If You Don't Feel the Urge to Do it, Don't Do It: A Chat With Anwar From Brokntoys

Updated: Sep 9, 2019

It's been a long time since I had the chance to work on such an energizing interview that reminded me how writing about music, can be rewarding, how much you can always learn, and be grateful as well when you figure out there’s still someone who continues to keep alive the essential dogma. If you don't know what I mean, you can just turn back on some crucial points of 90's Underground Resistance.

Why did I almost forget the charm about music writing? Because I personally feel these are learning times for journalism. The reason why you do journalism now has dramatically changed, due to the increase of the business side against that visceral need that drives someone to start to write: spreading culture, diffusing messages, propagating views, only for the simple and genuine need to do it. And yes, you can of course say, this is already taken for granted. But isn't it true that journalism serves to understand our society better? Just like our music landscape.

It's something that seems to happen to the music scene too. Now more than ever, there’s a lot of people who report a kind of annihilation. People who complain, with an unconstructive attitude, about too many spotlights. But, there’s a different point of view here. Someone who was able to put a positive spin on things, see the bright side! This gives me hope. The hope to not sink in the quicksand of business, of the form without any content.

It’s precisely for people like Anwar and his work on Brokntoys Records, that we’ve not yet completely ruined our scene favouring the mainstream-game, or just letting what once used to be underground turn into a branded jukebox. Someone who has already seen the game’s rules and decided which side he wants to play on. That’s actually quite rare, isn’t it? Most people were saying it’d be mad to start an Electro-oriented label, while London was overrun by minimal and Tech-House sounds, and then, worked out to be one of the labels being closely watched by the Electro heads.

This interview deals with the picture of a London wrapped up in an incessant marketing machine as well as a refreshing point of view about the European contemporary scene: “If 18 year olds are exposed to Drexciya instead of some corporate mainstream garbage, well, what’s not to like? Of course, obscurity is alluring, but isn’t the whole point to put the spotlight on the unseen?” 

Concerning the current situation, this is one of the most straight interviews I ever carried out. Thanks Bronktoys, who continue to leave and send messages in bottles for those who know. 

Giulia Scrocchi: Welcome Anwar! London’s scene always makes me so enthusiastic. It is constantly in progress, thanks to its marked multiculturalism. Would you be able to tell me its changes over the years? In matter of music scenes, of course.

Anwar: Hmmm, every London story is incomplete, as the city is so vast you are irredeemably missing out all the time. So, my point of view is definitely skewed and limited by my own experience. I find the political and music scenes are inextricably linked. Commercially bulldozed by developers, the combination of speculation and media hysteria have created an overregulated and costly environment making it an uphill battle for small promoters to survive.

It's definitely second to none in terms of diversity and history, but there are not so positive common threads. The standards of living are often off-putting, and the city is a hyper accelerated hotspot constantly attracting and repelling creative types. Fresh and fickle, everything seems transient. As a punter, sometimes you feel like a criminal going through airport security, which it's hardly the ideal setting to enjoy music.

If you were to believe the incessant marketing machine, we have been living a golden age every year, but my reality has been more lacklustre. There are no doubt great parties, promoters and DJ's who worked really hard against the elements, generally just not in plain sight and by default on a state of flux.

Over the last 10 years there has also been a mass exodus to mainly Berlin, and I detect an increasingly bigger appetite for unregulated freer spaces.

What kind of panorama was there in London when you decided to start Brokntoys? And how is it now?

I moved here in 2008, at the time the reigning sounds were Minimal and Tech-House.

For years there was the sporadic Scand and Pyramid Transmissions party, but otherwise it was difficult to listen to any Electro out. I was lucky enough to meet a group of people who were on a different wavelength and put me on the right track.

Every weekend we would gather in a small flat and have marathonian listening sessions that had little echo outside. One of them was Kristopher Hall, and the label started out as a continuation of those endless nights.

Back in 2013 there wasn't much Electro coming out on vinyl, so being at the tail end of our clubbing days it seemed like a good day to start something out.

I can’t comment about the situation right now as I spent too much time indoors.

Busy hands at work! :) © Brokntoys/Facebook

What does it mean for you to be owner of a label?

Really an outlet to curb boredom!

Bronkntoys is solid. You’ve never lost your primary nature, your trademark. The label evolved through genres — starting more focused on Electro, to increasingly dark choices.

How do you select the tracks for the label? Tell us your experience.

Thanks! The label is just an extension of music collecting, so to a degree it mirrors those habits. From 2009 to 2014 we were just overdosing in Electro and the label shaped up that way.

Initially we didn’t know anyone, so we just asked people around us. Pip Williams from London Modular/Shameless Toady who did the first release was really helpful giving us advice on how to get the label started. Kurt "Scape One" I was buying records of from Discogs. I had common friends with Marco Bernardi and Luke Eargoggle we bumped into in Paris at a friend’s party. It just snowballed from there.

In regards to the genre diversity, I’m glad to see Electro is enjoying a renaissance. It seems healthy at the moment, with dozens of labels at it, a complete new audience and fresh talent coming from every corner.

I guess since there’s no shortage of it and it’s enjoying a lot of attention I thought it would be a good time to shift the focus slightly and mix it up a bit to reflect on my current interests. The different sublabels and series are an attempt to keep it all coherent.

Of course, obscurity is alluring, but isn’t the whole point to put the spotlight on the unseen?

What’s the strongest influence in your life?

Maybe more inspiration rather than influence, but top 3 tier for nature, several strands of arts and some dissident political thinkers.

Brokntoys shows a real value: not to release music only from “big names”. You’re still supporting the real scene coming from the ground up, and somehow you've anticipated the times. What do you think about the growth of Electro releases in the record business?

As mentioned above I think it's great news, I don’t see popularity as a negative thing,

I understand how, for instance New York Dolls t-shirts being sold to people who don’t know who they are is a travesty, but if 18 year olds are exposed to Drexciya instead of some corporate mainstream garbage, well...what’s not to like?

Of course, obscurity is alluring, but isn’t the whole point to put the spotlight on the unseen?

What do you intend when you press music in support of vinyl in 2019?

I like the idea of leaving traces rather than just trust the existence of the past to my baboon-like memory. Vinyl records have a solid permanent quality to them, like messages in a bottle they’ll be somewhere in 100 years for people to be found, landfill-permitting that is.

Here we are with the most classic question: you are now at the 36th release. How do you describe your path with the label? What do you suggest to someone who wants to start a label of their own?

With distractions, ups and downs, the ethos remains pretty much the same from the beginning. I guess the biggest difference is now it’s a solo mission.

I don’t think I’m in a position to advise anyone on anything. At risk of sounding like a textbook bot, be honest about why you are doing it, and what does it add that’s different to what’s in the market?

Also unless you’re an influencer get ready to lose money, running a label can be a thankless job.

Garcia Marquez once said: “If you don’t feel the urge to write, don’t do it” and I guess the same applies here.

Thanks for your time Anwar!