Thomas Emmi aka Plan 9 took time away from his duties of being both a father and a label owner to chat with us . We peel back the layers and get deep into his background and the history of Cymbalism Recordings.
Before we get into the history of the label, can you give our readers a little background about yourself?
I’ve been into music since a very young age. Being the youngest of 6 kids, I grew up listening to everything my sisters and my parents did. My oldest sister (Christine) is probably the most responsible for me turning out the way I did she was artistic and introduced me to all kinds of music as a child. I still remember being 5 years old and hearing Kiss, Sabbath, Zeppelin and other bands of that type some of my first records were hers and it just kind of went on from there. I went through various phases growing up jazz, metal, punk, hip hop, soul, rock, pop, industrial, etc. As far back as I can remember I used to pretend I was a dj in my bedroom playing records and tapes and recording things, going shopping for records, getting music from friends of the family or uncles / aunts. In the early 90s I started going to local clubs and paying more attention to electronic music.
The summer of 95 I met Tony Markham, a DJ who moved to Omaha from Kansas City and he introduced me to jungle with some records he had. I fell in love with the crazy amens and ragga vocals and wanted to know more about it. Shortly after that I met Sid Wilson, aka Starscream (preSlipknot) and that pushed the envelope for me as we used to play shows together on the regular back then. I started buying dnb vinyl and studying the structure of how the music was made, then bought one table at a time and a mixer, started making mixtapes, getting gigs out of state and establishing myself as a midwest junglist. 20 years later, I’m still playing the music I love and trying to still help push the sound across the globe with my label.
Who are some of your influences?
As a DJ, Hype and Dieselboy were the ones I studied and learned a lot from. My first mix tapes were from these two and I would have to say I must have listened to the Hype “Drum N Bass Selection” mixes and DSL’s “East Coast Science” many many times over. I had mixtape sets from the UK and Kenny Ken mixes and loads of other DJs but those two were the ones that stood out and kept me going.
As a producer, that’s incredibly hard for me because I’m not very consistent with making music due to lack of personal time and there are so many amazing producers out there who I look up to. Some of my all time favorites would be Klute, Omni Trio, Paradox, Kemal & Rob Data, Dom & Roland, Break, Rene LaVice, Tech Itch, Total Science, Digital, Calibre. Too many to name because my taste is so broad but that’s a little taste of what I feel.
How did the label start?
Cymbalism started after the birth of my daughter in 2003. I was home on paternity leave and just decided to start a label. I came up with the name, made a website, posted on Dogs on Acid and it just sort of happened. I’d been playing jungle / drum n bass since 1995 and I wanted to put something back out there for other people to enjoy and try to help create something for unknown artists which is still my game plan for the label today.
There seems to be a duality behind the the name of the label… How and why was that name chosen?
I’m a collector of records of all kinds and the name is taken from the title of a jazz album by Roy Haynes. I always thought the name “Cymbalism” was interesting drums, cymbal, symbol, symbolic, symbolism Cymbalism perfect, so that’s what I chose to brand.
What are your goals/ambitions for the label?
I feel I’ve already achieved a lot of my goals when I first started Cymbalism I never thought some of the things that have happened would actually still be happening 12 years later. I was pressing myself in Canada with a company called ACME. I linked up with my partner Shawn a few months after it started and we shopped the first releases to various distributors and when Nu Urban offered us a pressing and distribution deal in 2004/2005 it went from 300 copies pressed to thousands available around the world. I’ve had big artists play material we’ve put out, worked with some of my idols, songs featured in video games, was honored to do the cover mix CD for Knowledge Magazine with a full three page spread on the label. put music out from some new guys out there who have moved onto bigger careers and much larger labels (Submorphics, Rawtee, Subsonik, Infiltrata aka 12th Planet, Contour aka 501, Excision, Zardonic, etc).
I’d love to get back to pressing records again but in this day and age, it’s nearly impossible to do so and come out ahead especially the way I run the label. Plus a lot of people who play music now use digital media and have never used a turntable so the market is shrinking more and more which is a shame. Eventually it’ll happen again I hope even if it’s limited runs of like 100 or something like that just to have a physical medium, but for now I’m doing what works.
Are you going after a particular sound etc?
I’m a fan of everything rollers, dance floor anthems, amen tracks, techy stuff, neurofunk… I wouldn’t say Cymbalism has a certain “sound” just good drum n bass. I don’t really want to have a certain label type, just music for people who enjoy music.
Please tell us about the labels first release when, who etc?
