“There is no single sound that defines Uncanny Valley,” say the founders of the Dresden-based record label. “But this was never a conscious decision, rather a culmination of the differing tastes and artistic understandings of four individuals.” Such explains why nearly fifteen years later, the label has maintained a steady output of eclectic releases from a diverse roster of artists.
Its name is a reflection of this unrestricted approach, a play on “Tal der Ahnungslosen” or "Valley of the Clueless". The term was used disparagingly in the German Democratic Republic to describe 50s Dresden, which then, was unable to receive West German television and radio broadcasts. Through its isolation, however, the city “could create its own unique culture,” free of any external influence from the media.
In 2009, motivated by the idea of platforming music made by their close peers, four friends – Albrecht Wassersleben, Carl Suspect, Conrad Kaden, and Philipp Demankowski – joined forces to conceive Uncanny Valley. The label officially launched in 2010 with Uncanny Valley 001, a house-drive compilation featuring Jacob Korn, Cuthead, Thomas Fröhlich, and Break SL.
Since its inception, Uncanny Valley has grown into an international, multidisciplinary effort, collaborating with artists and musicians alike, such as the New York-based producer Avalon Emerson and Moritz Simon Geist, a musician and robotics engineer. And with the addition of sub-labels Rat Life and shtum, its sound has remained just as varied, spanning house, hip-hop, acid, and synth-wave.
For this month’s episode of Carhartt WIP Radio, Uncanny Valley created a mix which delves into its back catalog, journeying through jazz-funk, ambient, Italo and techno. As ever, the mix is accompanied by an interview, where Uncanny Valley’s founders discuss the need for labels in the modern music industry, Dresden’s rich electronic music history, and new projects in the pipeline.
How and when did Uncanny Valley come about?
Uncanny Valley: Most of us are from Dresden or moved here in our early twenties. We got to know each other through DJing and organizing parties. Through this, we also met many producers who were making music but weren’t part of a record label yet, like Jacob Korn, Cuthead, Credit 00, Break SL, and CVBox – they became the first generation of Uncanny Valley. At some point, in the Berghain queue in 2009, we had the idea to start our own label. Initially, there were up to 12 people at the first listening sessions, but eventually, the four of us took control.
What is the story behind the name?
Uncanny Valley: The name Uncanny Valley was suggested by Jacob Korn. In the GDR (German Democratic Republic), Dresden was often referred to as “Tal der Ahnungslosen” or "Valley of the Clueless." This was because, unlike other parts of the country, it didn’t have West German television or radio. It was somewhat isolated but could create its own unique culture without any external media influence. Uncanny Valley is also a term that describes the phenomenon where humanoid robots or animations look very realistic, but are not perfectly human, and so they often evoke feelings of strangeness or discomfort in people. It occurs when the human resemblance is near perfect, but there are some subtle differences or inconsistencies, causing our brains to perceive the figure as eerie. We thought this concept was perfectly fitting for our record label project.
What is the philosophy behind the label?
Uncanny Valley: We have always been a very versatile label. There is no single sound that defines Uncanny Valley. The main criterion for a release is that we like the music. With four heads, that's already a pretty tough filter. It has always been challenging trying to pigeonhole us into a specific category. But this was never a conscious decision, rather a culmination of the differing tastes and artistic understandings of four individuals.
Additionally, interdisciplinary collaboration with other forms of art has always been important to us. Lately, we have been experimenting with the merging of art and music, through video and digital visual worlds. We also want to evolve past releasing 12 inch records. The ÄTNA remix album and a forthcoming multidisciplinary project by Jacob Stoy are examples of this, as well as the newly released debut for Albrecht's MIDI Party.
How important is the city of Dresden in the work you do? Could you operate from any other place in the world?
Uncanny Valley: Quite important – we met in the city, three-quarters of us still live here, and our roster, at least in the first few years, consisted almost exclusively of Dresden-based artists. We have since gone beyond that and release music from other parts of the world, however, we always look in our own backyard first for new talent. This is also because we value direct interaction, and email communication doesn't quite capture the quality we envision.
In addition to Uncanny Valley, you also run the labels Rat Life and shtum. What distinguishes these imprints from the main label?
Uncanny Valley: Rat Life is the label curated by Credit 00. It may have a bit of a wave influence, but in principle, anything is possible there. Shtum represents a rougher form of techno and house – music that works well with strobe lights in the basement. However, the label is currently inactive. Uncanny Valley, on the other hand, is our platform for all sorts of experiments.
How involved are you with the development of the artists you work with?
Uncanny Valley: Since we have been working with the label for over ten years, naturally we have gained some experience, especially in terms of distribution and promotion. Additionally, as we all DJ, we have an understanding of the musical elements that go into it. We are happy to share our knowledge, but we are not formal mentors or anything similar.
What projects do you currently have in the pipeline?
Uncanny Valley: The next release on the horizon is the grand comeback of Cuthead, who will be dropping four EPs. We also have Jacob Stoy’s multidisciplinary project Overload in the pipeline. Following that, there's a record curated by Acid Adams, featuring two hidden acid gems and two tracks inspired by them, contributed by contemporary artists. Additionally, there's a tape release with unconventional music from two mysterious punks, plus a new record from DJ City.
Do you think there’s still a need for labels as institutions in today’s music market?
Uncanny Valley: Absolutely. If not as gatekeepers and tastemakers, then at least as aggregators of knowledge and experiences. Of course, a functioning feedback culture is a prerequisite for this. The times when artists could solely focus on making music seem to be a thing of the past. However, we strive to create good conditions for our artists. At the same time, we see ourselves as active participants in their respective projects, contributing artistically as well.
Does the market influence your judgment on what to release?
Uncanny Valley: Certainly, one looks at the numbers. Artists should receive as much financial support as the small market in our segment allows. However, I would say that this does not influence what we release, but rather how we release it.
What was your process in selecting the tracks for your mix?
Uncanny Valley: We went through our back catalog together and selected our favorites along with a few forgotten gems. It's a cross-section of the label's history and includes some tracks from our sublabels as well. Carl Suspect then mixed the tracks in his Berlin studio.
Do you host any parties in Dresden, or elsewhere?
Uncanny Valley: Albrecht has established a bi-weekly Wednesday party called MIDI, which is a powerhouse of a club night, and a great platform for both new talents and renowned artists from Dresden. Additionally, Philipp hosts a series of events called Balearic Sunday in the summer months, which is absolutely what the title promises. And now that Carl has moved to Berlin, there will be more Uncanny Valley events there in the future at venues such as Arkaoda.
Can you describe the history of electronic music in Dresden? What is the scene like today?
Uncanny Valley: It might be a bit exaggerated to label Dresden as the "Little Detroit of the East." But there is no doubt that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, deep and gritty electronic music was produced and performed in many of the deteriorating buildings in the city. Many legends from Detroit were also present in clubs like Base or Flugzeugwerft during that time. Many of the artists from that era are still active today, often working alone in their studios.
Nowadays, there is a cooperative vibe fueled by the Klubnetz network, the DAVE Festival for electronic music, and Tolerave as a rave response to the Pegida movement. There are many exciting young DJs and artists from various genres collaborating on music. Simultaneously, new legal and private clubs are emerging in industrial areas, while the club Objekt klein a, despite its legendary status, faces challenges.
Can you send us a picture that best illustrates your current state of mind to post along with your answers?