INI (pronounced as I & I) is an umbrella name for the multi-disciplinary music movement based out of Haarlem, Noord-Holland. Its story is a testament to the idea that creativity can be seen as an autonomous entity – existing in various people – always seeking connection. Since last year (2021) marked INI’s 10th anniversary, we sat down with Olivier (Oliver Boogie), Misha (Shamis), Lucas (Rebiere), Job (Jo Bissa/UMOJA), and Jitte. We reflected on their run, the importance of establishing a scene, and how that culminated in their Birdhouse studio in Haarlem, where we met.
The five gents all come from various parts of the country, from various backgrounds. Their ties to the music scene at large are pretty diffuse. Olivier and Misha knew each other through Pete Philly and Perquisite and connected over DJing shortly after, setting up events where they unapologetically played themselves. “We just called a venue and said that we could provide DJs, Emcees, and VJs.” This was around ’05, far before the existence of INI, but the connections already started there, Olivier explains.
Hip-Hop duo Pete Philly and Perquisite (although solely naming it Hip-Hop would be an understatement as they incorporated Jazz, Broken Beat, and Soul) were on a roll during that time. Misha was DJing with them and performing live as DJ PCM (Pitch Controller Mitch). He continued to accompany the band until their split around ’08. Misha sensed that this was the moment to do his own thing and start producing. Being more akin to the broader musical landscape Pete Philly and Perquisite emulated, Misha searched for an equal kinship. “Through rapper Manoo, who I produced a record for, I became connected with Job. He was praised for the dope and diverse music he makes.” They connected and produced an EP, which coincidentally had the same release date as Pete Philly’s solo album Open Loops, on which Misha also had production credits. It was a wild time for him, as he juggled being a single dad and his passion for music.
Misha and Job agree that that double release day was also the day INI as a label was born. Job wheeled the label ahead during that time as UMOJA, but also together with Jeffrey aka Sjef Rolet. “What definitely helped was the fact that we were also doing events at the time, establishing not only our music but also the label as a kind of brand for dope events in Canvas [in Volkshotel, Amsterdam]. We collaborated with a lot of people for the club events, and without them, it wouldn’t have been what it became. So, we can’t forget about Marc, (other) Misha and Arion, who made the events multi-disciplinary with live musicians, art installations, light, and visuals.”Misha (the one in the room) adds that the INI ethos was already in full effect here: “Whether it was at Canvas, or some under-the-bridge type rave, the idea always was to bring creative people doing whatever together.”
Essentially, everybody at INI is a producer, and our ears gravitate towards various things based on our own musical journey. Yet, we still share a similar mindset among each other, and that is what INI is. The initial spark was Hip-Hop, but with such a vibrant collective, they were destined to dive into Disco, Trip-Hop, and the grey area of bootleg edits. Job and Olivier recognize that the time in which this was taking place was very beneficial to their popularity. “Soundcloud has given rise to the UMOJA project and thus to INI. We got European DJ gigs straight from the Soundcloud inbox.” Olivier adds that “nowadays, the technology behind the go-to platforms is so strong that it walls off any possibility of getting away with bootlegs. In ’07, you could just release it no questions asked.”
At this moment, things went rapidly. The Birdhouse Studio was in the works, UMOJA went to Kenya, and the releases on the label required a more professional stance in terms of royalties. More affiliate producers tagged along, culminating in the first compilation, Gulden Snede (Golden Ratio). One of these producers was Rebiere. “I recognized the INI logo stickers spread all around Amsterdam, but I didn’t know them. I was already stationed here, the yet-to-be-called Birdhouse Studio.” It was a perfect match with Rebiere as a multi-instrumentalist, his network of other musicians, and the INI crew as producers. They complimented each other, and a writers camp commenced. Not shortly after, they realized the potential of a home base and started moving towards Haarlem to establish the Birdhouse Studio swiftly. “There was not much happening in Haarlem at the time,” Olivier remarks. Misha nods along but does recognize a shift with the opening of [the club] De Storing, ‘ushering in a new type of energy in the city.’ The move to Haarlem made INI part of this new energy.
Live From The Birdhouse
As with most things in the INI movement, the name for their studio, Birdhouse, didn't appear out of the blue. The avian species has been a common theme throughout the years, but its origin isn't that clear as many individual experiences start to fragment the collective memory of INI. As Misha starts to explain the move from Sjef's studio to Birdhouse 6 years ago, Job swiftly interrupts with the recollection that "At the time, Misha, Sjef and I also started a band, called the Pidgins." Everybody starts laughing, especially Misha, since he seems to have forgotten that this was happening simultaneously to the story he just started. Job continues: "UMOJA also has a bird as the logo, so as with birds, the idea for a Birdhouse-themed studio was in the air."
With the move to the Birdhouse Studio in Haarlem, where we met up, a couple of things started to shift. Since bootlegs, edits, and unpaid releases wouldn't fly anymore, they turned away from this grey area and transformed INI into a foundation. From here, they were able to kick off another writers camp, shacking up in the studio for a weekend with musicians from the local scene passing through. There were three studios in full effect at the same time, with people from Gallowstreet, Rilan & The Bombardiers, Freshy Jazz, and the Mauskovic Dance Band tagging along. What emerged out of these sessions was the compilation Birdhouse Sessions Vol. 1: a blend of different genres where each contributor's styles, tastes & specialty converged. Rebiere says that this project wouldn't have been possible in Amsterdam, as there aren't any buildings that would allow for it to happen.
During these sessions, the following steps for INI took shape. The connect with multi-instrumentalist and crooner LYMA grew stronger. He quickly became a household name in the Birdhouse Studio and on the label. Together with Rebiere and Misha, they went on to do various projects and perform at Super-Sonic Jazz.
As they slowly became an established name in the underground music scene centered around soulful sounds, INI saw a steady release of musicians from Dutch soil, including Paa Kofi, JU-LIA, ii, Pry, GANGS OF KIN, Beau Zwart, Gallowstreet, and Soul Supreme. But also across the border, they started to cultivate their connections, with releases by K15, Soulparlor, Lokke, and Dersu. Additionally, UMOJA's side project in Kenya resulted in a connection with the scene there, including artists such as Benagtronics, Abaki Simba, Ngalah Oreyo in Kenya, and the politically-inclined release by the Nigerian singer/songwriter Avi Dje. This eclectic blend of releases reflects the INI ethos of interconnectedness among mankind. "We're not in the game for numbers, but good, soulful music," Olivier explains. "This results in a widely diverse collection of releases."
Running such a label calls for flexibility. Oliver: "Since some demos require more attention from in-house producers, others might need some additional compositional guidance, and some just are ready-made, we can't just cut a one-fits-all deal with the artists." They treat each artist independently and personalize the guidance process to the release. The deals are equally tailored to each specific release in solidarity with the musicians. "Ultimately, like the artists, we're music lovers ourselves. So we completely understand the process and the attachment to the product," Misha adds. That's what makes them suitable for the collaborations INI engaged with over the past ten years.
In approaching ten years of consistently releasing music on the label, building tracks in conjunction with artists through in-house producers, and generating a broad network of like-minded artists, INI went back to the vaults to present the '10 Years of INI Movement' compilation. With over 60 releases by more than 60 artists, they carefully selected the 21 tracks to reflect the ten years of creativity and building connections. The extended family that got established along the way is central to the compilation. Have a listen below.
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