Minneapolis house DJs, producers, and party-throwers Christian James and Jeff Loeding (aka Jeff Swiff) have put in a lot of hours on the dance floor. The two first met at parties when Loeding was still in high school. "I remember looking up and seeing Jeff getting down every time I played from about 2000 to 2005," says James. Since then, the two have watched several of their techno producer friends, such as DVS1, Dustin Zahn, Ian Lehman and Mike Gervais, bust out on a national and international level. Minneapolis house, meanwhile, has not really caught on outside Minneapolis, and the two men are hoping to change that with their new label Nicewon Recordings.
This goal is made clear in the title of the label's debut release, MPLS Connection EP, which features two tracks each from both James and Loeding. While both men acknowledge the influence of Detroit and Chicago, the two Midwest cities normally associated with house music, in their productions, identifying with their home city is very important to them. "The techno in this city is pretty strong, there's a lot of people putting on for techno," Loeding says, "but part of our aim will be to get the Minneapolis brand of house music on the map. I'm not trying to talk down Detroit or Chicago, it's more that Minneapolis has a very strong dance community across the board, and people need to be paying attention to what we're doing here."
The pair note that Minneapolis house does have some nice momentum, and that their label is a natural progression. The point to Aaron Bliss' label Minneapolis Exchange (which has released tracks by both James and Loeding) as a nice start, and the emergence of the four-member crew behind Kajunga Records as DJs and producers has fueled the flames further. James says that he recently played Ry Johnson (aka Ryote)'s track from Kajunga's first record at a New Year's party in Iowa and, "people were trying to trainspot the track. They asked me who the fuck is that? I said that's a KID from Minneapolis!"
James has been producing music since 2002, but was making techno and minimal until the past few years. In 2013, Loeding got James a job at a restaurant in Uptown, where the two shared their favorite house tracks with each other and eventually the productions they were working on, to see what the other thought. While at the restaurant, Loeding played James a track called "Pedro" by the producer Max Graef, and James credits this song with piquing his interest in writing house music. The pair first discussed starting a label shortly thereafter.
While the label mates write tracks individually, they are constantly checking in with each other on things they are working on, and offering advice on a path forward when one of them is stuck on a track. When they both agree a track is a "Nicewon", it's considered for release. The duo have an ambitious release schedule planned beyond MPLS Connection EP, with a solo artist EP planned for this summer from both James and Loeding. For now, the label will be just for their own releases, but they hope other labels will take note of their initial releases and reach out to them, freeing up some room to release some other artists' tracks on Nicewon Recordings.
Being promoters behind some of Minneapolis' most successful, longest running house events (Communion for James, House Proud for Loeding) gives the pair an opportunity to both connect with other artists (local and otherwise) as well as give their productions a test run. "I want to make stuff that I would play, and I want Jeff to make stuff that I would play," James says, adding, "That's taken a long time to get to. The R U Kidding Me track off the EP and a track I gave Aaron Bliss are the first tracks I produced that I ever played out." He knew he had something special with R U Kidding Me as far back as last summer. "For the last song of one of my sets at Communion last year, I just stopped everything then played R U Kidding Me to see how it would go and hear it on the Communion system. Everyone freaked out, and that's when I knew it was good."
Nicewon Recordings are celebrating with a launch party for their label and debut release at House Proud at Honey on Friday, April 7 at 10 PM. Loeding and James will be joined by Aaron Brooks and House Proud founder and resident Bryan Gerrard. More details are available at the Facebook event page.
You can listen to snippets of the four tracks on MPLS Connection EP here: