»Sounds that Go Bang!« It is no coincidence that Pete Buckenham describes the profile of his label On the Corner Records by quoting the title of the iconic single from Arthur Russell’s leftfield disco project Dinosaur L. Russell’s music has been a favorite of the British DJ and music journalist for ages. In his monthly radio shows on Gilles Peterson’s online radio station Worldwide FM, it has a permanent place next to that of acts such as the Chicago jazz musician Angel Bat Dawid, the New York based multi-instrumentalist Afrikan Sciences or the Tunisian producer Azu Tiwaline, whose dub grime track »Violet Curves« has just opened the most recent, once again extremely fascinating and wide-ranging label compilation »Door to the Cosmos«. Its title is borrowed from a composition of the same name by Sun Ra, whose afro-futuristic jazz concept represents another reference coordinate in Buckenham’s sound universe. »Bangers for the backroom« – with this respectfully appreciative attribute Buckenham describes again and again the specific quality that should be the brand defining trademark for the output of his label. The name in turn refers to the title of an LP by Miles Davis that was released in 1972: „If I could be in any session and control room then that would be the place to be. Miles tore up the rule book and brought in global street grooves to jazz and psyched it out”, says Buckenham.
More than any stylistic classification, it is the rejection of genre ascriptions that is at the center of the OtC philosophy. »I’d always been into chasing new sounds and trying to find those records that tare everything up and really question your understanding or have an immediate impact on your emotions«, Buckenham explains his approach. »Different, forward thinking, risk taking and of the highest quality« – his mission statement at the same time describes the criteria that he uses to select his releases. And: »A lot of it is rooted in black music.« That is less of a surprise, when you find out, that a decisive impetus for founding the label is rooted in Buckenham’s past: After studying anthropology, he coordinated campaign strategies for Amnesty International for almost a decade. Following his intuition, he went on a »beat odyssey« through East Africa and the Sahara. Operating a bar in Zanzibar, he put on records from labels specializing in African jazz, soul and funk from the 60s and 70s, such as Analog Africa and Soundway, but also from contemporary post-dubstep acts like Joy Orbison, and began making contacts with local scenes and networks. Back in England, Buckenham started a Monday night event series called »On the Corner Sessions«, where he and Nick Woodmansey (aka Emanative) combined tracks by Theo Parrish with obscure Ethiopian recordings in a small London café. Woodmansey was also the one who encouraged him to go public with his own label in 2013.
One of the first steps with On the Corner was the release of »Instead«, the debut album by the seven-piece ensemble Collocutor around saxophonist Tamar Osborn, who interweaves modal, deep and free jazz with afro beat influences and a classical background. The following releases had a similarly daring effect and could not be pigeonholed: The trio Fiium Shaarrk invokes influences from Tortoise to King Crimson, Max Roach, Napalm Death, Autechre to Iannis Xenakis, but sounds completely unique; Black Classical is mixture of afro sounds and the rhythms of the Candomblé; the band Penya around Magnus Mehta crosses tribal and latin with electronic sounds. The release of the second album by Collocutor marked a milestone in 2017: »The Search« landed high in many poll results and was probably also the reason for winning accolades like Gilles Peterson’s ‘Label of the Year’ in 2018. Other personal highlights were bringing out the releases of the Santuri Safari network with the Mugwisa International Xylophone Group, says Buckenham. The popular Peruvian duo Dengue Dengue Dengue also regularly leaves its mark on the OtC roster. This year Buckenham is pleased with getting props in the New York Times top 10 jazz LPs for the debut album of the South African drummer Asher Gamedze and for Siti Muharam’s »Romance Revolution« in NPR’s best-of list.
Buckenham interprets his role as A&R very differently, depending on what he thinks is necessary for the respective project: »Some projects I’ll have a vision for, some artists can come on a journey with us as they develop and others smack us in the face with work that just needs to be presented in the right way to their audience.« Most of the 50 OtC releases so far have been released in vinyl format, which in the streaming age is to be considered as a statement: »Vinyl is king, I just wish we could make it a bit kinder to the environment and easier to produce. Has anyone tried to muster up an artist and label strike against the streaming platforms? They need their ass kicking for exploitation.« The visual identity, which Victoria Topping was responsible for as art director at On the Corner Records almost from the start, is crucial in Buckenham’s eyes: »Cover art is so important and something to relish. ‘If you’re going to go to the bother of making something, make it beautiful’ to miss quote Tony Wilson (one of the founders of Factory Records and operator of the cult club Hacienda in Manchester; author’s note).« What other label CEOs have inspired him? »So so many, it’s where the label came from it exists amongst a heady stew of passionate diggers, broadcasters, artists and label heads. The old guard are well known and need no props so check out Sean Keating (Tiff’s Joints, Touching Bass), Eric McCoy (WWFM), Gordon Wedderburn, Rebecca Vasmant and Marshmello (NTS).« When asked about future plans, Buckenham reveals that there will be some »jazzy house hitters« coming out on On the Corner in 2021 and – of course! – „plenty more basement bangers” will appear. And what are Buckenham’s long-term goals? Where does he see himself with On the Corner Records. »Tomorrow’s sounds, today!«, so reads the promise in the claim of his imprint – in 10 or 20 years? »As an in-flight entertainer on home planet excursions.«