Nate Nelson and Jamie Strong.
The IMI 9th Jun 2022

‘Now any artist or label can potentially reach a global audience. That’s powerful’

The A2IM Libera Awards return next week, on June 16. In the lead up to this year's ceremony, The IMI will be sitting down with the people behind the nominees for Best Small Label. This time, meet Innovative Leisure…

Founded by Jamie Strong and Nate Nelson, alongside their partner, creative director and breakout artist Hanni El Khatib, Innovative Leisure was built on cross-genre ambitions.

The genesis of Innovative Leisure dates back to another indie label – Stones Throw Records. It was there where Strong, the label’s Head of Sales and Marketing became close with Nelson, Head of Digital, Sync Licenses, and Publishing. Nelson had begun pressing 7” and 12” inch singles of records from artists like Freddie Gibbs and Machinedrum. Around the same time, Strong took a trip to San Francisco and visited a friend who worked at HUF Worldwide, the popular skateboard company and streetwear brand. The friend convinced El Khatib, then HUF’s creative director, to give his self-pressed demo to Strong. Strong was impressed and returned to LA to play it for Nelson. The pair decided to partner up and release the record under the fledgling Innovative Leisure name.

Innovative Leisure would go on to put out releases across genres including soul, funk, jazz, hip hop, garage, rock, house, disco and punk. Today, it counts a similarly diverse range of artists on its roster including Nick Waterhouse, BAMBII, Alex Maas, BADBADNOTGOOD, Maria Chiara Argiró and Hanni El Khatib.

Strong and Nelson sat down with The IMI following Innovative Leisure’s inclusion in the Best Small Label category at this year’s Libera Awards.


Tell us about how the label started. What was your ambition/vision at the time?

We were working at another label at the time and Innovative Leisure was an offshoot releasing vinyl singles almost as a hobby.  There came a point when we had had some successes with a couple early releases and figured it was a sign that we should take things a bit more serious with Innovative Leisure.  The ambition was to release music that we felt passionate about.  That philosophy continues today.

"Release music and artists that you like and believe in regardless of the business side of things."

How do you define success from one release to the next?

If the act or group whose music we have released develops through the collective marketing efforts, we view that as a success.

Why do you think you’ve been nominated for this award (don’t be modest)?

We are passionate about the music that we put out. And I think that comes across in the music and efforts.

Where do you see the label in five years?

Hopefully still trucking along! We’ve been at it for more than 10 years and plan to keep putting out music for as long as we can.

How much power do you feel independents have in 2022?

Physical distribution used to be king, but now any artist or label can potentially reach a global audience with the click of a button, so that is powerful and levelling the playing field for independents.

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


What advice would you give to other independent labels at your level?

Continue to release music and artists that you like and believe in regardless of the business side of things.