“I like to work closely with the artists, and build a relationship that’s more than just a release. I always hope that first release will motivate them even more to try a career in music.”
Nous’klaer Audio is a Rotterdam-based, independent and innovative record label that catalogues music regardless of genre or format. Headed by Sjoerd Oberman, the imprint has become renowned for releasing consistently good music whilst constantly pushing the boundaries of modern electronic music. Kick-started back in 2013, Sjoerd has pretty much single-handedly overseen the growth and development of the label – we caught up with the label boss about the origins, releases, highlights and plans surrounding the esteemed platform.
Label Name: Nous’klaer Audio Label Head: (Sjoerd) Oberman Location: Rotterdam, The Netherlands Latest Release: Martinou – Rift Next Release: Mattheis / Ranie Ribeiro – Het Jaar Rond deel 1 & 2. Best label moment: Latest Draaimolenen + Dogma x Nous’klaer x ADE, and playing Panorama bar right before Covid Worst label moment: Covid? Describe the label in three words: Pushing local talent Label tips: Don’t know what this means! Next Event: Cabin Fever x Nous’klaer at The Cause, London !!!
Hey Sjoerd, thanks for joining us! Firstly, how are you and what have you been getting up to?
Hey thanks for interviewing me! I’m doing well having now had the chance to play at festivals and in the clubs again which has completely recharged me. I’ve also been busy with Nadia Struiwigh to set up a remix competition for Feroit, a track from her latest album Pax Aurora. The competition is open to anyone and every genre, we’ll release the best remix on Nous’klaer. I’m really excited to see what people will come up with, it’s the first time we ever do something like this! Other than that I spend most of my time in my studio mixing or mastering tracks. I bought new monitors this summer and simply want to spend all my time working on them.
Can you tell us how and why you first set upNous’klaer Audio?
I saw Mattheis play live on a winter night in a now defunct club in Rotterdam. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We became friends after that and five years later I released his first 12”, Isms EP, the first of Nous’klaer. At the beginning I didn’t have the intention to run a label for the next eight years, I just wanted to put that one record out, but here we are!
What’s the philosophy behind the imprint, and what do you seek to achieve from its output?
When I started, I realised there was a bit of a gap between the bedroom producers and releasing artists. Not per se a difference in quality, more like an invisible barrier. I started to work at Clone around 2011, and with every demo that would come in the first question was ‘do they already have releases?’. If that wasn’t the case, then it wasn’t really listened to. I thought it could be interesting to see that the other way around. Perhaps that demo offers something new? And I quickly realised that once an artist has one release to their name everything goes so much easier, just this first step takes more effort. So that’s what I set out to do.
I like to work closely with the artists, and build a relationship that’s more than just a release. I always hope that first release will motivate them even more to try a career in music, and that we’ll continue working together – even if it’s helping them find other labels.
With releases ranging from the likes of Meetsysteem to Pugilist, would you say the label has a particular sound and if so, how would you describe it?
The sound of the label has widened considerably over the years. It started out with a particular sound, mostly electronic hypnotic music bound by a certain feeling, fed by melodies. It changed a bit after the first Paerels compilation. I started to open up, discovering new artists and new sounds that I wanted to release. Indeed, the Dutch indie- pop from Meetsysteem is completely different from Pugilist’s Bass music, but the funny thing of having those opposites on one label is that they’ll both find a new audience because of that. Meetsysteem now often plays on electronic music festivals for example.
There is no pre-determined idea behind releases though. Honestly, I can release anything I like, from what comes on my path. For example, next year we’ll release the debut album from singer/producer Mathilde Nobel, which will be a totally new sound on the label – a mix of hyperpop, modern classical and even some gothic and metal influences.
You’ve recently hit your 50 release milestone which is hugely impressive! What do you look for in an artist and their music for it to be Nous’klaer-worthy?
That’s a tough question. Maybe a lame answer but I guess; I know it when I hear it? For each artist it’s something different. Mary Lake’s driving energy, Mattheis’ inimitable melodies, Meetsysteem’s way with words, Panda Lassow’s wonky beats – I just like to hear a particular specialty or signature in an artist’s sound. This takes a lot of time to recognise or find for me, and for the artist to develop as well, which is also a reason why I like to have an enduring collaboration.
Having released consistent music for just under ten years, what have been your personal highlights from running Nous’klaer? And any difficulties you have encountered?
I love it that we’re able to throw more and more label nights where we come together. Last September we had a showcase at Draaimolen for example, which was absolutely amazing. The owner, Milo, always gets the best out people and constantly pushes for new ideas. I’ll never forget that day.
