Launched in 2011, white label imprint Tusk Wax has since spawned several subsidiaries. Horn Wax followed Porn Wax, while a less inventively named Trance Wax offshoot materialised from the shadows only recently. Considering “Tusk”, the enigmatic personality directing the many tendrils of the Tusk Wax leviathan, clearly has a soft spot for the 1990s, the unveiling of 90s Wax was almost inevitable. It’s a curation that isn’t all too concerned with genre though, signing material from a dizzying array of artists that includes Coyote, Ste Spandex, Antoni Maiovvi and Lord Of The Isles. Freed from the constraints of expectation, some of the finest moments have actually come shrouded in the cloak of anonymity.
Once anonymous, Trance Wax might now be under the stewardship of Ejeca but the other labels are still very much under Tusk control, and there’s a consistency to the output that has to be applauded. Recording a blend of forthcoming material, there seems to be a lot more where that came from too, and the man behind it all has been kind enough to answer a few of our questions to go with the mix. A sardonic and self-deprecating presence on social media, with no interest in succumbing to calls for represses and a penchant for dick doodling, we always knew he would make for an interesting interview subject.
Tusk Wax recently celebrated its sixth birthday (congratulations!). Looking back, has it been worth the blood, sweat and tears that go into running an independent label?
Well, I didn’t notice the birthday actually. Usually I try to do something to celebrate stuff like that with people who have released on the label but it slipped my mind. Maybe next year I’ll get back on that.
Looking back, it’s been fun. I’m lucky to work largely with good people who are in it for the same reasons as me. This generally means they are pretty chill about my ‘back of a fag packet’ sort of organization, the lack of clear strategy and tendency to get pissed up at the weekend when I should be doing label stuff. This has always been a hobby for me so in that respect it kinda has to be minimal on the sweat and tears or I would just fuck it off.
Do you think a low profile and hobbyist approach has afforded you more freedom to run the label and its subsidiaries exactly as you like?
Yeah for sure. The main thing is that the labels have always had a steady following which results in reliable, if not record breaking, sales. If that wasn’t the case I would have stopped ages ago. Shout out to the pissed up heroes who keep buying the records!
The releases have always come pretty thick and fast. Is there always a long queue of material waiting to see the light of day?
It might look thick and fast but actually there’s light years where I’ve done very little. But yeah, there’s usually a queue. Ask Posthuman and Perseus Trax about how long their Horn Wax released took, I think it was around two years or some shit. That’s just largely related to me getting busy at work and shifting my focus. Again, if I was working with douche bag artists all the time that sort of loose attitude wouldn’t fly. Those two guys just let me get on with and eventually it worked its way into record shops.
With quite a few releases in high demand, have you ever considered pressing in greater quantities moving forward?
NO REPRESS. I said it from the start and that won’t change. Numbers have gone up and down at different times. I’ll respond to demand if it changes, but to be honest, I’ve seen too many labels fall by the wayside after trying to press too many units. Best to keep small and fun rather than adding the risk of the need to sell a bunch of records.
While a pop sensibility can be heard in your label curation, would you ever considering starting something committed to music in that sort of vein?
Oh God yes. I rarely go a week without suggesting another sub labels focused on pop. If the whole edits thing hadn’t been hammered to dust already I’d be releasing Kim Wilde, Kajagoogoo and Pat Benatar reworks all day.
Seeing as your stamping ink is made from the ground up tusks of unicorns and sperm whales, we were wondering whether you hunt them yourself? Or is it just store-bought?
I take them down with my bare hands, naked, covered in chicken fat just to make it a more fair fight.
Where did the dick drawing obsession begin? I picture you doodling away as a kid like Jonah Hill’s character in ‘Superbad’.
It’s basically the ultimate expression of not taking your shit too seriously. If you can’t draw a dick on your label you’re probably getting carried away with how important you think you are. Again, though, you have to remember this isn’t my living, so I can afford to be a wee bit irreverent at times.
