Digging Deeper with Codex and IAMT Label Owner Spartaque

Author : Marco Sgalbazzini
August 02, 2017

Digging Deeper with Codex and IAMT Label Owner Spartaque

Ukrainian DJ and Producer Spartaque, real name Vitalii Babii, has become a name known for raw quality on the international techno landscape. He’s been at it for many years, but got his first break in 2007 DJing at Ukraine’s Global Gathering festival, and has continued with this festival every year since. Since, he has added other vital performances to his resume by performing at Love Parade, Kazantip, Mayday, and others.

Spartaque supplements these performances and maintains the momentum by way of his award-winning Supreme podcast, in addition to numerous guest mixes on other podcasts and radio shows. As an artist he has been composing and producing dance music since his teens, finally being able to translate his passion and hard work into a career as a young adult. His first release came in 2005 with a contribution to a Virus Music album in 2005. More than a decade later, he now boasts over 300 released tracks on a large number of labels. His arsenal includes both original works and remixes for some of the top artists around the world.

Maintaining balance between industry and artisanship, Spartaque has played a key role in the creation and development of two key techno record labels, IAMT and Codex. With a touring schedule that is as busy as ever, we caught the opportunity to dig deeper about these label projects with Vitalii, getting into the nitty and gritty details of what it really means to be a label owner and manager of your own imprint(s), releasing on vinyl, throwing label parties, doing A&R and much more.

Hi Vitalii, how is it going? 

Hello from Kyiv, Ukraine, everyone! It’s going great, actually, I hope you all are doing great, too. I just came back from my latest tour, having played a set at Sound Waves festival in Portugal. Now I’m totally up and ready to go down to some artist management routine. And yeah, now I’m ready to be interviewed so come on!

Thank you for talking to us about your two record labels. Can you tell us a little about them and when you started them?

Right, I own two labels. One of them is an “older brother,” a more solid label called IAMT (I Am Techno), and I will elaborate on the name choice later into our conversation. Another one is called Codex. This imprint was founded later than IAMT and this is where I decided to experiment a little and started releasing music on vinyl. And that’s another interesting aspect I will tell you more about in just a bit. So these are the two labels I have.

Actually, they are kind of similar format-wise – I mean the format of music that’s being released on them. But once again, they do differ a little in terms of my approach, the number of releases, the way the selection and approval of tracks is carried out, and the type of collaboration with other artists. So yeah, these points vary, and I will explain everything to you.

Can you tell us what the purpose of launching these labels was when you started them?

IAMT label was launched long ago, and when I was thinking about a name for it, the then-biggest event provider company in Ukraine, who were doing events in Kyiv at the time, wanted to make a Ukrainian techno festival, and they had this name IAmTechno, and a logo as well… the one that I’m using now. So these guys and I decided to mold this whole thing into a single concept: a festival, club parties, and a music label. By doing this, we wished to take the brand onto a whole new level. But then came the crisis, and there were certain difficulties with holding such events in Ukraine, so the guys were forced to somewhat shift their plans. After two or three events we shifted the format away from festivals to club parties and despite the fact that the project had great feedback, it became clear to me at the time when I was entering the market of music sales that the IAmTechno phrase would fit festival and club party formats but at the same time it was a bit cheesy a name for a label. So it all boiled down to IAMT. Not many people know precisely this abbreviation but you can still easily read I Am Techno on a logo. So this is the story behind IAMT.

With Codex, it’s also a simple story. The thing is that some two-and-a-half years ago I decided to change the format of my music to a more pro-European, “proper” type of techno, and I decided that I needed some other imprint where I could present as much of my new tracks with the new sound as possible. As time went by, though, I chose to somewhat change the concept. While I initially planned to release my own tracks exclusively on this label , with remixes done by my fellow artists, which is evidenced by my first releases, I then decided to open up my label for other artists and switch to vinyl. This has actually yielded great results. Of course, releasing on vinyl implies great risk but once again the label’s reputation grows considerably given the risks taken.

Is the purpose the same or has focus shifted since?

Yes, as I’ve sad, as regards to Codex, the idea shifted a bit as well as the concept itself. That’s because Codex was initially launched as a label where I only planned to release my own music plus remixes to my tracks. But now I opened the doors and chose to attract other interesting artists, real good players on the modern techno market, with their tracks.

As for IAMT, it’s obvious that it has also changed its concept a little. Today, I perceive it mostly as a networking platform, an opportunity to discover new names and cooperate with a larger number of artists. On Codex, I try to attract primarily the artists who have already won their good reputation and enjoy tight touring schedules, and gained a huge number of followers on social networks. Meanwhile, the IAMT label has a quicker response. It’s a more mobile and dynamic structure where I can afford to release both highly acclaimed artists and younger aspiring artists as well, whose tracks I love. Of course, before I approve certain tracks, I always test them on dance floors and check out whether they are good enough to suit my label.

