Label profile: 1631 Recordings – interview with David Wenngren by Seb Chan


David Wenngren from Library Tapes and Mattias Nilsson from Kning Disk formed 1631 Recordings just under a year ago and now with almost 30 releases under its belt they have carved out quite a name for releasing modern piano-led classical works. 1631 isn’t releasing only original new works, it has been actively trawling recent releases on other labels, licensing and re-releasing them. I spoke to David over email to get a sense of their curatorial process and the challenges of running a label of this ilk.

Q – Both of you behind 1631 have been doing music for years – why and how did 1631 come about? How do you see it different from Kning and your own stuff as Library Tapes? was there a defining purpose behind kicking off the label?

David Wenngren – I love what Mattias [Nilsson] has been doing with Kning Disk over the years. He’s been releasing so many different sounding albums/artists and somehow it all makes sense in some weird way. There’s no definitive rule with what we’re planning on releasing through 1631, though when we started the label last summer the idea was to release “cinematic music”. Of course that can be a lot of different things, and so far it’s been mainly piano based modern classical music, and there will be a lot more of that in the future for sure. However as long as both Mattias and I love something I think there’s a good chance that we’ll release it.

Q – What is it about the sound and texture of the piano that is so captivating for you? It feels like there has been a new wave of piano-based modern classical after a long period of more dissonant work. Is this related to a shift in actual cinematic music or music for cinema – and the popularity of film scores by Jóhann Jóhannsson and Max Richter etc?

David Wenngren – I’m not sure why, but I’ve always loved the sound of the sustained notes of the acoustic piano. Of course the piano is also very interesting as they can sound so different and be played and recorded in so many ways to alter the sounds. I think there’s been a lot of good piano based albums released the last few years, but you’re right that it feels like there’s a new wave with a lot of exciting young composers, and I’m sure it has something to do with Jóhannsson, Richter, Arnalds, Frahm, O’Halloran, Hauschka et al getting a wider recognition for their work – but it might also have something to do with the fact that it’s getting easier and easier to record good sounding piano music at home with sample libraries.

Q – You’ve uncovered some great releases that, perhaps, didn’t get enough exposure in their earlier release. I love this idea of bringing previous works to new ears in the new framework of 1631. How do you balance the reissues versus new work? What has been the mechanics behind reissuing?

David Wenngren – There’s so much good music out there that’s only available on Bandcamp and Soundcloud. I had been thinking about this for quite some time that it would be good to get some of my friends’ music up on Spotify and Itunes, so I asked Anthony (Stray Ghost) and Sophie Hutchings if they were interested, and the reissuing has just snowballed from there. We’re just gathering some of our favourite releases under one roof really and hopefully this way people will be able to discover some really great music that they missed the first time around. It’s a little bit like running a record shop where we just stock our favourite music and there’s new releases coming in to the shop every Friday. We’ve been releasing something every week since two months back now, and we have reissues and new releases planned for every friday in April and May. We’ll see how long we can keep this pace up for. The most important thing isn’t to release a lot of music, it has to be high quality material too of course.

Q – That’s quite quite a pace – one a week for the next two months! It’s almost at the speed that Pete Namlook was doing Fax Records in the mid 1990s! Do you think that subscription models and primarily digital distribution take some of the risk out of working at such speed? And, how do you consider the effect of speed on listeners, it seems the oppositional for the type of [slow listening]music!

David Wenngren – Digital releases makes it possible for us to release material with lesser known artists that we wouldn’t be able to release otherwise for sure. But we’ll also have a few new releases coming out on CD in the near future and it’s possible that we’ll re-visit some of our digital releases later on to make CD editions if they do well on the streaming services/digital shops or if there seems to be a big interest in some specific releases.

There’s lots of new music coming out every single day and it’s getting harder and harder for people to keep up and listen to everything they would like to and track down new music, but once they’ve found an artist or a label that they love there’s a good chance they will start there, and hopefully 1631 can be one of the go-to labels when it comes to modern classical music.

Q – Thinking about artist discovery, 1631 feels like it is very much you two seeking out music with a strong curatorial vision. Your comment about it being like running a record store really speaks to this. Can you tell me more about how both of you ‘discover’ music – and how that curatorial skill develops over time? I’m particularly interested in the specific practices you and Mattias use, recommendations from friends, following influences etc?

David Wenngren – A lot of the releases we’ve done have been by artists that we’ve been in touch with prior to starting up the label, either through demos that’s been sent to Kning Disk in the past or people I know through my own music. We’re also getting recommendations from friends and other artists on the label.
There’s also more and more demos coming in on a regular basis, and of course we’re constantly reading about and listening to new music as well.

Q – Bandcamp and Soundcloud are still working through the ‘discovery problem’ aren’t they? How much of a difference does Spotify and iTunes make to this for your audiences? Are you starting to see different results, yourself, from listing on these other services?

David Wenngren – There’s so much music to discover on Soundcloud and that’s where we’ve found a lot of our artists, but the site could really improve it’s search engine as the discoveries we make over there is a bit lucky and random.

Spotify is very important to us in terms of streams, but it’s mainly due to their playlists and it’s hard to know how many people that actively listen to the music rather than using those lists for sleeping, reading, writing etc, but we’re seeing much improved results in all of these places as our catalogue is growing and more and more people are starting to discover 1631. For example we have a 25% discount on the full catalogue on our Bandcamp and over the last couple of months there’s been at least one person every week that’s buying the full discography. This is where I think Spotify could improve, because it would be great if labels could set up their own pages and have their catalogue in one place for people to browse through.

I also wish the similar artists list on Spotify was bigger and adjustable, because it’s not always very accurate for smaller artists, and that’s where it’s crucial to get it right really.

Q – Tell me about some of the upcoming releases. The label’s aesthetic is already so strong – both sonically and visually – how are you using this year’s releases to shape this further?

David Wenngren – Mattias is responsible for pretty much all the artwork/layouts on our releases and that’s something we feel very strongly about. We’ve talked about doing prints, posters and even a book with all the artworks, but it will probably be a while before that happens as we’re very busy with all of these upcoming releases at the moment.

We have new albums with Julien Marchal and Bruno Sanfillipo coming out in a few weeks time that will be released on CD, and not just digitally. We’re also releasing volume two of Library Tapes “Sketches, outtakes and rarities” series in May along with a bunch of other new and old releases. In total there’s around ten-twelve albums, a few EP’s and some singles planned for April and May, so we will stay busy.

And if you like what we’ve released so far there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy most of these spring releases as well as they all follow the red thread that’s been running through the majority of our catalogue so far.

Explore the full 1631 catalogue on Bandcamp


About Author

Seb Chan founded Cyclic Defrost Magazine in 1998 with Dale Harrison. He handed over the reins at the end of 2010 but still contributes the occasional article and review.