Rob Paine launched Worship Recordings along with partners Zach Eberz and Dan McGehean in 1998. I discovered the label not too long after its debut upon several recommendations from various home town peers.
In the late ‘90s the City of Brotherly love’s underground dance music scene was a network of diverse artists: Wink was the chart-topping crossover techno phenom; Pete Moss and DJ Dozia espoused singular deep-house vibes; King Britt championed a cosmic blend of R&B, soul, hip-hop and house; Dieselboy represented drum ’n’ bass with a stamp of approval from notable UK junglists; and Nigel Richards gushed a fire hose of rave-focused releases on his 611 Records imprint.
From the onset, Worship Recordings rolled to a different beat. House music was the bedrock of his label but the foundation was anchored by a profound respect and passion for dubby, reggae sounds.
As Worship released early dance floor gems by Moss, Jay Tripwire, Håkan Lidbo, Chris Udoh and Gary Beck, Paine and Eberz made international waves with Solomonic Sound, a reggae sound system focusing on roots and culture dancehall reggae. They scored their biggest success in 2001 with “Children Of Israel.”
For the label’s 50th release issued in late November, Worship tapped a pair of top-notch producers (ironically?) from Tel Aviv — Yotam Avni (Hotflush, Stroboscopic Artefacts, Innervisions) and Laroz (Chalk Music, Magnetic Moon, Souq Records) — to remix their breakthrough track with fantastic results.
For the latest installment of our Why I Did It series, where we speak with artists who started their own labels, we connected with Paine and asked him about the early days of the label, commissioning remixes for the 50th release and the road ahead.
What we’re gonna do now is go back … way back. What led to the formation of Worship Recordings?
Rob Paine: We started Worship as a means to getting out the genre specific dub influenced house and techno music we were producing in the late ’90s. There wasn’t many labels around that were doing what we were doing at that time. So instead of trying to shop our works around we started Worship.
How would you describe the environment back in the day for an indie label? Was it harder, easier or about the same to get ahead?
When we started in 1998 it was easier than it is today. We were fortunate to get good vinyl sales with our first three releases. So that catapulted Worship onto everyone’s radar for all future releases. Nowadays the market is so oversaturated. Even with a good publicity campaign the music is like a needle in a haystack. The actual physical work for indie labels back in the day was harder but we really enjoyed it same way. There was a certain ritual for every release that we all got together on and did over a few spliffs and some late nights.
Did you create a formal business plan, or was it a more informal “let’s see how it goes” ethos?
Absolutely not. We winged it and learned as we went along with guidance from friends already in the industry.
“We all work to put Philly on the map. Even though everyone always thinks we are out of San Francisco.”
How did you learn the ins and outs of the music business? I’m sure there was a big learning curve.
When we started out WMC was still an actual conference. All the artist and labels we wanted to interact with hung around the pool at the Fontainebleau. Everyone approachable. Not only would we share vinyl promos but we would share the tricks of the trade. I made so many friends around that pool that are still friends to this day.
At the time Worship launched there was a small house and techno scene growing in Philadelphia Ovum was in full gear, 611 Records was releasing a lot of music, etc. Did you feel a spirit of kinship or connection with local DJs and producers?
Well, there was already a great scene for underground dance music in Philly. Before we started Worship I was already throwing events with my crew Circle Productions. We were responsible for the biggest parties in the area from 1993 until 1998 or so. Our events drew between 500-8,000 people. We also had plenty of weekly events popping off. So I wouldn’t say there was a ‘small’ scene. 611 Records was the epicenter for our scene. I was at 611 Records like clockwork every Tuesday and Friday when the new releases came in. Ovum’s office was upstairs which I frequently visited.
I always collaborated (and still do) with Philly artists. We all work to put Philly on the map. Even though everyone always thinks we are out of San Francisco.
What’s the Philly scene like these days?
Weekly events don’t really exist. Its all about the monthlies and one offs. But the scene is thriving for sure. There are a lot of new promoters that have popped up over the past few years. We encourage and try to help out the younger cats that we see are in it for the right reasons. Unfortunately, there are a lot that aren’t in it out of love. I have seen it before and they usually don’t last long. We have our event The Shakedown that will celebrate 17 years in March of 2019. Every second Saturday of the month. Also, we have another event called ‘goodie’ that will celebrate seven years around the same time. We just did our 100th event.
I’ve always felt that you’ve stayed true to a sound. Looking back on 50 releases, how do you think the label’s sound has evolved? And has the label’s evolution been in line with your maturation as a DJ/producer?
Thank you for that! We strive to stay true to our sound but move forward and evolve with the times. To stay inspired with new sounds and the most current technology. I never stop learning and try my hardest to leave all egos aside. Even if its a production that I put 50 hours into. If some arrangement, etc. doesn’t fit I have no problem letting it go for the better idea from a collaborator or someone I respect.
What’s been your biggest learning in running the label?
That I would rather just create and expedite the music while someone else runs the label.
The label’s 50th release drops at the end of the month. Worship is now eligible for an AARP membership. What sort of emotions are you feeling about Worship’s 50th release? Are you any celebrations in the works?
It’s true. [Laughs] No real celebrations. We do not really do record release parties anymore. We already celebrate enough anniversaries between all the events I am involved in. I feel it’s overkill to have a release party for every release we put out. Even though we did just turn 20 as a label. I kind of let that one slip by. Maybe a belated 20 Years of Worship party for early 2019?
How did Solomonic Sound’s “Children of Israel” come to be the 50th release? Was it kismet or by design? And how did you curate the remixers?
I became a fan of Yotam Avni over the past 4-5 years. He is one of those artists that I would buy three out of every five of his releases. I followed him on IG and commented on one of his posts. Yotam then sent me a DM and asked if I was the Rob Paine of Solomonic Sound System and Worship Recordings. Then went on to tell me that the first record he ever bought when he was 14 was “Children Of Israel,” which blew me away because then it all made sense to why I loved his works so much. We originally influenced him! Talk about coming full circle. Anyway, I then asked Yotam if he wanted to remix it and he said yes immediately.
And then sweetened the deal with two different versions and a third remix by his good friend and fellow Tel Aviv dub producer Laroz. It truly was meant to be.
Which are your top favorite releases on the label? Are there any you wish you hadn’t released?
Hands down Solomonic Sound “Beating Heart” (Wor.02) is my favorite. It defined the label. You can hear this one coming in a mile away. Super fun to mix.
There is only one that I kind of wished we hadn’t released but I am not going to tell you which one [laughs]. At the time we were pressured to get another release out. I like the tracks still but it wasn’t in line what we were really doing. Sometimes there are Worship releases that are straight up house music. But this was a stretch I know in hindsight now. Needless to say we got some returns. Oops.
What’s next for you and the label?
I’ve had a slew of projects on the board over the past year and a half. Too many that I wasn’t finishing them all. Over the past few months I have been tying up all the loose ends and have the next five Worship releases ready to go. Be on the lookout for a release every month starting in February of 2019. We mainly just do in-house productions. Music that I am personally doing myself or collaborations. We do not really release other artists as much besides remixes. But we do have the second Philadelphia Compilation coming out in Feb of 2019 featuring all Philly producers original works. Besides that a lot of my time goes into our events, gigs, engineering and, of course, my family.
Any final thoughts?
I do want to thank everyone that has, and continues to support, Worship Recordings over the past 20 years. Really and truly. Nuff respect.