Interview with Nik and Tobi from German Label Urbanundergrounds
Taken from their Instagram bio, urbanundergrounds is "music label and platform for creativity & underground culture - lofi hip hop, jazz hop, chill hop & instrumental beats."
I seriously can't recall when I stumbled upon their name or releases, but I know that the guys have been consistently putting out great music. In addition, I've always had a great relationship with them when we exchange messages online. One of those labels I know I can always count on when it comes to finding new music.
It has been a while since I wanted to start showcasing other great projects on here, so... here we are! Kicking off with thestory of Nikita and Tobi and how urbanundergrounds came to be.
Hi guys! 1 sentence intro about each of you?
Tobi: Hello. I’m Tobi, co-founder of UU. I do things.
Nikita: Hi, I’m Nik, co-Founder of UU, economics student, and hip hop enthusiast.
How did urbanundergrounds start and what has the journey been so far?
T: We met in 2017 during a student job in which we shared an office and quickly discovered that we share a love for music, especially old-school hip hop. I have been playing and producing music all my life and shared my tracks during work with the boys from the office. Nikita liked it a lot and told me it has to be out there for others to be heard. That’s why we started releasing my music and people liked it. Over time we figured how to bring my music to even more people. In July 2018 we started the label and build our own instrumental playlists as one of the first projects within the label. Then, suddenly other artists approached us with their releases. A big “Thank you” to Tetrahex, sickarone, gxtxi, and Meister Eder for the early trust! love you guys!
So, everything was going quite well until May 2019. Our Distropartner dropped us without a warning. Looking back - the best thing that could have happened to us. The very same day Leon Perementier of Aviary Bridge introduced us to DashGo. After a few calls with the Legend Lofi Rod, we found a new home. Two years later, by July 2021, we managed more than 650 releases and had the pleasure to work with more than 150 artists.
Who is on the team now and how do you guys structure your work?
T: It is still Nikita and I who run the label, take care of business matters, and develop fresh ideas. Over the years the team has grown into a big family of 11 people from across the globe. Alexios takes care of our playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. If you like the curation, all props to him. Simon is our Social Media Manager who brought our Instagram to a new level. Most of our graphic design, animations, album covers, visuals etc. are done by Diego who was introduced to us by our friend Jackie back in 2018. Furthermore, we are lucky to have an amazing team of A&Rs: Damaa.beats, Mujo, Maple Syrup, Deeb, upper class, and goldenninjah brought us a lot of great music and became great friends. Lately, our friend Andre aka Damaa also contributes a lot of amazing artworks. He is our man for collages. And let’s not forget about DashGo and Rod who I already mentioned earlier. I consider them part of the family as well. They are definitely more than just service providers to us.
You recently dropped One Week Study Project Vol.2 featuring some of my favorite producers and interview guests we had - Martin $ky, Kurt Stewart, and Taken from their Instagram bio, urbanundergrounds is "music label and platform for creativity & underground culture - lofi hip hop, jazz hop, chill hop & instrumental beats."! What’s the idea behind it, how did it actually start, and is it an ongoing thing and will there be vol 3? Also Speaking of the compilation, vol 1 visuals were way more abstract, but I absolutely love the 2nd one as well. Who are the creators you work with? They nailed it!
N: Great question. This project is pretty much how we got noticed as a label in the first place. That’s why it’s not only some project but rather a matter of the heart for us. Back then when we launched the “One Month Study Project” (OMSP) vol.1 we would have never thought that we can get artists like Jinsang, Mujo, Behind Clouds on board. Somehow we ended up compiling this huge project with some of our favorite artists, which makes us forever grateful for the early trust <3. Still feels unreal 3 years down the road.
Here’s how the project developed: Tobi and I came up with the idea for a compilation in the end of July 2018. At the time I studied in Bonn and the exam periods of the winter term started in the beginning of February. Hence, we thought about a drop of a 31 track compilation on January 1st. The idea of the “One Month Study” was born and continues to be one of my favorite projects. We decided to drop this compilation on tapes and I guess this was the first time we got broader attention. At the end of 2019, we collaborated with Dust Collectors and dropped the sequel “One Month Study Project, Vol.2”, which was very successful in terms of streams.
