James Chan has been with Love Da Records for fifteen years now since he and his business partner and brother Tommy started the label in the mid-1990s. A lot has changed over the years, he says, and the Hong-Kong based label is going from strength to strength, opening a live music venue in Hong Kong and offices in Singapore, and representing perhaps the largest roster of labels in Southeast Asia including PIAS, V2, Matador Records, Secretly Canadian and Warp.
To celebrate the label’s fifteen years in indie music, Love Da Records has released a commemorative in-house compilation, Love Indie Rock, an epic compilation of 51 specially chosen tracks by the team behind the label. We chat to James about the label’s beginnings, its expansion, and exciting plans for the future.
Congratulations on Love Da’s fifteenth year! That’s a long time! Tell us about what the music scene was like back then.
First of all, I’m still quite young! Like fashion, music scenes tend to repeat themselves in a cycle with a tad bit of re-invention. 15 years ago, music in Hong Kong was not as accessible as it is today, resulting in a more segregated market in terms of music accessibility. There wasn’t too much mixing about with musical flavours.
Overall for Southeast Asia, there was less western engagement compared to nowadays, mainly due to undeveloped digital technology and censorship. Nowadays, people in our region are much more knowledgeable musically, therefore I think it’s fair to say that our appetite and consumption is right up there on the international scale.
Of all the things you could do like a label or venue, why did you choose to start a label?
Destiny you can call it. We saw a gap in the market in terms of dance music, you could barely find anything non-commercial in those days so Tommy and I pulled our resources together and started something that was fueled by our passion. I remember at the beginning, we just wanted to own a good collection of music, a ‘library’ that we could share with others!
And when did you realize that the company needed to diversify and expand?
There was always a need to expand. I knew that one main way of expanding would be diversifying our product line – business studies 101! We had a golden opportunity pop up with a one of the biggest indie labels in the game, so we seized it. Never looked back since!
I hate to do this to you, but what’s been your personal favourite release to come out on Love Da?
My own release, which has not yet been released! No seriously, label wise? Warp & !K7 are up there. Also: Señor Coconut.
How do you choose what Love Da releases and which labels to distribute?
There are a few things:
1. Repertoire and reputation
2. Our connection and relationship with our overseas network
3. Personal preference and A&R work
4. What we think will sell in our regions
What’s the coolest part about the job? What’s been the highlight so far?
To be interviewed by media! And the infinite access to music. We’re also fortunate to work in an industry where eccentric mindsets are welcome in the office. Through music, I get to localise myself more with different cultures — especially food culture! — and I like having the chance to network and meet other music industry people.
And finally, what have you got up your sleeve for the rest of the year/next year?
The Love Da Cafe just started, which is quite exciting. We’re also hoping to put out more of our own concept compilations (physical and digital). There’s also going to be more emphasis on digital overall as well, and we want to work on artist development too. As to specific releases, that’s all top secret so you’ll just have to find out later!
By Melissa Yong
Find out more about the Love Indie Rock compilation here and stream an exclusive preview of the 51-track box set.