"We're gonna try to make Soulection an official genre," explains Joe Kay, co-founder of the LA-based beats collective. Like hip hop, alt-rock, country… soulection? Yup. This crew don't do things by halves. They dream big. They come with an optimism that could only have been coaxed in the California sunshine. There is a seriousness and unabashed ambition about what they have planned that is so terribly un-British, so at odds with music's usual faux-nonchalance, that it takes a little getting used to. But you can forgive them their lofty aims when their story so far has been so damn baller.
Soulection are an imprint-cum-collective - a record label, radio show, party outfit and collective of DJs, artists and visual artists. They offer up future beats and a clean hip-hop aesthetic that owe more than a small debt of gratitude to Golden State forefathers like Stones Throw Records, Brainfeeder and Low End Theory. Their sound is very much their own movement - teaming warm and timeless soul with sounds that are unmistakably millennial. Their bevy of international producers might be found working on anything from a Drunk in Love remix to an original deep jazz jam.
Joe explains proudly that Soulection will be celebrating their fourth birthday this coming January. He remembers their humble beginnings at a time when the LA beats scene was booming and Justin Timberlake didn't have shares in MySpace. The internet was slowly but surely enabling a far more global approach to music - "We knew artists from all over the world that we were interacting with," Joe explains. "Instead of waiting for our favourite blog to put our music up we just said 'hey, why don't we start up our own company?'."
Fast forward half a decade and the crew have just hit 33 million plays on Soundcloud. In internet terms they are the Kim Kardashian's butt of underground music. They are beneficiaries of the new internet k-hole way in which we consume music - start with some dope Sango beats and before you know it Soundcloud has taken you ten tracks deep into Soulection's most obscure offerings. They made a decision to keep all of their artists together. "When the re-post feature got introduced, that's when everything changed for us," explains Joe. "Our music started spreading like wildfire."
Joe, Andre and the team's canny approach to branding means that, in many ways, the collective is bigger than the sum of its parts. "Traditionally, when you think about a record label, you think about the individuals within it," says Andre. "People follow the artists and they don't really think too much about where it's all coming from. But when people think about Soulection they think about it as one. People really are drawn to how we manoeuvre and work together as a family." And he's right - the label might have its bigger names like Mr Carmack, Ta-Ku or Sango, but there are no poster boys to date. And that's exactly how they'd like to keep it - "It's better that way than one of our artists blowing up and pulling everyone else along," he explains.
With new artists joining the roster like London's Hannah Faith or Berlin's IAMNOBODI, Soulection's global family continues to grow. And how do they curate this United Nations of smooth-peddlers? There is, Joe explains, a two-pronged approach. First up, this is a family and they have a touch of the Cosa Nostra about them. "It's always recommendations," says Joe. "Other artists on our roster introduce us to more artists. We're all friends of friends." There's a lot of trust going on in this kinship and if any artist comes forward with a tip it's taken very seriously. "Because everyone cares so much about it, when they do recommend someone, they're not trying to waste time."
Plus, of course, there's always Soundcloud. These guys might be tech geeks but they are also baggy-panted LA beats kids at heart - and crate digging is all part of the culture. "We're all diggers. We all enjoy finding new music," explains Joe. But they do their digging online. They devote hours to hunting down the best in international producer and DJ talent from their laptops. "We find artists before they're even known so we're able to really build them up from a grassroots perspective."
THE LDN CONNECTION
It was this shrewd knack for sniffing out the very freshest of talent that piqued the interest of the Rinse crew over in the UK. Earlier this year the once-pirate beats-bringing radio station reached out to Joe about hosting their show. "London's one of the capitals of forward-thinking music," says Joe. And who are we to disagree? "Things make sense in London before they do anywhere else in the world. We just felt like we belonged there. You guys get it a lot faster."
The popularity of the show may go part of the way to explaining how the crew's first ever Sound of Tomorrow party was an instant sell-out over here. Joe explains that they had a crowd of over a thousand at their first gig. It came with a ready-made good vibes scene - a clued-up mass of gold hoops and crisp Stussy tees who knew the words to all of the songs. "In London you know every track, every chord," says Andre. "People really show love. They really freak out like we're Drake or Nicki Minaj or something."
In an interview for Noisey earlier this year producer-du-jour Kaytranada was asked his thoughts on the future of pop music. His response: "I know eventually they're gonna try to call me up, or every producer on Soulection". In an age where musicians devote entire albums to courting Kanye's production credits, niche producers working on the back-end of pop megahits is big business. And, according to Joe and Andre (who wouldn't name any names), Kaytranada's predictions may already be coming true.
Next year's plans include some bigger releases with vocalists on the tracks; international block parties-cum-mini-festivals; and further forays into the tech world. These guys are gonna be a busy bunch. With FlyLo and Kaytranada confirmed for new shows on Radio One, 2015 could prove to be a big year for blunted, warm and woozy sounds. Hold up, that's a bit of an adjective-heavy mouthful. How about we just call it soulection?
Text Clare Considine
Photography Ramon Lopez