Ultimae Records: Interview With Sandrine Gryson

Interview with Ultimae Records label owner Sandrine Gryson

We were thrilled to be able to grab some time with Sandrine Gryson, DJ, Arranger, Publisher, Co-Founder and Label Owner of Ultimae Records. Sandrine very kindly also directed some questions out to other members of the Ultimae team, which also feature here.

Ultimae are one of the leading labels in the electronic music scene, world renowned for their ultra sophisticated and polished sound, they have helped electronic music mature from its naive youth of Detroit inspired 4/4 techno rhythms into a truly elegant art form. Taking their blueprint from the early formative years of dance floor orientated trance and chillout music Ultimae lowered the tempos and raised the musicality and intelligence within electronica. As their audience grew out of the clubs Ultimae allowed the music to develop into a form that was equally as comfortable in their homes.

The label was formed in 1999 by Sandrine and label partner Vincent Villius who records for Ultimae as AES Dana himself a highly respected recording artist and mastering engineer. Over the years the label has not only hosted but nurtured many highly successful and pioneering electronic musicians, in particular Carbon Based Lifeforms and Solar Fields and lately genre leading artists such as Scan-Tec, Asura and Miktek call Ultimae home. Ultimae sign a diverse range of artists from all over the world and have very recently released the wonderful Eyes To The Height by the UK’s own James Murray.

Ultimae as a label has grown from strength to strength and have not only become a fully fledged shop with a carefully curated range of music in all formats for discerning electronic music buyers around the world, but also have diversified into a mastering house too. The mastering services now offered at Ultimae are considered second to none and are in demand by the worlds leading electronic music labels and artists. For more information and further history on Ultimae please check the dedicated Ultimae label page here at Psilowave or you can access Ultimae directly here.

So without further ado let’s jump in…

Psilowave: Hi Sandrine. First of all, thank you for taking the time out what we know is a brutal schedule to entertain us and answer a few questions. You have a dedicated and loyal fan base worldwide and many new fans via Psilowave, we would love to delve into a few topics and get the “official” Ultimae view on some music and non music related issues. We will start with some background, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you formed Ultimae?

Sandrine: I was 18 when techno hit the dance floors in France and fully embraced the music and the culture. In 1994 I moved to London, it was the beginning of the Goa Trance scene and I discovered Chill-out. I used to be an enthusiastic dancer but truly found myself at home in these mellow environments. A few years later I started deejaying, progressive house, on vinyl, I had moved away from the trance scene and preferred the light and refreshing “hands up in the air” vibe from that other music genre. I still had much love for ambient, that’s why, when I came back home and bumped into Vincent I decided to collaborate with him. Then one day I was at a festival in Switzerland, at the chill-out, 4am, everyone half asleep on cushions, the DJ didn’t turn up and I happened to have Vincent;s records. So I went to the decks, improvised my first ambient set and discovered a completely new approach to music mixing. For a while, Vincent used to mix Ultimae sound and I would be the “distribution” DJ ! Now I simply play the music I love.

But to get back to Ultimae, at the time, Vincent wanted to release the Asura Code Eternity album and create a portal for ambient lovers online. We had a few releases to sell from other labels too. And then we started working on the first Fahrenheit Project compilation which led us to meet artists such as Magnus Birgersson aka Solar Fields. And the story goes on!

Psilowave: What have been the high and low points in the last 19 years?

Sandrine: The high is definitely being busy doing what we love and getting wonderful feedback from artists, fans and media, the low is the harshness of the music industry.

Psilowave: What were the origins of the Ultimae name and why did you choose it?

Sandrine: It comes from “ultimae terrae” which in latin means the furthest piece of land you can reach, we liked it as for us music is a territory, a soundscape, and just shortened it to Ultimae.

Psilowave: Ultimae have been at the vanguard of electronica since 1999, what continues to drive you to keep the label ahead of the game and still relevant?

Sandrine: Passion, as simple as that! We’re on a mission you know, to bring beauty out to this world.

Psilowave: You will have seen many changes in the scene over the years, not least in the medium of how music is ultimately delivered to the listener, do you feel that hard copy (CD or Vinyl) will survive in the long term?

Sandrine: I think so yes, we still have a lot of fans purchasing hard copies, and as long as you keep creating beautiful objects, there will always be people out there wanting to collect them.

