New Identity Recordings
New Identity: DJ SS Interview
In the early months of 1996 the veteran Leicester-based Formation Records launched a second subsidiary with a compilation entitled “Jazz & Bass Session”. Two years on and New Identity is set to unleash the eagerly awaited follow up. Kingsley Marshall takes the opportunity to speak to label founder Leeroy Small (better known as DJ SS) about the album, the label and the latest signings to join the Formation collective.
Leeroy explains how the concept originated:
“The first Jazz and Bass album initially came about through the work of John B and Matrix. Although their tracks had blown me away, they were both so different to everything around at the time that I felt I would have trouble marketing them as singles. We put the album package together in order to get their music out, as well as using it as an opportunity to showcase other artists within the project.”
The single releases, though varied, built on this early experimentation:
“As a label it’s about concentrating less on the dancefloor but going deeper into the production side, giving my artists more of a chance to express themselves musically. With this latest album we went into it over a longer period and had the time to work in a lot more live musicians, as well as vocal material and the occasional jazz interlude. What we’ve also done is have each artist record two mixes of each track. Obviously we wanted to cater for the DJ’s so the vinyl is focused on a more dancefloor flavour.
With the CD, we allowed the artists to basically go out on one while retaining that slightly more chilled vibe for home listening – I feel that this version will open up a new horizon for people who perhaps wouldn’t normally listen to drum and bass.”
He feels that this approach will add further longevity to the music:
”We all need to start to think about the wider scope, putting across the more musical side as well as putting more faces to our music. As more albums are released they will gradually make the mainstream, and as part of that I believe a lot more artists will have to follow the live route.”
Leeroy continues: “You have to work on a long-term plan, this is a business to us and from day one we’ve always thought about it in that way. By investing the money that we have made back into the business we are now in a position where we’ve got three studios and proper offices. The more people start thinking like this the more stable our scene becomes.”
Although Formation has been established for a number of years and has released seven compilations, it was only this year that the label released it’s first artist longplayer. John B’s “Visions LP” was extremely well received, Leeroy explains this was an eye opener for the label: “John had come to us with so much good material that we felt that we had to release an album. It was the success of that project which brought us around to thinking that that was the way forward for all of our artists. With regards to my album, it should have been out a long time ago but I don’t want to put something out just for the sake of it. I’m very aware that albums are the real test of whether a producer has got it or not so I want to put some proper production in there and do things properly.”
The variety of sound and production styles within the Formation group is a testament to Leeroy’s A&R skills, he explains: “The main difference in the way that I A&R is rather than listening to a demo track, I’ll listen to the talent. While a lot of people feel they can’t do anything with the demo, with certain artists I know that if I can get them into the studio and add my knowledge to what they have already then together we can make things work. When I first met John B his music style was very jazzy and he was very green into drum and bass but I could see the potential and felt I could guide him in the right direction.”
He puts the loyalty of the in-house producers down to this support: “The better the track is, the better it is for the label, and my artists know if there are any early problems they can come into my studio and I’ll give them my input. I’ve always pushed my artists to the forefront, as it is their technique and production that I’m promoting and I think people respect that.
He speaks highly of his latest signings: “Blue Sonix is my main player, my next is John B. He’s very talented and probably the best musician I’ve got in the camp. Grasscutter is another live musician, he’s currently working on a funky guitar concept and I feel that within the next six months or so he’ll really get things together.”
Finally Leeroy lays Formation’s success down to quality control at the label: “I think the success we’ve achieved boils down to being fussy in what we’ve released because we are independent and we have total control over our releases. It can be hard being an independent especially when you’re trying to promote a big album, but the advantage is that we have total control and will only work on projects that we are 100% behind.”
He continues: “Through keeping true to a style we’ve brought a certain stability where people know when they go into a record shop that we are not about following the latest fashion, its more about boosting up our current producers while continuing to promote new artists.”
New Identity Artist Profile: Grasscutter
Grasscutter is the production spin off from a partnership between two Sheffield based DJ’s, Liam (One Drop) and James (Scratch 22). Although they had DJed around the city for some time, their success was firmly rooted within the Old School, a hip hop and funk night at which the pair bit the bullet and rinsed out a set of drum and bass. When the promoters moved to a larger club with the new NY Sushi night, James & Liam’s eclectic style secured them the residency.
Since opening, the club has gone from strength to strength, Liam however remains modest, playing their role down: “The promoters have put an awful lot into it. There are two or three types of music in different rooms, the main difference between Sushi and many other clubs is there is not just one big DJ and some local boys in the second room playing hip hop but big names from different scenes. For example, last Saturday there was Grooverider and SS in one room and the Dope on Plastic tour in the second room.”
