Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and what you do?
A: I’m Ant and I run Momentum in Leeds. Been doing it for 10 years now, we’re coming up to the 10th birthday party actually. We’ve always booked a loads of artists that we really like, from this country and from around the world. We’ve always tried to support the acts we believe in, from the deeper, more musical side of DnB, rather than just choosing the more obvious names.
S: I’m Alex. I started coming to Momentum about 2 years ago, it quickly became one of my favourite nights in Leeds. I have my own night in Leeds: Fullfat, and as I became more involved with that and Outlook and Dispatch, Ant got me involved with Momentum too: to use my promotional links and get my friends involved to keep the night running.
Do you think Alex has brought a new angle to Momentum then?
A: Since Alex has come on board it’s been better really. I think because I’m so old and past it now (laughs), Alex has been there as a fresh student, at house parties, you know he’s in touch with a lot of the people that come down to the night, whereas I’m just too old now to hang around people who come to my own night (laughs).
At the same time though he really knows what Momentum is about. He understands the type of drum and bass that me and Simon (Scott) are into: we’re not having to change the music or sell out ourselves, following trends. It’s never been a trendy night. We’ve always just played the music we believe in, and if it’s not going to work like that, it’s not going to work at all.
S: I find it quite easy as everyone I know is really into Momentum and Dispatch and stuff. They come to the night, they really enjoy it. It wasn’t that long ago that I was just starting out. Now there are new kids getting involved, it’s just a case of pointing them in the right direction and getting their friends involved too. It’s important to get the people who are into doing something a bit different. Drum and bass has been difficult in Leeds in the last year but Momentum has always got the same sort of crowd so this next year it’s really just about getting the new first years hooked!
A: It’s really changed. With the prevalence of the internet and the way people use it know, people expect everything to be given to them on a plate. Before it was about you phoning up your friends, finding out what was going on, looking in magazines for listings, stuff like that. It’s completely been thrown on its head now. People expect to have everything thrown at them via some kind of Facebook group and mailing list. If that doesn’t happen, it almost makes people not feel too bothered about coming down to the night.
S: Yeah it can be weird now. With Momentum though there’s always been a decent amount of people. People who really like Momentum don’t really care about that sort of stuff; they always know it’ll be a good night regardless.
Do you think the music you put out with Dispatch has a big influence on the type of music you put on at Momentum?
A: Yeah! They’re both a really selfish representation of my musical taste (laughs). I don’t really have any policy apart from that! One thing I get asked a lot is: what is your master plan for 2012. This is really difficult question for me as even though we are seen as one of the biggest DnB labels, I’ve essentially always done the same thing I’ve always done. We’ve just built a really great fan base and I guess it’s opened a lot of people’s ears to this type of music. There is no big secret, I’m not doing anything spectacular which no-one else is able to do, I’ve just been patient and believed in it, and it is where it is now.
Essentially they’re both an outlet for the music that I like and believe in, no politics involved.
The music scene has changed quite a lot in the past 10 years, would you say you’ve been quite consistent in the music you put out?
A: We’ve been really stubborn if anything! We don’t follow trends. Again, it’s a really opinionated thing, some of these trends and little changes in music, for me, I can’t see them lasting more than a year or two. With some of the stuff that’s “cool” or popular at the moment, you know, it’s about music at the end of the day, it’s not about people trying to look cool or dressing up to the nines. It’s not relevant to me.
S: If you look at the previous releases in Leeds at the moment, drum and bass is tending to be more liquid. But for Dispatch there’ll still be variations of different kinds of techy and deeper drum and bass, then there’ll be the occasional liquid tune. It won’t be because liquid is in at the moment, it’ll be because the right tune pops up at the right time and it all just falls together.
A: Yeah, I’m not into this sub-tagging of genres. Like I was looking at beatport the other week and saw romantic techno! (laughs) Can you imagine: “where you headed tonight mate” “oh I’m just off out to go hear some romantic techno. You keep your dubstep, I’m all about romantic techno”. It’s like someone wants to sound really cool and be credited for making the next genre, and a lot of the time it’s not a lot different to what was around before. Even with drum and bass, a lot of the time some of these sub genres are just types of liquid or whatever. It can go too far.
So obviously Leeds has a massive music scene, how do you think it relates to the rest of the country?
