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Label feature: HOUSE OF REPTILE, human nature across dark sonic territories

Text by Olya Karlovich

VA compilation cover detail. Malte Gruhl Studio

Despite the pandemic and all the negative consequences of Brexit, the House of Reptile Label is showing a very favourable momentum. In just three years, this independent label could form a recognisable identity, both music and visual -wise, and carve out a niche in the diverse London scene. At the same time, it seems wrong to define its catalogue within one specific genre.

Covering darker and more intense electronic music territories, from broken techno to EBM, metal and noise, House of Reptile presents a mixture of the dance floor and immersive, more for deep-listening records. Perhaps their Sublime Creatures (VA) LP perfectly represents the label’s sound. In this powerful compilation, deconstructed rhythms meet cinematic acid melodies and eerie industrial noises. And Its title also resonates with the Reptile Manifesto.

Tools to perfect your instinct.
Plotting the destruction of borders.
Setting fire to the rage of acceptance.
Sonic Medicine.

The House of Reptile’s name refers to New York’s ballroom culture and the so-called ‘houses’, which became real families for people of colour and sexual minorities and proclaimed dance as a former way of expression. At the same time, the word ‘reptile’ reminds us of the instincts, the basic aspects of everyone’s existence, that the oldest parts of our brains are responsible for.

I did a remix [of Rapha’s track on ‘Dance dance otherwise we are Lost’ EP], but then came on board as well as the artist and partner. I had a lot of time, and I love administrative jobs. I’ve created our internal infrastructure and organised our documents, files, etc. And from there, we’ve created the roaster for the first year, Andrzej recalls.

Rapha Campos, aka Angel Attack, developed the label’s concept and motto. He founded House of Reptile but only remained at its helm for a short time. Andrzej Sobolewski, aka POLANSKI, joined Rapha a little later, bringing structure to the project workflow in his own words:

However, everything wasn’t that easy. Problems with vinyl production, shipping delays, artists who miss deadlines, and other spokes in the wheels that any independent label somehow has to deal with, have not passed over House of Reptile. … so many things have changed [manufacturing & the operations], Andrzej explains. We still try to stay true to our ideals, but some are impossible to fulfil.

Thus, the label had to reduce the vinyl releases. They still do them, but only for special projects: Vinyls are tangible objects; everyone wants them in their portfolio. But things started getting a bit messier, and not just for us. Many labels have struggled with pressing the vinyl because of the massive queues. And those queues were created by global brands such as whoever decided to make an Adele vinyl. The waiting time for one of the releases was six months,‘ Andrzej shares.

Still aiming to deliver more great music and not give up physical media, House of Reptile launched a digital/cassette series along with the digital. However, it lasted only a short time. According to Andrzej, at one point, tapes from the artefact turn into waste: Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it’s just about producing more plastic, and nobody buys it, even though it’s cheaper.

But all the experiments with media and formats only demonstrate the flexibility of the label and its willingness to try new things. This is a long-term strategy, not a sprint. The thirst for exploration and pushing the boundaries can also be seen in the House Of Reptile visual language.

A great example is the cover of Angel Attack’s ‘Dance dance otherwise we are lost’ EP, featuring a reptile’s eye hand-crafted from 13,000 tiny beads. Malte Gruhl is the person behind this outstanding idea and its implementation. He was responsible for the art direction of House of Reptile from the very early days. With his help, Rapha and Andrzej could move away from the generic ‘gothic dystopian aesthetic’ of techno labels.

Despite complete creative freedom and many cool collaborative projects, Malte left House of Reptile at one point. And now, Andrzej and Rapha create artworks and other label’s visuals with the help of MidJourney, but they never use only AI for this. Because it’s still in our hands regardless of whether it’s AI or not, even if you think about curation as some form of art. And we created AI to give us what we desired the other day.

Combining technology and craft, IRL and URL is a definite, absolutely reasonable post-pandemic trend. And House of Reptile understands and implements it very well. Paying tribute, for example, to social media in community building, Andrzej and Rapha still maintain a closer personal connection with the label’s artists. And when it comes to releases, they are always ready to give them honest feedback. 

I’ve been a DJ for 23 years; I know what works on a dance floor. And when I go through the promo, it’s about 15 seconds of my attention per track to understand. And I can still see the potential when I hear something good but not great. And this is a very fine line; you don’t want to influence the artists, but at the same time, we still have a sound that we want to be recognised for, Andrzej explains.

Along with releasing other people’s music, he and Rapha manage (though only sometimes as much as they would like) to find time for their own projects. So, in early May, a new Survival Instinct EP by POLANSKI was released as part of a special The Instinct Series (the extension of House of Reptile). These are multilayered compositions in which field recordings are intertwined with raw modular sounds and pulsating rhythms.

Powerful and dark, but at the same time thoughtful and multidimensional — they perfectly fit into the House of Reptile catalogue. Speaking about the creative process behind the record, Andrzej notes that he always saw his music as a reflection of something that is coming from nature. But along with this, Survival Instinct also has another underpinning.

The title ‘Survival Instinct’ reflects what I had gone through, and many others like myself because of the pandemic. It was a big shift. […] And actually, this is a story of my time after that, like what we must do to survive.

And House of Reptile does many of such things. In addition to releasing music, Andrzej and Rapha also have a long-time idea of launching the ‘Instinct’ party series; the first event may already occur in Boston this summer. And next year, the label wants to come back to vinyl records.

Whether it will be 50 copies or a hundred copies, we want this. […] I don’t care about a hundred listeners on Spotify. I’d rather care about one buyer of a record In a remote place somewhere in Europe. This person will have this record and remember us in 20 years. And if you listen to the music we released on Spotify, you will not remember us even tomorrow,’ Andrzej concludes. 

(Images courtesy of House of Reptile)
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