Think Adele. Think The Shadowclub, LCNVL, Goodluck, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age, Faithless, Dave Matthews, Bon Iver, The Muffinz, Zebra & Giraffe. These artists all fall under the label of Just Music, the indie label celebrating a decade in South African and international music.
When Just Music asked me to write a few words on the independent record label turning 10, my thoughts took me back to when I was a baba journalist in the mid-1990s in my home town of Durban.
The hype of a dynamic young man called Karl Anderson (pictured) reached that humid city. He was the A&R (artists and repertoire) director for RPM but the hype suggested so much more. Word was that Karl would change the music industry – and in 2013 he has. He is a man who lives by his passion and his firm belief in doing what is right.
One of his first jobs was as a DJ at Le Club, a well known alternative rock club in downtown Jozi where his playlist included Alien Sex Fiend, Bauhaus and The Cure.
He was then first employed at RPM where one of his duties was packing records for No Friends of Harry and Enigma. That was 1991. During that time he brought over artists like The Mission and Faithless who were one of his biggest signings.
He was also responsible for the Spice Girls when they came out for the Prince’s Trust. He then became the marketing director for EMI and Capitol Records.
“Globally there were a lot of changes,” recalls Anderson. “I became frustrated with how corporate everything was and the fact that EMI head office in France did not understand the diverse South African market. So I quit.”
He let go of his big expensive car, cashed in his pension and bought a Bantam bakkie and a laptop and started an independent record label called Just Music in 2003.
He spent all his time trawling the internet looking for artists.
“I tracked down Katie Melua and contacted her producer, Mike Batt. He agreed to meet me in Midem by which time Katie had gone to number one in Britain.
“Everyone wanted her.”
Batt invited him to her press conference where hungry A&R peeps were circling. After the press conference he got chatting to a woman who, unbeknown to him, was Mike Batt’s wife. Through that innocent conversation he was invited to Batt’s hotel room.
“Mike said to me that everyone wanted to sign Katie and asked what could I offer him. I replied that I can only give you my heart.”
Batt agreed and Katie Melua was Just Music’s first artist.
Anderson stuck to his word and Katie Melua not only sold 250 000 units in South Africa but she also toured here. “That deal was my game changer. Suddenly people acknowledged there was a new player in town.”
He then went on to sign the biggest dance label in the world, Ministry of Sound, as well as Beggars Banquet, behind the well known alternative rock album that first shot to fame via the revolutionary Bauhaus and Pete Murphy in the early 1980s.
“They still operate in the same little house they used to operate in back then. I remember the first time they played me Adele. They played me two tracks from 19 and I knew she was going to be big. It was difficult to get her played here because the predominantly white stations said she was too R&B and the predominantly black stations took one look at her and said no.”
It was only with her massive success overseas that South African radio stations across the board were all over her. Just Music sold 250 000 units of her follow-up album, 21, alone.
The success of Adele for Just Music allowed Anderson to follow his dream which was to invest in South African artists.
“When I started my company I wrote down my dreams and goals and today 99 percent of them have come true. I made a shopping list of crazy dreams. My goal was to be the biggest indie label. When we started I couldn’t sign South African bands. I had no money for developing artists which is expensive from the doccies to the videos to the recording. It’s a huge investment.
“What is cool about this industry is that a hit record can come out of anywhere. There are no criteria. I look for bands who offer something fresh and original. But the music and the artist has to resonate with Just Music. The first time I heard The Muffinz I cried.
“The first time I saw Shadowclub was in some dingy club in Primrose with my now fiancée. I distinctly remember my first conversation with Jacques Moolman (lead singer and guitarist). I told him to get his shit together and then phone me.
“Eighteen months later he phoned me and said he had it together. Jacques is the real deal as a frontman and is the most talented artist in the rock genre.
“The first time I heard Locnville’s Sun in My Pocket I thought it had to be international because there was nothing else like it. I met Pascal and Pearce when they did a remix of the song.”
“Right now a few Just Music artists are touring internationally. Yoav plays bigger audiences in Russia than South Africa. Our new artist, Matthew Mole is playing Vladivostock. Goodluck is touring Europe and The Muffinz are set to tour Norway.
“Tailor is an interesting artist. Three of her biggest tracks on the album she had written during a tea break. We are in it for the long haul with her. Like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or REM or U2 they were only successful much later on. She has the looks but we are not pushing her as a babe. We are pushing her music.”
Karl’s vision for his artists is collectively large but he wisely treats each and every artist as a unique case.
“There is no script. Artists are creative people. They have sensitive souls. We double up as psychologist, mom, dad, ATM and obviously management.
“The South African music scene right now is the most exciting it has ever been. We just need two acts to break internationally and South Africa will become an A&R hotbed. There is so much great music out there right now.”
With the Anti Retro Vinyls having just released, brand new solo artists Nakhane Toure and Matthew Mole set for release and Shadowclub set to record their long awaited second album, Just Music is sure to reach greater heights.
As I wrote in my birthday wish, so shall I write here: Just Music made South African music and South Africa a better place.