Alley Cat, aka Alicia ESP, has been making waves in the music industry since circa 1997. Born in America, she was part of the early 90s rave scene in San Francisco, which naturally lead to an affinity with jungle and drum and bass. She schooled herself in all things 170bpm and began promoting music on American college radio, djing and throwing parties. In 1999 she hopped over the pond and set up camp in London and went on to work in A&R, promotion and music journalism; later becoming co-director of ESP agency and founder of Kokeshi.
Alicia started Kokeshi in 2009 initially as a platform for her own music, but was promptly galvanized by other artists and music to take the label up a gear. The imprint has gone from strength to strength with releases gaining support from Mary-Anne Hobbs, Appleblim and tracks featuring on the Get Darker compilation series and Ministry of Sound’s dubstep compilation.
The Kokeshi crew have given us an exclusive track to give away from Lawford based producer Irrelevant, check it out here , we also got in touch with Alley Cat to discuss her involvement in the music industry, the future of Kokeshi and her advice for any budding record label founders.
Interview/ Josh Thomas
Hi Alicia, would you like to tell us a little about yourself and your endeavors within the music industry?
I’ve been working in the music business (DJing and doing all sorts of other promoting/PR/label work/producing and agency work) since 1997. I co-own ESP Agency which is a boutique artist agency based in London and I also have a label called Kokeshi which is my own project I’ve been pushing the last 2 years. My DJ / artist name is Alley Cat.
So when did you set up Kokeshi and what was the original idea behind the label, was it a carefully crafted blueprint or just a need to push good music?
I set up Kokeshi less than 2 years ago, initially just to put out some of my own music but after a few months I got really inspired to take it much further and it’s built up from there. I got a bunch of music together from artists I liked, started doing the Kokeshi ((pod)) kasts, figured out the design/logo, was able to get record distribution with ST Holdings and went from there.
The Kryptic Minds remix of Lungs ‘Afterlife’ (Kokeshi 004) received huge support from the likes of Mary Anne-Hobbs and Skream and charted in poll position to win Dubstep Forums ‘Best Remix’ of 2010. Has this been a kind of catalyst to the growth of Kokeshi?
It certainly helped, although after the original version of ‘Afterlife’ came out I was already getting quite a lot of support from radio and club DJs, but Kryptic Minds did an awesome job so that’s really given the label and Lung and big push so I’m happy about it. Musically its everything I wanted from a remix. The remix was featured on one of the Get Darker compilations and a big Ministry of Sound dubstep compilation as well so thats really brought Kokeshi to a bigger audience which I really appreciate.
What’s the release schedule looking like for the rest of the year?
Kokeshi 005 is out 25th of April which is the ‘Better Off in Me’ single from Irrelevant featuring Brad Sucks . (see below for more on that!) I also have Irrelevant’s debut LP coming out later this year, a Kompilation featuring lots of unreleased tunes from the ((pod)) kasts, a 12” vinyl single from a guy called Bulb and I’ve just signed some tunes from a duo called SubDivision as well so watch this space!
What advice would you give to anyone looking to set-up a label of their own, any major lessons learned in your experience so far?
I’ve had experience running a label 10 years ago with a few other guys so I knew from those times how tricky it can be. I guess the idea these days is really ‘quality not quantity’ – because everything happens so quick these days and everything seems so disposable. It’s really important to make every release special and something people want to cherish. With anything all I can advise really is to put 100% into what you’re doing…and hopefully if you do that you will see something positive come out of it. I don’t think in the music business these days there is any winning formula and there is no guarantee. You just never know what will happen. It’s a lot to do with timing I think.
Kokeshi 004 came from young welsh producer Lung, I’ve read that this chaps music alone inspired you to really further what you were doing with Kokeshi. How did you hook-up with Lung and was it an instant decision to push his music?
He was definitely one of the main inspirations yes..’Afterlife’ in particular. Lung found me on Facebook and sent me some tunes which mirrored the vibe or the aesthetic of what I wanted to do with my label so that helped to motivate me. I don’t think either one of us expected it to go as well as it has so far. Lung’s a top guy I love working with him.
Irrelevant’s “Better Of In Me” (Kokeshi 005) is chalked in for release on 25th April. What can we expect from the release and who’ve you got on remix duty?
‘Better Off in Me’ is one of the tracks due out on Irrelevant’s album and its a very catchy tune with a slick vocal from Brad Sucks. Its about 132 bpm it has clocking sort of 2-steppy beats and its just a fun tune. Calibre did a ‘dubstep-ish’ remix for this which is getting loads of DJ support from Appleblim to Ben Mynott of Chill FM/Big Chill to Consequence, so its across the board in terms of DJ support. Calibre doesn’t do much 140 stuff so its great to have him featured. It’s coming out on solid white vinyl as well as the usual digital formats.
Any other artists with future involvement with Kokeshi we should be looking at?
Lung, Irrelevant, Odyssia, SubDivision, Bulb, Magenta, Alley Cat, Box Mouse….
All of the above will be featured on the Kompilation due out later this year or on their own records, or both.
Which record labels do you aspire to?
I’m trying to just do my own thing and not worry too much about others, but of course I have labels that I love to love.
My favourite record label right now is Tri Angle. I love everything that guy puts out, its very emotional electronic music and I suppose that’s how I would categorise what Kokeshi could be defined as also and I hope people keep enjoying and supporting the music! I love dBridge’s label Exit Records as well. Everything he puts out is quality.
You’ve got a couple of label nights coming up in April, where are the parties and who you got coming down?
I had a label showcase in Germany earlier this month in Heilbronn at Dub Wars, with Kryptic Minds. That was really great and we loved being able to do our thing. Thanks to Dub Wars for supporting us. Next there’s a label night in Berlin at Icon Club, Easter Friday 22.04. with Kryptic Minds, Irrelevant and myself. Then on 30th of April I have my London launch with myself, Lung, DJ Flight, Consequence and a Techno Set from Klute. Its at Fluid Bar which has a Japanese theme (as does Kokeshi) so its perfect for what I want to do. More details can be found here.