We decided not to make a vol.3 in 2020. In 2021 we released One Week Study Project, Vol. 1 instead, which was a shorter version of the former series, containing 7 tracks whereby each single has been released with personalized artwork. Diego gave the project a freaky visualization. In Mid 2021, we dropped the “One Week Study Project, vol. 2” with a new design. You can expect volume 3 at the end of 2021 which is going to be the last “One Week study project”. This will be a banger. It will come with a new design by our young Picasso Diego.
Tell us about the upcoming things you guys are planning?
N: Since June we focus on building our new website including a forum that should enable fans, artists, and designers to come together and get in touch. There are other things we are working on but unfortunately, we can’t reveal them for now.
What’s your dream for urbanundergrounds?
T: Let me whine a bit. I was working a shitty 9-5 office job that paid poorly so afterwards I had to go straight to another job and clean dishes in a kitchen. This may sound cheesy as fuck but it’s quite the dream already. Two years ago, I never thought I could do something I truly love and earn enough money to sustain myself without taking on other side jobs for financial reasons. I feel blessed to be able to work on something I truly love and am proud of. I don’t really need more than this. Do I want more ? YES :)
N: Same as Tobi, doing every day what I love and having the opportunity to live from it. It’s a dream for me. But I want this journey to continue. We are by far not finished yet!
Is running a label difficult? What are the biggest hurdles you guys have had so far?
T: In the early stage it was quite difficult for us. I was broke as hell, so buying artworks for releases meant I literally had to steal food from the kitchen job to survive. What a time. Besides that, I never felt we had huge obstacles to overcome. In my mind everything was already planned out, I kinda knew which actions we had to take to achieve this or that. It was only a matter of being persistent since we didn’t have any financial success in the first year or so.
N: I think that in the early stage the most difficulties occurred due to the lack of experience and also due to a lack of money. Tobi and me struggled in 2018 to invest the money which was needed to get the label going. For example, money was needed to provide artworks and promo material. Next to that, I never felt that we had big struggles so far. The most important thing while running a label is to follow your main goals. In our case, this main goal is to push the underground music which we love so much.
Have you had a ‘we made it’ moment so far?
T: For me, it was getting the Mujo - Calm Waves Album in 2019. I was and still am the biggest Mujo fanboy I guess haha, so being able to release an album with him was definitely something special for me.
N: "My first "we made it" moment was the release of Nagoja by Mujo in Spring 2019, a track that has been featured on two editorial playlists on Spotify. This was the turning point of our journey so far. But an even more emotional moment for me was the first time an artist told us how much he appreciates what we have been doing so far for the underground beat scene. And how glad he is that we met. Priceless!
There’s a lot of talk about the importance (or not) of labels nowadays. What do you think a label should provide in order to truly be valuable to artists in your opinion?
N: A label should always have the target to push good music regardless if this music will return a lot of money. Quality music should be the key. Furthermore, a label should always be honest to the artist in terms what they can expect by releasing with them.
When is the label truly valuable for an artist? From an economic perspective, this is the case when the expectation of generated streams for a release published by the label is higher than releasing independently. Considering this, a label should be well connected. But next to the financial aspect, a label is valuable to artists when artists feel comfortable.
T: But do artists really need a label? I think No and Yes haha. You will see there are tons of artists who release an album with us but also release some of their music independently. I think that is one of the cool things regarding our beat scene. Nobody really has exclusive contracts anymore. If you are an artist and like a label, you just get in touch and try to get a spot in their schedule. If we as a label love someone’s music style we do the same, shoot a mail and try to get a project going.
Who are your favorite upcoming producers nowadays?
Tobias: For me it’s Fuyu, Wieland & Ulrich and Kinissue.
N: Wieland & Urlich are the newcomers of 2021. Their sound is unique. RejSende and Øneheart are both young producers and if they continue grinding they will have a bright future in the beat scene!
Do you have any funny urbanundergrounds stories to share?
T: Working on urbanundergrounds stuff day and night. Even during our office job, we did nothing else. Some days we showed up to our old job just to log in but worked on the label for 6-8 hours straight. (Sry Julia :))