Aïsha Devi, Snow Ghosts and Second Storey talk Houndstooth

Houndstooth was born in February 2013 out of legendary London club Fabric, who were keen to use their existing platform, which hosted the fabric and FABRICLIVE series, to start a new imprint focused on artist-led projects rather than DJ mixes. Since then they’ve released a diverse array of music at a phenomenal rate from the likes of Call Super, Throwing Snow, Special Request, 18+ and more.

The A&R superstar at Houndstooth is Rob Booth, who also heads up the long-running Electronic Explorations podcast, where he gave early coverage to artists like James Blake, Mount Kimbie and Pearson Sound. Rob runs the Houndstooth operation along with label manager Leo Belchetz and managing director Rob Butterworth, who also take care of Fabric’s mix CD series.

From the beginning, the idea with Houndstooth was to get artists as closely involved as possible on all aspects of the creative process. Over the past three years they’ve managed to build quite a family, reflected in projects like 2013’s HTH vs HTH EP, where the roster remixed each other’s music.

This month sees Houndstooth celebrate their third anniversary, and they’re doing it in style. First off is a huge party at fabric tomorrow night (Feb 20) – Dave Clarke is headlining Room 2, along with Call Super, Marquis Hawkes and Second Storey. Next Thursday (Feb 25) sees the emphasis shift away from the dancefloor, with a free live showcase at the Shacklewell Arms – Snow Ghosts, Soft As Snow and Guy Andrews are all on the bill. Not to mention the label’s takeover of Berlin’s iconic Berghain on Feb 26.

They’re are also putting out a new compilation on February 26 called Tessellations – their 50th release, rather neatly. It contains 14 brand new exclusive tracks, one from each of the artists to have released on the label so far, and acts as a wonderful example of the label’s range.

As this month marks three years in the game, we’ve rounded up three Houndstooth artists to talk about their relationship with the label. Aïsha Devi is a Swiss-Nepalese producer whose intensely political and spiritual debut album Of Matter And Spirit came out last year to widespread acclaim. She also heads up the Danse Noire imprint (home to IVVVO, Haf Haf and more) and recently announced her own monthly show on NTS. Snow Ghosts, a trio composed of producer Ross Tones (Throwing Snow), vocalist Hannah Cartwright and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Knowles, released A Wrecking last year, and their menacing track ‘The Hunted’ was recently featured in a trailer for the new X-Men film. Second Storey is the alias of Alec Storey who’s also recorded a distinguished body of work as Al Tourettes. Influenced as much by Metalheadz and the East Anglian free party scene as he is by Portishead and Herbie Hancock, his debut album Double Divide is chock full of lush sound design and high octane rhythms.

Gain insight below into their varying approaches and stream Aïsha Devi’s spellbinding new track ‘Sheen Saker’, taken from Tessellations:

When did you start a working relationship with Rob and at what point did you come to work with Houndstooth? What made it the right label for you?

Aïsha Devi: I knew Rob’s emanation, had heard of the label probably with Call Super and 18+, this already gave me some info about the eclecticism of the beast, I liked that non-exclusive genre approach. Also it’s a rather new label, things can still be modulated, I like the idea of contributing in that identity definition on its primal life. My agent introduced me to Rob, the enthusiasm was so immediate that we’ve started working on the first exchange, same energy, same workaholism that instantly turned into concrete realization, it came out a few months later. Such a rapid reaction is pretty rare, artists can be shortcut if they create and their creation is released only 1 or 2 years later, the momentum with the music is lost. I’m happy people can hear music I’ve produced the same year, the audience can follow up with the true inner transformation, the accurate message and the exact reflexive content.

Snow Ghosts (Ross Tones): Rob approached me before Houndstooth was an entity for a Throwing Snow release. The Snow Ghosts project followed soon after and further proved to me that Rob had a broad vision for the label.

Second Storey: I did a mix under my previous Al Tourettes guise for Electronic Explorations in 2010 and also contributed a track for his EE compilation a couple of years later, so had worked with Rob prior to Houndstooth. I think having had such a positive experience working with him and also trusting his judgement musically was a big factor in joining the label.

aisha devi

Aïsha Devi. Credit: Emile Barret

What significance does the Electronic Explorations series hold with you and what was your first encounter with it?