Psilowave: Riding on the back of that question, – And tongue firmly in cheek here – The current cassette revival – Yes or No?

Sandrine: It kinda follows up on the vinyl revival trend, it’s vintage! Not for me though.

Psilowave: Ultimae has matured into a many headed beast, the label itself, the shop, the studio and mastering side and also the manufacturer of sample packs is there any plans to diversify again into any other areas?

Sandrine: We may be developing music making software, publish books or magazines and if we had the finances, we’d love to create a video clip studio.

Psilowave: Several of the available sample packs from Vincent are plug-ins for NI Kontact or EXS24 etc.  Is there any plans for Vincent to be involved in a standalone “Ultimae” Synth or VST instrument?

Sandrine:  Yes absolutely, we’re discussing it at the moment with Mario Sammut (CYGNA) and Maximos Maximilianos (MAX MILLION) from Audiomodern. Vincent and Mihalis (MIKTEK) are currently finishing the “Fragments” audio library collection and once that’s done, we will concentrate on creation of VST intruments.

Psilowave: On a more personal note, a lot can be learned about people through their favourite art disciplines would you share with us a couple of your favourite films, books. LP’s or music tracks, and why?

Sandrine: I love to dance, cook, sew, I am a big fan of Paolo Sorrentino’s (Italian film director and screenwriter) work especially “la Grande Bellaza”, “Youth”, “The Young Pope”, another big time favorite : “Une place sur la terre” by Fabienne Godet (French film director and screenwriter). Books, I would say Isaac Asimov, music… The Sly and Unseen & Caught In The Wake Forever: Summer Passes / Evidence Of Fractures LP… I love to be transported, to feel touched to the core, I search beauty, balance and poetry…

Psilowave: Is there anything you are reading or have watched lately, that inspired or excited you, that you would recommend?

Sandrine: “Arrival” by Denis Villeneuve, a truly mind-blowing movie, Léa recently read “The Kyballion”

Psilowave: Could not agree more. “Arrival” is an incredible film as is “Enemy” and “Sicario”,  Vileneuve is one of our favourite directors here at Psilowave HQ. What are you and the team listening to at the minute – is there any artists out there (in any genre) that may have missed our radar that we should be checking out?

Sandrine: Right now, Island People on Raster Noton

Psilowave: Thanks for the heads-up, will certainly check out the Raster Noton Label. So,  What inspires you?

Sandrine: Nature, films, people, music and literature.

Psilowave: Have you always lived in Lyon? Is there anywhere else in France or the world you would like to live?

Sandrine: I was born in Lille, north of France, moved to Lyon when I was 4. I lived in the UK from the age of 24 to 29. I would love to live in Genova, north of Italy.

Psilowave: Is religion, spirituality important to you?

Sandrine: Yes, but extremely intimate, I find it easier to talk about sex.

Psilowave: Any vices?

Sandrine: Sex! Cigarettes. I just quit alcohol, I’m a wine lover.

Psilowave: Do you collect? Music or anything else?

Sandrine: Records, films, books, all colours of cotton thread.

Psilowave: What was your first and last record bought?

Sandrine: The first one was ACDC “Back in Black” I was 10, the latest one is the aforementioned Island People on Raster Noton.

Psilowave: If you weren’t into music any ideas what you may be doing?

Sandrine: I could be a herbalist or a Biodanza (literally the dance of life it is a system of self-development that uses music, movement and positive feelings to deepen self-awareness) teacher, I actually studied for that.

Psilowave: Outside of music, DJing and running the label etc. do you have any hobbies, I think we have mentioned cycling in the past?

Sandrine: Yep cycling, cooking, wrapping presents, I had an idea of a company that would do just that, every year for Christmas I have a theme and create packaging around it. Sewing clothes. Taking pictures.

Psilowave: Ultimae are renowned for the attention to detail with their release presentation and imagery / photography on both the CD digipaks and in the booklets, often inspired by nature, who decides on the imagery? Do you hand artistic control over to the photographer (Arnaud)?

Sandrine: It’s a collaboration work between the team and the artist. Sometimes we use our pictures, sometimes we buy rights from other photographers. Once we have all the images, Vincent and Arnaud create the artwork. We try to illustrate the musical vision of the composer / artist.

