Darker Than Wax (DTW) is more than just a record label and they’ve expressed this sentiment countless times in many an interview as they’ve always likened DTW to more of a movement for likeminded people, letting the quality of the music to flourish on its own without any pigeonholing. This is all done without the ambitious spur of being considered the best record label there is, even though they’ve garnered a reputation for themselves as being one of the region’s most revered indie digital labels.
The conception of DTW started when saxophonist Kaye met Dean, who’s better known as Funk Bast*rd, more than a decade ago. Thanks to Dean, Kaye – who already had an impressive knowledge of music – found himself exposed to new musical territories such nu jazz and broken beats, as well the deeper terrains of dance music such as Chicago house and boogie. The discovery of these new thrilling genres was a revelation to him and subsequently, the two men formed Cosa Nostra so that they could further explore those sounds through their own interpretation.
The record label started with the same intention as most independent labels, as a platform to release their own music and eventually evolve into pushing Singaporean, regional, and international acts to the worldwide arena. However, when we stumbled upon an unfortunate mishap whereby Cosa Nostra was mislabelled as a lounge act by the Singaporean press – though it may be an indirect influence – and queried him about it, Kaye confesses that ignorance could have unconsciously prompted them to have DTW as a means of informing listeners about the varying forms of electronic music.
Soon, DTW began to expand and so did the two-man team behind it. With an informal invitation from Dean, four other members whom they’d met through casual social gatherings came to take on their respective responsibilities within the label. For instance, Marco is in charge of merchandise and the website, public relations is handled by Rah, William J assists with gig bookings and event organisation while John is the social media guy.
As the head of A&R, Dean’s prowess for scouting talents is enabled by, obviously, the border-annihilating powers of the internet – and his long practised skill of crate-digging seems to be proven useful. But now, instead of perusing crates for vinyl records, he looks for talents who are strewn everywhere. DTW’s current roster of artistes spans the globe; from regionally with acts such as Manila’s similarobjects to globally with London’s Sh?m, Brazil’s Neguim Beats, Switzerland’s Nick Moods, and the remarkable list goes on.
If asked about selecting artistes for the label, Kaye would give an equivocal response as to how a talent gets inducted into the DTW movement, but goaded enough, he’d offer some pragmatic insight to the process that extends beyond just their emphasis on Black American music and basic instinct. One lesson they’ve learnt is that an artiste’s work ethic is as important as one’s unbridled talent. He continues by adding, “The trouble is just not worth it. We try not to treat our artistes like digits, but rather, we try to have an actual meaningful relationship with them.”
Building relationships is exactly what the label has been trying to accomplish, and it’s not just the standard label-artiste camaraderie; DTW makes meaningful collaborations outside of its own bubble. Just last year, they released a vinyl entitled Feelings in Color as an exclusive collaboration with Cascade Records wherein one of the main guys from the Parisian record label had released under DTW as Sport G and Fantastikclick years prior. And though we’ve discovered that the idea of DTW’s own line of bicycles with Singaporean brand Coast Cycles is currently moved to the backburner, they saw the partnership between two relatively young brands working together as a form of cultivation and endorsement whereby fans of Coast Cycles could have their interest crossover to DTW when they hear the curated music in the bike shop. This also aligns with their ethos of becoming more than just a record label as they hope to venture towards areas such as brand consultancy, events organisation, and even artiste management.
Even though they’ve succumbed to the fact that the fluidity in which they conducted DTW did not prepare for how the label grew in such an exponential manner, causing Kaye to relate their initial (in)experience to be analogous to “wild weeds that grew hard and fast, and in all directions,” currently, it seems like the movement is still going strong and they are keeping an open mind to what lies ahead of them.