LABEL PROFILE Munich Label Squama Finds the Border Between Jazz, Ambient, Electronic, and Much More By Stephan Kunze · January 05, 2024

From the Bavarian capital of Munich, one of the most forward-thinking labels for avant-garde, contemporary jazz has been steadily growing its reputation over the last few years—since 2019, to be exact, when musician/producer Martin Brugger and designer/art director Maximilian Schachtner founded Squama.

The two friends originally met in Munich’s electronic music scene, and the label grew out of a community radio show they co-hosted. Designed as an independent outlet for Brugger’s boundary-pushing jazz band Fazer and the various projects of its members (Simon Popp on drums, guitarist Paul Brändle, and sax player Matthias Lindermayr), Squama’s roster gradually expanded to include a Mongolian jazz singer (Enji), an electronic-leaning indie-pop artist (Zylva), and a solo classical guitarist (Jonathan Bockelmann).

Merch for this release:
Cassette

“We usually agree on if something fits on the label,” Brugger says. “Our decision is always based on gut feeling. It has nothing to do with commercial appeal. It’s about originality and freshness.” Some of their releases feature unusual lineups: 9ms consists of two drummers, while Ursgal, the Squama debut of singer Enji features no drums at all—just bass, guitar, and tenor sax. “We just want to make records we like and our peers like,” Schachtner states, “We’re not intentionally resisting trends, but always looking for the deeper undercurrents.”

Another one of the label’s main features is its distinctive sleeve design. Inspired by the artwork of classic Munich jazz label ECM, Schachtner has been carefully crafting a distinctive visual identity. Moving forward, Squama will open up even more, as its founders don’t want to limit themselves to a genre or style. Says Schachtner, “Our vision is to become more colorful and diverse, while remaining true to our ideas and values.”

Here are a few avenues to get you started in exploring the Squama catalog.


Fazer
Nadi

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

Fazer is a young quintet that first got together at the Academy for Music and Performing Arts in Munich, where most of the members studied jazz. “This album was kind of the blueprint for us,” Brugger remembers. “We had already worked on our debut Mara in the same constellation, but the label didn’t exist yet. For our second album, we took some meetings with established labels, but decided to do our own thing in the end [and create Squama], so that we wouldn’t have to compromise.”

After the success of Mara, the band decided to record Nadi in London’s Fish Factory studios, weaving in even more influences from contemporary UK jazz. Nadi might be the definite Fazer album so far, compressing their percussive, yet melodic sound world into eight super accessible instrumental tracks without any filler, and including two of the band’s biggest tunes (“Lina” and “Wasi”).

Popp
Laya

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Fazer drummer Simon Popp is one of the mainstays of the Squama catalog, playing on many of the label’s releases. The second release on the young label, his solo project Laya sounded entirely different from Nadi, diversifying the label portfolio right from the start. Mixing contemporary jazz with influences from ambient music and Minimalism, Popp created his very own brand of Third Stream music. “We did next to no promotion, but it was still kind of successful,” Brugger remembers. Schachtner adds, “It has been selling well in the long run, because it’s just a good record—and it will be a good record 20 years from now.”

Runden
Runden

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

A one-off project from the trio of Brugger, Popp, and neo-classical composer/pianist Carlos Cipa, Runden brings together influences from seemingly disparate genres: American Minimalism, polyrhythmic Afrobeat, and dub techno á la Chain Reaction. The album was created in a limited time frame, with just a few days in a rehearsal space and then a few more in the studio. Cipa usually works with melody and harmony, but for this rhythm-based record, he prepared his piano to sound more like a percussion instrument.

Martin Brugger
Music For Video Stores

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Vinyl

Brugger’s first solo album under his real name, Music For Video Stores is sample-based ambient jazz that borders on downbeat at times. “It’s a classic lockdown album,” Brugger smiles. “I produced it in my living room in the spring of 2020, sampling a lot of records from my vinyl collection.” While other producers often resort to the prominent melodies, Brugger sampled some of the more nondescript moments on his favorite records, zooming into the details that often go unnoticed. He played overdubs on an analogue synthesizer.

Enji
Ursgal

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Jazz singer Enji grew up in Mongolia, but came to Munich to finish her master’s degree in music. Impressed by her voice, Brugger produced her second solo album and released it on Squama. Ursgal gained international praise for its extremely original interpretation of the vocal jazz canon. The album standards alongside Enji’s own compositions, sung in her native Mongolian language. “It means so much to us that someone like her can find her home on our label and truly be herself,” Schachtner says proudly. Enji’s third album, Ulaan, was released by Squama in July of last year.

Damian Dalla Torre
Happy Floating

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

This South Tyrol-born, Leipzig-based saxophonist was signed to Squama on the strength of a demo. Damian Dalla Torre initially sent a single song, which Brugger liked, but his vision for Squama was to release albums. So a year later, Dalla Torre returned with his finished debut. “Many demos sound like something we’ve already released on the label,” Brugger says, “but we don’t want to repeat ourselves. This album sounded like something we might do, but up to this point hadn’t. It felt like he’d been with us forever.” Happy Floating is an airy, colorful, ambient jazz album, piecing together field recordings, brass, synthesized strings, tape loops, and samples. A celebration of collaboration, it features 19 guest musicians on eight songs. Oscillating between melancholy and optimism, the music creates a distinctive atmosphere from the combination of organic textures, warm melodies, and crisp drums.

Masako Ohta, Matthias Lindermayr
MMMMH

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl

A strong example of the timelessness that Squama strives for on their releases, this album by Japanese pianist Masako Ohta and Fazer saxophonist Matthias Lindermayr doesn’t follow any current musical trends—quite the opposite. In fact, this beautiful chamber jazz record could even have been released by ECM. Ohta and Lindermayr were largely improvising when they created MMMMH, spontaneously reacting to one another’s ideas in the intimate setting of a friend’s apartment. The music sounds light and breezy, contemplative but hopeful. A beautiful, unobtrusive recording that might be (re-)discovered for many years to come.

Julian Klaas
Impromptu

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

On his first album for Squama, Julian Klaas explores the sonic spectrum of a Wurlitzer piano inherited from his sister. Aside from their beautifully warped melodies, the tunes here heavily feature glitches, ambient noise, and other audible flaws that lend the music an atmosphere of vulnerable intimacy. One of the most mystical-sounding albums in the label catalog, “Impromptu” is one of those records that pull you into their world right away. A trained violinist and former electronic musician under the name Plateau Green, Klaas is now a full-time eye specialist, still working on music in his spare time. “Julian is not pursuing a career as a professional recording musician,” Brugger explains, “so he won’t be touring the album, and it won’t be played on the radio. But it’s great music, and it deserves to be heard. That’s the only reason why we released it.”

Read more in Jazz →
NOW PLAYING PAUSED
by
.

Top Stories

Latest see all stories

On Bandcamp Radio see all

Listen to the latest episode of Bandcamp Radio. Listen now →