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Vicious Co-Founder John Course Speaks With Us About The Story Of The Record Label, Its 30 Year Anniversary & More!

Vicious was born in 1992 and has stood strong and steady as the dance music industry has gone from a vinyl-led underground movement to a global, digitally distributed, and streamed phenomenon. In that time there have literally been hundreds of releases on the labels, the original imprint founded in a backyard shed out of a passion for the music. That passion is still vibrant if you talk to co-founders John Course and Andy Van, Be Rich label manager Guy Lewis, or any of the people that help make the label tick. To celebrate the 30-year-anniversary, we had the please of speaking with John Course on a number of tops.

Hey guys, what’s good and bad in your world?
Music is awesome… Apart from re-visiting some great classics from our 30 Years of Vicious with some cracking remixes, its also the European summer and that always means peak time tunes everywhere and awesome new music… And I’m 6 months into being a dad, which is also awesome for me lol

Can you remember why you started the label? What the aim was?
We didn’t really have a long term vision… I mean dance music as a ‘house music’ sound was only 5 years old and certainly was still building globally. We just found friends with tracks we liked and had our own studio making some tracks and remixes. We didn’t have another avenue here in Australia that we felt would support the sounds we had, so just did it ourselves with the aim to get some vinyl out to the worlds DJ stores way back in 1992.

How did it go at first, were early releases a success?
Yeah some of our earliest releases were more techno-orientated but gained great support. Eternal by Eternal was a joint production with Mark James (an Australian DJ and promoter) with Carl Cox (made while he was on one of his earliest Australian tours)… Ground Level, Quench, and other Eternal releases were signed in the USA, UK, Europe after first appearing on a Vicious 12”, so it was a nice start. Our first UK charting release was ‘Dreams Of Heaven’ by Ground Level.

What are the best and worst bits about running a label in your experience?
Best bits helping artists build their career and sharing in their success. Worst bits being disappointed by radio and streaming services not believing in releases like we do.

How different was the industry back when you started? Give us some examples?
It was all 12” vinyl when we started… So the time from finishing a track in the studio (and I’ll note a studio was multiple pieces of equipment and lots of money, not a laptop like it can be now), to a finished test pressing, was probably 4 weeks. Then you had to order the first proper pressing, maybe 6 to 8 weeks. Then you had to ship it to distributors, who then sold it to shops, who then sold it to DJs… Start to finish probably 4 to 6 months and maybe $5000. Now you can finish a track Monday, upload it Tuesday and set a release date of two weeks away, possibly (with the right equipment) for no outlay of money. SO thats a massive difference in how much music is now available and how much of it can be very bad (because its cheap to release anything)… You also had to have a vinyl shop near you as a DJ to find new music, or just pick without listening by mail. Today the music comes to your home via Beatport and Traxsource via an internet connection anywhere in the world and its $1 instead of say $10 for a 12” piece of vinyl.

And how much harder has it become to release music and stand out in the crowd nowadays?
It’s much easier to release music (see my previous answer), but its much harder to cut through. The big streaming services automatically see traction from artists with huge followings, so their new releases get a lot of support off the go… New music has to battle for the remaining spots. DJ stores are more user friendly and open to new music (because DJs are), but there are still a truck load of releases every week. Plus, instead of a trusted local vinyl store and a track building slowly and it competing with the other releases that local vinyl store had (which was a fraction of the vinyl released in each country), now a store like Beatport has EVERY new release from EVERY country… so its a bigger pile to cut through. But great music always wins out.

How much does social media play a role? Have you embraced that? Do you have to?
I think you have to. It’s how the consumers hear about music. Its incredibly hard to break through without a digital media presence.

What have been your proudest moments over the years with the label?
My business partner in Vicious Andy Van hitting number 1 in the UK with ‘Dont Call Me Baby’ by his Madison Avenue doe project with Cheyne Coates. Our first UK radio one supported track “Dreams of Heaven’ by Ground Level. Still being here 30 years later and still being relevant. Finally having never screwed anyone over…

Any releases or artists that got away? Ones you wish you had worked with but didn’t?
There’s always things you chase, or know about but cannot get. That’s the business… But it’s more about what you find and Rogue Traders, Ground Level, Dirty South, Avicii, Madison Avenue, Peking Duk, The Potbelleez, SGt SLick are just some who started their careers with us, so we’re proud of those!

What’s lined up for the 30th celebrations?
Mark Knight remixing Avicii & Sebastien Drums ‘My Feelings For You’ and also Don Diablo. Joshwa on ‘Dont Call Me Baby’, Mind Electric on ‘ Dreams of Heaven’. Mell Hall remixing Peking Duks massive Australian hit ‘High’… A full compilation with 20 remixes of our highlights all with fresh new remixes drops at the end of August.

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