Record labels have long been the gatekeepers of the dance music space, as they continuously define and reshape tastes via releases, endless talent scouting, and the curation of brand-hosted parties. In our Cut From the Catalog series, we big-up established and buzzing imprints alike by taking a look at the organizations’ ops while running through a retrospective mix built solely from their respective catalogs.
“We started really as a YouTube channel for friends of ours to host their music on; it was really innocent,” explains CEO Mike Darlington about the humble beginnings of what would go on to become his hugely successful indie dance music imprint, Monstercat. “I think part of it came from that I was never a producer or anything like that, but wanted to be involved with what my musician friends were doing.”
Launched out of Vancouver in 2011, Monstercat employed the unorthodox concept of sharing all of the label’s music for free to quickly become a major and influential force in the world of electronic dance music.
Only a year after opening the label’s doors, an unsolicited call from band manager Jake Udell landed an early Krewella demo in Darlington’s lap. It was a fortuitous moment that led to Monstercat releasing the band’s debut single, “Killing It.”
"The unknown can always be daunting, but at the same time, having that passion to go after a new frontier is pretty exhilarating."
Five years later, and Monstercat has continued to grow and evolve, releasing a series of chart-topping iTunes dance compilations and dropping three new tracks on a weekly basis.
Looking back through the label’s vast and panoramic catalog for this exclusive new mix—which has been carefully assembled by Stoneback—Darlington insists he’s driven by the same fire that inspired him and partner Ari Paunonen to launch that initial YouTube channel back in 2011. It’s exemplified by the Monstercat mission statement: empowering a creative and passionate community through innovation.
What are your memories of the label’s first release?
Nerves and excitement. The unknown can always be daunting, but at the same time, having that passion to go after a new frontier is pretty exhilarating.
How would you say the label reflects Vancouver?
I think perhaps the best way it reflects Vancouver is through the importance of balance. We don’t hedge our bets to just be one thing, but rather take our ventures to what inspires us—whether that be having our first trance track in “Saving Light” earlier this year with Gareth Emery; our further expansion into the gaming world with our album with Rocket League; our Uncaged event series, including stages at EDC, Tomorrowland, and a party at ADE this year and beyond. Vancouver is just like that. It’s a fantastic city but also surrounded by incredible mountain ranges and the Pacific Ocean, creating a metropolitan and nature balance.
How would you define the Monstercat sound?
I think the great thing is that this is always an incredibly difficult question to ask. I hope it doesn’t sound cliché, but I believe our sound is an attempt at pushing the boundaries. We want people to not only enjoy music Monstercat puts out, but be inspired by it, as well.
What would you say are your principal responsibilities as CEO?
The great thing is that we have over 50 full-time employees now, so where there were places where I was feeling pressure to get involved, I now have a ton of faith in our team to get those things done and more. My job is to maintain the vision of Monstercat and keep the ship steering on the right path.
What is your favorite part of what you do?
To know that we make a difference bringing joy to people’s lives, while empowering artists to follow their dreams full-time, is better than anything I could have imagined before I started this.
Is there a label you look up to as an example of how you’d like to do it?
Def Jam during the ‘90s is definitely a label I still aspire to be like. They became a real brand [they] built a community around, became synonymous with music in our society, and built an incredible operation of artist development.
What can fans expect when they attend a Monstercat event?
I think what they can expect is a perfect sample study of how we have evolved at Monstercat, with longtime artists such as Pegboard Nerds, Feint, and Going Quantum joining up with new acts to the label; some up-and-coming acts such as Tokyo Machine and Grant; and household names in dance music now on the label, such as NGHTMRE, Dirtyphonics, Delta Heavy, and Seven Lions.
What are some goals/plans for Monstercat in 2018?
We want to continue to expand our reach in the electronic world—not only in an audience sense, but sonically, as well. Empowering artists to be their creative selves shouldn’t be limited to any single niche.
Are there three to five releases you think define the label’s sound? What makes them such definitive releases?
Jay Cosmic “Ascend”
I’ve been listening to Jay Cosmic for a while and was so glad to get a release of his on Monstercat. He has a very ethereal feel to his sound that bends the definitions of dubstep and bass music.
Grant, Anevo, Conro “Without You”
This was the super-collab we did as part of our Uncaged Vol.2 album. Getting all three of these guys together in Vancouver to work together in our studio was a truly unique experience and exhibited three fast-rising artists that we couldn’t be more excited about.
Pegboard Nerds & Spyker ft. Elizaveta “Extraordinary”
Pegboard Nerds have been with us since the very early days, and their versatility very much mirrors ours. We couldn’t be prouder to have them as part of the family.
Monstercat Cut From the Catalog Mix Track List:
Stonebank “Droppin’ Low”
Aero Chord “Resistance”
Pegboard Nerds & Quiet Disorder “Move That Body”
Dirtyphonics x RIOT “Got Your Love”
KUURO ft. MC Mota “Rapture”
Jay Cosmic “Ascend”
Reach “Throw Handz”
Stonebank “Feel It”
Topi “Backup” (Tisoki Remix)
Going Quantum x Psychic Type “Rare”
Zero Hero “Bass Drop”
Pegboard Nerds x Quiet Disorder “Go Berzerk” (Gammer Remix)
Rogue, Stonebank & Slips & Slurs “Unity”
Darren Styles, Dougal & Gammer “Party Don’t Stop”
Stonebank ft. EMEL “By Your Side”
Gareth Emery & Standerwick ft. HALIENE “Saving Light” (Hixxy Remix)
Melano “On Fire”
Rootkit ft. Anna Yvette “Against the Sun”