Liam’s early demo tapes to SS brought Grasscutter to Formation over two years ago, with their first release “Music Is The Future” reaching the first volume of “Jazz and Bass Session”. Liam explains what he feels he brings to the label: “It’s just another angle. Although I’ve always been into breakbeat, I’m coming from a very different background musically in that I’m primarily a guitarist who got into programming a couple of years ago. I’ve written songs in the past and think that the awareness of general formats can be a useful skill to have in your head when you’re writing instrumental music. Without it, I would say that it can be very easy to become lost in technology and just amble along within a track.”
Like SS, he distinguishes the sound of Formation from it’s younger imprint: “New Identity is about pushing boundaries a bit further. It’s a new school of artists with a different sound, perhaps a little more experimental. When I’m writing a track I have an idea of the sound we’re trying to create – if it’s a complete roller it would be something for Formation, though if I start fucking things up beyond recognition it’s probably more for New Identity!”
With the “Jazz & Bass Session”, Liam suggests a look beyond the title: “It’s just the frame of mind in the desire to experiment and push the boundaries of a sound.”
In addition to his work at Formation, Liam has hooked up with another Sheffield producer, Sean Perry, to establish his own Organix Productions. The duo is looking to release a breakbeat album later this year, Liam elaborates: “The album is a lottery-grant funded project. We’re covering a lot of ground with it and because it’s an album, we don’t have to worry about maintaining the floor all the time. The gist is homegrown beats and homegrown sounds, there is a lot of talent in Sheffield and I feel I have an opportunity to help some people out.”
New Identity Artist Profile: Blue Sonix
The latest signing for New Identity is another artist from the musical side; Ricki Blue’s past including touring as a keyboard player as well as writing material for film and television. “Labyrinth.” his debut for the label, followed a technical route, picking through the remnants of melody and building the percussives through the track until they lost all semblance of drum and bass.
As well as the obvious advantages of being a musician involved in d&b he is well aware of the pitfalls: “The danger is that people bring this musical element without an understanding of what drum and bass is about. There are a lot of people who have come into d&b trained in music who may know the right chord to put somewhere, but the danger a lot of musicians face is that they cannot see beyond the “right chord”. For me drum & bass brings together all the stuff that I’ve ever learnt about. I love the variations possible within rhythms as well as the whole technological side.”
He continues: “It sounds pretty grand but I think drum & bass plays on the human drive to explore the unknown. The excitement of it comes from the fact that anybody can get hold of a sampler and create something totally new.”
As part of the jazz & bass concept he says “Jazz has always been self taught and cutting edge within itself, because drum and bass attracts people for similar reasons I think many producers feel an affinity towards it even though they are very different music’s.” Ricki is one of the driving forces in Formation’s move to a live show, working with both live musicians and a brand new visual concept with the ultimate aim of bringing the music to a larger audience.
He explains his thoughts behind this: “I think there are a lot of people within the music who would prefer to keep things small. On some levels I’d agree, in that the whole point of this music is to keep things cutting edge, so people continue to explore the outer reaches of the sound and not have to not get too involved in corporate stuff which always makes things bland. On the other side, I feel that there is a balance to maintain and that there is a much wider market of people who would enjoy this music.”
New Identity Artist Profile: Teqniq
Teqniq are drum and bass veterans. From attending the warehouse parties of the late eighties and early nineties they made the move to recording music in 1991. After a couple of successful releases for Doncaster’s Ozone label, a demo passed to SS by a friend brought them to Formation where they have remained ever since. Both DJ’s and have been established residents at Norwich‘s Camouflage nights for over two years. Kingsley Marshall catches up with John and Jonathan; the production force behind Teqniq at their studio.
John speaks highly of Formation: “What’s kept us at there all this time is basically because we all get along really well and there is very much a family feeling within the label. I’ve done some stuff for Moving Shadow and engineered some material for Good Looking so I’ve had a taste of the other labels but we’re very happy there. We think Formation has a number of strengths — not least it’s association with SS, through keeping their ear to the ground and knowing exactly what is going on in the scene they’ve released quality music as well as continuing to keep moving forward, and making things bigger and better.”
“For us, drum & bass has never been about one sound- moreover the feeling of doing something a bit different and trying to progress the music a bit further. With regards jazz and bass, we certainly think that that is the way ahead, so much so that it seems to have encompassed the whole scene at the moment but to us it’s just another way of expressing yourself.”
Both are enthusiastic about the forthcoming album due later in the year, five of the tracks for which have already been completed: “We feel that an album gives us a bit more scope to do things which perhaps people wouldn’t normally expect from us. We want to move away from just one sound and put together a broad range of tunes so it’ll be something that as well as having a dancefloor vibe is worth listening to as well.” And the final word: “Different producers have different ways of doing things. We’ve been there from day one, so we know what it’s like being at both ends of the spectrum. We just love this music.”