A Guide to Berlin’s Project:Mooncircle

Laurent Fintoni offers a tour through Berlin’s beat label Project:Mooncircle

Berlin’s Project:Mooncircle was born 11 years ago and, today, the label and its loose collective of musicians and visual artists are still holding it down for the more progressive and leftfield side of things in the home of techno. Mooncircle was started in 2002 by Gordon Gieseking as a European offshoot of Beta Bodega, an experimental electronic label from Miami founded by La Mano Fria. This gave the label its core sonic identity: music at the intersection of hip hop’s organic vibes and experimental electronic’s ambitions.

Music at the intersection of hip hop’s organic vibes and experimental electronic’s ambitions.

The sound was forged via the label’s first releases, compilations that brought together a disparate ensemble of artists, including the likes of Mr Cooper, Bleubird, CYNE and Epstein. In 2004 the label partnered with HHV.DE, a mail-order and record shop based in Berlin, for its distribution. Over the following years it evolved from being the European arm of Beta Bodega (which shut shop in 2005) to become HHV.DE’s official imprint, allowing it to expand further.

For much of the decade Mooncircle continued to operate in the same sonic waters it had occupied from the start: heady instrumental music from the likes of Jahbitat, 40 Winks and Glen Porter alongside a steady trickle of rap releases featuring MCs known for both traditional and adventurous output such as John Robinson, DOOM and Lewis Parker. A constant throughout the label’s growth remained the focus on artwork, with Gieseking overseeing its evolving visual identity.

Having established a dedicated following around the world by the end of the decade, Mooncircle began yet another transition. As anyone who’s ever lasted any length of time in a creative environment knows, your project becomes different things to different people. And the choices you make to keep moving forward won’t please everyone.

With the beat scene exploding in Los Angeles and Glasgow in the late ’00s, Mooncircle aligned itself within this newly forming global network by signing, among others, Red Bull Music Academy alumni Robot Koch, whose three albums for the label have proven among its most successful. At the same time it also launched its sub-label Finest Ego, dedicated to showcasing a growing talent pool of worldwide beat producers like Academy grads Kidkanevil, Daisuke Tanabe and Om Unit. Lastly 2009 also saw the birth of Project:Squared, a sub-label dedicated to techno and dubstep which has seen releases from Kowton, Asusu and Tom Diccico.

In many ways I’ve always felt that Project:Mooncircle was among the few continental labels that have the potential to one day rival the likes of Ninja Tune in the eyes of its fans. We’ll see if it gets there in another decade or so.

Five Key Mooncircle Releases

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Mr Cooper - Amongst Strangers (2006)

The hip hop alias of the man who now runs Project:Squared, this debut album is a perfect love letter to the ’90s legacy of the so-called trip-hop movement. Dusty breaks, melancholic samples. A simple but effective vibe.

Strand & Non Genetic - Madrid to Los Angeles (2008)

A global project of Spanish producer Strand and Los Angeles MC Non Genetic, Madrid to Los Angeles has some great examples of the strange hip hop gems that fell by the wayside when the beat bubble started bursting in the late ’00s.

Robot Koch - Songs for Trees and Cyborgs (2010)

John Peel once described Robot Koch’s music as “wonderful and strange – pop music from the future,” a quote that despite its age continues to strike me as one of the most appropriate definition of Robert Koch’s continually evolving output. Songs for Trees and Cyborgs was the second of three albums the veteran released on the label between 2009 and 2011, and while the whole trilogy is worth your time this particular one has always stayed with me.

fLako - Mesektet (2011)

fLako’s Mesektet album was intended to mark the end of a phase in the young German producer’s career, and remains one of the best documents of his work as a hip hop producer. Extended recently with additional unreleased material dating back to 2008, it’s the sound of someone that studied the greats and found his place within the tradition they helped to establish. Some seriously undeniable funk in there.

Sweatson Klank - You, Me, Temporary (2013)

I’m 100% biased because not only did I work on You, Me, Temporary, I was also a witness to parts of its creation. That said, Sweatson Klank’s third full-length in ten years remains an album I feel has genuine potential as a future classic. More to the point, I always recommend it because I think it’s beautiful and – most importantly – honest.

By Laurent Fintoni on September 16, 2013

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