IDOL Insights: meet Glitterbeat

Welcome to IDOL’s monthly interview series featuring one of our label partners. This month we interviewed the vibrant record label Glitterbeat. Meet Chris Eckman who shares his love for music from all horizons… and beyond.

Few labels have carved out a niche as distinctive as Glitterbeat and its imprint, Tak:til. Five-time winner of Womex’s Label of the Year, Glitterbeat was founded in 2012 by Chris Eckman, a musician-turned-producer, and Peter Weber, manager of the band Tamikrest.

The roots of Glitterbeat’s journey trace back to Mali, where Chris Eckman was inspired by the rich musical culture. But the decision to expand beyond the African continent rapidly imposed itself, with bands like Avalanche Kaito, Altin Gun, YĪN YĪN and Gaye Su Akyol. 2017 witnessed the birth of Tak:til, an extension of Glitterbeat with a contemporary and instrumental focus, to support acts such as Brìghde Chaimbeul, Širom or Pulled by Magnets.

The co-founder explains here that his aim is to look at music in a truly international way, and to seamlessly integrate it into the broader musical conversation.

How did Glitterbeat get started?

After many years as a musician and record producer, something in my musical menu wasn’t working anymore. I needed to hear something different so I went to Festival au Desert which takes place beyond Timbuktu, Mali. I had no plans, I knew nobody there.

I had been listening to African music since my university days in the early 80s but I had never been there and it makes a big difference. I traveled around for a month, and it was a life changing experience.

A few years later, one of my bands, Dirtmusic, was invited to Festival au Desert. That’s where we met the touareg band Tamikrest, and ended up recording a couple records with them. That really was the beginning of Glitterbeat.

At that point we were licensing those records to Glitterhouse, a company owned by a good friend of mine, Peter Weber, who actually became Tamikrest’s manager. After one year, we decided that we would just do it ourselves. If we wanted to keep releasing records from Mali – the only place we were releasing records from – we needed to set up our own system and network.

You started the label working with African artists, why did you extend your horizons?

In the beginning, we chose the label’s motto: “Vibrant music from Africa and beyond”. At that time, we didn’t have a broad pallet of African music, we had Malian music, and we certainly had nothing from beyond! This just happened little by little, like a natural evolution.

The first act that we signed outside of Africa was Sonido Gallo Negro, a band from Mexico City. As we started to expand, we never really embraced this idea of world music: this is a terminology we never use. In the end, almost all the music we do has some connection with traditional music: It’s somewhere there in the weave of the music.

You were crowned "best label" by WOMEX five years running, did that help develop the label?

It’s a nice story: the first WOMEX we went to was in 2012, before we had any records out. We met a few booking agents and other music professionals and our takeaway was that maybe we shouldn’t get into this. It seemed very difficult, and we were not met with a lot of enthusiasm.

One of the blessed things we got out of those meetings is that we met a representative from IDOL. Later on, Peter and I made our very first business decision as Glitterbeat: that we would be changing our digital distributor to IDOL. It was our first independent act, which turned into a really solid partnership, and a wonderful one.

The first time WOMEX named us Label of the Year was very important for us, because it was a sign of legitimacy. From the beginning, this Global Music Community has been really supportive but we’ve also been looking for partnerships in other places. We’re always looking at mainstream media, electronic, hip-hop or rock press… trying to push our bands into as broad a spectrum as possible. It might be good for the business, but for us, it’s more fundamental than that.

We kept over the years this position of outsiders because of our choices: we truly want to release some very challenging music. And in the end, the real challenge is to bring music that’s not in English, not in 4/4 time, not in standard tunings… into a broader musical conversation.

In 2017, you started a new label, tak:til. why?

At that time, we were listening to certain types of music that we felt didn’t fit smoothly into the Glitterbeat narrative, so we started an imprint. Tak:til is primarily instrumental music, but that definition is also becoming a bit looser, since some of our artists are now starting to add vocals. However, it has its own little world and we’ve had some real successful artists, like recently the Slovenian band, Širom, was on many of the year end polls all over Europe and even beyond.

Ultimately, Tak:til artists interconnect with the Glitterbeat sound. Probably because when we find new music, we do very little discussion – our first response has to be emotional. That’s where it starts.

What would you say has been the highlight of the last decade?

I have a very obscure highlight. We released this traditional music album, They Will Kill You, If You Cry, Khmer Rouge Survivors, recorded by Ian Brennan in Cambodia, in people’s kitchens with simple stereo microphones. And when that album got reviewed in Mojo magazine I felt like that was actually what we had set out to do from the beginning. It’s certainly the only field recording from Cambodia that’s ever been reviewed in a rock pop electronic music magazine!

We all know working in the industry how boxed in things are, and how hard it is to operate outside of those boxes. To me, this is the most interesting part of what we do: building bridges for great artists.

There are more and more success stories of non-English singing artists getting global audiences. It remains a minority but this remains a huge step forward, and that’s very exciting!

Why do you think Independence Is A Strength?

We don’t have to answer to anybody but ourselves and our artists. This allows for more diversity and more risk. Which means releasing more challenging music, music that’s not going to be embraced by the majors.

In the 90s, I was signed to a major label, Virgin records, with one of my bands. This was the tail of this Nirvana phenomena and at that point the majors were wondering how all of that happened: and if Nirvana happened, maybe this new band will as well… There was this kind of ladder: you would get to a certain size as an independent artist and you could find a place in a major label.

From what I can see, the majors are now almost entirely focused on mainstream pop music. It’s a good thing for us, because Majors have taken a look at some of our artists, but they don’t know how to work it, they don’t know what it takes. On our side, we can punch above our weight pretty easily because there is a lot of space left for independent music.

I’m optimistic! I’ve been in this business for 35 years and it’s always been a tough business, it’s just tough in different ways now. We just have to take it as a whole and believe in what we’re doing…

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