What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced getting things started as a label owner?

There is a number of difficulties associated with working on my labels. First of all, it’s extremely difficult to win support on the part of big stores. See, it’s not only about which artists you release (although, the more big names you have on your label, the more chances you have to get some feature placement or a banner on Beatport and such) but I have also noticed – I don’t know, maybe it’s for the better, who knows? – that a lot depends on your distributor and whether their contacts with those stores are good enough to pitch your label successfully and promote your releases. So this does play a big role as well. This is a real obstacle at times.

And of course, there are some difficulties in attracting high profile artists onto your label because we all understand that everyone wants to release on five or six major labels, I mean big artists, and of course, they are not too much interested in smaller labels. So, these are the most significant problems I am facing when working on developing my labels at this stage – attracting big names and reaching product placement objectives in major music stores.

How do you overcome these?

There is a number of ways to overcome these obstacles. As for product placement, as I’ve said, there is a way – you need to find yourself a good distributor, nowadays I work with AmpSuite and I am really happy with them. Quality content is also required. You have to make your labels more attractive for those music stores by several means. It’s lobbying, it’s strengthening your brand by making various parties, PR efforts, that’s when media outlets write about your labels and releases as well… This all matters but once again there should be someone who can personally pitch the information you need to the music stores. Obviously, distributors mediate between labels and stores, so these distributors should be interested in making sure music stores are aware of how your label is developing.

As for attracting big names to your label, perhaps the easiest solution, besides personal connections, ties friendship with certain artists, is setting up parties hosted by your label, inviting various artists to play their sets there, and thus creating incentives so that they offer their tracks to be released on your label. This is probably the simplest way. Another thing is that some artists are not willing to give out their tracks just in exchange for being invited. Here it’s all up to your negotiating skills and your capacity as a promoter, host, and generally as a person, so that the artist is willing to cooperate with you and even become your friend, support you personally and your label, too, with their tracks and releases. So this is an important point.

But of course, the bigger your name gets, the more powerful labels that you stand behind become, and the more highly acclaimed artists are ready to offer their tracks to you and have them released on your imprint.

Can you give three important pieces of advice on how to build a record label?

Perhaps, my first advice is not about how you build a record label but rather about how – or when – you best not do it. You shouldn’t create a label when you haven’t yet grown as an artist to a considerable level to be able to attract other quality artists. This was my problem too, when I was starting this whole thing up. See, I did have some contacts and some ideas already implemented but, as I’ve said before, attracting big artists to a new label whilst you haven’t yet won you own reputation or gained weight will be a real burden. So my first advice will be “don’t start a label if you haven’t become a big artist already.” Otherwise, the fate of such a label will be easy to foresee: nothing good will come out of this. You will probably release a bunch of your own tracks and those by some unknown artists but this will yield no positive results, neither to you nor to those artists, nor to the brand you’ve launched so thoughtlessly.

My second advice is to think of your label as a brand and as a whole, and not focusing only on music but realizing that there are plenty of other aspects to deal with. A label today is first of all a brand. And that’s what most people primarily pay attention to. So there are many aspects that contribute to a label’s development. Among them there are various events, image building parties, merchandizing, other activities, and so on and so forth. Classic marketing should come in handy here. That’s because banal sales in music have long ceased to be interesting. A label is a whole set of actions and measures that have to be present in order to spark interest among other artists and fans.

My third advice, and that’s probably also another way to evade the same mistakes I’ve made back in the day, is to plan everything, think and act in cycles, and remain consistent. There should be a certain strategy behind what you’re doing: it’s either a strategy of releasing tracks, a strategy of event production, and so on. When such strategy is in place, the label will be gaining weight, just like a snowball, and this will attract more people. Consistency plays a big role, I believe. It will create the right type of hype and maintain healthy interest revolving around your brand.

One of the biggest “headaches” I hear about from label owners is the entire process behind vinyl releases. How has that been for you?

Well, you know, it depends on the attitude a person has toward the issue. It’s like when a child is born. If you perceive their birth as a “headache” then of course you will fail in giving anything good to your child and your family will eventually break into shatters. Same situation here. It’s true that vinyl releases is something rarely profitable nowadays. But at the same time it’s a matter of your image and reputation. Releasing on vinyl is something I deem important.

It’s no secret that today the vinyl industry is in a state of a real renaissance. More and more people are at least starting to form their own vinyl collections at home, purchasing more records, and that’s great. So it all depends on what attitude you harbor toward the issue in general. Of course, vinyl releases entail great difficulties, challenges and inconveniences. But if you position the things you’re doing in a right way, if you see them as a big plus, as a perfect story for the media, as something that puts your label on the top of other non-vinyl electronic labels, then you will experience this great feeling of tranquillity inside, being sure that your efforts will be noticed by your followers and other artists, who will look at you label as a more attractive one to have their tracks released on it.

