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At 37 years old, Patrick Moxey has not only carved himself quite the career as a top record label executive but has helped to fuel an entire dance movement as well. He is perched atop eight-year old Ultra Records, responsible for the North American representation of such artists as Danni Minogue, 4 Strings, Sasha & John Digweed, George Acosta, Danny Tenaglia, Groove Armada, Ministry of Sound collections and more.
Moxey, who studied ‘useless but interesting’ things like philosophy and English literature at the University of Chicago, now is seated atop three labels and an artist management company. Sequence Records, one of Ultra’s babies, pushes underground hip-hop such as Punjabi MC, X-ecutioners and Babu the Dilated Junkie. You Records is the newest venture, focusing solely on progressive house music and responsible for recent singles such as Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” and Robbie Rivera’s “Girlfriend.”
UMM snagged a moment with Moxey to talk about what was next for Ultra and how they’re moving on into our nation.
When did music become something more of your own?
In college I started to DJ. I was spinning a lot of reggae, hip-hop and good dance tracks, basically just making people move. Eventually, I got a radio show on the campus station and really developed tastes in the dance and urban styles of music. When I moved to New York City, I was a music journalist. I was writing for New Musical Express and Details magazines.
At some point, you owned your own club in NYC?
Yeah. It was called The Building and I had that going for most of the 1990s. It was a blast. We had great parties and it was a good time to do stuff with DJs and artists. We had Shabba Ranks and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers in. It was good days gone by. It was one of the first places in the area, I am certain, that started playing really good hip-hop and to bring hip-hop inside and into the clubs.
It was around that time that I also started working with Russell Simmons (founder of Def Jam Records) during the day while doing the club stuff at night. It was a very tough schedule but great times. After learning what I could from (Simmons) I went over to Polygram to work on PayDay Records, bringing hip-hop more into the light.
When did you head over to Virgin?
I went to Virgin in March of 1998 as one of their senior vice presidents. It was around that time that dance music really needed to be brought over from Europe. North America needed the imports so I started working on Ultra Records on the side. It was around this time that I got The Neptunes and Beenie Man more into the mainstream and then indie dance music started to really pick up the pace. I ended up doing Ultra Records full time as of January 2003.
So. You’ve got to tell us. Just how sweet is it to be a record label big-wig living in Gotham City itself?
This job? Oh, it’s great. Nothing compares to that feeling you get when you know you’re part of something exciting. Every time we bring a new artist out, I know I’m part of something exciting. It’s a good spot to be in. Like, for example, when I was in Miami hanging out with Robbie Rivera, there was just this great buzz all around. When a DJ drops a new track and you watch the whole club go off or when you hear a track that you’ve backed on the radio – those are all great moments.
What has Ultra Records done to set itself apart from the rest?
I think we’ve had great successes. Punjabi MC broke huge barriers – imagine having Punjabi-influenced dance and hip-hop even five years ago? It would never have been this widely received and yet here we are. One of the hit songs off that album was even featured on E.R.
We also have our very own Ultra brand of records and compilations which I think is very important. We’re really acting as a friendly authority by giving good suggestions as to what to listen to and I think consumers are responding to that. We also spend a lot of time and care on our packaging. We want the customer to get a full product, not just something to shove on his shelf. The beautiful girls featured on our Ultra brand albums do a lot to extend the brand.
What is easier? Chicken or the egg? Do you prefer taking an artist that already has a defined role in the spotlight or do you enjoy taking a new artist and bringing them to the limelight first?
I think it’s a bit of both, really. With Jamiroquai, for instance, it was easy on one level. He wanted to bring all of his songs into a mix and he knew exactly what he wanted. But then we get a new group, like Wax Poetic, and developing them is very exciting as well. They are all unique for those reasons. There is no formula with us, which can’t be said for others in the industry.
Speaking of formulas that most record labels are accused of: do you think the electronic music industry is fuelled by artists creating music and then labels pushing them, or rather labels choosing an artist and creating a product out of them?
It’s a lot of give and take, to be honest. Music is God, especially if you are a musician or work in that industry. It’s often all you can think about. If you have a great piece of music in your hands – one that you’ve completely fallen for – then there is no formula required. It’s good to have an industry so reliant on independent artists who thrive on doing their own thing because that proves that they have talent. We only like the talented because it makes it enjoyable to put them out to the listener. There are people who are mavericks of the industry who just really know where to find raw talent and bring it to the limelight. Those artists discovered by the mavericks always go down really well. We try to have a good ear.
What is next for Ultra?
It’s becoming more and more important to get great art for our album covers. We really want to deliver a more visual aspect to the music, which I think for electronic music is very important. We work with cutting edge designers and really work to develop our Ultra series of records. We’ve started offices in London, England and are expanding into Canada as well. I’d like us to become massive, but not in an offensive-to-the-consumer sort of way. We want to become an authority on the genre of dance music and the ideas are just flowing. We’ve got the package down and we’re starting to move globally. It’s an exciting time.
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