What’s in a label?

Erez Todres goes against the grain in the digital downloading age and launches his own record company.

Erez Todres: I want to make people happy and share great music  (photo credit: BARANGA)
Erez Todres: I want to make people happy and share great music
(photo credit: BARANGA)
It’s one thing to get on a stage and try to show members of the public what you have in your artistic locker. It’s quite another thing to take responsibility for putting other artists’ work out there. For starters, you have to make dispassionate decisions about the efforts of your fellow professionals – what to leave in and what to cut from an album, artwork, marketing and anything else that goes into spanning the chasm between raw sonic material and a professionally presented audible product.
Erez Todres is sensitive to the perils of the minefield he is now entering, but says he feels ready and up to the task in hand. “I think life, and my life experiences, taught me how to go about setting up a record label,” he posits. When you’re about to take charge, it also helps to have street-smarts, and Todres will bring his wealth of experience, as a bona fide performer to the fray after he launches Todres Records on Thursday, September 13, at 8 p.m. The event will take place at the Edmond de Rothschild Center in Tel Aviv, which has been promoting the work of local artists from a delightfully restored 90-yearold expressionist-style edifice for some years now.
The new record company honcho says the decision to ply his talents through a new creative avenue was something of a default departure. “After 15 years’ work, and six albums, Hatapuchim [The Apples] stopped performing,” says Todres, referencing the highly successful nine-piece funk outfit to which he contributed as a DJ. “And my trio, [R&B soul act] Crunch 22, after seven years and three albums, also wound down its gigging.” Todres found himself at a loose end. “Suddenly there was a vacuum in my professional life,” he recalls.
As one of the dynamos on the local commercial music scene, Todres was hardly going to slide into slippers-and-pipe mode, but the furlough offered him an opportunity to take a step back from the hurly-burly and consider his options. That’s when the new label notion sprang to mind.
“That gave me the chance to ask myself what interests me that I haven’t yet done in the field of records. Then I thought wouldn’t it be wonderful, as a DJ to play a record that came out on my very own label? With me as the curator of the music.”
At the age of 42, and after taking his craft up and down the country and across the globe, it was time for Todres to go fully professional. He felt he had something to say, something of value to offer audiences.
“When, say, you play music as part of a large ensemble, your role and opinion are minimized. Even when you are one of three performers on stage, as I was with Crunch 22, you have a greater role, but you are still only one third of what is being put out.”
After almost two decades on the national and international circuit, with thousands of shows under his belt, Todres needed to do his own thing, and nothing but his own thing. He’d gotten some encouragement along the way too. “When I performed abroad, particularly with Hatapuchim, I met my professional colleagues, people who loved and collected records like me and liked the same genres as me, and I got a lot of positive feedback from them.”
TODRES BRINGS that to his new venture, which will kick off, naturally, with the release of a vinyl offering – a double-A side single. Both numbers feed off substantial musical reference points, with some weighty nostalgia in there for good measure. One side features the DJ’s singular reading of Al Na Telech (“Please Don’t Go”), taken from the 1971 debut release of now veteran pianist-vocalist Shlomo Gronich. The flipside has Halilit Kesem (“Magical Recorder”), composed by keyboardist Haim Shmueli. The latter is the late father of jazz pianist and educator Ronen Shmueli, who is in the lineup for Thursday’s launch event.
Therein lies a moving tale. “Haim Shmueli was a founding member of a rhythm [rock] band from Ramle called Hakolot Hagevohim (The High Voices),” Todres explains. The band personnel fluctuated, and occasionally included vocalist Nissim Seroussi and drummer Yossi Yifrach. The band worked intermittently, between 1970 and 1976, performing relatively regularly at the Calypso Club in Ramle, which was then considered an Israeli rock and pop hotspot. Hakolot Hagevohim put out a solitary single, with a song called At (“You”), with lyrics by Shmueli. Over the years, the single became quite a collector’s item, but Todres hopes to draw the attention of record collectors and music lovers across the globe to the forgotten Israeli ‘70s outfit and its psychedelic groove offerings.
That side of the label’s first fruit is also a tribute to the late keyboardist and songwriter. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it transpired that while I was negotiating with ACUM [Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers in Israel] over the rights to release the song, the Shmueli family were sitting shiva after Haim passed away,” Todres recalls. “I got a lot of warmth and support from the Shmueli family over including the song of the new single, and I am so happy that Ronen will play with his band at the record label launch.”
Todres has, in fact, out together a stellar roster for the occasion.
Fittingly, Gronich will be on hand to play some of his popular numbers, while preeminent rock and pop radio show presenter, lecturer and walking and grooving music encyclopedia Yoav Kutner will enlighten the audience about Israeli rock music in the 1970s. And one of Todres’s counterparts, Uri Mixmonster, will do the scratching honors. That blends seamlessly with the kinds of sounds Todres is looking to put out there on the international market with the help of London-based company Kudos Records. The new Israeli label will focus on Afrobeat, psychedelia and funk works.
Sound, and the quality and range thereof, are, of course, fundamental to the ethos of any musician. Todres takes that a little further, and when he’s not getting his audience jumping and jiving, scratching vinyls for their corporeal and emotional pleasure, he works with a library for the blind and as a reader. The written word is also dear to his heart. “I am also a literary editor,” he notes. Clearly, Todres has many professional strings to pluck.
He is also looking to tug on his listeners’ heartstrings, while ensuring that as an artist he is producing something of unique value. And when you are “distorting” the fruits of someone else’s labors, spinning and scratching discs, you have to make jolly well sure you are going about it the right way and offering substantial added value to the new rendition.
“When I started out as a DJ, I tried to fathom that. I wanted to take the repetitious sound of the scratch, which was well-known from the hip-hop scene, and turn it into something a bit more musical. I wanted to take a sample, take it out of its original context, and lay it down in, for example, a piece by Hatapuchim of Crunch 22, and play around with it rhythmically, or as a solo item. You have to know what you’re doing and make sure you do it with respect for the source.”
All that for Todres has to translate into smiles on faces and a rewarding common denominator. “I want to make people happy and share great music,” he declares. “That’s enough for me.”
It should be interesting to see where Todres Records takes that.