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Darker Than Wax channels the spirit of jazz on dancefloors across Singapore and NYC

03.03.20
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Singapore label and collective Darker Than Wax join crackaud.io as residents.

Darker Than Wax is a label and collective based in Singapore. Born from a love of jazz and soul in electronic music, the label strives to be unbound by location and genre, building a global network of like-minded DJs, producers and live acts. With a significant presence in New York City too, DTW is well placed to connect the dots across continents.

The latest release on the label, a piano-led album from Cinematic Orchestra affiliate Dominic J Marshall, sees them pushing further into the realms of the traditional idea of jazz, though the diversity at the heart of their ethos remains absolute, with sino-grime, spoken word and breakbeats all finding their way into its rich, murky brew. Look deeper into their prolific catalogue and you’ll find hip-hop, funk and Latin house rubbing shoulders too.

The first DTW show dropped today, courtesy of NYC pairing Marco Weibel and Jitwam. As we welcome another label to the crackaud.io fold, we decided to catch up with co-founder Dean Chew, aka Funk Bast*rd, to find out more about the inner workings of Darker Than Wax.

How did the label start?

The label started in a very organic way. Kaye (the other co-founder) and myself have been playing together as a DJ and sax combo since the early 2000s, and after many late night hustles, coffee shop conversations and banter, we developed a strong friendship – one that is stemmed heavily in the spirit of jazz. We were also dabbling with productions and simultaneously, were forging more ties with regional artists and discovering an emerging sea of talents from Southeast Asia and beyond. Eventually, we thought it was time to set up our own little platform that would allow us to share our point of view, but also to attract kindred souls in partaking on this journey together. And in all honesty, we didn’t even set out definite objectives on what we wanted to achieve. It was a natural extension of what we already were doing, but it gave us a more concrete foundation to work on.

What are the aims of the label?

The primary aim is to promote diversity in music, to propagate that categories and classifications are totally irrelevant, and that music is essentially rooted in the spirit of the groove – what moves you, what hits you in the stomach [with] that raw vibe that transcends and touches people. We also envision DTW as a safe space for like-minded people who believe in the same values as us: work ethics, cultivation of the craft and knowledge and most importantly, maintaining an open mind. To reference Alain De Botton’s idea, it is almost like a ‘School of Life’ to me.

How would you summarise the label’s sound?

Raw, funky, groovy with a whole lot of soul. It’s quite amazing though that by staying consistent with our musical output people actually say, “Oh this feels like a DTW vibe to me,” or “this has that DTW sound”. That is rather reassuring, because the community resonates with what we do or believe in, against the pressure of releasing music just for statistics or popularity.

“There is no better time than now for imprints like ours and many others to further cultivate, educate and preserve the rich tradition of black music”

You’re split between New York and Singapore, and have connections in terms of where you’re based. How would you say those different perspectives play into what the label is about?

It increases the richness and experiences within the core team, but also creates a greater network and community that responds to what we do. It’s an amazing type of architecture really – one that is constantly breathing, evolving and expanding. It has certainly made us more humble, more aware of what’s happening out there, and has sharpened our work flow and communications.

You say the label is a statement about the pervasiveness of black music. In what way is this integral to your makeup?

As I mentioned before, Kaye and I will forever be indebted to black music – it has provided us with a source of strength and comfort, not to mention the knowledge that one can gain, simply by delving deep into the history of black music. I think it’s also inevitable that as dance music becomes more mainstream and popular that appropriation will also accelerate, and I don’t think that needs to be elaborated further; it’s becoming increasingly apparent in various aspects of the industry.

But having said that, there is no better time than now for imprints like ours and many others to further cultivate, educate and preserve the rich tradition by continuing to advance this amazing culture in our respective humble ways. For instance, the jazz cats back in the days didn’t want to be labelled by music journalists as ‘jazz musicians’ simply because that would immediately narrow and define who they are, or what they play. Jazz is a state of mind, a point of view, a process – it was never defined by a particular instrument or look. Same approach with DJing. I can never quite understand when a DJ would play just one certain sound or BPM throughout the whole night for instance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the world of music is huge, so wouldn’t it be a thrill to constantly learn, and blend that into your sets? This outlook is extremely important and integral to our makeup, and is something Kaye and I constantly inculcate within our growing family.

What are you hoping to do with DTW’s crackaud.io residency?

I hope that the selectors presented in this particular residency would reflect precisely what I just spoke about.

What have you got lined up for the future?

There’s quite a bit in the pipeline, but off the top of my head, there’s the upcoming releases like BodyClock and Various Assets which are geared more towards the dancefloor. We have been working with the !K7 family for our distribution and having them as a partner has proven to be invaluable. There’s also an upcoming European spring tour, which will see some of us playing with the Rhythm Section family in London, Pablo Valentino’s Children of the Drum residency at Le Sucre in Lyon and a few others. We have also started a residency every two months at Jupiter Disco in Brooklyn, NYC, so we are very excited about that!

Listen to the first instalment of Darker Than Wax’s crackaud.io residency, mixed by Marco Weibel and Jitwam.

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