Psilowave: Can you talk about the reasons for the split with Carbon Based Lifeforms and Solar Fields? CBL have obviously gone to Blood Music, which seemed rather a strange choice as they are primarily recognised as a guitar driven / metal label, however they seem to be enjoying success. Has Solar Fields signed to another label? 

Sandrine: CBL have their own label, Leftfield and also release their hard copies via Blood Music. Solar Fields also has his label, Droneform. I guess it was time for them to move on, we did our trampoline job.

Psilowave: As vinyl junkies we were delighted to see Ultimae break into vinyl and the pressings have been superb, with the fabulous AES Dana & Miktek “Unexpected Hours, Alkaline, Cut” series earlier in the year and later with the Martin Nonstatic “Granite” and James Murray “Ghostwalk” remixes and finally with the current AES Dana  “Pollen” LP. Was it a difficult process mastering specifically for vinyl and were there any issues in securing a pressing plant and ensuring the quality was up to the Ultimae standard?

Sandrine: Mastering for vinyl is completely different. We work with Optimal in Germany through Squeezer, their French agent. The quality’s good, and they have a good customer service. They fucked up a couple of times, but always helped to make sure we’d get what we expect.

Psilowave: How have vinyl sales fared in relation to CD?

Sandrine: We still sell more CDs than vinyls but figures are definitely on the rising side.

Psilowave: Will there be any more vinyl presses in the future, in particular any of the classic LP’s from the Ultimae back catalogue? Will all new releases get the vinyl treatment too? Debate rages amongst the vinyl cognoscenti as to the superiority of black vinyl over coloured vinyl. Any plans to press to coloured or splattered vinyl which is very popular lately?

Sandrine: Nope, no such plan. I also heard coloured vinyl were more fragile than black ones, I still have a few of these and can’t say they’re more damaged than the others. As for classics of the catalogue, we’re discussing it, but right now there’s not enough demand to cover the huge cost it represents.

Psilowave: Ultimae became particularly well known for their inspirational compilation CD’s in particular the Fahrenheit Project, Albedo and Oxycanta series. It was fantastic when Greenosophy 2 landed mid year and the Polarity compilation, any plans for another compilation series?

Sandrine: Karine and Christian, respectively known as Opale and Samsara are working on compilations, Vincent is thinking about creating a second volume of “Enfold” and I am considering a fourth volume of “Oxycanta”.

Psilowave: Fantastic news. The Opale and Samsara compilations sound intriguing and lets hope there is another “Oxycanata” and “Enfold” with hopefullyy a hard copy rlease – (hint hint).  Is there anything unreleased in the Ultimae archives? If so will there ever be a “From the Archives” style release?

Sandrine: Nope, we release what we love, there’s no archives, at least not at Ultimae, all composers have HD archives!

Psilowave: The Polarity compilation hinted at a possible change of direction for the label with a dedicated “Techno” disc to accompany the more traditional sounding ambient one. We hate genres and pigeonholing as much as anyone here, however  sometimes it’s hard to avoid. Ultimae are probably best known for “chillout, ambient and psybient / trance” are you planning to move into a slightly harder and more techno orientated sound?

Sandrine: It looks like it! But we’ll always keep the 70/30 – soft / strong beats balance.

Psilowave: Regarding the downtempo ambient side of electronic music, it has gone through a number of organic changes throughout the years “ethno, glitch, drone, psybient etc”. How do you see the future of ambient and electronic changing?

Sandrine: I see more and more fusion of genres, in all the different styles, which makes music creation so extraordinary and free.

Psilowave: How would you describe the Ultimae sound, past, present and future?

Sandrine: Cinematic, melancholic, deep and wide describe all eras, we were more into what is called psybient / psychill, downtempo as we started, we may be more into IDM, ambient, electronica now.

Psilowave: This is for both yourself and Vincent, when you are in the studio (mixing, compiling, composing  or recording is there a certain piece of equipment or software that you couldn’t live without?

Sandrine: That’s a question for Vince definitely, I can’t reply. But how about doing a studio special feature at some point?

Psilowave: Sounds like a great idea Sandrine, if Vincent is willing then watch this space… I know 2017 has been a tough year for Ultimae and there was an issue with the new shop and public access, can you tell us about it? On a brighter note can you let us know what the plans are for the Ultimae shop in the new year, have you located new premises yet?