Aïsha Devi: I’ve always liked artist mixes, it’s like sharing one hour in their head. It has that intimacy quality. I think it has a great impact on people, it does push boundaries and reflects internet as the medium that allow to break free from genre. Electronic Explorations is one of these musical gamechanging zones, guided by a dedicated dude with flair.

Snow Ghosts (Ross Tones): I’ve been a voyeur of EE for a very long time. It’s testament to Mr. Booth’s passion and curation abilities, despite his questionable football club affiliations.

Second Storey: I’d been listening to Electronic Explorations mixes for a while before I did my mix. It was one of the first underground electronic podcasts I followed and I used to download it every week – freshness guaranteed!

How much did Fabric’s legacy affect your decision in working with Houndstooth, if at all?

Aïsha Devi: None, haha. I even didn’t know both structures were connected until someone told me after I got signed, I’m an amateur. Fabric is huge, it is history already but i consider Houndstooth as independent. They want to make their own imprint I guess and for us artists, that’s a total freedom allowance. It’s the freedom of the now.

Snow Ghosts (Ross Tones):  I remember driving from Bristol to Fabric several times for DnB nights with my friend Amber. Parking was easier in 2002. It definitely played a part in taking a fledgling label seriously, but the combination of that Spurs supporter and a team of people entrenched in club land made up my mind for certain.

Second Storey: It certainly played a part. I’d played at Fabric before Houndstooth started and loved the whole ethos. I got on with everyone there so it was a very easy decision to make knowing they were supporting the label.

show ghosts

Snow Ghosts

Whilst Houndstooth isn’t necessarily a club label, do you still create music with that space in mind? How important is it to the music you release on the label?

Aïsha Devi: I’ve never created for specific people, or for a specific scene, all I have in mind is that my music will be in good hands with them, there’s this chemical understanding of the music and the process.

Snow Ghosts (Ross Tones): Definitely in terms of Throwing Snow but definitely not in terms of Snow Ghosts as you will hear in upcoming releases!

Second Storey: Definitely. I’ve never stopped writing for the dance floor and will continue to do so. It’s equally important for me to do both.

How involved has the label been with your releases on the creative side – musically and visually – and has this differed from past experiences with other labels?

Aïsha Devi: My LP was finished when we started working together, they liked it in its state. Also I think I came up with a whole cosmos, musically and visually, it’s interdependent, my liberty with Houndstooth from the music perspective was also accurate on the visual declination. As this cosmos already existed in my head, it needed to be transcripted into the right tone. I worked with my graphic designer friend Niels Wehrspann, a photographer friend Emile Barret and Chinese artist, Tianzhuo Chen who realised my video. A big team, a laboratory of ideas, a cool mayhem under Houndstooth’s roof. They supported the process and the vision, they helped me develop it, they embraced the whole identity, no censorship.

Snow Ghosts (Ross Tones): Yeah they are really good at listening to artists but also having a strong voice of their own. It’s an important partnership. Things sometimes get frayed but that’s a good creative process.

Second Storey: I’ve had a good amount of input on my creative process, I would say primarily on editing my tracks, but at the same time they’ve allowed me the space to do what I want and I never felt stifled. Sometimes it’s been about taking things further and getting the most out of a particular section of the music. As far as other labels go I still had input but perhaps it tended to be more from a mix perspective rather than looking at the piece as a whole. From the visual side all my artwork on the label has been done by Luca Zamoc, who had worked with Fabric in the past. I love his interpretations and think they fit perfectly.

second storey

Second Storey

Aïsha and Ross – having run your own labels, do you see a parallel between the way you’ve approached your labels and the way Houndstooth does? Would you have such a high output?

Aïsha Devi: I think both labels are totally different, Danse Noire is a political collective, we want to stay outsiders, to keep the accurate minority motto. Everything is emanating from this, the urge, the revolt.

Snow Ghosts (Ross Tones): To be honest, no. Each label is run on different models based on resources available. I highly respect the A&R approach of Rob and the passion of the rest of the team (Rob Butterworth and Leo Belchetz), we fit together really well. Working with nice, open people has a lot to do with it. I have a different approach to running labels but that’s not in any way a criticism of the Houndstooth approach. High output is difficult to maintain (I’m probably to blame for some of that! Sorry) but when there is such a strong work ethic, they get things done admirably well. It’s the behind the scenes stuff I’m impressed about, their open minded approach has always been refreshing.

Tessellations is out February 26 on Houndstooth – pre-order it here. Houndstooth are hosting fabric Room 2, February 20 – more info here.