"We want music to be surprising and impressive"
The Hard Fist project is the result of a friendship between Cornelius Doctor and Tüshen Raï, whose taste for art and music led them to create a platform with the sound that conquered their attention and took their creative curiosity. Since then, they have not stopped, being recognized internationally, without losing fidelity to music and its message: up the rhythm, down the differences.
What was your first foray into the world of electronic music?
Tushen Raï: I wasn’t much into electronic music when teens from my generation wer listening to French Touch hits, I was more into french Hip Hop, roots reggae, punk. I started listening to dance music with oldies disco and funk, especially from Africa and Middle-East. Stuff like Mustafa Öskent or Geraldo Pino for exemple. My first dive into electronic was late, when I arrived in London, and more linked to the “club” experience than a specific kind of electronic beat.
I think what we had released with Hard Fist is the result of the fact that I was not much into electronic music at the beginning, and Cornelius Doctor on his was producer and Dj for years. That mix worked. We do electronic music but we do electronic music for the body first, and we do electronic music that keeps an open doors for rock, disco, global groove, and even some reggae, dub, or punk.
In and out of the electronic music circle, who is an inspiration to you?
Tushen Raï: In, the first answer always been Andrew Weatherall, and he will continue to be one of my first influence for ever for sure. Andrew builed a European vision of electronic music that fits with our musical culture, he actually invented a way of mixing disco kick with rock vocals, dubby effect and even eastern percussion sometimes. For me, he is the European ambassador of this fusion style connecting electronic music to indie or pop culture, and without that, I’m not really sure that electronic music had survived to 35 years without becoming “has been”.
But if I’ve to pick up one, I think it would be definitely La Mano Negra, a band I am listening since a really longue time now, since I’m 12, and I never stopped listening to them. It’s more about the spirit of the band than just for the music, it is this generation of band really involved into global politics, curious about the world, critic about the future of the consumerism which ruled the world and was perceived by people as a positive way of developing our society. In the 90’s, this kind of band was considered as radical, extreme on all ecologic and economic topics, and 30 years after… lot of people start considering that being “radical” on those topics is the only way to get a future for our earth.
When did the idea of starting a label begin to take shape? Has it always been something you’ve wanted to do?
Tushen Raï: I think I ve always dreamed to do it! I choosed to work in the musical field really early, but I was more fascinated by helping artists to develop their careers than having mine. I was not considering myself enough talented to do a career and it was natural for me to just work for people who were really talented. I think running a label is a continuity of this spirit, you can definitely create and develop your own identity, your “signature”, but the main part of the job you do is to spotlight talent you trust in and support their development. I like being this secret guy who advise the producer when he is lost in his project, when he have doubts, I love this artistic relationship you have to build with him to guarantee a good project.
What is your criteria for choosing artists, projects, releases…?
It’s about the music first of course, we have to be 100% convinced, and as we are two guys running the label, it’s not an easy job to convince both of us.
From that, it’s definitely about the vibe, we try to keep this label friendly and to use music to develop real relationships with our artists. You know, running a little indie label is a lot of work and we don’t make money at all. All money we get is re-investesd in the next record. We choose to invest our energy to promote projects from artists we trust in, instead of using this energy to promote our own music, our own career. We think that to develop the musical scene we like, we have to act collectively and not only working for ourself. It’s how our scene is growing up actually, the artists are not only promoting themselves, they have labels to sign other artists, party in their own town where they manage the booking, etc .. they love to collaborate and this is how many artist from this scene are actually touring in without signing in big booking agencies or doing Boiler Room stream.
So, If an artist send me a really cool demo I want to sign, but is not in this collaborative state of mind, he can go fuck himself. I don’t want to work with people who are centered on themselves, on their own project, I’m not service provider. I don’t make money with the label, so why I should do that if it’s not for having a cool artistic collaboration that will touch me humanly and artistically?
Since you started Hard Fist until now, how much has the concept of the label changed?
The concept has not changed I, we still release Hard Fist music, the question is what is Hard Fist music? Since the beginning, our influence and inspiration are pretty large, coming from label such as Permanent Vacation, Les Disques de la Mort, Correspondant, Comeme or Multi Culti. And those label really don’t do the same thing ! Our scene, is more defined by a spirit and a community than a concrete music style. What is the link between banger dark disco tracks, super slow rave productions, multicultural acid house, psychedelic eastern techno, italodisco and coldwave electronic rock bands ? We follow and respect each other and we all want to experiment new form of dance music. So, I can not imagine what will be the next musical filed that Hard Fist will explore, it’s just about “Wooh, that’s sounds good, it’s fresh, singular, and I want to move my body on it, so let’s sign it!”
How do you create V / A? You start with an idea and concept and then you look for people who might be interested?
Actually we are running two V/A projects. The first one is “Princes Of Abzu” which now has 2 volumes ,and the second is “La Danse” a digital serie of V/A comp.
Each of those V/A are super different, the first one, Princes Of Abzu has a strong editorial, to express our love for arabic music from middle east to Maghreb, and especially our love for the transcendental power of their rhythms and melodies.
Our statement is pretty easy : we are not native from this culture and community, and we want to express our passion for the music produced in this part of the world, so Princes Of Abzu have been imagined as a tribute cooked by musician from all around the world, Europe, Asia, USA and of course middle east.
To create this compilation, we invited some artists giving them a guideline on the musical orientation and storytelling of the comp.
For “La Danse”, our last release, the statement is different. We wanted to create a compilation dedicated to the dancefloor, something we would play in all our set when Djing. Also we receive a lot of super good demos that we would love to release immediately and that’s impossible to do it on vinyl support (which take a lot of time). Enventually, we want to stay free from all musical “genre” and show in a unique release what are our influences and music feelings.
