By David DacksMiles Cleret runs the much heralded Soundway Records, a London based reissue label that has put out some of the finest vintage jams from around the world. Among their most famous releases are the Ghana Soundz collections. Soundway and reissue labels of similar vision such as the Numero Group, Blood and Fire, and Light In The Attic do far more than license a random bunch of tracks. They do primary historical research on forgotten chapters of groove music and combine them with first rate graphic design and thoughtful annotation. In these days of declining CD sales, these physical products are well worth owning. Soundway’s latest release is Nigeria Special — their second volume of Nigerian sounds with at least two more to come in the near future.
How long have you been collecting? Since I was about 12. My dad was a big record collector so I guess I picked it up off him. I’ve always had loads of records in the house, the minute I had any money to buy my own, that’s when I started. If I wasn’t buying my own I’d be ruining my father’s. These days, I’ve had to give my two year his own records (to ruin) because he’s making his way towards mine alarmingly quickly. How long have you been DJing? Do you still DJ as much as you used to? I guess I started playing records in clubs when I was 19 or 20, so 15 years ago. When I was a student in Manchester friends used to put on parties and we would do the back room where we had more free reign to do whatever we wanted. The pressure wasn’t on to make people dance. The early days of my DJing were based in experimentation, throwing in an African track or a hip-hop or a reggae or jazz track. I’ve always liked to surprise people as much as possible.
When you pick up some undiscovered gem, do you think "wow, that’s going to be a killer on the dance floor”? Is that one of the criteria for using a track on your compilations? Sometimes, but this one is much less dance floor oriented. The space I’ve been in the last six or seven years has been aimed at making people dance, and that’s coincided with [the existence of] Soundway. There’s been a slew of other records I’ve been into but haven’t had the means to output them. Having taken a break from Soundway last year, and having young children, sitting around sifting through records I thought why not put out these records that I’ve been building up from Nigeria all these years? I know they go together really well but they’re not all aimed at the dancefloor but they’re all totally unique. I’ve had this compilation in mind for four of five years. To answer your question, yes, but less and less at this time. It doesn’t have to be aimed at the dance floor it just has to be good. That being said, the next one coming up is going to be filled with banging dance tracks. I’ve spent a lot of time researching Nigerian music, trying to get my head around all the music coming out in Nigeria around this time. The next one is slightly later than this – ’74 to ’79, kind of disco funk, and the one after that is psychedelic rock with not a saxophone in sight.
Do you think the notion of what a "dance floor tune” might be has expanded over the years? To be honest, I don’t really care right now. Whether people want to dance to them or listen to them in their car. You know, like the rock one… When I was really young I used to be into progressive rock and when I was really young, like 13, I was into metal. But throughout my 20s I was into the jazz funk thing with lots of horns and guitar as a primarily rhythmic instrument. But so many people have emailed me about the rock music of Nigeria that I started listening to more of the records. The rock scene was quite big. So after the disco funk special, we’re doing the Nigeria rock special. And it’s great music, you just have to get past the things in your head that stop you from appreciating a rock guitar solo. Really, I’m not looking at it at the moment as to whether it’s for the dance floor, if it’s good I’m going to put it out.
Well that’s the thing. You talk about the scholarship and the work over five years to put this together. I always feel that your compilations are far more than just banging out tracks. They’re real artistic and somewhat historical statements. Well, it takes a long time and it takes dedication and a lot of people don’t realise it. It’s a lot of groundwork and a hell of a lot of time.