Ross Harper, head honcho, at City Wall Records gives us an insight into the label. Why they're not tied down to specific genres, best releases, Tuomas Rantanen and Akkya.
Hi Ross, thanks for your time - it's great to finally catch up with you about City Wall Records.
Can you give our readers a brief introduction to City Wall and why you set the label up?
City Wall is a 100% independent electronic music label that I set up 4 years ago as a platform for releasing mine and others music. It was and still is inspired by a couple of the great but now defunct labels of recent years, specifically Superstition Records and React Records. I specifically liked Superstition because they had an artist focus and a creative futuristic edge while React simply released some of the best DJ mixes and compilations of the 1990s (DJ mixes is something that has only just started growing at City Wall with a recent mix by Mark Anxious). So an important aspect of the City Wall ethos is to build strong artist relationships and encourage concept development (Tuomas Rantanen has been a pioneer in this area). Another important aspect has been the specific aim of regularly releasing a steady stream of quality and varied output. By varied output, I mean City Wall is not tied down to a specific genre so is free to move with creative trends and if you listen through our back catalogue you will find a large degree of musical depth and width. Also, there are three defined and specific types of release on City Wall, the EPs and LPs are artist and concept focussed while the singles tend to be an opportunity to release 1 or 2 smashing dance floor tracks with some quality remixes on the end and then there’s the DJ mixes (still in their infancy). My personal journey with electronic music started in the mid 90’s when I began promoting events in London. I continued with event promotion events until 2002 when I decided I wanted to get a closer understanding of the most basic root of the scene, i.e. the music, so I studied music production for 5 years until 2007 and then started the label in 2008. The long term aim of the label is to steadily release quality output and be flexible enough to move with the creative trends and technological developments.
What have been the best releases so far on City Wall and why?
I think the thing with creativity is that it is not really about what is best but about expression and character. It is these qualities that I look for when doing A&R for City Wall. So every release on City Wall is a creative inspiration all of its own, but yes, of course, a few have really “stolen my heart”! My fave tracks of late are Valley by Tuomas Rantanen and Train Yard by Nelman. I love Valley because of the repetitive motive that is just so catchy and strong. Train Yard is so good because it has such punch and power (Dave Clarke must also agree as he used Train Yard as the lead track in his recent White Noise radio show). Patrex’s Planets EP Part 1 & 2 are also a real achievement for the label, they are epic techno inspired musical masterpieces that are intricate and deep, with each track representing a sonic exploration of a planet in our solar system. There is also the work of Lady Vusumzi which is like a journey into resounding drum machine bleakness with a slight Detroit edge which I love and have found my own productions leaning in that direction (but without the Detroit edge). But what I would also like to say here is that right from the early days City Wall was getting positive feedback from A-List DJs like Laurent Garnier and ex-Radio 1’s Mary Anne Hobbs, which is a testament to the level of quality that can be found in our back catalogue.
Tuomas Rantanen has been one of the biggest talents on City Wall. Can you give us a brief introduction to his work and why you feel so passionate about it?
Tuomas Rantanen’s work explores two specific concepts. The first concept is the evolution of our auditory environment. By this it is meant that, for example, 150 years ago the sounds in our immediate environment were mainly natural or non-rhythmic in origin, for example, birds signing etc. However, we are now in a situation where the sounds in are immediate environment are mainly machine generated and repetitive, e.g. the car engine, the washing machine, the mobile phone bleeping etc. So this concept has been explored in Tuomas’s in 2011 Grinding Ground suite (consisting of Grinding Ground EP, Symmetry EP, Umbra EP, Triangulum EP and Magnetic EP) and his 2012 Roaring Dunes suite (consisting of Roaring Dunes EP, Empire EP, Mammoth Cave EP and Rumbling Ocean Floor EP), this series will also be continued in 2013 with Nychthemeron in Galapagos and Nychthemeron in Madagascar. The second concept is that of Cyberpunk which is effectively interested in human physical interaction with technology and this exploration has more of a creative futuristic theme. Tuomas’s works on City Wall that encompass this theme are his Organisms, Mutations and Corporations album trilogy that went on sale systematically throughout 2012 (the Mark Anxious DJ mix uses tracks from this trilogy). Moving forward we can expect another set of three long players in 2013 exploring Cyberpunk further. I think the thing that really excites me about Tuomas’s work is the sheer depth and quality that is being displayed, it is like an exciting journey where new formations are arising on an ever blossoming horizon. Yes the concepts are really interesting and it is great to see the direct relationship between his inspiration and his creations, but Tuomas is more than the concepts, he is an unstoppable talent! In fact I would go as far as to say that when future generations look back on this era of the birth of electronic music they will see Tuomas’s work in the same light as we see the work of musicians such as Mozart.
Akkya has an album due out at the end of this month. Can you give us some background information on him and tell us what we can look forward to?
Like me Akkya’s roots are in the early rave scene but he also has a strong electronica and leftfield influence and has found specific inspiration in works by the Future Sound of London. So his concept album “Abandoned Future Perfect” is braodly in a similar style to FSOL and is an expression of his “mind movie” in which other lifeforms visit earth expecting to find higher intelligence only to discover a ruined dystopian world. The album took shape over an 8 year period whereby Akkya was experimenting with various styles and sound creation, eventually he had amassed a huge body of audio which he then edited and strung together over a long weekend to create the finished article. Each track will be available individually but if you buy the whole album then a continuous mix version is also included in the price. Promos of this alternative style long player are getting praise from respected industry names like Lars Klein so it is definitely of a distinct “quality”. Furthermore, using the huge body of audio some of the regular artists on City Wall have come up with a three part remix series. The remixes are more dance floor focussed but make great use of the rich audio sources from the album. We have been getting huge amounts of positive DJ feedback about this collection of rich remixes, parts one and two are available now while part three goes out on 29th October (the same date as the album itself).
What else can we expect from City Wall in the future?
In November the LP vibes continue with an ultra-unique release from Lady Vusumzi called “A Purple Box”. There are also 2 more Tuomas Rantanen EPs to squeeze out by the end of 2012 (they are the final 2 parts of the Roaring Dunes suite, “Mammoth Cave EP” and “Rumbling Ocean Floor EP”) and there’s a collab between myself and Nelman titled “New Age” which is fresh banging dance floor stuff. In 2013 there’s loads pencilled in, including a set of EPs from new to label artist TWIST3D (the man behind Bunker Records) that all have a really individual sound which is best described as progressive techno. There are also a couple of singles lined up, one in January called Gladiator by Tuomas Rantanen and the other in February called Luchock by Xilinox (this guy is a great talent), both have like nine or ten remixes hacked on the back from a variety of quality artists. There’s also the next cyberpunk album trilogy from Tuomas and his exploration of the evolution of the auditory environment continues in "Nychthemeron in Galapagos" and "Nychthemeron in Madagascar". Plus, Nelman has a hard techno EP lined up and I have a concept album in the pipeline (a sampler of which has caught the attention of Samuli Kemppi).
Thanks Ross! Check the links below to keep posted with what's going on with CWR: