The Past, Present, and Future of Tonite: Peter Hecher Talks About His Popular Synth Label

Peter Hecher, also known as PH Groove, is the founder of Tonite Records. Photo Credit: Hecher.
Peter Hecher, also known as PH Groove, is the founder of Tonite Records. He’s seen here in his studio in Vancouver. Photo Credit: Hecher.

Tonite Records founder Peter Hecher recently talked to Vehlinggo about the founding of the label — and sister label Lunar Boogie — along with how he met FM Attack and his connection to fellow Canadian retrosynther Miami Nights 1984. Of course, he also addressed the question at the forefront of everyone’s minds: What’s next?

I’ve long been fascinated by Tonite Records, sister label Lunar Boogie, and the individual artists in either organization.

I fondly remember the opening synthesizers on 2010’s Astrowave EP, released five years ago on Tonite by Shawn “FM Attack” Ward. Label founder Peter Hecher’s solo project, PH Groove, has put out some great work, such as last year’s “Arcade Feel.” And, of course, there is FM Attack’s masterpiece album Deja Vu, which is one of the most crucial records in the movement dedicated to retrophonic synthery.

Tonite doesn’t put out a lot of records, and it’s been a while since Hecher released anything — this is a label among those that defines the idea that quality is better than quantity. But I’d been wanting to write about Hecher and the label for some time and what better news peg is there than the big question: What’s next?

Photo Credit: Tonite Records.
Photo Credit: Tonite Records.

It turns out fans and retrosynth blogs aren’t the only ones itching for a new Tonite release.

“I had the big release of FM Attack’s Deja Vu album [in 2013],” Hecher said. “I’m not sure at the moment what is planned next… but I definitely will decide soon… I’m long overdue for a new release.”

Future releases aside, how did we get here in the first place? The acclaimed Deja Vu is possibly the most high-profile release from Tonite, but it’s only one in a long line of compelling albums, EPs, and singles to come out of the Canadian label.

Canadian Valerie
When it comes to serving as the birthplace of pioneering retrosynth teams, the two Canadian cities of Vancouver and Victoria have served as Canada’s version of Nantes, France, the headquarters of the legendary Valerie Collective that David “College” Grellier co-founded.

Shawn "FM Attack" Ward (left) and Peter "PH Groove" Hecher (right). Photo Credit: Tonite Records.
Shawn “FM Attack” Ward (left) and Peter “PH Groove” Hecher (right). Photo Credit: Tonite Records.

Like Nantes, Vancouver and Victoria are both on their country’s western coast, and like Nantes the two British Columbia cities are the creative centers of a well-crafted variety of synthwave and retrowave. The municipalities are home to the Canadian contingent of Rosso Corsa Records (Michael Glover’s Miami Nights 1984 project) and Tonite Records — two distinct labels that are parallel in their importance as among the first to increase the profile of retro-minded synth-driven artists whose loyalties are firmly placed in the synth-pop and Italo Disco of the 1980s.

The Victoria-based Glover founded Rosso Corsa with Austin, Texas-based Garrett “Lazerhawk” Hays, and since then the label has been the lightning rod for cultivating popular artists such as Jordan F, Mitch Murder, Glover’s erstwhile ActRazer project, Lost Years, SaiR, and, of course, the founders’ own work (and later, artists such as Highway Superstar). Most recently, at least two of their artists have been linked to Kung Fury, the Swedish 80s homage film best known for Murder’s song with David Hasselhoff.

Meanwhile, on the mainland, Vancouver-based DJ and producer Hecher started Tonite Records, which would be responsible for promoting not only his own PH Groove project, but also the inimitable FM Attack. Hecher and Ward also teamed up for their eponymous powerhouse Italo Disco/house project, and Hecher offered up another of his projects, Funky Instruments. In addition, Hecher nabbed like-minded artists such as Arp Express, Kelton Prima, and Harlem Nights to round out the label’s impeccable style of 80s retrosynth.

Hecher founded Tonite about 15 years ago as a vinyl-only label, inspired by others who also set forth on the independent path.

“I wanted to have the choice and freedom to put out what music I choose to,” he said.