Sandrine: To cut the story short, we were just about to open our shop and café when the town hall decided to close access to the public. We are looking for new premises, we have not yet found that special spot, but we will. To be continued…

Psilowave:Any artists you are “going after” or who you would love to record for Ultimae?

Sandrine: We’d love to work with Jason Corder / offthesky, we’re really fond of his work.

Psilowave: That would be fantastic if that ever happens. What can we expect music wise for the future? Can you divulge what projects are on the horizon and any teasers for future Ultimae releases? Can you confirm a Master Margherita release? Also new AES Dana and Cell albums are getting us very excited? Oxycanta 4????

Sandrine: We just released Martin Nonstatic “Ligand” album on CD and all digital formats, the double LP on vinyl is planned for December 14, then we have an album by Master Margherita which is nearly finished. It will come out with a science-fiction novel in a special CD/book, we’re waiting for the writer to finish the story so we can start creating the proper packaging. Opale’s compilation should be released also. We have reprints from Connect.Ohm and H.U.V.A. Network, Cell and AES Dana are indeed working on albums, we’ll see if we do a release next year, some projects take more time than others. Oxycanta? Definitely not in 2018.

Psilowave: Wow! Some exciting titles to look forward to, the Master Margherita CD/Book sounds fascinating and original. Are you currently looking for any artists? If any artists wanted to get their music on Ultimae how would they go about it?

Sandrine: Artists can send a private Soundcloud link to demo@ultimae.com, we will reply only if we are interested in collaborating. That means a lot of people won’t get an answer and get disappointed… Honestly we’re not particularly looking for new artists. We meet people along the way and start to collaborate if that’s meant to be.

Finally I’d like to share with you just a handful of questions directly from Psilowave customers…

Ashleigh: Will Ultimae be expanding the product range? (already do T shirts and Totes) is there any plans to expand into other merchandise such as turntable slipmats, or record bags?

Sandrine: Hi Ashleigh! We tried turntable slip mats with the first vinyl release and the result was disgusting, we couldn’t sell them. If ever you know a good manufacturer, let us know! I could look for record bags, why not!

Tereza: Will Ultimae be re-issuing any of the discontinued back catalogue (such as “Pollen”) Many of the older releases are attracting high second hand prices putting them out of reach of the average buyer?

Sandrine: Hi Tereza! We’d love to have them all in stock always Tereza, but financially I’m afraid it’s not possible. We have two albums by H.U.V.A. Network for next year and “9980” by Connect.Ohm. I hope that will already make you happy 😉

Paul: Do you record yourself, how often do you get to play out and do you travel internationally? (Psilowave: Do you “play live” with vinyl, CD or do you use Serato or other software?)

Sandrine: Hello Paul! I play with CDs and vinyls, only rarely do I go out to play now, next year I will perform early March at the Zeiss Planetarium Bochum in Germany with Focal, Master Margherita and Scann-Tec. I travelled in many countries with my music, that’s one of the wonderful aspects of the job, even though sometimes I spend more time in airports than actually visiting places and meeting people! I took part in the composition of several works by AES Dana, recorded two interludes for my Oxycanta Winter Blooms compilation but that’s it. I am not a composer but I have a good ear and like to work on arrangements and mixing.

Lin: How do you choose the artists to be on the label? (They all have a certain indescribable, recognisable quality in their music)

Sandrine: Hello Lin! There are many ways to encounter people and their creations. We like human contact and tend to work with people we know, meet during our escapades, rarely does a release come from a demo, except for Circular and Hybrid Leisureland.

Lin: They have done some mastering on Lett Records and Accents Records (there may be others which I don’t know of), how did this come about? Did the record labels approach Ultimae or was it vice versa?

Sandrine: Labels and artists contact us for mastering usually. We also work with Databloem and Serein.

Psilowave: Well Sandrine, that’s it for now! It has been an absolute joy compiling these questions for you and a bigger joy to be able to work with yourself and the whole Ultimae team. Thank you so much for your time Sandrine, we wish you every success for the future and the best life has to offer for yourself, your family, and the Ultimae team.

Out now on Ultimae Records is AES Dana “Pollen” specially re-mastered and available on both limited edition vinyl and CD Digipak

Also brand new on Ultimae Records is Martin Nonstatic “Ligand” on deluxe CD Digipak with a vinyl LP release due on December 14th

Ultimae Records Samples and teasers can be found here on their official Soundcloud page you can follow them directly on Facebook here