Amelie Lens' EXHALE launches record label with a heavyweight compilation, VA001

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Amelie Lens’ EXHALE event series launches its record label with a stellar line-up of uncompromising techno tracks from the finest established and aspiring underground artists.

EXHALE is (or rather was) quickly becoming one of techno's most prominent events. But as we're all forced to spend our weekend nights at home, the organization is venturing into record label territory. For figurehead Amelie Lens, who already manages the much-praised LENSKE Records, this is an opportunity to shine a light on the immense pool of techno talent that surrounds her. The first release, a 15-track compilation (with as many contributors), drops today. We checked in with Amelie to take stock of what’s to come next. Additionally, we spoke to two fresh local signings on the label, Oostende's REMY-X and Antwerp's Lukas Firtzer.

Now that the EXHALE brand is expanding into record label territory, what's your mission statement? And how do you look back on the ride EXHALE has had so far?

Amelie: “It has been quite a ride! EXHALE’s mission has always been to create a community built around a shared love of the underground. For the label specifically, I wanted to create something where you didn’t have to be discovered or already well-known to get released. Everyone starts somewhere. As I receive so many good promos from people all over the world, I realized I wanted to play so many of these tracks at an EXHALE event. These tracks need to be heard! And so, EXHALE Records was born.

I wanted to create a record label where you don't need to be 'discovered' or already well-known to get a release. - Amelie Lens

More than just a label, you guys do (or did) events, design merch, etc. Are these things necessary for a record label to stand out nowadays?

Amelie: “That’s a good question. In EXHALE’s case, it’s a bit different, as it started as an event. As it got bigger, the merchandise and label followed. I think the combination of all three helps strengthen each one individually, but I wouldn’t say that it makes you stand out, as lots of labels are doing these things now. It simply gets you more exposure. To stand out now, I think you need to have a record label that consistently represents its core values”.

What's the idea behind this compilation?

Amelie: “Putting out this first release is exciting and overwhelming! As I said, I receive a lot of good music from a variety of artists, so I knew the first release would have to be a compilation. I guess that’s also why contains 15 tracks (laughs). At first, I was simply selecting productions I would play out. But as I was narrowing it down, it became obvious that this compilation wasn’t only about what I like, but also what each artist respectively envisions as well. The future is where we are all going, and hopefully, VA001 helps carry us through”. 

Hi Lukas and Remy! How do you feel about getting featured on the EXHALE compilation? What was your reaction when you heard the news?

Lukas Firtzer: “Obviously being featured on EXHALE is a massive opportunity for which I am very grateful. Amelie and Sam (Farrago, Amelie’s partner in crime, ed) have supported many of my tracks in the past two years, so this motivates me to keep pushing my sound and quality. When they asked me to contribute to the new label, I was speechless”.

REMY-X: “I was super happy, of course! I'm grateful that Amelie asked me to join this new project. For over a year, she has been playing most of my tracks – which was already more than I could ask for – but I never expected being asked to join the EXHALE team’s new project. When I first saw all the names that joined this compilation, I was a bit shocked to see my name amongst these big artists. Even though we are both Belgian, I had never even met Amelie in real life. She gives young and some lesser-known artists a chance to have a bit more visibility in the scene, which is hard to come by. I’m so grateful for that”.

Amelie gives new artists a chance to have a bit more visibility in the scene, which is hard to come by. - REMY-X

What's your take on the current techno scene - and in particular - the contemporary techno scene in Belgium?

REMY-X: “I think Belgium has a great techno scene. You can go to a club or a rave every weekend, and I mostly do so in cities like Ghent and Brussels. In my opinion, there are so many talented people across the country. For our small size, we are spoiled with great artists, clubs, parties, events, festivals - and we have a dedicated audience too! We are especially spoiled because the nearby events in The Netherland, France and Germany are pretty amazing too”.

Lukas Firtzer: “Obviously, our scene is quieter nowadays. When the first lockdown came about, I had just played my first international booking (in France), and there were lots of other big gigs right around the corner. I finally had the feeling that things were going in the right direction. Unfortunately, it did not turn out the way I hoped. Techno is all about freedom in every form, and now that’s being taken away from us. I’m relieved to see events and clubs trying to make the best of it, but still. We can only wish for the best, and hope everything will change back to normal soon”.

Techno is all about freedom in every form, and that’s now being taken away from us. - Lukas Firtzer

What's in the pipeline for you guys? Since you had more time in the studio, is more new music coming our way?

REMY-X: “I devote my free time to making music, but I’m not necessarily finishing tracks. I’m not a fast producer who finishes tunes in a few days or even weeks. Sometimes, it takes me months to finish just one track and still not be happy about it; but that’s a good thing I guess (laughs). I just like to experiment and jam in the studio, without working towards a finished production. I like to learn new things, working on my sound, and just having fun. I do have one acid track planned on the Belgian acid label Narcosis, which should drop in early 2021”.

Lukas Firtzer:Funny enough, I've had some troubles finding the right rhythm in my production flow. Normally, I get a lot of inspiration from club nights, whether I’m behind the booth or amongst the crowd. It's my main inspiration for new tracks. As this option has disappeared, a part of my inspiration is gone, so I needed to shift to other ideas. I think my EXHALE track proves you can take inspiration from anywhere. That’s a lesson I’m grateful for. In the end, you can see there will always be good sides to any bad situation”.