There are a lot of hardworking people behind any given dance project, and record labels can often serve as ideological families, tied together by taste and style within which interesting ideas and fearless experimentation can thrive.
You might be surprised how many of your favorite artists are all in the same crew, or who’s made a one-off appearance on a cool boutique. Reading up on labels is a great way to discover more incredible music; that’s why Billboard Dance is spotlighting the labels we love.
As part of the vast Ninja Tune family, Counter Records gives a voice to pop-leaning experimental artists, including Odesza, RAC, Big Gigantic and more. The indie imprint has been one of our favorites for years, and we were thrilled to learn it leads the industry with a largely female team. They work tirelessly across global time zones to give their artists the best interactive campaigns possible, ensuring that each visionary project comes to life in dynamic dimensions to reach as varied a listener base as possible. Learn more in our conversation below.
Who founded Counter and what inspired them to do so?
Senior Product Manager Christine Hogg: Counter Records was inspired by the rise of electronic music in the US and into mainstream. [With Ninja Tune] being a pioneer for electronic music, it’s been our aim to give that sound a home base in a place where it can grow.
We’ve had a lot of success at the intersection of the underground and mainstream. This new segment of electronic music enabled Counter Records to drive this niche market and blend into the rest of the market as well. On that label, we’ve had our most successful commercial campaigns with a No. 3 Billboard album, a top 200 chart success and selling 63,000 units the first week when we released Odesza’s A Moment Apart.
Are you an indie or are you a subsidiary of a larger label?
Hogg: It’s an independent label that is part of the Ninja Tune family alongside a handful of other labels such as Brainfeeder, Technicolour, Big Dada.
Head of North America & Global Streaming Marie Clausen: We’re super proud of [the Brainfeeder] partnership. That’s Flying Lotus’ label. We’ve just released a Thundercat record on there. Kamasi Washington has released on the label as well. Marie Davidson (released on Ninja Tune). She was actually grammy-nominated last year. Octa Octa and Peggy Gou released on (sublabel) Technicolour, too. It’s been fantastic to have that more underground entity as well within the umbrella.
We’ve always found that these labels create synergies between themselves. Big Dada has Wiley, a massive U.K. hip hop artist, and on Ninja Tune we’re super proud that we just released the Sampa the Great, Little Dragon, and Floating Points just to name a few. We’re actually turning 30 years this year. It was originally founded by Coldcut, so it’s an artist-led label. Over the years, we’ve branched out in all these different sub-labels, with Counter records now being the most prominent in the US.
Where is Counter based, and does that affect the musical output at all?
Director of Artist Strategy Alix Rosenberg: Our Counter team is predominantly based across L.A. and London with the offices working in tandem across all releases. The collaborative nature of the music industry out in L.A. has definitely allowed us to build a really diverse community and brand that reflects the outside-the-box hustle that is palpable [in this city] while staying true to our UK and Ninja roots. It’s really given us a complementary perspective.
How many employees does Counter have?
Clausen: We are 70 across the company worldwide. Most of us are working across all the labels, so it’s hard to say how many employees are really for Counter. One thing that we are definitely happy about, we are about 75 percent female in our L.A. office. It’s a really inclusive, young and innovative team, and it’s joyful to see how everybody is really good at what they’re doing, enjoying it, and releasing some fantastic music.
Hogg: All of us here on this call have been around the music industry, and it’s such a wonderful and innovative environment to be working alongside so many powerful and inspiring women. It’s a very unique experience, and I think all of us hope to see this continue throughout the industry. I think Ninja Tune and Counter are a really good example for that women power to. I really think it’s a good stamp on the industry.
Do you have regular office hours or do you keep an unorthodox schedule?
Hogg: We’re operating on many different time zones, especially from the L.A. office. Mainly with London, but we also work with Berlin, Paris, Australia and the Asian Pacific Time Zones. The L.A. office starts work as early as we can log on to overlap with Europe and the UK, followed by a focus on the US market. Then we segue into the Australian and Asia Pacific in the afternoon. We communicate with our counterpart in the UK on projects, answering any questions and getting things done. For the most part, we do follow normal office hours. The A&R team is always scouting for new talent, attending festivals and key events. That would probably be the abnormal hours.
Clausen: We really try to work our campaigns globally. Commercial success comes from really understanding how the different markets work, pulling it together into one big campaign.
Who is on the current Counter roster?