A: I don’t know. (laughs)
S: Leeds is weird. There are so many people who just follow crowds…
A: Yeah exactly, when trends kick off... Like when dubstep first came in, people thought it was just going to be a trend at the time, it was heavily introduced in London and Leeds initially, through Simon (Scott) and Subdub/Exodus. It’s definitely a good thing, things seem to pop up as quickly here as they do in London. I don’t know what creates that or builds it but new genres are driven here and seem to take better here and more quickly than they do in other cities.
So are you from Leeds?
A: Yeah, Huddersfield originally. There’s nothing good to say about Huddersfield (laughs).
Can you tell us a bit more about other things you’re working on at the moment?
A: So on top of the label (Dispatch Records) and Momentum, I’m involved in looking after a lot of the artists we have signed, even helping them out with DJ-ing and stuff like that. I work for Outlook and Dimensions Festival, which is my main full time thing at the moment. Alex is really helping me out a lot, covering most of the label stuff while I’m busy with that. He’s got a really high level of control.
What made you decide to take Alex on board?
A: Because I know he won’t spend money on my card without asking (laughs). To answer that question seriously though he’s got really good taste and knowledge of music, his hearts in the right place, I can trust him with the work and know he’ll manage it by himself. Though to be honest some of the work is quite honestly… boring, isn’t it? When you say you’re working for as a label manager, straight away people think “oh brilliant, he must be hanging around loads of DJs all the time”. I know Alex had a bit more of a reality check knowing what’s involved. A lot of it these days is paperwork, keeping up with the legal side, filling out necessary forms to send the product to manufacture, boring things that make the label successful.
S: Yeah, there’s only the two of us involved so someone has to do these things (laughs).
A: A lot of people can’t actually believe it’s only been me for a long time, and now it’s just us two. I guess Dispatch, depending on who you ask, is seen as one of the top five drum and bass labels.
How do you think running a label has changed in the past ten years?
A: There’s so much that people don’t see behind the scenes: making sure you’re checking up on your artists, publishing, I’ve really learnt a lot and really got myself up to date on these things. There’s really been times where it’s been too much and I’ve really thought about giving it all up. The amount of stuff you’ve got to do now just to put one single release out, it can be too much. You’ll spend hours and hours each day for two – three months until you can get that one album ready to send off. Putting an album out now is absolutely mind-blowing. We’re putting two out this year. When I thought about putting two out In January, alongside with working on two festivals, I just thought… what am I doing? But…it’s for the fans (laughs) That’s so cheesy init!
There’s so much good stuff out at the moment though. It’s like the Octane and DLR album started out as being four or five tracks but there were so many good tracks to choose from… sometimes I think they should stop making such good music and I’ll be less stressed! But when there’s music that good, I just want to put it out to people no matter what the cost. Whether it makes money or loses money, I don’t give a shit, it’s one of those things where I know I’d be really proud to have it out as part of the collection. Luckily I’ve got Alex here to put stress onto (laughs).
S: The work that I’m doing now at the moment for the Octane and DLR album, there’s not too much of it. I think we knew it was going to be crazy this year and you guys got it sorted between the three of you fairly early on.
A: Yeah it helps that we’re really good friends as well. They’re really, really, really good at making music, but not that good at running a label, and I’m not that great at making music (laughs). So altogether we’ve managed to put together an album that has had Radio 1 play already, it’s done really well!
Is the hardest thing about working in music the amount of work you have to put in then? Even considering how passionate you are about it?
A: Yeah it is. When I started the label: over ten years ago now, it was just a case of getting stuff recorded, having a mix down, and then taking it over to the mastering house. That was it! You’d get a phone call saying you had a test press, there’d be no digital, didn’t have to pay for protection online, nothing like that. It was just about taking it to some DJs, if they were playing it in a club, phone call’s would be made, people would find out what it was, they’d head down to the record store, find it, buy it, tell their friends. Now it’s ridiculous, it’s not about the DJs any more. There’s a lot labels out now and they have a lot of success in getting a track high up in the charts, Beatport, or whatever, and it has hardly no DJ support. It’s changed, to almost become corporate.
It’s like it’s all more about the artwork and blogs and stuff now but it just doesn’t feel right, it’s not what I grew up on. I’ve had to really get used to it.
S: Yeah you have to be really careful. So for example, Murmur is out in a couple of weeks: Murmur and Red Mist (Octane & DLR), you know you’ve got a good track and it’s getting loads of good support. You can use the internet to get more support, so we’ve had a clip up online for about four weeks and a couple of DJs have it, that’s about it. We’ve kept it fairly under wraps so it’ll be as fresh as it can be when it comes out. It’d be easy to have it overplayed.
