As lady soul herself, Aretha Franklin, so memorably put it, it’s all about respect. And respect is what record labels since year dot have constantly striven for. Although absolutely necessary – and boy do they help keep the bank manager from the door – sales come and go. Any label wishing to maintain itself by always going after that ‘big’ record will one day come a cropper. Likewise cultural cachet. Yes, it can help to enliven interest within the connoisseurs of cool, but anyone dumb enough to build the foundations of an imprint on such a fleeting and arbitrary notion better look at the saying ‘flavour of the month’ one more time, because that last word pretty much sums up how long they’re going to be around.
Thankfully, respect is something Ovum has never gone without. Established in 1994 by Josh Wink out of his hometown of Philadelphia, Ovum’s early notoriety was all of Wink’s making. Having long been recognized as an acid house prodigy thanks to his early tracks, released both individually and in tandem with his sparring partner King Britt, most notably their E-Culture recording ‘Tribal Confusion’, by the mid-90s Wink was on a roll, as the stunning triumvirate of releases ‘Higher States Of Consciousness’, ‘Don’t Laugh’ and ‘I’m Ready’ effortlessly attest. The arrival of the label then was no fluke – Ovum gave Wink control, the stylish Wink with his trademark flowing blonde dreadlocks gave the label personality – nor was its moniker.
“Growing up in Philadelphia I was listening to all sorts of music,” Wink recalls. “Funk, new wave, hip hop, house, jazz and disco. I always wanted Ovum to be about different types of house music. Plus Ovum’s an egg, the basis of life. That’s what I wanted the label to be, life music.”
“Having traveled the world,” Josh explains, “I got to see how it was done and those ideals and values I bought back to Philadelphia. The music had to be credible and it had to be revered, but just as importantly the label’s integrity had to be very strong.”
Compromising this vision has never been an option. Matt Brookman, label manager since 1996, understands why: “Having never jumped on any bandwagon is one of the reasons, I believe, why the label’s still here ten years later. We’ve never put out anything we haven’t liked meaning we’ve passed on some big records but we’ve never sold out.”
And as the multi-faceted nature of the aforementioned artists reveals, no two Ovum releases are the same. Something which is ably reflected in the caliber of DJs who have consistently spun its releases: Laurent Garnier, Doc Martin, Gilles Peterson Darren Emerson, Slam, Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin, Jazzanova and Layo & Bushwacka!.
“You know what my proudest moment of the last ten years is?”; states Josh. “Being where we are right now; having survived. Yeah, there’s low points, especially concerning the music industry, but this is a labour of love. That people are still interested ten years later is great.”
False modesty? Not a bit. It’s all about respect. Now let the music play…
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