Relentless' Shabs Jobanputra talks 'amazing potential' for new stars plus returning artists in 2024

Relentless' Shabs Jobanputra talks 'amazing potential' for new stars plus returning artists in 2024

Relentless Records is gearing up for a big 2024.

The Sony Music UK label staged its annual showcase at London’s Notting Hill Arts Club last week featuring rising stars Charlieeeee, Lewis Fitzgerald and Songer.

Songer marked his ascent with a chart entry for the Britney-sampling Toxic at No.39 on Friday (January 12).

Relentless has enjoyed streaming success in 2023 with breakout DJ production duo Switch Disco, as well as rappers Strandz (now on Sony’s Epic label) and Headie One, who each scored Top 10 entries.

According to Official Charts Company data, the label performed slightly ahead of the market on Track Streams last year, amassing 652.6 million streams in 2023 alone (up 12% compared to 2022).

This year will see the return of BRIT winner and platinum artist Tom Walker with a second album, I Am, as well as new music from Bimini and Switch Disco. 

Here, Shabs Jobanputra, founder and president of Relentless Records, shares his vision for developing talent and further growth in 2024…

Relentless grew track streams by 12% last year, how are you powering that growth at the label? What's been key to your campaigns in terms of that growth?

“I think the key to this growth has been to back artists to release consistently, and then to maximise the potential of those releases that show the signs of connecting with wider culture beyond the artist’s core fanbase. That approach not only allows the artists to grow organically, and for us to build our catalogue, but has also delivered three Top 10 singles in 2023 with three different artists which, as a label of our size, is an achievement we are very proud of and keen to build on.”

Songer, Charlieeeee and Lewis Fitzgerald at the Relentless Records showcase

Switch Disco’s React (feat. Ella Henderson) was in the Top 20 biggest singles of 2023 – how did you help the single make that impact? What are the plans for Switch Disco in 2024?

“That was a six month-plus campaign, and in some areas of media and with some audiences it doesn’t even feel like the track has peaked yet. It is well past platinum now [714,489 sales – Official Charts Company]. Ultimately, it was about the strength of the song and production. But these records can take a long time, so over that campaign we had to create a series of moments to propel the record through the different phases. It was launched in Love Island in January and the amazing early support from Apple Music was an early driver which then went across all DSPs. Then key radio playlist ads from Kiss, then Radio 1 into Global and The Hits propelled the record alongside a series of timed remixes, especially Culture Shock’s dnb remix. 

“There was also Switch Disco’s extensive work as DJs, including a residency at Ibiza Rocks. 2024 is about repeating that with, hopefully, another big record or two which we believe we have, but also by building the brand through live, consistent releasing and, of course, working them internationally to open up more markets where we feel there is amazing potential for them. For example, they spent Christmas and New Year in Australia and New Zealand. Switch Disco deserve all the success and are a big priority for us.”

The Relentless way is working with acts from the margins who have something distinctive that can find a mainstream audience

Shabs Jobanputra

How is the label tapping into the appetite for dance music in general?

“With Switch Disco and Bad Boy Chiller Crew we have proved we can have success in this area the Relentless way, which is by working with acts who come from the margins but have something distinctive about them which we feel can find a mainstream audience. But it’s also about putting out music that excites us.

“This year we will have more releases in dance and electronic than ever before and we'll try to remain proactive and supportive towards artists in this world. Our artist services arm opens up new opportunities for us to work with DJs, producers and vocalists in different ways. Two of the hottest dance pop producers have made a record with one of the biggest names in folk music [to be revealed at a later date]. They've made a cover of a classic dance hit and it doesn't sound much like anything either of the artists has made before. We're releasing this soon. Doing stuff like that is exciting to us.

“The label has always enjoyed electronic music in its diverse forms. Headie One & Fred Again..’s Gang EP [2020] was a project which innovated and still feels fresh now. Colliding genres always ends up with interesting results like the Four Tet and Floating Points remixes of Headie, which also came around that time. It is a key area of music for us.”

Tom Walker returns this year including his biggest headline tour to date. How has he developed as a songwriter and artist? What are your hopes for this follow-up album project? 

“Tom has had to dig really deep on the writing of this new record. Like with many artists, the pandemic was a major challenge and he has put a lot of pressure on himself in following up such a successful first album, as well as dealing with some sad personal moments all of which he tackles on the album. It is a reflection of who Tom is now, which is an even stronger and more relevant artist.

“Tom brilliantly articulates how he and his audience are feeling, soundtracking their lives, which is one of the reasons he is so strong in sync – and we are hopeful of more key sync moments during this campaign. He has already done a number of showcases to a great reaction, as well as performing for the whole of ITV just before Christmas. On TikTok, Tom is approaching one million followers, which is well ahead of many of his peers. But although he has the potential of going viral on that platform, we won’t be relying on something we know is so unpredictable. We are backing the music to go all the way but will need to be patient because, like on album one, these things take time.”

Songer performing at Notting Hill Arts Club

Songer is a rising UK rap star on the label, who's made an audacious start to the year with the Britney-sampling Toxic. What's the story behind the single and this young artist?

“Songer has been doing a brilliant job of building a loyal fanbase for himself and we have been following him for a long time now. We have been aware of this track since he first did it as a freestyle on Bl@ckBox, but of course the key was to be able to clear the sample which we, as part of Sony, have been able to do and has made this the perfect opportunity to start working with him. The amazing early start for the record shows what pent-up demand there was from the fanbase for this to be on the DSPs, and I’m sure when he announces his UK tour this week people will see what a genuine proposition he is.”

With a big media presence already, what are your expectations for Bimini in 2024? How did live develop in the past year?

“There is already huge demand and love for Bimini from their public off the back of Drag Race and last year was about continuing to embed them in music culture. Live was a big part of this whether it was the Glastonbury (Greenpeace stage and NY Downlow) appearances, which were real moments, the massive Werq The World tour, which played to their core, or appearing on more specialist dance stages like Homobloc at Warehouse Project and ADE. We’re really excited about what Bimini has to come this year.”

Charlieeeee performing with Piri at Notting Hill Arts Club

How are you helping Charlieeeee develop from being an established songwriter to solo artist? 

“Charlieeeee is a self-defining artist with their own clear vision and great energy, so to be honest we will simply be backing that and hopefully helping [the artist project] fulfil its full potential. I’m sure we will learn as much from them as they may from us, if not more. Charlieeeee is a very exciting signing for us and an example of how we intend to develop the roster this year.”

What are Bad Boy Chiller Crew up to this year, how will they build upon their huge success?

BBCC have had a fantastic two-and-a-half years and remain the undisputed kings of Charva both on record and live. It won’t be long before they are back with new music doing what they do best.” 

Finally, Baby Shark is back in the singles chart this month. What are the seasonal influences behind its chart movements? And what's it like having such a famous family perennial on your roster?

Baby Shark is the ultimate evergreen track that we are proud to be a part of. Although we are ‘always on’ with that project, we always see a lift in consumption around holidays of all types and it doesn’t feel like that will end any time soon. When people get together, Baby Shark always seems to somehow be a part of it. It’s a beautiful thing with a potential new fan being born every second!”

PHOTOS: Joe Magowan 

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