A: Yeah sometimes if you put a track up online three months before the release date, people start complaining on the YouTube clips or whatever, saying it’s taking too long to come out. Timing’s very important. People tell me that Dispatch is run brilliantly but a lot of that isn’t really true. The quality of the music is up to anybody’s opinion in the end. In terms of running the label, you can always do a better job. I’m always looking at other labels and seeing that they’re doing things that I’ve not thought of doing and implementing it…
So if you were starting a label nowadays, how do you think you’d do it differently?
A: Being completely honest, I wouldn’t want to start a label now, not from scratch. I know for a fact my distributor alone requires a business plan from any label starting off and remixes from established artists to help start the label off. That can be very expensive. Especially as artists will charge a lot more for a remix than they would for an original track. Straight away if you’re doing a remix for someone, you have no rights. If it’s played on radio 1 three or four times you don’t the money off it. To compensate, they charge a high remix fee.
Some people send me emails saying how they really respect the label, and they’re thinking of starting their own or asking for advice as they don’t feel they’re getting anywhere. It’s so difficult. This is going to sound really harsh, but to start a label now with unknown artists, your tracks are just going to sit in a massive pot of files on Beatport or Itunes. These tiny little mp3s are just going to sit there and not be noticed by a lot of people. There could be some great things in there that people never see!
Even tracks that get sent through to me for Dispatch, I’m getting sent so many, I’m literally flicking through them for three or four seconds to see if I like them. At the moment I’m probably getting sent 30 to 50 tunes a day. With most of them, the standard just isn’t high enough. I’m not saying they’re crap or anything like that, they just don’t work for me, or the label. When everything was on vinyl, producers would be really OCD about what they were putting to wax and the quality would be a lot higher.
S: The cost is an issue too. I’ve got a friend who’s just started a label. He’s wanting to put out vinyl, but you’re looking at 2 grand for the first release, that you’re not going to get back.
A:It’s strange as a lot of the artists won’t play vinyl anymore, but they all want that trophy to keep in the collection and show to the family. I don’t get that mentality among newer artists now. When I first started out, if I saw a track on test press or a white label promo, I’d jump on it. You’ve got it three, four weeks before anyone else! We’ve actually stopped doing white label promos now and only have a few test presses. Everything is full artwork releases now. The reason we did that is because we’d have three or four test presses available on Chemical Records, and people would be messaging us saying they’d rather wait for the full artwork copy. For me that is really strange! I would just be thinking about getting the tune straight away but these people are more mad over the artwork than they are over the tunes. It’s like vinyl has turned into more of a collector’s item than a way to play music.
So you mentioned you were getting sent so many promos from all different artists. Do you think that over the past few years the increase in the amount of producers and DJs has almost hindered the music scene?
A: I do think that drum and bass at the moment is flooded with a lot of below par productions. There’s one guy on AIM in particular who must have so much patience. He’s constantly making tracks, must have sent me over a hundred when there’s only three or four with real potential. I’ve told him the best thing to do is go back and work on those ones, but instead he’ll go away and the next day he’ll send me another five. They’re all various versions of each other, you tend to know how they’re going to go but in the end, he’s an artist and he can do what he wants. I guess the problem is you’ve got as many people producing music now as you did have just DJ-ing years ago who were just after the break in clubs. Unfortunately people just aren’t taking the time to develop their own style. For example Dub Phyzix has done really well with his sound, so now I’m being sent hundreds of imitations that are just nowhere near as good.
People should really take their time, look at a track, get feedback from friends who’ll be really brutally honest with them about it, try and give it that extra 5 or 10% that they’ve never actually achieved. Whether it’s buying new equipment, getting tutored more or whatever. It’s a case of just having a bit more patience and adding that 10% that’ll make it a really great track. That’s what it takes to catch the ears of these labels.
So if someone was looking to get a track signed to Dispatch, what would catch your eye?
A: It’s not politics for me at all, I don’t care who it is, the producers name, how new they are, who they know, whatever. If I hear that tune and ideas, production, general sound and everything are all there, I’m having it.
There was one guy recently, Alix Perez gave me a tune that he’d been playing for a couple of months, but hadn’t heard from the guy who made it in a while. It took me ages to track him down. I looked everywhere only to find that he’d been signed to another label just that week. Alix had been playing his track for about three months. I was gutted as I really wanted the tune! There has been a couple that I’ve missed out on. It’s hard to give anyone advice on what makes a tune though really. It’s just a case of having your own sound and having that grade A to make me want to sign it.