Have you been spending much time in Manchester recently, or just a kindred spirit?
Ha yeah, I do love a bit of dickart. In fact I found a couple of those dickprints I made the other day, so if anyone wants one of them tell them to hit me up on facebook
You have previously spoken about George Michael, Cliff Richard and Phil Colins; three British artists that, while all iconic in their own right, have been the subject of controversy and/or derision at one point or another. Do you think it’s a coincidence you’re drawn to that sort of character?
Ha, yeah in my real life, but fuck getting into that on the label Facebook page. People don’t come to Tusk to get detailed political commentary. My work is pretty serious so I get my fill of dealing with more nuanced debates there. So I’ll keep it to posting ‘Easy Lover’ once a month and drawing dicks if that’s alright with everyone else.
Speaking of the polarising and often-misunderstood, the nascent Trance Wax label has been recontextualising trance classics for modern dancefloors. Have you been at all surprised by how well the releases have been received so far?
Yeah, crazy stuff. It’s been fun. I’ve played one of two tracks in a few DJs sets and it’s been complete carnage. But that’s Ejeca’s thing now. I’m not involved anymore, he’s got some really nice success out of it which is great to see.
What can you tell us about the new 90s Wax sub-label?
90s Wax is my follow up to Trance Wax. As I said earlier, Ejeca has started running that himself so I had room for another wee side project. Someone I’ve not worked with before sent me those tracks and I jumped all of them. The artists, who we have to keep under wraps for a bit, had tried to recreate the early 90s warehouse vibe and I loved it. I’m really happy with the reaction we’ve got, I’m expecting a super fast selling out when they drop in January, so defo pre-order that one.
You once mentioned that you “love how “Balearic” is everything and nothing.” Do you think there are any other ‘genres’ similarly defined by personality or mood over things like tempo, structure and function?
Sounds like something I’d try and say to get the guys from Coyote to bite. I guess I’d also put ‘bangerz’ in there with that sort of definition as well. It’s a personal emotive definition, that’s why I have ‘Careless Whisper’ in my bangerz list. In the end you can usually take everything I said in relation to Tusk with a massive pinch of salt.
With Horn Wax it sounds as if there’s a specific brief for artists to follow. Are all productions released on the labels built to spec?
I was doing quite a lot of resident DJing when I started that labels and I wanted something I could put on while I got a pint and took a piss. Simple brief, “make me a longwinded piece of music that will keep me interested for more than 8 minutes”. What usually comes back is the sound you hear.
Does this apply to any of the other labels?
Kind of. I usually describe Porn Wax as weird bangerz. That’s where I try and put stuff that might be a bit more challenging. I guess Tusk Wax is just what I’m feeling at the time.
Quite a few of the releases have fallen victim to inflated Discogs prices. Do you have anything to say to anyone profiting from the hard work of yourself of the respective artists? While this certainly isn’t the case with those records, there isn’t always a correlation between quality and the silly money some things fetch on the site.
I don’t really give a shit. No one is making millions on Discogs. As long as people by the records they can sell them anyway they like.
Is there a screening process or any particular approach taken to find new music?
Screening yes; listen to it a bunch of times and if I like it release it. Particular approach, not really.
Any missed opportunities or music turned down that you’re kicking yourself over to this day?
No. Life’s way too short for that.
Where do you see the various arms of the label in 5 years and any designs on starting any more?
In the discount box of your local Oxfam.
What labels are doing it for you at the moment?
Usually I’d just say none as I don’t really concern myself with other labels. But I keep getting drawn back to Whities, so I guess I must be digging them.
What can you tell us about the mix you recorded?
Pretty simple really. At this time of year everyone is making shite lists about this and that, but I’ve decided to put the sound of 2018 together. This is a selection of stuff that will be released on the labels in the coming months.
And finally, is there anything in the works we should look out for?
TW23, TW24, TW25, TW26, and the new thing 90s Wax.