As if being a DJ and broadcaster wasn’t enough, Charlie Tee is now adding label owner to her CV following the announcement of her new imprint Total Records.
We caught up with Charlie in between her many packed-out-dancefloor sets to talk about setting up the label, what she’s got in store for Total and the power of ‘feelings focused music’.
So very exciting news to hear the announcement of Total Records. Firstly could you just summarise what this imprint is all about?
Thank you, yes I’m very excited about it! So basically, Total Records is what we are calling a ‘feeling focused’ imprint. The idea is that it is multi-genre, we don’t want to pigeon-hole the tracks that we put out as a specific genre, saying we are a tech-house label, or house, or drum and bass. Instead we are a label that puts out music fuelled by feeling.
The thing I am looking for when people send me demos – is if it makes me feel a really prominent emotion. One of the records I was sent, honestly I cried my eyes out. Another, it just got me right in the chest. That gut reaction – that is what I am looking for. Whatever the emotion is, if it makes me want to jump around the room, or I want to have a little cry, it’s music that is thought provoking. Especially in a world surrounded by stereotyping and labels, it’s time that we just appreciate the music for what it is, and not try to label it.
Music has always been free and expressive and creative. Dance music was never created with rules in place, but these rules have somehow developed over the years, and I want to break them down a little bit.
Every record that we will put out on the imprint has a narrative behind it, and we will be promoting this narrative before the record drops. We will get the artists to do a bit of spoken word about the release, how the track makes them feel and the story behind it. As somebody who is really into the foundations of UK club culture and dance music history, I know that it took people a lot longer to make records back in the day, with analogue equipment, so you really had to be invested in the music you were putting out. I feel this has been lost in today’s scene, as there are so many labels putting out music it feels like it is being churned out.
With every record that we will put out, it is carefully selected and the feeling is very much the prominent focus of the record. I hope this will encourage people to think about dance music in a different way, and I just hope people will love it!
So what inspired you to not only launch your own label, but one that is ‘feelings focused’?
So I have always wanted to start my own record label, that was always a given. I always knew I wanted to put out different styles of music, and have it all in one hub.
I was really inspired by XL Recordings, one of my favourite imprints growing up. They put out such an array of genres – you had drum and bass like The Prodigy, dance music like ‘N-Joi – Anthem’, Jamie XX’s earlier stuff and Jai Paul. There was such a mixture, electronic to drum and bass, acid led stuff to jungle and breaks, and that label shaped a lot of my musical tastes. I wanted to create a label that is indicative of this, and everything that I love and enjoy.
Then last year in lockdown, a lot of the world was struggling during isolation, and I just wanted to create something joyous and happy. I started the ‘QuaranTen Mix’, which was basically a ten-minute mix of really happy music. It had a great response, and I thought ‘how do I continue this feature?’ and thought of ways to rebrand it. This developed into the Feelings Mix – because music makes you feel. If you are feeling crap, it can make you feel amazing, it can pick you up, it is so transportive and transformative.
So yeah, Total Records wasn’t directly inspired by the Feelings Mix but that aspect definitely stayed with me when coming up with the concept for the label.
And what is the meaning behind the name ‘Total’?
So years ago I created a music blog called ‘Tee Total’ – obviously me being Charlie Tee, it was a space where I used to post all my dance music selections, again being multi-genre. I originally decided to use this name for the label. But then someone pointed out that obviously ‘teetotal’ has a double meaning for people who don’t drink, and this may cause some confusion for club culture. This is one factor why I went with ‘Total’.
Another reason is because of its meaning. Total is everything, totality and all together. We just want to celebrate dance music in all its multifaceted beauty, celebrating all artists, of all races, genders, sexualities, just everyone. Also the ‘O’ is a circle – representing the inclusivity of everything. Looking back at lockdown again, I think it taught us how to be more accepting of other genres.
The pandemic forced the dance community to branch out and stick together. We were all in the same boat. Before this there used to be a lot of music snobbery, with little integration. But when everybody was watching streams, it was all just about enjoying and appreciating good music, without ego. I think it is really important we remember that and we carry that ethos forward a bit more, and this is what I hope to do with Total.
So this is your first time running a label. How have you found it so far?
It’s been bloody difficult, I’m not going to lie! It’s not the easiest job running a record label, as I’m finding out. I’ve never worked for a label, so this is all brand new to me. Luckily I’m in a fortunate position where I’ve got lots of mates who do, and so I can ask ‘how do I do this?’.
There are a lot of aspects that have baffled me, like royalties, and working with a lawyer on contracts. But it has been exciting, challenging and a really great learning curve!
And then what can we expect from Total Records?
Well we’ve got our first few releases in the works, obviously it’s a mixed bag of genres. I can’t reveal any more than that at this moment, but make sure to keep an ear out for those in 2022. We’ve also filmed the label’s launch video which will be coming out very soon. What we have essentially done is take all the essential elements of the rave scene, and deconstruct it. You get to see all the senses too – hair standing on end, pupils dilating as the lights go into your eyes.
These are the fundamentals of raving, and that is all you need. We just wanted to take it back to basics, because that is what we are doing with the label, and therefore reflect this in the promo. There are not going to be any fancy, high budget models, just the essential elements of the music scene.
Another thing that we are going to do at Total, and something I am really passionate about, will be a clause in our contracts that any vocalist on a track has to be named as a featured artist. That is one of the conditions of signing with us, unless of course they choose that they don’t want their name featured. But I don’t want an artist to take that right away from a vocalist. I see it happen all too much in dance music. They will use someone’s voice, put them in the credits and then refuse to feature them. And that is not what we are about!
And then looking more long term, what plans have you got for the label?
Even though it’s only early days of the label, I have had ideas in my head for a very long time. Ideally I would like to do some club nights with it, most likely a club takeover across a couple rooms as it would be a multi-genre lineup. Further down the line it could grow even more, into a cool, conceptual and artistic festival. But we will see! Like I said, this is much further down the line. For now it’s just me on my own, putting out some good music!
Then moving away from Total Records, what else can we look forward to from the Charlie Tee camp?
Yes, I have actually got a lot in store for the next coming weeks and then into 2022. Starting with some very exciting news, I’ll be covering a show on Danny Howard’s slot on Radio 1 – which was previously Annie Mac’s show. To play on this slot has been my dream since I was about 18, so to actually get to do it is just mad to me! It’s always a pleasure presenting on BBC Radio 1 and it’s very exciting to have dates booked in.
In terms of gigs I’ve got a lot coming up. Next year I’m already booked in for Nass festival and Snowboxx, as well as being part of a huge lineup for Hospitality in Bristol which I am very excited for. I’ve got probably the gig of my life coming up next year, but unfortunately I am not allowed to say as it has not been announced yet, so stay tuned for that update.
Between all this and everything with Total Records, it is safe to say that 2022 will be a busy year, and I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck in!
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