A slew of new labels materialising on the racks of reputable record stores week in, week out, it’s proven increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Heading up Amsterdam’s Kalahari Oyster Cult, Rey Colino‘s intriguing curation provides welcome relief for those weary record collectors, tired of wading through a sea of mediocrity – a combination of undeniable quality and wide-ranging music policy belies the reality that he’s only been in the label game for a couple of years.
Cutting his teeth at Dutch institution Bordello A Parigi – rising from intern to managing the shop and playing a key role in the distribution and label management processes – was the perfect education, setting Colino up to really push forward with his own endeavours. Kalahari Oyster Cult has undoubtably benefitted the most, receiving plaudits for signing up contemporary leftfield and esoteric sounds alongside the occasional reissue. Roza Terenzi to Khidja, SW., DJ Normal 4 and Max Abysmal, a host of stellar names have graced the label to date, and talking to the man behind it all, he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
What’s the origin of the name Kalahari Oyster Cult?
Aaaah the burning question! It’s actually a gimmick around the metal band Blue Öyster Cult, my love for oysters, a gentle pun to cults and the aesthetic of the words together.
I had inherited the metal band’s inaugural LP from my grandfather, therefore it was amongst the first records I owned. These always carry a special place I guess… Kalahari Oyster Cult is therefore originated around an homage to the band’s imaginary but also the absurdity of worshipping an oyster from the Kalahari Desert, which, given people’s current state of beliefs, is not so far-fetched after all… Then, as my friends and colleagues will tell you, I shuck oysters whenever I can and in unhealthy quantities. Finally, I chose Kalahari Oyster Cult because it is as difficult to remember than it is to forget.
Having launched the Attic Salt Discs label in 2016, what was the impetus to start something entirely new a year later?
Where Attic Salt Discs focuses on the past, I found Kalahari Oyster Cult to meet my need to release contemporary electronic music and deal directly with current artists. Though they’re both record labels, it’s a completely different job to run either of them. I missed the creativity and the human factor with Attic Salt Discs and I found it big time with Kalahari Oyster Cult. Exchanging ideas and perspectives with artists is what drives me the most. I m really trying to be at their best service, as a counterpart to them giving me their trust by allowing to carry their music on my imprint.
How helpful or insightful has your time working at Bordello A Parigi been to launching your own labels?
It’s has been hugely helpful of course. Everything I learnt in the last three years, I learnt it from Otto Kraanen and Bordello A Parigi, in one way or another. I m not too sure I would have undertaken all this in such way if I hadn’t met Otto and worked at Bordello in the first place. I learnt from his experience and I intend to pass along the knowledge and insights to labels & people I help out with the production at Bordello.
Mixmag recently named Kalahari Oyster Cult amongst their top labels of 2018. How much value do you place on that kind of mainstream recognition?
I’m very thankful of course, though I was surprised by the mention. I find this list rather forward-thinking and quite far from the monopole of PR agencies that usually rule electronic music outlets. For Kalahari Oyster Cult, it was also perfect timing with the label starting digital sales and the goal of opening to a broader audience. I do recommend to check this list since I got acquainted with some labels myself that have been doing a great job over the year but have slipped under my radar somehow.
Stylistically, the label’s output is really broad, ranging from house and South African Kwaito to more esoteric sounds. Have you ever worried about spreading the label’s curation too thin?
Quite the contrary, actually. I strongly believe in the richness of versatility in curation. Though I keep an eye firmly focused to the dancefloor, restricting myself to signing only one genre of music would be counterproductive since I’d end up frustrated and I’d pass next to so much good music. I would eventually regret it. Also, the label’s curation goes hand-in-hand with my personal musical evolution – it’s not hard to draw parallels between the label’s output and my steady research of new sounds.
Finally, from what I have observed from other inspiring labels, I’m convinced that the broadness of a label’s output is a big asset for its longevity since it allows it more freedom of curation, more space as well as interaction with larger audiences (Look at Gilb’R’s Versatile imprint for instance, the name and longevity serve my point rather well). I aim to broaden the output more in 2019, that’s definitely the only New Years’ resolution I’ll keep.
Would you say there’s a common thread or theme tying all of the releases together?
Me being beyond excited behind my computer at the first listen and/or playing (too) loud in my living room at the expense of my neighbours, probably.
How come the catalogue numbers seem to skip from OYSTER12 to OYSTER16? Have there been delays getting them pressed?
Following the guidance of mighty Warp Records and other labels, there will be no number 13 since its unlucky. The cult is superstitious. 14 and especially 15 are special long-term project which should see the light during 2019. More info on this soon!
