Label Mates: Shir Khan / Exploited

Since kicking things off back in 2007, Berlin-based Shir Khan and his Exploited Recordings team have brought us incredible music from the likes of Joyce Muniz, Kiki, Aquarius Heaven, Modeselektor, Amtrac, Kyodai, Claptone and Sonny Fodera, and they show no sign of slowing down.

For the latest edition of our Label Mates we got in touch with Mr. Khan to chat about the early days of Exploited, the biggest tracks the label has put out and where things are headed in the future.

Exploited first launched in 2007, tell us about the hustle of putting out your first releases?

Exploited was launched back in 2007, already 12 years ago. At the time, I had no master plan but to release a mix CD of mine which was titled ‘Maximise’. It was similar in the style of 2 Many DJ’s, Optimo or the Glimmer Twins. Whilst I was searching for tracks for the mix, some artists started to ask me if I would like to release a single from them. Some of the first releases on the label were from Siriusmo, Surkin, Lorenz Rhode and Adam Sky (Adamski). By that time, more and more artists and friends got to know the label name and started to send me tracks regularly. I never had the approach to run a typical Berlin label, I was bored with minimal techno and wanted to have a more eclectic and fresh approach to things. It was supposed to be as colourful and international as it could get.

I used to be a hip-hop DJ back in the day – a reason why I love sample culture. At the same time, I used to play guitar in several punk rock and hardcore bands. This personal musical background of mine was mixed up with many new dance genres I discovered whilst buying records. It was all about throwing different genres into one melting pot in the early days. Now, we are musically more focused I think, not everything goes together anymore. We have been dipping our toes into genres including Deep House, House, Disco, Electro, Afro and Techno. However, I am still pretty open and flexible when trying to find something ‘outside the box’ – it just doesn’t happen that often anymore.

The years of running a label have changed a lot for me – especially with releasing everything physically in the beginning, it was just not possible to have constant releases like we have now in the digital world. When my distributor went bankrupt and I lost all my money, I started to rethink my strategy and release more via digital platforms. This helped me to survive, even though we are seeing a big comeback for vinyl production at the moment. The main idea was to build an international artist crew who would release consistently and form their own sound, this includes the Adana Twins, Claptone and Joyce Muniz.

Nowadays – in terms of artists – the cards have mixed up new. While some of the established artists went their own way – I focus more on new talent again.

And what is your typical day to day regarding the label, do you manage it yourself or is there a team behind the curtain?

The setting of the label is pretty much DIY. My label manager Jens has worked for me for maybe 6 or 7 years now, but before he came along I did everything myself. I have my own publishing company and we publish most of our tracks.

I also started to manage a few of my artists, giving them the full package and overlooking every part of their career. We do all out PR in house and sometimes we work with some external companies when necessary. It all depends on the artist and the release.

We used to do some of our own events and bookings but we kind of moved away from it as it wasn’t something we really enjoyed being involved with. Other people and agencies can do that better, so we gave away most of our artists to certain booking agencies. My main role as the label owner is to sign the records and work on the artist profiles – I do communicate a lot with the artists which takes most of my time. We have a very strict timeline for each release when to do what – so I basically mainly just overwatch these things if everything is going smooth. I also do sometimes get involved in the production process of a track, rearranging tracks, or forming an idea together out of a demo. Maybe getting a radio edit done if needed or throwing things out and back in again. I love creative work way more than logistics.

What is the hardest role managing a label that people might not know about?

You will need to get the cool DJs on board to play your records. You will need to have the cool radio stations to give it a first spin and you need to build artists who can stand the test of time. Its all about being patient but also about artists creating an identity, doing the right remixes etc and if the artist is connected with a label where she/he constantly releases, the label itself as a brand will also benefit from this and rise so its important you work closely with the artists.

You have put out some physical releases, how did you find the transition to the digital age?

The transition from physical releases to digital saved my ass (so to say). It saved me a lot of money and it made it possible for me to release an EP or a single every week. I know it’s all about quality and I can tell by myself, once you get into the game of releasing a lot of music its hard to stop, it gets addictive and YES – sometimes you might fail the quality control check…by saying this…I don’t think every record I release is great.

Regardless of that I love Vinyl and we still release all of our Disco House Black Jukebox releases on Vinyl. They always sell out in the pre-order and later become collector items on Discogs as we never reprint.

And we live in a time when there are thousands of new tracks coming out everyday, what has been the key to keeping Exploited above water in a sea of mediocre music?

I think that’s firstly a good infrastructure we built. We are friends with our distributor. We know who to talk too, to get features or banners in digital stores and how to get in streaming playlists etc. It’s also about a recognizable artwork for the label brand. Well and I guess the production of the music should be on the highest level and maybe not too bad.

What record on your label are you most proud to have put out?

Very difficult question. But I guess my favourite record on my label remains Siriusmo – “Allthegirls”. It’s one of the first records I ever released on my label.

And who can we expect music from on Exploited in the near future?

It will be a mix of debutants. Some completely fresh faces with some more established artists, all mixed up with some top remixers. To drop some names. Expect originals and remixes from Addison Groove, Bas Roos, Black Loops, Budakid, Christian Nielsen, Enduro Disco, Felipe Gordon, Frankey & Sandrino, Iron Curtis, James Curd, Joyce Muniz, KE, Little Boots, NEAT, Moullinex, Phenomenal Handclap Band, Sandboardz, Shadow Child, The Mekanism, T.U.R.F.

Lastly, where do you see the label in a few years time?

Hard question. I love what I do, and I will just continue in releasing music. Sometimes when things seem to get too big, I am a person who likes to take a step back. I made a step back with the label some years ago when we had a good hype. I really wanted to escape that hype and just live a good and enjoyable life but not a stressful life of running a huge company. I moved from Berlin to Bangkok where I currently live. I love to travel in Asia and do the label work from here. So, lets see how Asia might influence me.