Label Feature: PRÍNCIPE

Click here to listen to the PRÍNCIPE radio show.

This month’s Carhartt WIP Radio features PRÍNCIPE, a vibrant record label from Lisbon, Portugal. Established in 2011, the imprint dedicates its work strictly to contemporary electronic music typically from the peripheral living zones of Portugal’s capital. As the label elaborates on its Discogs page: “We want to make sure that the amazing work being produced here, be it house, techno, kuduro, batida, kizomba, funaná, tarrachinha or any other new aesthetic development, will not remain unheard outside of our clubs, cellphones and homes anymore.”

Many of the label’s artists are rooted in African diaspora communities on the outskirts of the city, with descendants from Angola, Benin or São Tomé, and Príncipe. It is a melting pot which is reflective of the grim horrors of Portuguese colonialism in these regions, that was at its height between the 15th and 19th century. This confluence of ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures has, however, also proved a hotbed of creativity, where, in contrast to the typical formation of creative scenes in large capitals, it exists on the outer-edges and not the inner-city.

Today almost all PRÍNCIPE artists – such as DJ MarfoxDJ Nigga FoxNidia, Niagara, and DJ Firmenza – come from Lisbon’s suburbs, where they create dizzying up-tempo kuduro, sensual kizomba, and spunky tarraxinha beats mixed with techno, house, and beyond. Together with the four people behind the label – visual artist Márcio Matos; DJ and journalist José Moura; Nelson Gomes, member of the Portuguese experimental leftfield band Gala Drop; and André Ferreira, who takes care of press, promotion, and bookings – they have brought PRÍNCIPE’s signature sounds to the world.

In addition, prior to Covid-19, this cohort of Lisbon creatives were also known for their monthly club night, Noite Príncipe, at the city’s Musicbox venue. More than simply a club night, it became a space to experiment with new sounds and to test out new material, while also drawing together people from various facets of the Portuguese capital.

For Carhartt WIP Radio, the PRÍNCIPE crew have conducted a mix that showcases their ambitious blend of invigorating, genre-chopping sounds with brand new and still to be released music. As always, we also sat down to chat with this month’s hosts, with the label’s José Moura and André Ferreira providing a look behind the music.

Hello André and José, can you tell us about the background of PRÍNCIPE? Where did the name come from and what made you start the label?

José: The name can mean that everyone is noble. We started the label for the sheer love of this music and the need for a platform to expand it and treat it correctly.

How important is DJ Marfox for PRÍNCIPE?

André: He is paramount. As Márcio said in a recent Pitchfork interview, “Without Marfox, there would not be PRÍNCIPE.”

How did you initially build up trust between DJ Marfox, his peers, and yourself?

José: As in every relationship, a bit of time is needed to gain and also inspire trust. We met Marfox a couple of years before the label started. Later on, a major contribution to mutual trust was the label’s monthly residency at the Musicbox club, starting February 2012. That was an important meeting ground between the DJs, producers, and us.

PRÍNCIPE is based in Portugal, how would you describe the country’s music scene, and what is the role of your label?

André: It’s quite diverse throughout the whole country and the islands, as it should be and always has tended to be. Our role in that has been the same since the start. When we launched, our manifesto stated we were “fully dedicated to releasing 100% real contemporary dance music coming out of [Lisbon], its suburbs, projects & slums. New sounds, forms, and structures with their own set of poetics and cultural identity.”

How has the music scene in Portugal changed since you started the label in 2011?

André: In as many ways as the world has changed.

We just recently had Violet from Lisbon on Carhartt WIP Radio. Do the music scenes in your town work together and influence each other and can you tell us a bit about the coexistence of these different scenes?

André: Yes, as long as music is music – a social form of creative expression, that springs from and talks to a community of people – people will always bump and rub off each other, dance together, share ideas and experiences, contemplating time and space in new or renewed ways.

How is the country of Portugal handling the COVID-19 crisis, and how has it impacted the cultural and music scene around you?

André: It sucks, the amount of pain you feel this has inflicted and continues to inflict, on so many people. The government and the people had a pretty sharp and balanced response. In the beginning, a spirit of solidarity and warmth reigned over us, but with hints of a delusional perspective that we would bounce back to “normal” soon, all relatively unharmed. Obviously, that is not the case and once the weeks turned into months, the lay-offs, unemployment, and the consequences of social distancing in households, families, communities, contributed to a cognitive strain. It’s a very gruesome process to cope with. It’s all very new, we have to keep an alert and critical spirit every step of the way, but not give in to individuality or savagery. We should always try really hard to remember everyone we coexist with, encounter, help or disregard are people just like us and that we’re in this together.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an incredibly negative impact on the global music scene. How do you see its future and what will change in your opinion?

André: We’re a culture in transition and I am very much in the now. The most honest answer I can give you is, I don’t know.

Can you tell us a bit about your very distinctive artwork? How did you meet Márcio Matos?

José: We are friends. Artwork equals identity, and Márcio’s interprets the individual characteristics of each producer and his or her music.

Can you talk us through the mix you recorded for Carhartt WIP, what did you include and what side of the label did you want to display?

José: Only recent, new (just out), or forthcoming unreleased music.

How important is the club night Noite Príncipe to the success of the label?

José: Very important, for various reasons. Trust-building; bringing together different people to dance together; exposure of the music to a casual audience; strengthening of a community; active contribution to the diversity of the city’s cultural and social offering.

How much did Noite Príncipe bring different people together? Is the night also something like a bridge between the people of the suburbs of Lisbon and its more central areas?

José: It kind of worked that way, yes. Mingling of people. Tricky question, because in this case, the creative center of the music lies in the so-called periphery, and the city’s downtown is the “alien” territory where this music had no expression.

On a collaborative t-shirt with Carhartt WIP you printed the slogan “Portugal não é só Lisboa” – “Portugal is not only Lisbon” Is this referring to the importance of the suburbs and projects as described in the label’s biography? Is there more to the phrase?

José: First, you can view it as a statement of inclusion, taking into consideration the different family backgrounds of the DJs and producers. Secondly, none of the four people running the label were born in Lisbon.

You unite traditionally disparate social spheres through your label. How important is it for the label to extend beyond the music?

José: The main thing is always the music, and from that people grow bonds, attachments, relationships, and respect.

What has shaped your release schedule over the year, do you like to take your time with releasing records? 

José: Our personal lives shape the schedule of the label. Each record is released by general consensus. Sometimes it takes longer than desired.

How has - in your opinion- the music industry changed since 2011?

José: Vinyl has increased in cost, quantities have become smaller again, and too much power has shifted to a select few online media platforms, who tend to dictate trends. Being on the periphery of the major music centers, we just stay busy and continue to follow our own path.

 PRÍNCIPE discography