Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, David Marroquin has been a fixture in the techno scene there for years. Entertaining everyone from those who heard Jeff Mills’ late night sets on local radio to those who are just making their first foray into the world of club music, Marroquin’s connection to Detroit, the original city of techno, runs deep. His new label, Vanity Press, with releases from Julian Kendall, Val G, and Robin Lohrey, has a mission of providing a platform for artists that might not usually have one. With an ear to the original sounds of house and techno music and an ethos rooted in its mission of inclusivity, Vanity Press is a label to look out for.
What motivated you to start Vanity Press?
In Ann Arbor, where I was born and live, we got our Detroit techno from the radio and going to shows. We get Detroit stations here and when I was younger it wasn’t uncommon to hear electro and techno DJ sets at night. Jeff Mills had a show that my older sisters listened to. Those shows really influenced my DJ style and music taste. Gary Chandler does radio sets that are so killer. 88.3 WCBN FM Ann Arbor was what really got me into house and techno, through the show Crush Collision. Carlos Souffront was the DJ there for many years and his selections taught me about left of center dance and electronic music. I have a weekly show on that station now called Hot Juice trying to further that tradition. Also I have to shout out Dubplate Pressure record store, now defunct, run by Todd Osborn. I would go there in high school and there was a dance room and a hip hop room just like Record Time… so much good stuff there. He just reopened in Ypsilanti and I got to get out there.
Financial Times released a report a few days ago that asserted vinyl’s resurgence as a format — 40 million records are expected to be sold this year, which would push the industry over the $1 billion mark. Yet, those who run limited release electronic labels know that it is, largely, a labor of love — Mad Mike posted on Facebook citing delays in pressing, artist payment, and the need “to adapt to remain in the Olympic Stadium of Electronic Music we helped build.” What are some of the challenges of running a small record label?
I started this label for two reasons – one is many of my friends who had released music were being treated unfairly by small labels. No pay, and sometimes very few or even no copies of their record. Won’t name names but labels you have heard of, that move units, no pay no copies no contracts just treating artists like shit. Fuck that. Vanity Press pays artists, not in exposure but real money you can eat with. Nothing extravagant but fair. Everything is in a contract, and I give artists adequate numbers of records as well. The other reason is representation. Even though people of color invented this music you wouldn’t know it by the records populating house / techno new release sections at record stores. Very few label heads are minorities. I am Mexican, I am actively working to sign and develop new POC, female and non binary folks on my label. Cultivating a diverse roster of artists is, right now, my #1 priority.
The game is fucked with production and manufacturing, margins are small, quality control is at an all time low. I read that Mad Mike letter RA wrote up. It’s real… everything he said is true. Todd Mariana at Deep Grooves mastering, Mike at Archer Record Pressing and Aaron FIT Siegel have been so helpful and they work hard, I am very thankful to work with them. The local shops here have been extremely supportive. Other folks in my position aren’t as lucky to have honest distribution and local, quality pressing options. I’d like to have a hand in metalwork or manufacturing, I am considering apprenticing to learn to cut lacquers. No one I am aware of in the state of Michigan can do that currently and that’s the only link in my chain where I can’t keep the dollars local. Ron Murphy’s passing left a void in this area, his contributions can’t be overstated. Back to representation, if people of color, women, non binary folks, minorities in general don’t get our foot in the door with means of production we’re always gonna be customers. Plants and metalworkers are the only people making real money right now and until I see people that look like me in places like that it’s gonna be status quo.
You run a night at Marble Bar in Detroit. I’m familiar with Movement Festival as well as imagined fantasies of early Detroit techno parties, but what is it like, weekend to weekend, partying and throwing parties in Detroit in 2017?
I would say if you have been to Detroit for Movement weekend just know it ain’t like that year round. There aren’t a whole lot of entertainment dollars to go around right now, it’s an economically depressed area despite what you might read in papers about a comeback story. Things are different here and the bar is really high for residents. Why would you come see me DJ when Marcellus Pittman is playing at Motorcity Wine for free the same night? C’mon. New York is the only other place I’ve been where I’ve seen the DJ skill level this high. The talent level here is unreal but the people I know really making moves have to tour to eat or work day jobs. Day to day, as far as who gets gigs and whose names are really out there locally, it isn’t merit based in my opinion… lots of dick-riding and back-patting that’s really creating an echo chamber of bland music and bad DJing. People that are holding down club spots just hire themselves or their friends in a lot of cases… being a socialite and being “affable” gets you more work than actual skill it seems like. The venue situation is awful as well. Marble Bar is great, Motorcity Wine and like one other place maybe. Hopefully that will change… I do my monthly with Mike Medow and we have a similar style and vision, we both run small labels. I love to connect with people through music but would prefer to play the background. I get asked now and then but I don’t gig a lot cause honestly with a lot of these places am I comfortable inviting female friends there? Would they feel safe? Hm. Are artists treated fairly there? If the answer isn’t yes then I’ll pass.
What is on the horizon for Vanity press?
This year I’m putting out records by Black Noi$e, Jillian Hoenig, Shigeto, Qaadir King and Charles Trees. Really can’t wait to share those with you all!
Marroquin will DJ Saturday night at Trans-Pecos alongside Vanity Press signees Robin Lohrey (celebrating an EP release!), Ali Berger, and Sleepy G!
– Ben Ritz