It is hard now though, I’ve got such a good pool of artists involved with the label. It’s got to the point where I’m looking at my own tracks, and the production just isn’t good enough. I won’t sign my own stuff to my own label! I’ve got to be really brutal with myself as I want to have the best for the label. I want to be releasing the best music I can. It makes it hard for anyone really. But there are always a few tracks a year from new artists which really blow my mind.
S: It’s difficult. Dispatch really has artists which are the best at what they do. For new producers I think it’d be best for them to not focus a big label until they’re really sure they’ve got a couple of tunes which would get signed. Even then, they should target particular tunes to the style of the label. Leave it till you know you’ve got some great tracks and come out all guns blazing.
A: Then again, back when me and Skepta (my production partner) were first making tunes. I’m sure we really thought our tunes were better than they actually was at the time (laughs). We’d send them out all hyped up and when they were rejected it’d be all like (groans).
It’s a tough cookie. I’m on the other side of it now. I try to be as honest as possible with people though. If you’re there telling someone a tracks good, they always say “are you going to sign it then?” “Errr… no”. (laughs) You’ve got to be careful. Especially when you know they’ve put a lot of work into it.
You deal with a lot of artists, have you ever had any divas?
A: Octane & DLR (laughs). No, not at all really. There’s only ever been one artist who was particularly difficult to deal with, going a few years back, but I’m lucky with the artists I deal with in general. If you look at the artists I have been releasing consistently for a few years, I need them to be good and I need them to trusting otherwise it’s not going to work. I’ll be happy to let them go if they’re a strain for me. I don’t want to set myself up for a fall.
Are there any nights coming up our readers should look out for?
S: Outlook definitely, the Momentum boat party, the Momentum and Solution boat party, the Dispatch Boat party. Then there’s Momentum in Leeds on the 28th September.
A: We’re in London in September too and we should be back at Fabric in October or November. Octane & DLR will be doing album shows for the next couple of months all over the place. Very busy.
If you weren’t doing music, what would you be doing?
A: I would probably still be a bin-man in Huddersfield (laughs). Honestly, my last job was working in a factory in Leeds, many years ago. It was always just a means to an end, it always just fed the record label, which did lose money sometimes and I had to pay for it out of my full time wage. It’s one of those things, if you really want to do it, it’s got to be done. I don’t know what I’d do really, everything I do, or ever done, has always fed the music.
S: Well yeah, I’m working with Dispatch and getting some agency experience with Gram Agency. I think if I wasn’t doing music directly I think I’d be involved in the business side of music… Media… or become a lawyer (laughs). Nah, obviously I’ve done a history degree, but I’m only 21, I’m not ready to sell my soul quite yet.
A: I’ve got friends who work in offices and they love it. You know, that’s great! Each to their own. But if they were able to get their dream job, would they really have got trapped into where they are now. A lot of success is about being bothered, putting in the hard work when you get home from the main job, researching everything properly, and having a bit of luck. I’ve been very lucky really that things have worked out the way they have.
Alex, do you get any perks from working with Dispatch?
S: Yeah it’s really good! I get to sit down and like, cut all the stickers out (laughs).
A: (laughs) We’re giving all these stickers away at the moment so to make Alex’s job easier I went to pound land and bought a 99p paper cutter. We’ve gone up in the world! (laughs)
S: And yeah, I get loads of vinyl and I get paid to do something I really want to do. It’s like an extension of what I would have been doing anyway with promoting. It’s more of a hobby…
A: It’s definitely not hardcore is it (laughs).
What are the key Dispatch releases you’d recommend people to go look up?
A: Zero T and Survival – No More (DIS028)
Octane & DLR – Murmur could potentially be the biggest release of the year!
CD or vinyl?
A: The on-going debate.
A: Yeah, vinyl for me sounds warmer and better, but it depends on the club and the decks. If everything has been cared for properly and the needles in good condition, that’s perfect, but if not CDs. But then again, some of the time mp3s aren’t mastered correctly. I don’t know. If you’re somewhere like Fabric or Subdub you know everything’s going to be perfect with the vinyl decks so that’s great. My instinct says vinyl but circumstances tend to mean CDs or serato.
Any final words of wisdom?
S: Look after your vinyl! I was playing out on Friday and didn’t realise one of mine had a huge scratch all down it. It was clicking all the way through but it was too late to take it off. So yeah, clean them and look after them. Especially at house parties.
Octane & DLRs Album Sampler is out now, will be out fully in September.