Enormous laser and light shows, festival headline slots à la Coachella and Tomorrowland, number one charting spots in Top 40 playlists charts, huge crowds bouncing to gripping beats – that is the picture that usually comes to people’s minds when they talk about electronic music. Despite its global popularity, the complex genre has had to fight many prejudices over the past years, while some fans are even saying it has lost its soul. Now, many producers and dance music ambassadors have set out to change exactly that. STMPD RCRDS is one of them – born out of star DJ Martin Garrix’s vision to support the new generation of electronic music and give it its rightful place to shine, the Amsterdam-based label has evolved to one of the biggest players in the industry by putting artists first and focusing on quality over quantity. And it might have just transformed the world of electronic music forever by doing so.
“My manager Watse de Jong, Steven Hiemstra, who now looks after the label, and I started STMPD RCRDS and STMPD STUDIOS together five years ago. This year is actually ten years of Watse and I working together as well. Funny story, the first time we met I thought he didn’t like me at all for the first few months, but with him, you have to crack the shell and then when you really get to know him you see he is the most loving person. I definitely wouldn’t be here without him,”, remembers Martijn Garritsen, better known as Dutch dance music powerhouse Martin Garrix, trailing back to the early days of his career and the label’s beginnings. Named as an ode for his father’s auction company specialised in stamps, STMPD RCRDS came from Garrix’s idea of setting up a label that would give him the independence and freedom to release his own music without any rules to adhere to and that would let him provide his friends and any upcoming DJs and producers with the spotlight they deserved. Considering the lack of success and demand most labels were facing around that time, some people might have called the decision a risky venture, seeing as it was quickly settled that Amsterdam‘s legendary FC Walvisch recording complex had to become STMPD’s new home.
Just five years down the line, what seemed like a shrewd business move at first, has turned into a global brand with enthralling artists like Julian Jordan, Loopers, EAUXMAR, Osrin, Brooks, Dillon Francis, and, of course, Martin Garrix himself under its wing. By turning the label and studio sphere into a safe haven not only for music-related artists but also for any other creatives under any discipline, STMPD has evolved into the new, fresh face of music production in the ecstatic world of dance music. With over 400 released tracks from 250 artists across a length of genres, from tech-house and downtempo to progressive, electro-house, a bit of trap and future bass and everything in between, the label has its finger firmly set on the pulse of time by proofing that dance music is more than just massive festival-ready anthems and creating a musical universe that exists without boxes. “I love that today there are just no boundaries anymore. In the past, there were always those big trends that almost everybody followed, but now I think we all feel a bit more like we can just put out whatever music we want to,”, proclaims Emilio Justin Behr, also known as Dutch DJ Justin Mylo. Thanks to his relationship with Garrix that trails back to the times when they were still kids, the young producer had his first breakthrough with his collaboration with Garrix, the pulsing bounce track ‘Bouncy Bob’, which quickly became a big dance floor hit all over the world, and was one of the first artists to be signed to STMPD. As for many others, the label quickly turned into much more than just a group of people getting his music out into the public, him fondly calling it his “home base” now. “Every time I’m at the studios, it’s like coming home and I always hang around way longer than I need to, just to be with the team. But what really makes STMPD stand out in my opinion is that they release all kinds of electronic music. We’re all working without limits and I think that’s why the level of quality is always very high for every release. Which I think is super important, to always strive for quality no matter how hard it may be.” A statement that also gets underlined by Joshua Raphaël Dominique van der Burgh, better known as the Dutch DJ and songwriter Josh Charm. The young producer is the somewhat new kid on the block, having signed to STMPD only last year. But even despite the short time and the pandemic putting a hold on the industry, he’s become part of the many artists who have made the label their second home: “STMPD is a family with members who share mutual values, for example achieving musical goals, sharing life and music experiences, connecting people and adding value to the world via music. It always requests us artists to become the best versions of ourselves.”
“For the next years the goal is for everybody to stay in this positive flow, to keep pushing and INSPIRING each other and to become the best versions of themselves.”– MARTIN GARRIX
Family – a concept that seems to be at the forefront of STMPD’s essence. Which doesn’t come as a surprise when you have “Artists First. Always.” as your motto. And while a catchphrase like that doesn’t just look good on posters and as part of an “About Us” page, it’s a mantra that has also firmly grounded itself in every artist’s experience when getting to work with the label. “It is definitely the foundation of STMPD’s philosophy. All the artists are good friends and spend a lot of time together even outside the studio walls. We’re always super excited to come to Amsterdam, we love the hospitality of the label’s team and are very warmly welcomed every time. We truly feel at home here,”, utters the Russian producer-duo Matisse & Sadko, made up of two brothers who have found their place in the world of house and have been working together with Martin Garrix and his label from the very start. Looking back on their journey, they feel a sense of pride about being able to be part of STMPD’s story from so early on, getting to follow its growth and become part of its team from close to day one.