Ward ended up on Tonite because he and Hecher have been close friends since the era when everyone was worried about the Y2K bug.

“Everyone else I met either randomly, or contacted through Facebook or other social networks,” Hecher said.

Pioneers
Tonite came to represent the synthesizer-driven dance music of the 1970s and 1980s at least in part because music from those decades has been a “part of me since childhood,” he said.

Some of Hecher's gear. Photo Credit: Hecher.
Some of Hecher’s gear. Photo Credit: Hecher.

When he started producing house music in the late 1990s, Hecher showed his love for the 80s by incorporating the musical elements of that era into his music. After all, bands like New Order, Depeche Mode, and the Pet Shops Boys were extremely talented and their influence was huge, he said.

“Those bands are great and were so ahead of their time,” Hecher said. “[They] are pioneers that were a part of the development of electronic music… especially, being big in the mainstream, they helped expose so many people to the use of synthesizers and drum machines.”

“Derrick May, one of the godfathers of techno credited Depeche Mode and New Order as being pioneers and [influences], so that says a lot there about the effect they’ve had,” he said. “I think it’s great for younger generations to get exposed to an era of music they have missed and for the older generation to experience it again.”

For PH Groove, Hecher looked toward the late 70s and early 80s disco and funk sounds of Giorgio Moroder, Chic, Patrick Cowley, The Gap Band, Parliament, Kano, Trans-X, Cyber People, Gary Numan, Prince, and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, among others.

“I have a really broad interest in many kinds of music, so I get inspiration from many sources,” Hecher said. “So many house producers have inspired me throughout the years, too — too many to name.”

Since starting the label and working on his various projects, Hecher’s had some great moments where he just knew that a song was going to kill it. For starters, there is the excellent “Arcade Feel” from the Hot Dub Disco EP.

“It had a good, funky Italo Disco flow,” Hecher said, “and I knew it would turn out great with the synth, guitar, and bass guitar combination. Neros was kind enough to do a video for it on YouTube and it seems like many people like it.”

A very pleased Hecher. Photo Credit: Hecher.
A very pleased Hecher sits in his studio. Photo Credit: Hecher.

There was also “Future Shock,” which Hecher says garnered the interest of MN84’s Glover, who told Hecher how much he loves it. Glover even played the song several times during his DJ sets, Hecher said.

“That makes me really happy, because I know he has a great taste in music and he’s really an established producer and label owner,” Hecher said.

“There have been many songs I had high hopes for, but that’s just probably how most producers feel when making each song,” he said.

Lunar Launch
Hecher’s latest venture is the Tonite offshoot Lunar Boogie, a label focused on spacey disco and electro music, and which most recently, in November, released French producer Dario Cosmos’ Power On album. (Hint: Buy that album. It’s outstanding.)

He started Lunar Boogie with good friend and fellow DJ Joey Kovacic.

“We all connected well,” Hecher said. “We became friends because of our love of disco and electro funk.”

They kicked it off with the release of a co-produced EP called Lunar Launch for their Hekr and Kov project (see below), and later released artists they found on SoundCloud.

“So far we are very fortunate to have some super talented artists on board, such as Garth Knight, Waveshaper, and [Cosmos],” Hecher said.

“We are aiming to release full albums of artists that produce nu disco, synthwave, electro, [and] disco house,” he said.

Photo Credit: Lunar Boogie.
Photo Credit: Lunar Boogie.

As a pioneer, Hecher might appear to have it easier than newbies who have started record labels in the past few years. He’s got name recognition, a stable of popular artists, and a profoundly vast talent both for creating and finding good music. However, even for Hecher, the current music-business landscape does pose its challenges.

“For me it’s just finding the time,” he said. “Compared to the days of vinyl, much more time is required on the computer and internet.”

There’s also the matter of saturation.

“There are so many labels out now, so to stand out from the rest and be original is more challenging,” he said.

I don’t think Hecher’s going to endure those types of problems to the extent others do, and after hearing his core philosophy for Tonite and Lunar Boogie, I think everyone will agree that he’s on the right path — even if the wait is rough.

“To release good music that I enjoy and hope others enjoy is my goal… to contribute to the music scene,” Hecher said, “and if it became a full-time business that would be ideal.”

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