It‘s 10 o’clock on a chilly February night when State sits down for a chat with two of dubstep’s most in demand producers and DJs- Ramadanman and Mosca aka David Kennedy and Tom Reid who are playing to a very lucky crowd at Ignored Playaz this evening. The two DJs are relaxing in their hotel lounge across the road from the venue, which already has a queue going round the corner despite the fact it doesn’t open for another half an hour. Both musicians are in great spirits and are taking a retrospective look back at the last 12 months. Mosca’s Square One became the first release on Night Slugs, a game changing label which has been exploiting dubstep’s house leaning tendencies while his energetic DJ sets have been gaining him fans around the world. Ramadanman’s dizzying output has continued to impress listeners and a Fabric mix under his Pearson Sound alias is poised for release, but it’s perhaps his position as Hessle Audio co-founder that has made the most lasting impression.
“We wanted to start a label and we just kind of.. started it!” David laughs. “There’s not a huge amount to it. But it was a long learning process, a lot of making mistakes and getting advice from other people. We didn’t have a big mission statement, it was more a matter of choosing tunes we wanted to put out. It’s very democratic when it comes to picking what we release. Everyone has their own opinion and if we all like a track then it’s generally good.”
Currently on their 17th release Hessle Audio have been putting out some of the most interesting dubstep around since their inception in 2007, exposing artists such as TRG, Joe and James Blake to a wider audience. The label was born in Leeds, where the founders Ben UFO, Pangaea and Ramadanman met in college, and quickly grew from a small DIY enterprise with an underground following to a highly respected imprint with fans from all kinds of musical backgrounds. Releases like Broken Heart by TRG played a influential role in the dubstep/ techno crossover and David’s own releases, both as Ramadanman and Pearson Sound, have showcased his unique take on the genre.
While the trio no longer live in the same city their airwave endeavours have always united them. “We were on Sub FM for three years and we’re just celebrated the first anniversary of our show on Rinse FM. We had Peverelist down and Brackles came in too so it turned into a little party. It was nice. Kinda like an old classic Rinse set with a load of people in the room- good atmosphere.”
Mosca’s origins as a producer is also founded in his connections with other artists. “I run a club night and for our first show we had Alex Sushon [Bok Bok- head of Night Slugs] down and I stayed in touch with him. I don’t think I even sent Square One to Night Slugs mad early. I just put it up on a few forums and Bok Bok mailed me saying “Stop! Stop giving it away for free! We can make some money off this.” That was the first song I put out. It came out the same time as the Fabric compilation Elevator Music that had a tune of mine called ‘Gold Bricks’. That was about a year ago and a lot has happened since.” Indeed it has with further releases on Fat City, remixing duties on Four Tet’s ‘Sing’ as well as travelling to the States to show off his skills on the decks.
During 2010 it almost seemed like there was a new Ramadanman production released every week- be it an EP, a 12” or a remix. Despite being so prolific does David find it hard to make time for music? “A bit at the moment- if you’re home for only one or two days then it’s hard to get into something because you get writing and then you have to go away so you have all these interrupted music sessions which isn’t helpful.”
For Tom, time isn’t as much of a issue. “I only play out about three times a week, and I quit my job so it’s straight music now. Time is less of a problem – it’s just being ruthless enough to get stuff down. Sometimes it’s hard coz it’s the same old story with trying to get a track perfect. Like I can write a whole track and then scrap it apart from one hat line and then start again and build something else from that. I’m getting better- last year was madness.. Making tracks for months and months. It gets obsessive and it’s not commercially viable- the bills don’t pay themselves. So you have to get stuff out there.”