The impending Liluzu release will mark the label’s fourteenth release in little over two years. You’ve maintained the high standards set from the very beginning, but do you ever feel tempted to slow down and take more of a ‘less is more approach’?
Not really, no. I’m currently sitting on so many great releases and behind these, there are artists waiting patiently. So for now, I found my rhythm and I’ll keep on releasing at the pace of 6-7 releases a year, as long as the audience’s response is good and as long as I can afford it financially. At this pace, I found that records can still breathe and it keeps our followers entertained but not overloaded.
New York to Melbourne, northern France to southern Italy, Kalahari Oyster Cult artists seem to come from all over. How do you go about sourcing music for the label?
I could not care less about geography, obviously. It’s only when I m deeply moved by an artist’s music and/or when I’m very impressed by the uniqueness of their sound that I decide to reach out and offer a collaboration. Sometimes fruitfully, sometimes not but usually, I feel like I aim rather well since most of the (future) signees were often directly enthusiastic with the idea!
From Tapp’s Blow It Up 12” to the Mpumi album, have you faced many challenges in tracking down DAT tapes, securing rights etc. in order to reissue music on the label? Also, have you faced any other significant difficulties in running the label to date?
From my experience, reissues rarely go down smoothly. My latest ‘heavy-anxiety-inducing’ one, from a long series, was me signing off a reissue and having it remixed without properly checking the quality of the masters provided by the rights holder (there were skips in the DATs transfer). Sloppy on my end, I must confess.
Followed then a very stressful hunt for the old label owner who had last been seen in Baltimore four years earlier, let’s say that he was in a bad place, and we were unable to get in touch with him. I was in despair and I thought the project had to be aborted but eventually, an unmarked DAT tape was found 6 months later by the rights holder in his attic. We had to ship it to on the other side of the US to someone who could professionally transfer it. SUSPENSE… It turned out it was the right tape and the project will be released later this year. I can proudly add that Roza Terenzi and D. Tiffany are involved!
Between working behind the counter of a record shop, helping out with distribution and running two of your own, you have quite a broad insight into what it takes to make an independent label work. Any advice for anyone looking to launch one for the first time?
Bribery and coercion…
No, I would not know really. As a buyer at Bordello, I have observed some kind of overload of music at the moment and it’s difficult for new labels to exist. I see a lot of good releases that don’t receive the love they deserve, I feel they get swamped in the very larger offer of music there is now but I can’t quite explain why one release or label takes where others do not. Also, when I see the average longevity of a release nowadays, I’m quite frightened but I guess it’s only symptomatic of our society’s current way of consumption. To answer your question, I think that a strong label identity is definitely a requirement for shining out of the darkness. Moreover, an existing following would definitely help to kick things off.
It’s important to state that the hype of your releases and the sales should not be never be a main focus in this business – it’s not sustainable anyway – so i’d say only release music you firmly believe in and it will pay off, I’m sure. Keep it real as they say. Aside from all the bigger labels you can read about online, there are hundred of smaller players that make our scene so dynamic and diverse.
Now, Kalahari Oyster Cult has only been around for two years so I feel that I’m not really in a position of giving advices!
2019 has seen the launch of the new percussion-focused series, Kalahari Oyster Tribe. What can people expect to see from this new venture and are we likely to see any similar offshoots emerge in the future?
Yes most definitely. This goes back to the question of versatility in a way. This series is also a mean I found to broaden Kalahari Oyster Cult’s output. I have three releases in the making for this series and they’re just as good as the first one, trust me! Next one is scheduled for March/April. I can’t wait to announce it!
Can you talk a bit about the mix you’ve recorded for us?
I’ve recorded this mix with shifting paces in mind. I tried to ally slower more organic tracks to faster club numbers in a coherent blend, I hope at least.
The mix contains tracks from future signees and remixers on the label, old and forthcoming Kalahari releases, and even a track from the label’s main artwork designer Reppi T. Lzrd, AKA Reptant, and also a few dubstep tracks, since it’s my first love and it’s always a pleasure to play some here and there. Overall an hour of tracks that have been on heavy rotation in the Kalahari Oyster mansion.
And finally, what else does 2019 have in store for the label?
A large historical retrospective around a duo of unsung Belgian techno acts will see the light, it’s been a while that I have been working on it so I m really looking forward to putting it out finally. I am quite sure that a lot of people will discover them via this compilation so I could not be happier to share it. It should be out before the summer, fingers crossed! Hint: there’s one of the tracks compiled in the mix!
Rey Colino plays Cheeky Sounsystem in London on February 2nd – buy tickets here.