Serge is a busy man. As boss of Rotterdam’s Clone – not just a label, but a record store and distribution company as well – he’s spent 20 years working tirelessly to help make your record collection amazing.
Clone Records was founded in 1993, and really rose to prominence in the late 90s and early 00s for its fresh but reverential take on the classic sounds of Chicago house, Detroit techno, electro, disco and italo. Killer productions on the imprint from the likes of ADULT., Alden Tyrell, Duplex and Putsch ’79 were rooted in the past, but their very passion and attitude made them sound incredibly prescient, and unmistakeably Clone.
One of the label’s most important functions has been its curating of dance music’s heritage, both in releasing new work by older artists and in reissuing hard-to-find 12″s and albums from yesteryear. In 2004 Clone had the honour of putting out Grava 4, the final album by Drexciya, reissues of records by Drexciya, Dopplereffekt and related projects have followed. Meanwhile, the Clone Classic Cuts series provides modern listeners the chance to own high quality, properly-licensed 12″s of seminal fare by the likes of Tyree, Gay Cat Park and The Oppenheimer Analysis, and little-known albums by such artists as Fred Ventura and Unit Moebius.
In spite of, or rather because of, its deep-seated appreciation for what’s gone before, Clone has always remained one step ahead of the game. Its output over the past decade has anticipated and in some cases precipitated worldwide vogues for minimal, electroclash, nu-disco and Detroit techno. So it came as something of a shock when, at the beginning of this year, Serge announced that the closure of the label: “In order to remain passionate about what we do, we feel we should not continue the label as it is…so we won’t.”
The dance music world duly mourned, celebrating Clone for its old-school values, originality and tireless commitment to quality. Tears flowed.
And then two months ago, pretty much out of the blue, Clone announced its return to the stage. Normal service would be resumed, but not exactly as before: the new-look Clone would take the form of various sub-series, designed for deeper exploration of certain sounds and aesthetics: Clone Loft Supreme, Clone West Coast, Clone Club, Clone Bassment, Clone Aqualong and Clone Jack For Daze. Evolution through fragmentation, or something.
Now was clearly an opportune time to call up Serge and talk about Clone as it was, as it is, and shall be. Why exactly did he retire the label? And why did he bring it back after a couple of months? He also fills us in on the history of the label and store, and why sometimes selling records isn’t so different to selling potatoes or second-hand cars.
What set you on the path to founding Clone? Were there any particular people, parties, labels or moments that particularly influenced you in the early days?
“There wasn’t really clear trigger to starting the label, it just slowly evolved. In fact, everything we do, everything we’ve done, has just slowly evolved. There was no clear catalyst. I started putting out records shortly after I had done a couple of releases on other labels in the early 90s. Like a lot of other artists, I just thought, ‘Why not do it myself? Put some music out and just see how it goes…’ The main influence for me and my friends back then were the small labels coming out of Chicago, Detroit and New York, and from the Netherlands; so basically we just did something that other people were doing as well. It wasn’t something new, we didn’t have big ideas about starting an “official” label; we just wanted to put out records so we could play our own music at parties and stuff…”
You mentioned that labels from the Netherlands were an influence. Any in particular?
“It wasn’t so much that we were influenced by other Dutch labels, rather that there were other people in the Netherlands doing a similar thing. And not just in the Netherlands, but also Belgium, Germany, the US. I think our influences were definitely more from the US than the Netherlands at that moment.”
Were you already a DJ before you heard the early Chicago and Detroit stuff? What did you listen to before that stuff hit?
“Slowly I got into disco and some early hip-hop stuff in the mid-80s, I also liked some more electronic stuff, some of the Belgian-wave kind of stuff like Front 242. At the same time I was really influenced by the black disco stuff coming from the US, some of the soul and R&B things as well, but mainly the uptempo dance stuff like disco. You know, as a young kid you always like the stuff with the most energy.
“I had begun to record and tape stuff at home – you know, like all kids do – and slowly that interest evolved and I started to go clubbing. One of my first clubbing experiences was in early ’88 with the first acid house, and when I first heard that stuff it really blew me away – it was like music from somewhere else. I went to one of the best places in Europe at that time, the Roxy club in Amsterdam, and it was basically the only place on the mainland at that time playing house music all night long. It was something completely different, so much energy and so different from everything else I knew.
“I’d already bought some records – I had some neighbours who were DJs and into more the scratching, DMC kind of thing. That was interesting but it wasn’t really my thing, and I only got the virus really dirty after I heard the first acid house and Chicago things and early Detroit stuff – which for me were all more or less the same thing, just abstract house music, techno music, the only thing you heard in early ’88. I probably heard some in ’87 too, but only on the radio; it wasn’t until ’88 that I experienced it in the club. Then I wanted to hear more of that music. In the same year I started playing in local clubs, spinning early dance stuff, a little bit of everything.”
What prompted you to open the Clone record store?
“Well, the label came before the record store. A friend of mine had a record store in the Hague, Hotmix, and that closed down and somehow left a big gap. Right at that time the harder, more commercial house stuff became really big in the Netherlands, and the more – I don’t know if I can call it pure – but the stuff that got me into music began to disappear.”
When was this?
“This was probably like ’93-’94. Gabba became really big, and then at the other end of the spectrum they had what’s known as “mellow house” in the Netherlands. You had two scenes, the hard scene and the mellow scene, and that was basically it. There was a small underground scene in and around the Hague and Rotterdam for acid parties and more experimental stuff, and that was the scene I was involved in then. The Hotmix store closed – I think end of ’94 or early ’95 – and there was no other record store concentrating on good dance music, the quality stuff made just for itself and not for money.
“I had some good connections in Germany – I was going there very often and going to all the record stores, so I was already bringing back lots of records for friends and people I knew. I started a small store with another friend in a really small town, the area where I came from, and after that we opened a small store in Rotterdam, within a skate/graffiti store. We had a small space, it was called Urban Unit, there was the skate store there and a guy selling spraycans for graffiti, a graphic designer, a hairdresser and then I was last coming in with the record store! That place was really, really underground and really small. I didn’t have a lot of money back then, so I started small and only stocked really strong records. The records I had there were the records that I would have in my own collection, because I would say to myself, ‘At least if I don’t sell it, I can have it for my own collection as a double-copy’ or whatever. So that was basically my focus in the beginning: every that I would sell would be something I’d want to have in my own collection.
“After that period in the mid-90s I opened the store and some others opened up shortly after that – this was the late-90s. At this time there was a good scene, some good stores, a couple of good distributors, and also the underground became really lively again. Well, the scene was always alive in and around Rotterdam and The Hague but it became bigger. It was only for that one or two year period that there were no good stores, and it was impossible to get hold of good US imports at that time. It was really strange, because Holland’s always been good for dance music, but back then it felt dead.”