mix for this year, which has been going for quite a long time.
Yeah we’ve been doing that for 7 or 8 years, we even threw some parties on the Ibiza. We started off doing them at DC10. We did 3 or 4 in one summer. That’s when it was an after hours party.
You established a really good reputation for parties on the island, especially the ‘secret’ ones…how did they work out for you?
Really well. I have to say, they were excellent. The best parties ever, the best organised ones I think. But we weren’t totally legal so we got into a lot of trouble for that. Now that I live there, it’s a bit more difficult. But we are going to do four this summer , so people will have to keep their ears to the ground.
What makes this year’s Ibiza mix different from any other year?
Well we are always trying to find out what is going on in Ibiza and there’s less of this plinky plonky minimal stuff. We used to use a couple of tracks that nods to that scene for the last couple of years but there’s no need to anymore because that scene is completely bland. It’s a real move back to rhythmic house music.
Tell us about some of the tracks on there…
There’s the Shapeshifters track that’s on there, ‘Helter Skelter’. They’ve done fairly accessible tracks in the past and this should move to the other side, with them doing something a little bit cooler and underground and it works really well. It fits the whole vibe of what’s going on. Then you’ve got David Penn who sounds very now but also sounds like 10 years ago. The ‘Sunshine People’ track, it fits very well and fits Ibiza, it’s a very uplifting track without being cheesy. Roberts Babicz ‘Dark Flower’ is a record that sums up Ibiza. I don’t know why it sums it up but I think it’s going to be a big big record! It’s an end of the night anthem, I’ve heard in a couple of places and it sounds fantastic. Kaiser Disco, this is the third time I’ve compiled with their track, their stuff is really good, it’s obviously young guys doing traditional house music.
You’re currently living in Ibiza, right?
Yeah, I live in Ibiza all the time now and it’s a very musical island, a very creative place and I feel very settled there. It’s nice to be around music all of the time without being in clubs all of the time because around the island you encounter what’s going on, who’s doing what. It keeps changing a lot, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but it’s become more expensive and probably more upmarket as well. There are these different age groups from 16 to 18 year olds to 35 to 40 year olds. Although it’s still expensive in Ibiza it’s all still packed out and most people are pretty young, but there are some places you go there and don’t see anyone under the age of 30 there. That’s what I like about the island, you are never too old or too different to slot into that place.
Would you say it’s still the centre of the universe for dance music?
I don’t know if those are the words. I think it’s where people come together, it humanises dance. You get all the DJs and all the locals coming there at some point in the summer, it’s good exchanging what’s going on but I don’t know if it’s ever been the centre of dance music.
What are your feelings towards house music? Have DJs got it too good? And are labels suffering or benefiting at the moment?
As a scene, it’s fairly healthy in terms of the fact that people still go out, still spend money and still want to dance to dance music. It’s where that money ends up has changed. It ends up in the hands of very big DJs, their managers, their PR companies. The smaller DJs and certainly record companies don’t see any of that. There’s still just as much good quality house music out there but there’s a lot more rubbish. A lot of the ways the music is now bought and sold and discussed is very soulless. It’s all done on the internet, on message boards, on blogs and not through records shops, through talking, discussions or meeting people.
So you are saying that now it’s all a lot less personal?
It’s very cold, it’s looking at a screen, people making tracks on screens, sending them on screens and discussing them on screens. The only time it becomes humanised is in a club and it used to be a lot more than that.
So what you’re saying is that the evolution of digital music hasn’t had a positive effect on dance music?
You can’t really say its either positive or negative, it’s just different. It has of course had some positives in that any guy who is creative enough can go and buy the technology they need and make a track. I think its good that anyone can make a track, because it filters people out who are actually creative and people who are not. Now more than ever you need a creative edge to make a better track because now anyone can make one. I mean the reason that people love dance music is because of the feeling and effect that you get in a club, it’s a very social thing. It’s about coming together, it’s about enjoying this experience with other people. But the creation, buying and selling of the music is the opposite of that.
Let’s talk about your DJing, what’s happened there?
Well me and just about every other old DJ has got bad tinnitus, it’s been getting very bad over the past year particularly so I decided in January to stop, for a while. So I haven’t DJed for about 7 months because I need to get my head back into shape. It’s not supposed to fix itself at all but it just gets worse! So I need to stabilise before I can do anything else, but it comes from years from abusing my ears and not wearing any earplugs!
So how are you spending your time in Ibiza now?
I bought a restaurant called Amante Beach Club, it’s on the beach. Funnily enough it’s one of the places I used to do my parties and I bought it last year. We don’t do the parties anymore, don’t want to get a slapped wrist!
Anything else you want to tell us about? Anything we might not know about?