The vast majority of David’s productions are vinyl releases and Hessle have a policy of pressing as much wax as possible. Where does their deep appreciation for this format come from? “I don’t think something’s really come out until it’s on vinyl. I’m a bit old school like that. Sometimes I do remixes and they give them out on CD or whatever and sometimes it’s a bit.. I don’t really like that. I think I’m so used to something physical. Having said that I did start out releasing stuff on digital but in retrospect I’ve realised the reason they were digital was they just weren’t good enough to make it onto vinyl. So if I’m releasing anything now it has to be vinyl – I don’t want it to be just a file you on the internet. It has to be something you can hold. Back in the day you would buy a vinyl for just one song and you’d get the B too. Now with digital you can pick and choose which tracks you want; which certainly affects how music is consumed. Vinyl sales are definitely going down too. There was a time when something would sell 500 copies quite easily. Now labels are having a problem selling 300. The good stuff still sells- the big tunes will sell thousands but demand and supply has really changed.”
With so many releases on so many labels David is clearly comfortable with putting his songs out in pairs but does he ever consider writing an album? “I cant see myself doing an album. People almost expect you do. I think people have become kind of fixated with albums. Like when Mala released Return II Space last year he specifically said it wasn’t an album – just a bunch of old tunes and then everyone was like “this is Mala’s album”. But who gives a fuck? I think people sometimes treat it like something they can put on their C.V. and something you can tour in support of. A lot of electronic albums probably should never have been made, especially ones that are clearly DJing music.”
Mosca also finds some problems with the LP format. “That’s the question people always ask me – ‘when’s the album coming out?’ If I put out an album with 10 tracks the oldest one could be four years old so it would be kind of irrelevant! But if you think of it from a business point of view it is worth writing an album. We should be writing albums! In terms of blog coverage, magazines and the established music criticism platform it makes a lot of sense to release an LP. You’re not going to get your 12 inch reviewed in the Independent or the Times but when you put an album out people are going to be all over it because it’s a format they’re used to.”
One of the biggest new surprises for electronic music last year was the emergence of juke or footwork, a hyperfast style which originated on the dancefloors of Chicago. Since it’s discovery the sub-genre has been embraced by the UK with Planet Mu putting out juke compilations and producers like Headhunter adopting the speedy rhythms into their tracks. But has the true influence of this micro-scene been over exaggerated? “I’ll be real with you” Mosca confides “I don’t like footwork to be honest. It’s okay but it’s a bit home listening at times. But I think the best thing about footwork are the dancers and the vibe at the clubs [in Chicago]. It’s a bit silly playing a few footwork tracks in a London club and some drunken twat is like ‘Oh! I know this one!’ and starts doing some stupid dance. That’s not right! You need the proper vibe and the proper dancers.”
David agrees that when it comes to footwork the context really matters. “There’s a danger of appropriating other cultures and I think people treat it as a novelty and the hot, newest thing. People have said that some of my productions sound juke-influenced and I think it’s is an easy comparison to make but it hasn’t been much of an influence on my music. It’s more electro and Baltimore stuff that have influenced me and the whole hardcore acid jungle thing that me and my friends missed out on.”
Possibly the best collaborative effort of 2010 was Ramadanman’s rework of ‘Night Air’ by the young English singer Jamie Woon which sees the original song elevated into an atmospheric epic. “I met Jamie in 2009 through a mutual friend and I did a remix for him and then I got an email last year saying he had some new material and would I like to remix his new single. I did it at a time when I was just finishing my degree and staying up all night doing essays and working on songs. I’m really happy with it. Sometimes you listen back to your own tunes and you wish you could change something but that track I’m completely happy with. I try not to do too many remixes though coz it can take up time you could be spending on your own productions.”
While still a relatively new producer Mosca has found himself as an in demand remixer and was recently commissioned to remix the king of Southern Hip Hop, Gucci Mane. “That was done through Sinden, whose a really diverse producer and a total don in the scene. Gucci’s people asked Sinden to curate a remix album with English producers. That’s the beauty of the internet really – it facilitates all sorts of mad hook ups. Ten years ago everyone working on a project like that would’ve met at some point or there would’ve been phone calls.”
Fabric Live mixed by Pearson Sound is released on March 21st. Ramadanman’s Fabric Mix is currently in stores and his highly anticipated Woo Glut mash up will be arriving on Night Slugs White Label very soon.
Musical insight and more information on Mosca can be found on his website.