Strut Records founder Quinton Scott
The IMI 21st Jul 2021

‘Indie labels need to be more professional than ever to thrive’

The AIM Independent Music Awards returns on August 25. In the weeks leading up to this year's ceremony, The IMI will be sitting down with the people behind the nominees for Best Small Label. This week, meet Strut Records founder Quinton Scott…

Founded in 1999, Strut has become one of the leading labels for reissues, compilations and new studio albums in the field of African, Caribbean, Latin, jazz, soul and disco.

The London-based label released its first albums in 1999, the Club Africa and DJ Pogo presents Black Party Breaks compilations and has been a champion of African music ever since. But the company’s influence and output stretches far wider across dance genres, including work with Grandmaster Flash during the label’s early years.

“I think we helped to kickstart the renewed interest in archive African music over the last two decades with the Nigeria 70 compilation, which remains a real cornerstone of the label,” says Strut founder Quinton Scott.

“Our work with Grandmaster Flash was particularly memorable, emphasising his position as one of the true greats of hip hop and culminating in the best event we promoted during our first years as a label – a sold-out night based on his original block parties at London’s Electrowerkz.”

Strut was re-launched in 2007, in conjunction with !K7, and Scott now runs the label alongside Hugo Mendez, one half of the Sofrito Sound System. The label has continued to chart the roots of dance music with various compilations and reissues, but has also moved into original studio releases.

“It has always been massively rewarding to play a role in moving forward the careers of the artists we work with,” says Scott. “Helping Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke to become a globally renowned figure selling out tours across the world has been great to see, and witnessing Nubiyan Twist become a major force this year after many years of hard graft by the band has been amazing.

“Most recently we have been working closely with the catalogues of Patrice Rushen, Miriam Makeba and Black Fire Records and we continue to support younger talent with new artist albums from Nubiyan Twist, Electric Jalaba and Alostmen.”

Strut is among the nominees for Best Small Label at this year’s AIM Awards. Here Scott talks about the label’s history, it’s recent successes, his hopes for the future and thoughts on the independent music industry.

What was the vision for the label when you started?

Quinton Scott: We started in 1999 and the original vision was to document areas of dance music history. At the time, the compilation market was healthy but quite one-dimensional and there were whole areas of music within club culture, funk, soul and disco that had not been reissued and marketed to a younger generation of club-goers at the time. So, we felt that the label could tell some of those stories and go deeper with some more adventurous compilation ideas.

"We do always release albums that we feel will be profitable, but I think the true test of success is how they endure in the long term, both financially and in the public conscience."

How do you define success for your releases?

QS: Obviously the balance sheet is important and we do always release albums that we feel will be profitable, but I think the true test of success is how they endure in the long term, both financially and in the public conscience. We are always aiming to release albums that will stand the test of time and be as relevant in five, 10 or 20 years’ time as they are now. Quality all the way through from the music to the artwork and liner notes is always really important.

Why do you think you’ve been nominated for this award?

QS: I think we have hopefully kept the quality really high throughout the year on Strut and have managed a good balance between established artists, really strong new artists, reissues, box sets and compilations during difficult conditions. We released the first Sun Ra Arkestra new studio album in over 15 years, Swirling, which recently won a Libera Award in the US for Best Spiritual Album; new albums from Ghana’s Alostmen, London/Moroccan collective Electric Jalaba, Greg Foat and Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids were all strong and well received; we also ran our best ever marketing campaign during the pandemic for Nubiyan Twist’s Freedom Fables album, including an appearance on Later With Jools Holland.

On the reissue side, the Sun Ra Egypt 1971 5LP box set sold very well for us on Record Store Day, and we began working with some top level catalogues – Patrice Rushen’s Elektra recordings, Miriam Makeba’s Reprise albums and the independent jazz/R&B label Black Fire, including Oneness Of Juju’s discography.

How have you coped over the pandemic? How have you adjusted? 

QS: There have been a lot of adjustments at many levels in terms of release schedule, our shipping network and our direct-to-consumer fulfilment structure via !K7 because of both COVID and Brexit. The recent delays in vinyl production have also caused more issues but we were fortunate to have a series of strong artist albums already recorded and a deep catalogue to draw upon when COVID first hit. New albums by Greg Foat, Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids and Sun Ra Arkestra were good ‘listening’ albums for lockdown and all sold really well for us. There were definitely dips at points, but we were fortunate to be able to keep a fairly decent momentum throughout the worst period of the pandemic.

Where do you hope to see the label in five years?
QS: I hope that we can keep on the same trajectory as now, being able to release great new albums by both original legends and young artists alike, developing our work with classic catalogues and keeping the label fresh and varied between new music, compilations and reissues across a wide range of music styles.

Alostmen

How much impact can indies have in 2021 compared to, say, 5-10 years ago? How have things changed?

QS: I think the market is much more open now. Majors still have the muscle in terms of mainstream music but the digital sphere has meant that a much wider range of music is more commonplace. For us, for instance, African, Latin and Caribbean music is no longer considered as specialist and is much more widely accepted by music buyers, media, retail and music supervisors than ever before.

By contrast, there is so much music being released now that it is important for indies to get every stage of a release right – each album needs to be strong, the marketing campaign needs to resonate widely across a lot of different media and indie labels need a robust physical and distribution structure. If any of those steps are weak or out of synch, it’s very easy for an album to just die off very quickly after release. So, I think the market is healthy now but indie labels need to be more professional and organised than ever to thrive, especially right now with less touring opportunities around COVID and Brexit.    

If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?

QS:  Well, the obvious issue would be around streaming models and a much fairer deal for artists; it isn’t workable as it stands and it is rightly a hot topic at the moment. In terms of Strut’s specific music areas, it’s perhaps a slightly naive suggestion given the contemporary digital landscape but I would love the majors to change their approach to licensing out their catalogues. Huge swathes of incredible music remain untouched or unmarketed in their archives and their licensing terms to indies are often unworkable with high advances and royalty rates for physical licences and no digital rights. It used to be much easier when we first started Strut and I am guessing that the majors felt that too many resources were being used up chasing royalties and that they needed to retain full control as digital music developed but I feel like there has to be a workable business model that allows a more open licensing policy for tried and tested indies to licence niche music that would otherwise remain dormant. It can only benefit both parties and the original artists too.

The IMI