After going into administration last year, Renaissance is back in the hands of its original founder, Geoff Oakes.
An early pillar of English club culture, Renaissance began as a club in Mansfield and evolved into one of the '90s' most recognized dance music brands. As a label, Renaissance championed the mix CD format; as an events promoter, it threw massive parties around the world. The roster included many of the biggest names in progressive house, including Sasha, John Digweed, Dave Seaman and Hernan Cattaneo to name a few. The firm fell into financial trouble several years ago with the failure of Wild in the Country, a festival run by Renaissance's parent company, Rebirth Ltd., and finally went into administration last year. In this exclusive interview with Resident Advisor, Oakes tells us exactly how it all happened, and what his plans are now that he's got Renaissance back:
What were the key factors that led to the label's insolvency?
It wasn't just the label, the whole business, Rebirth Music Ltd, went into administration in September 2010; The label, the touring business, the Wild in the Country festival and Excession (the DJ agency we had owned since 2007).
The cancelled Wild in the Country festival at Knebworth in July '08 was a huge factor. After suffering financial losses at a rain-soaked festival at Knebworth in '07, we went into it the following year with a 50% partner which, in theory, helped to spread the risk. Bjork was headlining the event and we were getting all the plaudits for the quality of the line-up but the tickets weren't selling well. The week before the event we had to put in a substantial six-figure sum to cover the site-build, and our partner was obliged to put in the same amount. He waited until three days before the festival to tell us he wasn't putting in his share. We were left with no option but to cancel the festival. The site had already been built and we dropped a huge amount of money.
The knock-on effect of the festival's failure was that the next couple of years were spent trying to play catch-up with the company's finances, at a time when physical CD sales were tumbling and, like most independent labels, we were trying to adapt to that changing landscape.
Just after the business finally went into administration I found the perfect investor; a successful music and media specialist, who presented a plan to the Administrator to buy back the business, pay off all of the labels, producers and companies who were owed money and re-launch Renaissance with no debt and strong financial backing. It would have been a very good solution but the Administrator chose to break up the business and sell off the pieces to various bidders. There's a lot more to that story that I'd love to tell but can't for all sorts of legal reasons.
It's massively frustrating for me that we never got the opportunity to put things right with the labels, artists, producers and companies that supported us through those difficult times. My wife, Jo, and I had put everything we had into the business both financially and emotionally. After 18 years spent building arguably one of the world's best known dance music brands, we lost everything. It was life-changing stuff! I was really disappointed in the way some people reacted. I expected more support, understanding and loyalty from certain people. There are DJs and agents who have taken hundreds of thousands of pounds from me and Renaissance over the years, people with huge careers that I supported massively when they were at the bottom of the ladder. Sadly they chose only to remember the money they were owed in administration!
On the flip-side, there was incredible support from a lot of sources. A lot of DJs, agents and the industry in general, went out of their way to offer me as much help as necessary. The cliché is true, you really find out who your friends are when the chips are down.
How did you regain control of the label?
Ironically, the company that bought the rights to the Renaissance brand from the Administrator approached me and asked whether we'd want to take it back. I assume this is because they realised the brand is so strongly linked to me and Jo. It didn't take much thinking about really. The timing is perfect, with Renaissance's 20th Anniversary coming up next year.
What will be different about Renaissance now? Can we expect the same roster of artists?
The big difference is we will be coming back a lot wiser and very well equipped to succeed because of the partners involved in the company now. It's a great team that includes Keith Reilly of Fabric, Adam Driscoll, who was one of the founder partners of Mama Group (which owned Global Gathering, Lovebox, dozens of live venues in the UK and a management company that managed the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, etc.) and Jon Cowan, the Miami-based DJ/Producer/Promoter whose family owns the Shelborne Hotel, which Jon has made the focal point of WMC over the past few years. They are all people I know and trust, which is important after what happened last time around.
There will be a steady shift towards a more events-based business, but the initial focus will be on the first couple of compilation releases and tours and a series of one-off events, while gearing up for the 20th Anniversary next year. After a nine month break we felt it was important to re-launch with some familiar faces but you will see the introduction of new artists and a different sound in parallel with the 20th Anniversary celebrations, which will naturally have a hint of nostalgia about them.
The music industry is very different now from when Renaissance started, not least in regard to mix CDs, which are central to the label's brand. How is Renaissance adjusting to these changes?
The same way everyone else is adjusting, by shifting our focus. The physical CD market has obviously shrunk massively but it still has a purpose as part of an overall strategy. Artist advances, third party licences, manufacturing and marketing costs have all dropped relative to the market but it obviously can't be the core of a sustainable long term strategy anymore. Streaming and subscription services, of course, offer other outlets and possible revenue sources.
Fortunately, Renaissance is much more than just a label, so has a lot of opportunity to expand in other areas.
When will the label relaunch, and what will be its first release?
The Renaissance label will re-launch next month. There's a new label manager in place who has a whole different set of influences than the previous label manager, which is refreshing. It's inevitable the sound will change and evolve but it's also important to keep one eye (or ear!) on where the label's come from.
The first compilation will be released late September/early October and will be The Masters Series mixed by Dave Seaman; a familiar member of the Renaissance family. It's great that someone who knows the brand so well is first up. The first singles will be around the same time too. There will also be a separate new label and brand launched in the Autumn that takes an entirely different direction... more on that in the near future.
What does Renaissance have planned for its 20th anniversary?
We have just started planning. There will be a series of highly collectable, beautifully packaged limited edition releases, one very special album, a Renaissance 20th Anniversary World Tour and a number of showcase one-off events and festival arenas around the world. Also watch out for collaborations and remix projects that pay tribute to the past but bring things right up to date. I want to involve all the people we've worked with over the years and all the people we want to work with in the future.
The 20th Anniversary is a very special year for Renaissance and a once-only opportunity to produce the legacy Renaissance deserves. We almost didn't get the chance to create it... making it all the more special.
I'm proud of what the brand has achieved over the years and am really excited to be back!