How Pictures Music founder Alex Clapworthy turned a passion for nurturing talent into a day job
When I meet Alex Clapworthy at his leafy flat in Peckham, it's a rare 30-degree heat. His t-shirt shows a circle overlaid with a dotted triangle – the logo of his record label Pictures Music, which, over the past two years, has secured a reputation for spotting and nurturing the finest new electronica talent.
Pictures, which he runs with Matt Chlebek, started life in 2010 after the pair met who would later become experimental dubstep outfit Dark Sky. Working the stockroom at Ninja Tune during his final year at university, Alex befriended band member Tom Edwards. “We went up to their studio in Islington,” he recalls, “and they played us this music which was absolutely amazing. Me and Matt just thought, ‘OK, we’ve got to set up a label’.” Dark Sky are now one of nine artists they represent.
A recent addition to the roster is Brooklyn-based ShadowBox, a DIY-electropop producer (think Little Boots without the sugar) whom Alex has only ever met on Skype. “It’s not London clubby stuff like we’ve done before, but more on the dark, singer-songwriter tip,” he explains. “She sent us six tracks and we ended up pretty much releasing them as they were. They're quite roughly produced, but they've got something about them.”
Another new family member is Bobby Champs, a talented young DJ and producer from Essex. He is, apparently, one of the few people they’ve signed off the back of demos. “Usually the music we get sent is either totally inappropriate or really derivative,” says Alex. “I’ve got demos that just sound like they're copying artists on the label.” Champs, though, is a slight change of direction for Pictures – a harder, almost-techno approach. “People had started to associate us with quite a relaxed sound, so we thought ‘let’s throw something else in there’.” (His new record, Drag Queen, is released next month.)
We talk about Peckham, and he reels off the reasons for his long-term inhabitance. For one thing, it seems to attract like-minded creative types. “There's a guy I found in Peckham called Noel Summerville, who used to work at Metropolis. He’s actually mastered some of my favourite records – Plaid, Autechre, Boards of Canada, loads of amazing electronica. He bought the vinyl-cutting lathe and the entire contents of the studio, and built a shed in his garden. We’ve been there a couple of times to master records, and it’s great.”
He waves me enthusiastically into his study-slash-studio, and into the firing line of some very tidy-looking speakers. We listen to unreleased tracks from Pictures artists, and some from a new producer he's hoping to woo (for the label) over coffee the next morning. The bleeps are infinitely pure, the bass all-encompassing. It's mesmeric. “My neighbours must hate me,” he muses, sneaking the volume up a little more.
The label now has a sister company, Pictures International, which deals with publishing rights and licensing. “Setting it up has been great, and a big learning curve,” says Alex. One goal for the future is signing artists to longer-term deals; getting the album contract, the big prize, and not having to hand over to more established labels. Alex is, however, clear on where his satisfaction lies. “I just love being involved with musicians early on and helping them get somewhere.”
The Pictures website is also a photo blog where, every month or so, they'll upload a photographer Q&A, with a selection of their work. Often, it’s people Alex has seen at art school degree shows. “We promote them on Facebook and the blog,” he says. “Some of them have even got work out of it.”
He tells me about his passion for photography. “Matt and I are totally obsessed with old cameras. I’ve got tonnes and tonnes of these broken old cameras. Half of them you can’t buy film for any more, so I’ve tried cutting down medium-format film to fit them.” He also bought the contents of a darkroom off eBay, complete with chemicals, which got delivered to his house wrapped in lino and tied up with electrical wire. “It looked like a body,” he recalls. “The man from FedEx looked shocked carrying this thing into my house.”
I ask what's on his iPod at the moment. “Well, basically I listen to loads of demos and loads of Pictures stuff,” he laughs. “I really like the Alt-J album. But that's probably a generic thing to say, right? Also there’s a hip-hop group called Clear Soul Forces – they’re great.”
Setting up Pictures has brought a healthy dose of on-the-job learning. Over the past 12 months, Alex has managed Lapalux (Essex’s Stuart Howard ) from newbie status to releasing on LA’s Brainfeeder and playing to thousands at Sonar and Lovebox, with Japan gigs and Brixton Academy support for Flying Lotus lined up. “It’s been a lightning-bolt year for him,” says Alex, “so I’ve had to up my game and really stay on top of stuff. I’ve been doing a lot of work, meeting a lot of people. You’re just looking after someone I guess, trying to let them make as much music as possible without any of the boring stuff. I happen to like the boring stuff!”
Read Alex's comments below on Pictures's latest releases, which are all included in an exclusive Soundcloud set for Glass.
“ShadowBox's Haunted By Colors is a brilliantly dark and pensive piece of electronica. Bonnie's vocals are magical. I’m sure this is just the start for her.”
“Bobby Champs’s four-to-the-floor techno workouts are some of the most upfront tracks we’ve worked with. The reception to his Moonlight EP was fantastic, and this next record is already getting great responses from some respected tastemakers.
“It’s great to be working with Dauwd as a manager. His new productions are a departure from the relative comfort of London's club scene: powerful, evocative, and drawing more on techno and electronica than the music of his peers.”