What is punk? “Punk is when the whole world goes crazy listening to your joke,” says Hespermen. He is the boss of Moscow label Private Persons, and it still seems surreal to him — “like a trip to another planet” — that the hand-stamped, 12” white-label records he puts out are beloved by DJs like Helena Hauff, Boys Noize and DJ Seinfeld, to name just a few. In 2016, there was a photo of Aphex Twin holding a pack of Apollo-Soyuz cigarettes on the label’s instagram. In 2019, Richard D. James dropped PRIVATEPERSONS006 during his set at Coachella. The label’s success is not all that surprising when you take into account Hespermen’s passion and dedication. “This is all really nice but I prefer just to keep working on the label, not to revel in it,” he comments on the recognition.
Long before the pandemic, Hespermen had his own reasons for wearing a mask in public. He doesn’t reveal his identity, saying that he was born in Siberia, he works in IT and he’s been active in the music industry for about 13 years. Staying anonymous let him start all over again; he didn’t want his previous projects to influence his new one, feeling that this would help him stay more focused. He’d often think about doing something more solid in order to reach the international audience, and in 2014, he was so captivated by American producer Gazatech’s dreamy, cloudy house demos that he wanted to get this music on vinyl.
Two more years passed before the first drop. “Deciding on the name, building connections and choosing the right partners — it didn’t happen right away. The image and the nature of the label composed itself, or I have just projected it from my own aloofness. I often come up with stories, names, tracklists for releases. And, of course, hand stamps. With some demos, I have to give them a run in my player for quite some time in order to understand whether they suit me or not, and what kind of story I can tell via them as a DJ. Generally, everything is very private,” he says, smiling.
Hespermen doesn’t accept demos. He picks people he wants to work with; often they are his idols, producers whose music he has been playing in his DJ sets for a long time, “and, of course, old talented friends”.
The records are available only on vinyl, although a lot of tracks can be found on the label’s SoundCloud page thanks to the premieres in different music media. Hespermen has worked with Lobster Theremin as a distributor from the outset, which has definitely played a role in achieving his goal of hooking a worldwide clubbing audience.
Melodic house, subtle techno, energetic acid, bass- heavy beats and jungle — Private Persons releases all kinds of dance music. However, electro has become the main genre associated with the label. It’s not intentional, as Hespermen just wants to put out what he plays in his mixes or listens to at home, but the EPs by XAN, Maelstrom, London Modular Alliance, as well as the most recent works by Reehl and Lake Haze are all united by the same rusty, vehement vibe.
The label’s key electro artists are Locked Club, Hespermen’s close friends. Their 12”s ‘Forever Punk’ (recorded together with RLGN), ‘Svoboda’ and ‘Russian Banya’ are all huge party bangers. Locked Club also perform in balaclavas, and do what Hespermen once called “the new Russian electronic punk music”. Their fiery track ‘Svodoba’, with its protest rapping by Vadim Seleznev (“Techno cobras’ lair, an illegal dancefloor / The law wants to press it down with boots”) was influenced by the cancellation of Outline festival, the violent raid in Rabitza club, and promoter Arma 17’s ceasing operations in the country a few years ago. These events were all major shocks to the Russian dance music scene.
“It’s a cri de coeur of a Russian raver!” Hespermen says. “The guys took the younger ones to Outline to show that there is such a culture, and it is beautiful! There is a lot of music, peace, love and freedom! But at the entrance, they saw the sign ‘Cancelled!’. It made blood boil, as our neighbours in Kyiv and Tbilisi were able to defend their rights, and we had to hide, and still have to hide, as everyone could end up in jail. So, this is our dedication to everyone who had to experience the pressure from the government.”
Last February, Moscow’s Boiler Room party got shut down and the organisers had to go offline, relocating it to another club. ‘Svoboda’ sounded like a hymn there. “That moment was so great, almost tear-jerking!” recalls Hespermen. The track can still often be heard at Russian parties.
“There have always been raids, and there will always be,” Hespermen says. “Look at the past. It has always inspired young people to create and express themselves. If there is no protest, there is no life.” He also notices that the local electronic music scene is on the rise: “All this concentration of disgruntled and oppressed people just tears everyone to pieces, pouring into creativity. Make way for the young!”
The pandemic forced Hespermen to devote himself to his regular job because of the delays both in release and tour schedule. But the first ever Russian label party, held in Mutabor club in September, became one of this year’s highlights. “It was an incredible sip of inspiration for new achievements!” he says. “And we plan to surprise.”