Rosenberg: One that just launched that I’ve been working on for a while is The Midnight. We announced the signing to Counter with the preorder for their July 10th album, Monsters, going live with a new single, “Deep Blue.” They’re a really cool synthwave band that we’re super stoked about. We have the Big Gigantic album that just released earlier this year. We have upcoming music from Kasbo. There’s an up-and-coming artist, TSHA, who is based out of the UK. She’s a very cool new talent in the electronic space. I’m very excited to see what she goes on to do.
Hogg: Obviously Odesza, who was Grammy nominated for best dance/electronic album and best dance recording in 2018, but also Big Wild, Maribou State, What So Not — and then RAC whose third album Boy just released. He’s a Grammy winning artist, incredibly talented. He’s been remixing and working with a plethora of artists through many different genres. This album is another masterpiece working with so many different artists, but it’s really his inspiration which is amazing to see
Clausen: We have Chrome Sparks, Giraffage, Tennyson, Conner Youngblood, Frenship, Laurel. Our relationship with the Odesza family has become really great. We are lucky enough to do the new Bronson album, the new group from Odesza and Gold Features. That is releasing on Ninja Tune and Foreign Family. There’s a lot of respect and we really enjoy working with each other.
Is there a common sound or ideology that ties the releases and the artists together?
Rosenberg: Constant innovation while preserving quality across both the music and the creative branding. It’s all driven by the artist and incorporated through our campaigns. I worked with Spotify for a while, and when I was on that side, Counter and Ninja were really the first to use new tech and embrace interesting ways of marketing that were really unique and that’s something that continues throughout the years.
Hogg: Another common ground is mixing all elements of the campaign from the visual experience to physical products and in-person events. We really create a unique and truthfully sensational experience for the fans, because the artists that we have signed to Counter are so passionate about their music and every single detail that goes into their final product. Our artists take risks by creating sounds on the cutting edge.
What are some of the ways the label comes to life for fans?
Clausen: Most of our artists have very ambitious live shows. Odesza’s Coachella performance in 2018 was remarkable, with those drones forming the Odesza logo over them. It’s in the Coachella documentary. And then similar with Big Gigantic, they have a really great 3D live show. It blew my mind when I saw it for the first time.
Rosenberg: It’s not just recorded video. They have cameras that record it live in 3D that they’re projecting.
Hogg: RAC was planning on touring, but with Covid, that got canceled. We’ve had to get extra creative to engage with his core fanbase and expand. We created a Instagram filter, an alternative universe experience where your face is on a rolling ball duplicated from the album artwork. It’s available on Instagram now. It’s fun for fans to use music from the album, interact with the artwork and share with their friends. Another thing we’re doing on Friday is an online streaming party, encompassing everything from a video launch to a happy hour with all the artists featured on his album. We’re working with Tik-Tok influencers to get into that market.
Clausen: We also have a Counter Record playlist on Spotify called On Repeat, and we have another flagship playlist for Ninja Tune.
What are some essential tracks?
Rosenberg: We have “You” from Tennyson which came out recently. It’s honestly a really great track, and we’re gonna be releasing a cool video for that soon. TSHA, her track “Me You” is awesome.
Clausen: Odesza’s “Falls” feat. Sasha Sloan was one of the key singles from A Moment Apart. Big Wild’s track “6’s to 9’s” featuring Rationale.
Hogg: RAC’s “Passion” feat. Louis The Child from Boy!
What’s one piece of advice for aspiring producers who would like to get on your radar?
Hogg: As cliche as it may sound, having passion behind the project, the art form and the industry itself. Relentless effort and dedication to the art form helps people become noticed and excel above the crowd. Really take risks and don’t fear rejection, because sometimes the things that seem the strangest or the scariest are what become the most successful, especially with a label such as Counter Records.
Rosenberg: It’s really important for artists to believe in what they’re doing and have a vision for what they want the world of their project to be. How do they want it to make fans feel? If they can create that authentic connection to their music by building the world with great music and a really genuine brand. It’s a funny pairing of words next to each other, but I do think it’s possible.
Clausen: Do what you love and find that connection. Find your audience and embrace that. We come and help add to it, but an artist doing what they love is really important.
Where does Counter fit in the great landscape of electronic music?
Rosenberg: To me, Counter has always felt like the sweet spot between mainstream friendly sounds and the curated cutting edge roster that Ninja’s always been lauded for. It can appeal to both new and old fans of electronic music, and to a lot of different fans that are very open.
Clausen: It’s not repetitive. That’s what I enjoy about it.
This article was updated to correct an error that Marie Davidson had released on Technicolour. She has instead released on Technicolour’s parent label, Ninja Tune.
RAC’s third album Boy is out on Counter Records today.