The first technical release were two tracks of my own, my own take on Paul Johnson’s “Get Down” and Opus 3’s “It’s a Fine Day”. The mastering of those two tracks was a nightmare. The reference acetate I received from the person who cut it who shall remain nameless (let’s just say they’re not in business anymore) was done completely wrong. The “Get Down” side sounded okay but the “Opus” side ran into the label in the center and it clipped horribly. After complaining and getting it recut and pressed again, I ended up only doing the 50 test presses and it never went further than that. After that disaster, I went to The Exchange and had Simon cut the masters for the next four records. The first ACTUAL release was from newcomer at the time Rawtee “Ghostwalk” with a track from myself and Extract on the flip, “Surfer Rosa”. I only have a very few copies of this left of the initial 300 pressing as this was distributed by Shawn and I directly and via Nemesis in New York. It went over well for a first release I thought.
The second release from oS “808” / “Panama” is what pushed Cymbalism into gear though. The release wasn’t a banger, it was just really well made songs and caught Nu Urban’s attention strong enough to land a deal with them.
How has your label changed/matured since then?
I think Cymbalism hasn’t changed much other than being digital only now and running it solo after my Shawn’s death in 2009. I’m still doing it for the music it’s always been about the music and the artists, seeking out new producers who I feel have something people need to hear trying to get them on the road to bigger and better labels. The back catalogue is very broad sound wise as I don’t want to fall into a certain type of label. Some of my favorite labels of all time Metalheadz, Moving Shadow, Reinforced didn’t have a certain style, one release could be an anthem, one could be minimal, one could be really chill or really hard. I’ve always considered Cymbalism to be more of a mature label from the music I choose to put out to the artwork I make for the releases. I think anyone can hunt down bigger names and the sound of the moment, I’m not looking for instant fame, I want material people can go back to years from now and still want to play.
In a heavily saturated and competitive market why start a label?
I started in 2003 so it wasn’t so saturated back then. Now with digital distribution being so accessible practically anyone can start a label which is a good and bad thing. Good because anyone can do it to get their music out there but bad because so many labels get overlooked because of poor mastering or track selection or just in general because there are so many out there now and the lack of support from online stores for labels which could have the next big artist but aren’t known well enough to make their “staff picks” or “top tens”. It’s so much different now than it used to be, harder to find really good tracks quickly and a lot of sifting thru subpar mastering and just not very well thought out releases. A lot of people probably think there’s money to be made which is completely untrue for smaller labels with not as much support as the Ram / Hardware / Metalheadz labels who have gigantic followings. I give 100% of sales to my artists the only thing I’m taking away from it is being able to get them out there, hopefully represent them proper and get their music into other people’s hands because like I said previously with the accessibility if an artist really wanted to get their tracks out there themselves, they can just need to have the patience and creativity to get people to pay attention.
What is the response/feedback like? Who have you gotten support from?
Using promo mailers for the last ten releases or so has shown promise, people chiming in and giving feedback on what they’re feeling which is great in a way I feel like a bother sometimes sending tracks out because some people never reply back but the downloads exceed the feedback so I know someone is playing them and not saying anything. As far as support, a lot of the stateside people have shown Cymbalism love Dieselboy, Dara, AK1200, Pish Posh, Reid Speed, Seen abroad I’ve had feedback from Kenny Ken, Nick Bee, Invaderz, Reso, Tony @ Hospital has played some bits on the Hospital podcasts, etc.
Please tell us about your current and or upcoming release?
The latest release from Teksteppa just blew me away. I’ve been a fan of Matt’s work since 2009 when we met in the dubstep forum shortly after I started the short lived Cymbstep side label. We touched base again with each other around 2013 and ever since then been very actively working together on releases. Matt has some amazing talent, very well though out progressions, quality production and mastering work and I feel he’s a bomb about to explode just needs the right release in the right hands at the right time. Both tracks are a total throwback to the golden years of drum n bass fresh sounding in todays market but still having that vintage feel that everyone grew up listening to and falling in love with in the late 90s.
The next release is coming from SICKorWELL and Atic, two guys I have been following for awhile and have finally had the pleasure of working with now. it’s only a one tracker (sorry) but it’s a deep, dark masterpiece which I feel is going to do amazing things for them. Having an almost early Virus / Metro type sound to it it’s the type of material I freak out over when I hear it. Really excited for this one to drop and I cannot wait to hear the feedback on it. I really want the best for these guys because they deserve it, soon you’ll hear for yourself what I’m talking about as it’ll drop in September.
Any parting shouts?
Shout outs to all the artists who I have worked with over the years, to Phil Wells for making my dream become a reality by giving Cymbalism a chance with Nu Urban, Jorge and the Symphonic Distribution family for keeping the label going for me digitally, to all the DJs who have purchased the music over the years, and a special shout out to Shawn Patrick for all of his hard work with me over the years you’re gone but never forgotten bro!