As say our good friend Denis Yurgens of 44,100hZ Social Club: “Genres are for journalists” !
For La Danse we picked up some of the best demos we listened since more than a year on Hard Fist and also ask some artists we love to create an exclusive track for us. It’s a kind of “dance” best of curated by Cornelius Doctor and Tushen Raï!
Has anything changed in how you approach your work with the label since you started? Your general outlook or anything else?
Humm… When we started with Cornelius, we both knew what running a label is. All the crew in Lyon helped us to launch this new label, organizing parties, giving their fees after playing in clubs, in order to collect the funds we needed to launch our first vinyl. Without them nothing never happens actually.
When we released the first EP, by Cornelius Doctor himself, we had no more ambition than putting out the music that excited at this time, a release something different than what we were listening in clubs.. At this time we were aslo discovering the music of guys like Manfredas, Red Axes. Khidja were releasing their first EP and Simple Symmetry were doing free edit on their soundcloud.
We were exalted by their music that was rare at the time, with only a couple of releases like this a month, and only few labels were supporting this community of artist. We wanted to be a part of this adventure, that was not represented in France.
We have changed many thing since the beginning of the label, to keep stimulated : new partners, new visual collaboration with Leo Marsal, new distribution partner after the really sad ending of Chez Emile record, who have been our partner for years…
We were really opened in term of musical “genre” when we started Hard Fist and we are still. We can release a psych rock EP and, at the same time an uptempo edit of a 70’s Palestinian singer. Tushen Raï:
The are to important statement :
We want music to be surprising and impressive.
We want to continue to support upcoming artists, our first satisfaction is to offer ha first vinyl release to an artist, it is what we mainly do. Our job is development, definitely.
What’s the most satisfying and unsatisfying thing about running a label?
We don’t wait for someone else to release the music we want to listen. Hoping that the next musical tendency will be the one you follow is utopic, running a label is being a part of a community and be involved into building his success.
You like an artist that you want to bring your support ? You didn't find the music you are looking for on vinyl ? Do your label, but please, don’t forget that’s the key his : singularity.
Also it is an honor to inspire people doing what they love.
What have been your personal highlights and lowlights?
Highlights ? River Yarra production in general, Anunaku too. The last compilation of Crevette records and the EIGER DRUMS PROPAGANDA releases on Macadam Mambo too. Vandgold demos, Mishell demos, the last Sex Kino tube which really make our music flirting with pop, it’s wonderful. So many stuff to drop, it’s impossible. Last one, our friends MR TC remixing the Guadalajara based band Die Jungle on the great Playground Records.
Lowlights ? I don’t have time boring music and I don’t expect anything from one guy, if you do, you always finish by being desapointed.
Tell us about the personal projects of each one, what are you working on?
Tushen Raï: My regular job is still totally stopped by the virus and I’m not sure to be able to be back to a normal activity in 2020. So, I use this time to produce music by myself, I would love to finally release a solo EP in 2021. I use this time to chill a bit, read more, enjoy the countryside and developing the label.
With the Doctor, we have fresh music coming on Hamam House, the wonderful Jonny Rock’s label, on Logical Records too, and we are thinking about starting building a live show with our friends Shadi Khries.
With Hard Fist, we have a full Balam EP coming out this month digitally, including a remix from Bufi. After that we a new vinyl release by Strapontin including remixes by Thomass Jackson and Damon Jee. It is an exciting EP, full of surprise and with a strong identity, I can’t wait to release it. And for the future, there is a lot more coming, but let’s keep it secret for now.
Do you think that after the Covid-19 event, the music industry will change?
Of course it will. It has already. Live events and performances are the first income of many artists, it will probably never be the same. Booking agencies are closing, clubs are closing, etc... And the fact is, it’s the most important venues that are the most in danger right now, the venues who care about paying their taxes, assuring safe job contract to their employed, etc .. And unfortunately we risk to see more club like De School than commercial “discoteca” or clubs in Ibiza closing…
But the real question is not “does it will change” but “how it will change” ? each crisis gives an opportunity to change for better and this one, is the biggest we aver had had since the beginning of the global capitalist system. In our industry, it’s an opportunity to rethink the star system, to decrease the incredible social inequality in this business.
When on the same stage of a festival an artist can be paid 200 or 300€ and the headliner get 100 000€ for the same kind of performance, the same time on stage, the same job in a way, it’s not normal and it’s something that we have the opportunity to rethink right now.
It’s also about ecology of course, Simo Cell just done a really interesting and auto-critic interview for the french journal Liberation recently that I advise everyone to read. Of course, our industry is polluting by nature, organizing a festival or touring is polluting, but we can change our way of managing our activities, it’s just a question of priority.
Few easy rules for Djs could be: only one tour out of your continent a year. Refuse to take more than 3 return trip in Europe a month, never take to flights in the same week-end, find a way to do 2 gigs linked by train in the same week-end and enjoy the country you are visiting, it’s also better for your mental health !
There is a lot to do, it’s of course not enough, but we would set an exemple. If those rules were standard to the whole industry, it would be a interesting first move.
And also, “big names” on the posters, why the hell are you still asking for business class, it’s egal to 3 regular seat in a plane. Also eat and drink local produce, why do you ask to bring the shit from your own country?
Guys, let’s move forward now, effort is the price of the reward...
What tracks would you recommend us to liven up the confinement?
This edit of Strapontin released during lockdown in France on Hard Fist. It’s a super smooth and trippy interpretation of the Areski Belkacem and Brigitte Fontaine masterpiece “Depuis” which invite people to break the walls, to forgot about states borders to focus on cultural exchanges and multiculturalist, create your own education process and cultural foundations… ideas that definitely represent Hard Fist state of mind.