Independent in Spirit and Sound, Meet Stefano Tate AKA Alcatrz

Tate’s record label Digital Pop Records has always been independent in spirit and in sound. Following the release of its latest single Lockjaw by altRnB artist Nin-ja, we caught up with founder Alcatrz to talk about his musical journey so far.

For a lot of us, the pandemic has taught us the importance of slowing down and as we ease out of its measured pace, things can too often feel frantic and insistent. But Stefano has always operated at a different speed. Quality over quantity may be a noble goal for some but for Tate it’s a way of life. It’s how he approaches his music and how he lets his artists express themselves. He tells Guap: “you have to give artists that creative freedom to play around and explore what they like and that’s what I want this label to represent. I want to be able to say to them: you want to achieve this sound? or you want to explore this? Okay, we’ll figure it out.” 

Figuring it out is how Tate has managed most things. As an independent record label and an outsider to the record industry, he admits, it’s a lot of trial and error: “Google is my best friend, when I first started producing I just taught myself everything with Google.” But in the end, it paid off and as a one-man record label, he’s accumulated a wealth of knowledge with a skill set that spans across much of the music industry. It taught him the importance of expanding your knowledge and staying open-minded, something he says he’s trying to instill in his latest protegé,Nin-ja, as well. 

His honesty about the inner workings of Digital Pop is refreshing and speaks to his determination not to bow to peer pressure: “When I started, I still had a nine to five. I wasn’t scared to tell people that I was working as an operations manager in healthcare (Tate studied Biomedical Sciences at university). Nine to five, Monday to Friday I was at work. Then at five, as soon as I finished, it was all about the music.” A few months ago, Tate left his job and became a creative producer for ad agency Fall Off the Wall. He thinks it was the entrepreneurial spirit behind his self-run label that got him there. “People can be so image driven, they try to make things look bigger than they are. When it comes to my label I’m a one-man band. I produce, I direct, I mix. I literally do every single thing. And that’s where I am right now.” 

I ask him if that independence comes naturally to him, especially at times when social media seems overrun with hustle culture and an obsession with views. “The numbers game on social media has skewed people’s perception of what’s good and what’s bad” he insists. “If a record has millions of views on social media, record labels will think ‘we have to sign them’ just because the numbers are high. That’s really the opposite of what I’m trying to do.” 

So what’s important to Tate and Digital Pop Records? Well, number one is, of course, the music but equally important to him is to “create opportunities for Black people”. Too often, he says “Black artists are put in the ‘urban’ category, regardless of their sound. What does urban even mean? We need to stop excluding people from certain genres”. 

Creating opportunities also extends to acting as a mentor figure to POC entering the industry for the first time. He, like many others, started off with a great passion for music but few technical skills. After years of Googling and learning on the job, he wants to help others: “I mean if I had gotten some more guidance in the beginning, would I be in a better position right now? Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. But that’s what I want to try and create for someone else – especially people of colour.” 

You can stream the Lockjaw music video now on all major streaming platforms. @Alcatrz

Written by Tiffanie Lai

Photos by Glodi Miessi