Based in London, record label Night Dreamer works exclusively putting out releases that are recorded direct-to-disc (a single-take performance cut directly to acetate) at their partner studio, Artone, in Haarlem, The Netherlands.
The young label started in late 2019 and has already played host to some of the great and good of world music. From pioneers like Gary Bartz and Seun Kuti through to the next generation of originators in Emma-Jean Thackray, Night Dreamer’s discography is very much in its infancy but already held in the highest of esteem.
Neal Birnie kindly took some time out to talk us through the label, recording process, and future plans for this unique direct-to-disc flagbearer. A huge thank you to Night Dreamer for the “guided tour.” Be sure to check their Discogs shop for all their work.
Discogs: Talk us through the beginnings of Night Dreamer and how things started out. Can you illustrate the direct-to-disc processes and how, in a nutshell, things work?
Neal Birnie: The label started towards the end of 2019 and takes its name from Wayne Shorter’s 1964 classic on Blue Note. We focus on direct-to-disc recordings, a technique that led the way for a vast amount of recorded material in the first half of the 20th century, where musicians would record tracks “live” in one take and that recording would get cut directly onto an acetate/lacquer disc, without any post-production.
Every Night Dreamer release is produced at Artone Studio in Haarlem (just outside Amsterdam) using a wide range of vintage mics, mastering, and recording equipment that have been carefully sourced and restored. The studio sits on top of the vinyl pressing plant, Record Industry, so once the lacquer has been cut in the studio, it’s simply walked downstairs to the plant to begin the vinyl pressing process — everything is under one roof.
D: How have artists approached recording in this way?
NB: Everyone has embraced the concept and approached it head-on, in their own individual way. Recording direct-to-disc is a little different for everyone. A big part of our job is to create a comfortable environment at the studio where artists can just be themselves.
It can be an intense process but beyond the vulnerability and possible insecurity lies this place where you’re not afraid to make mistakes, you’re not relying on technology and post-production … you’re there, in the moment, doing what you do best as a musician, and we capture that on vinyl.
Photo by Elaine Groenestein
D: What was the first session and how did it come about?
NB: The first recording we did with Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 was the one where we realized the strong potential of the concept. Seun and the band were in the middle of a world tour and we managed to catch them whilst they were in Amsterdam. They came into the studio as a band on tour, not as a band that was ready to do a studio recording; it’s a very different thing, the energy is different … Seun is one of those artists you just have to see live, it changes every time and we’ve really tried to capture that energy on vinyl.
D: What are your stand-out releases and projects to date?
NB: We’re super proud of every release we’ve done so far and it’s been a pleasure working with so many different artists from all parts of the world and [witness] how each of them approached the direct-to-disc process.
D: Process detail seems paramount. Is it ever-evolving or standardized from day one?
NB: The direct-to-disc process is always the same although the steps and elements around that process can vary depending on the artist.
D: What can we expect from you in the future?
NB: We’ll continue doing what we’re doing, working with artists that we love and who vibe and thrive in the moment. We have a Scully 601 cutting lathe being fine-tuned at the studio for us to be able to cut in mono — a luxury option to have but will certainly take some recordings to another level of sound.
Future sessions have been put on ice because of the pandemic and all the restrictions but we’re itching to get back into the studio as soon as possible. We’ll be announcing the launch of a sublabel soon which we’re really excited about — watch this space!
Seu Jorge | Photo by Elaine Groenestein