“The first five years at STMPD have been crazy. For the next years the goal is for everybody to stay in this positive flow, to keep pushing and inspiring each other and to become the best versions of themselves,”, Garrix, who will be 25 years old this May, states, quickly adding the urge to go back on stage as soon as possible. “I can’t wait for the festivals to start again, so we get to play the music that we’ve been working on the last year for an actual audience. And I really want to see all the artists again, because we haven’t been able to meet for such a long time now, except for on facetime or zoom, but that’s just not the same. The same goes for the fans, I can’t wait to be in the same room or on the same field with them together and feel the energy and have our STMPD reunion.” As a community, no music genre has been hit harder by the pandemic than the DJ culture that depends on live shows and being able to perform their musical ventures in front of dancing crowds. It is easier to imagine people sitting in front of a screen and enjoying a streamed rock or pop concert than a live DJ set. And as with just like everyone else, the uncertainty of how and when things will finally return to normal has put a huge weight on the whole sector of the industry and many artists’ creative fuel. “For me, the pandemic has been nice and bad at the same time. The trick is to find a balance between them to stay in the golden middle. What I call “nice” is the fact that I have had more time to produce music than ever before because I’m not touring and as opposed to earlier when I was going out when I wasn’t on tour, I can’t do that now either. It sounds awesome in terms of music productivity though, right?”, the Polish DJ star and STMPD RCRDS signee Blinders points out, while also highlighting the negative effects the various lockdowns have had on his creativity. “But what I call “bad” is the fact that when you stay too much in the studio, you get overwhelmed and you lose your vision. So to figure it out you have to balance and spend some time on other things that can bring you more ideas and inspiration for your music.” It’s a point of view that is shared by many, among those also by the rising Dutch duo Frenk de Vries and Edwin de Bruijn, better known as the eclectic producer team Silque: “It has been a tough period for the music industry and it still is. Sometimes the creative ideas were hard to find for us. But because we couldn’t play live and with not much perspective on the festival/club scenes returning back to normal, we tried to focus more on music that was more listenable instead of the hits that we usually play at festivals.”
“Every time I’m at STMPD, it’s like coming home. I always hang around way longer than I need to.”– JUSTIN MYLO
But despite dance music clubs and festivals being the number one communal events that just need to experienced live, pressed against people, with loud beats blaring in your ears and making your heart bounce, the electronic music industry has found ways of creating a burgeoning virtual culture to give everyone a short break from the madness. Diving into an environment where fans can chat while getting to experience real-time performances, these new faces of live music have given music lovers the chance to get to see their favourite DJs and producers up close and personal and feel connected in ways that have otherwise been unattainable with social distancing. Still through a screen and from everyone’s homes, but better than nothing at all.
Naturally, the pandemic and demise of live shows have flung an equally hard punch at the whole of STMPD RCRDS. Throughout the past years, the label had become famous for its enormous festival takeovers at the world’s leading fests, including Tomorrowland, Ultra Miami, Sziget, and Lollapalooza Berlin amongst many others. But even with the STMPD Stages put on hold, the label and its whole team haven’t sat still for even just one day, setting up their own livestream festivals and DJ sets, taking the fans inside of the studios and the label’s work through various behind the scenes videos and seizing the one or other slot at online festivals such as Hydeout and Tomorrowland. Additionally, the label’s online concepts, such as its outstanding Instagram presence, have found new heights throughout the past few months, from hosting their own STMPD RCRDS radio in which they follow one of their artists for a day and having their signees guess each other’s IDs, to releasing their first-ever producer pack with label frequenter Julian Jordan, ultimately giving their fans a chance to get to know their favourite artists even better. And lastly, they managed to reach one milestone that outshone all the darkness that 2020 brought with itself – the completion and opening of the STMPD Recording Studios, featuring eight striking studios, with one serving as a film mix stage and even getting certified as a Dolby Atmos Premier Studio – one of only nine in the world.
“One very important we have learned is that the teamwork makes the dream work.”– MARTIN GARRIX
As with every big-scale endeavour like the creation and successful uphold of STMPD, there is a group of very talented and motivated people working in the background to keep everything afloat and get the boat going. Something that the pandemic has particularly pushed to the front of everyone’s minds. “One very important thing we’ve learned is that the teamwork makes the dream work. The team, everybody involved, it’s what makes STMPD run and what makes it so special. It feels like a family and I will never ever take that for granted,”, highlights producer and owner Garrix, coming back to the importance and value of surrounding yourself with the right group of individuals. It almost feels like a full circle, from starting his own label to be able to support artists and DJs he believed in and to give them the recognition they rightfully deserved, to turning STMPD RCRDS into a one-of-a-kind game-changer in the vast, pulsing world of electronic music with a loyal team following him every step of the way. In just five years the young DJ and his label managed to reach countless landmark moments and become the breeding ground for future hits and the new generation of electronic music talent, breathing new life into the soul of dance music. And with a strong, stand-out team and a global superstar at its helm, one thing is clear – STMPD RCRDS’ only way is up.
Written by Laura Weingrill // photos by Louis van Baar & STMPD RCRDS