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Days of future past: Meg Woof speaks to Clone electro label founder Serge

April 2017

“Clone Records is a label that has 25 years in business and still has no hit record. So basically it’s a complete failure and therefore we're still around,” says Serge Verschuur of Rotterdam's leading electro label and shop. To mark its anniversary he talks to Meg Woof about music and the dance of time

Clone is Rotterdam’s bastion record shop, label and distributor. From its formation in 1992 to the present day, it has supported and maintained a strong dance community and identity that holds a distinct no-nonsense, independent character. Clone’s artist roster includes Legowelt, Drexciya, Alden Tyrell, ADULT. and Duplex, and it has also branched out with various sublabels such as the Aqualung Series, the Basement Series, Clone Classic Cuts and Royal Oak.

To mark its 25 year anniversary, over the last three months label founder Serge Verschuur has been touring Europe with an interchangeable line-up under the evocative banner Return Of The Future, a name that points towards the narratives and sounds carried by many of its artists. The sentiment is also mirrored by Serge as he talks about the label's place in underground dance music.

The tour comes to a close on 22 April at London’s Oval Space, where Serge will play alongside I-F, Legowelt and Randomer.

Meg Woof: Return Of The Future could be construed as quite a hopeful title. Do you believe it's possible that dance music could become something less retrospective again?

Serge Verschuur: That’s not an easy question to start with. I think we're now dealing with a very mature music style with very little new impulses causing changes –apparently even within a genre like electronic dance music (techno, electro, house and disco), which has a tradition of looking forward, adapting the new and exploring the future! From what I see it is usually the commercially successful scene that is dictating the dogmas that are adapted by most musicians and labels. There is very little urge for most producers and DJs to change things and experiment because that would mean commercial suicide, or at least it’s risky behaviour. Short answer: I don’t know... but I want to believe it is possible!

How could the dance scene and its sound start to move into new territory?

The most logical answer would be new technologies. That was always the catalyst of electronic music. But if there aren’t any new technologies then we need people breaking the rules, people who don’t care about the dogmas. People who are talented or powerful enough to do something different and create something new and fresh or with a personal style that is so powerful that it can influence or change things.

Return Of The Future also sounds like a science fiction title. A lot of the artists that Clone champion use strong fictional narratives in their work – Drexciya and Legowelt for example. Can you explain your personal pull towards music like this?

I think techno, house, electro and also Italo disco were all about new technologies, about the future! About fantasising how things would be in 2001, or what the world would look like when you’re older. It was about expressing yourself and your emotions through the music you make or play, whether it was political (Underground Resistance), or about desire or other personal emotions we can relate too (early Blake Baxter, Larry Heard), or about the unknown future (Model 500), or just fascinating alienating sounds and melodies you’d never heard before (Chicago Acid, Derrick May, Sähkö etc). I think that is the spirit, the tradition of at least techno and house music. And in that spirit we should also see Aphex Twin, Autechre, Drexciya, Legowelt, Actress, Aleksi Perala, etc. They’re all about embracing the unknown, expressing yourself and curiosity – not only about the functionality of making people dance.

Clone seems to be one of the few remaining shops that have stayed committed to a specific scene and sound, and one that hasn't had to start stocking records outside of this to stay afloat. Was this a conscious decision from the beginning?

I know what you mean but I think it is actually the opposite. We stock records that often didn’t commit to a specific (local) scene and sound. We always stocked everything we liked, while most other local import stores did specialise in trends and fashion. When I heard the first records by Detroit In Effect or on Sähkö records there was no demand for them. It was not the dance music that was being played in the clubs and nobody knew them, but we jumped around from excitement when we got them in. We started playing the records at parties or in the car for friends. And many records that I used to sell the first day we opened the store are titles we still sell today! We never excluded styles, so when we could get a great hiphop record we stocked it, same for a great funk or jazz record or a soundtrack. But our specialisation was with house, techno, electro, modern electronica and disco. This is probably the core but we didn’t jump on all new trends and sub genres or stock the latest club bangers if we thought they were shite! We always tried to stock music from artists and labels that we liked or respected... no matter if it was dubstep or drum ’n’ bass or obscure modern electronica that would never get played in a club.

Although Clone stocks most genres of dance music, to my mind the shop has a strong, not to mention long, connection with electro.

There was always a healthy scene. My generation grew up when the first electro and disco wave was over, and we heard a lot of these records from neighbours, older brothers or on the radio and in DJ mixes, not knowing which record it was or where it came from. So I guess being too young to have lived and experienced that period, there was probably a certain melancholy for that music that influenced us a lot.

What have you learnt over the last 25 years that might help you in the future?

For me, I realise I need to be as open-minded, as unprejudiced as when I was 21. Clone Records is a label that has 25 years in business and still has no hit record. So basically it’s a complete failure and therefore we're still around. We managed not to follow the latest fashion, so we didn’t go out of fashion. We've been a niche since day one and followed the heart – not the rules of commercial success. Now and again I have to remember this and double check if I still feel what I do, if I still manage to stay independent and open-minded and unbiased. That way of doing things is still more important than the function.

Not limiting yourself to realistic expectations, if you had your way what would Clone be in another 15 or 20 years? What's your fantasy?

I would love to dig deeper in other styles that are currently less dominant in the store and on the label. To keep exploring and releasing music by new artists with a strong personal sound signature, but also releasing music from the past that did stand the test of time and make us aware that we shouldn’t try to invent the wheel again. It’s controversial, on one side we don’t need new music anymore as there is more music than we could listen to in a life time. On the other hand there is a large irresistible urge for something new and surprising and to create ourselves. That’s a great force field!

Clone’s Return Of The Future night takes over London's Oval Space on 22 April

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