At Amsterdam Dance Event we did our annual party together with our close friends from Dogma. Besides it being a super fun day, I loved it because all the new artists on the label could meet those I already released from before. And of course, this coming Friday, is the first London showcase with upsammy, Konduku, Oceanic, me and Bambounou, Talik, Surgeons Girl, Finnaman and Customer Service. I hope we’ll do more showcases like these next year. When I think of it, the label is just an excuse to see my friends more often!
I still run the label alone, which can complicate things sometimes. I like to do every step of a release, from A&R, mixing and mastering to promo and the financial side. This takes a lot of time though so sometimes things go slower than I (and the artists) would like them to go. I guess the label grew big enough to not do everything alone, but I just enjoy it too much.
The label has a strong visual aesthetic to match the music. Is the artwork something you take a lot of pride in? And do you work closely with the artist for their cover art or do they have a lot of creative freedom?
Thanks! Honestly the artwork is always a difficult part of a release. My main goal is to keep it colourful and leave ‘meanings’ to one’s imagination. How it comes together really depends on the release though. I like to keep the artwork very simple for EP’s, and work in series of 3-5 releases that fit together. For albums it can be anything, but I always work closely with the artist. I can tell how a couple of them came together; For example, Konduku’s K-series; a sublabel with only his music. When I asked him for this, I proposed to combine his music with his photography. He liked the idea and came up with the idea to use photos of human impact on nature. Every cover shows in some way human waste, but in a serene, pleasing setting – which creates a weird but interesting contrast.
Koraal's (aka John Talabot) album La Casa del Volcán was such a personal album, produced in only couple of days on the island of Lanzarote. I wanted the artwork to reflect that. We used his own holiday photos from the trip on the innersleeves, which can be seen through a postcard sized cut-out in the cover. As if you were sent holiday greeting cards from the artist being there.
For Martinou’s album that just came out we had a specific idea in mind quite early on. We wanted a painting that would reflect the organic life of a forest in an abstract way. We found Romee van Oers, a Dutch painter who made the cover. Around it is a white semi- opaque sleeve resembling the morning dew.
Have any labels had an influence on how you run Nous’klaer?
Basically, any label that started releasing unknown names from their local area. For example, I remember vividly hearing the first Hivern Discs releases, and thinking it had such a particular sound of then unknown Spanish artists. I respect that a lot and aim to keep finding new local talents as my label grows.
Do you have any tips for someone who is looking to set up their very own label?
Yeah lots. I wouldn’t know where to start! I made so many mistakes in the beginning. Looking back, I wish I started earlier with learning how to mix and master tracks. This just gives you so much insight and will save you a lot of money. I always select tracks on how they make me feel, not how they sound, but you must understand how they sound if you want to release them. I’ve paid the price for that a couple of times. I also wish I took the time to find out more about the ‘boring’ business side of music. It’s important to have solid contracts and to know how to deal with legal aspects (eg Neighbouring rights royalties, publishing, synch etc.).
Any emerging labels in particular that you think we should keep an eye in 2021?
De Lichting will release a new EP from Eversines end of November. Tammo is set for a release on Delsin’s Mantis series by Mattikk. Patterns of Perception is launching a label next week with a release from Nali. Woody’92 just launched his label Omen Wapta. Intercept, with Talik a.o., is really on fire lately – a new one is coming up from newcomer Bing. I love the releases on Unposed, curated by MSJY. Spekki Webu’s Mirror Zone is one to check out always. Kia, label owner of Animalia has a couple of releases ready for 2022 that shouldn’t be missed. There are probably loads I forget to mention – but I love it when new labels pop up because they always offer something fresh and interesting.
What are your plans for the imprint as we head into the new year?!
Lots!! So Martinou’s album is just out, and we have one more coming up this year: a split between Mattheis and Ranie Ribeiro. It are soundtracks for archival footage, in collaboration with RE:VIVE (link: https://revivethis.org ). Mattheis delivered a piano piece, Ranie a harp piece. For both it’s the first time they made music playing those instruments.
In January we’ll introduce a new artist named Mata Disk, it’s an incredible debut that I have been playing every set. The debut album from singer/producer Mathilde Nobel, and the debut album from my brother Oceanic. A remix package for Meetsysteem’s latest album, with remixes/reworks by Speedy J, Nana Adjoa, Mary Lake, Konduku and Elias Mazian among others. Then there are so many releases that are still on the works; EP’s by RAFF, Amandra, Panda Lassow, Lawrence Le Doux…
If you had to give Nous’klaer a motto, what would it be?
The name Nous’klaer is actually a motto! It’s Dutch dialect from where I grew up for ‘Nu is het klaar’, which translates to something like ‘we’re ready for it’.