Your Codex imprint also runs label events. Do you feel this is the ultimate goal for labels?

I have major experience in event making. Those were not only Codex events, there were also IAMT parties and Emotional parties we’ve been doing at Forsage nightclub in Kyiv some seven or eight years ago. All of them had great feedback, I brought a huge number of highly interesting artists to Kyiv… That’s what I actually really enjoy doing.

As for Codex events, that was more like an experiment because we were doing a rooftop party on Sunday. That is a rather unusual format for Kyiv but the outcome was awesome, a lot of people were talking about that precise party. Now, in August we’re doing another party of this kind. We will also be hosting a separate stage at a big festival called White Nights. It will be held September 1st in Kyiv as well, at a really great location called Art Platforma. I really hope that Codex events will go beyond Ukraine. I have a great team and we’ve been working hard to make this happen as soon as possible. That’s probably the ultimate goal.

The task I set before the team is not only about developing the brand, it’s also about further expanding the geography of our events. We’ll see how it goes. The main task for the near future is to hold those two upcoming events at a highest-quality level. Then we need to make sure we have enough post-event PR in the media, and then we’ll see what we’re going to do about all this, how we’re going to expand and grow further.

I have been told by other label bosses that throwing successful label events, thus essentially becoming promoters/event curators, is the best way to monetize a record label. Is that so?

What can I say? I don’t quite see any ways to make big money in Ukraine off these label events. To me, it’s more about sealing ties with those good artists whom I book for my events. I try to establish better contacts and connections, attract more quality artists to my label. Of course, this is working in favor of myself, as an artist, creating this decent information vibe around the Spartaque brand in general.

So I don’t run for the big bucks with my events that I host in Kyiv, and I never have. Maybe I’m wrong in this. We’ll see how it’s going to go down. See, I have planned to move to Barcelona, Spain. This is mostly due to the fact that I’ve been touring way more recently and most of my bookings are across Europe so I need proximity. The only events I have in Ukraine are Codex events which I set up myself… As for the earnings, of course, I wish I could monetize my label this way but once again, Codex events and IAMT events that were held earlier are rather a matter of reputation than a way to cash up on them. They are aimed at boosting my ratings in the eyes of European artists and an opportunity to strengthen partnership with foreign artists through booking them for my events.

Looking back, do you feel it was worth the work to begin these labels versus releasing on other imprints?

I believe I probably would have allowed myself a little more time to release my tracks on other labels, more famous ones. But what’s done is done… Perhaps, now that I’ve become a wiser man I have became pickier in choosing labels to release on. I used to produce tons of tracks before and I wanted them all released somewhere, thus making the same mistake I am now warning other young artists against. Of course, they might be thinking that they have this whole bunch of tracks produced, and they need to open an imprint right now, and that it will become huge, but they are not thinking about those imminent problems that will come along. They don’t know yet that there must be a perfect discipline, you must attract certain people, release the right kind of tracks, then attract more of the right artists, deal with PR, do continuous selection, monitor that everything is done on time…

Of course, looking back I would have told myself: “Calm down, Vitalii, give yourself a couple more years, and only then should you start releasing tracks and doing other things…” But it’s what it is. Now I have two labels, thank God they are doing well these days, they enjoy great support on the part of Beatport, many big artists play my releases in their sets, and they are being followed by a huge number of fans…  So at the end of the day, I’ve managed to overcome those obstacles I’ve been talking about and launched full-blown operations with both imprints.

Once again, I want to stress the fact that I manage them all by myself as I have not hired label managers. So I’m going through the whole process personally and I enjoy it a lot. Again, remember that it’s always better to let yourself grow to some more or less decent level, release your tracks on other labels and become a big artist, and only then launch your own imprints. Now I believe this is the right way.

Where do you see these labels in 5 years from now? 

I really want to raise these two imprints. My greatest bet is on Codex now because with this imprint we’ve been making a label showcase, and I also invest in it by printing vinyl records for every release, attracting more interesting artists, and there is more risk connected with this label. But I hope I will be able to grow it to a great level and not only accumulate a large number of great releases but also to turn it into a big brand with its own events across all big cities worldwide, maybe even festivals.

As for IAMT, I see it as a digital platform which will allow the introduction of some new artists while also supporting the label with releases by highly acclaimed artists who have long become my friends. So I intend to conquer new heights with Codex and I also want IAMT to strengthen and expand. I see great dynamics for both labels today so I hope that this growth will continue. And of course, I’ll do everything I can to this end.

Thank you for talking to us and good luck!


Connect with Spartaque: Online | Facebook | Twitter | SoundCloud | Discogs

Connect with Codex: Online | Facebook | Twitter | SoundCloud | Beatport

Connect with IAMT: Online | Facebook | Twitter | SoundCloud | Beatport