In 2017, starting a record label is easy. With a few keystrokes you can have a presence on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. What is much more atypical in 2017 is starting a record label that presses records. Mastering, plating, and pressing vinyl, upfront costs, and the time it takes to put a physical release together requires patience and a strong vision. Earlier this year, College Hill (a producer who has appeared on Philadelphia’s Slit Jockey and, full disclosure, my own label Car Crash Set Ice Rink) and Panch (of local promotion unit L.E.N.G.) teamed up to inaugurate their label Blood Frenzy with a smashing opening 12″ from Mancunian producer Fallow. We talked to Panch and College Hill, both based in the DC area, about starting a label, grime music, and pressing records.
BP: Thank you for sitting down to chat with us. The first question is one I’m always interested in asking to Americans invested in British music: when did you first hear grime? What were your thoughts on it initially?
Panch: One of my friends in high school was loosely involved in college radio and he was getting all this new music and sharing it with me on AOL Instant Messenger (which apparently was an instrumental file-sharing tool back when dubstep was all about cutting dubplates to acetate, as well). The most exciting stuff he sent me was imports that we usually weren’t getting stateside (at least without delay). Among that stuff, he introduced me to Dizzee Rascal‘s first album, Boy In Da Corner, and the Run The Road compilation. Those 2 releases made a big impact on me and we actually went to see Dizzee Rascal touring with The Streets in New York in 2004. Unfortunately, grime kind of slipped away from me for a few years immediately after that, mostly due to lack of exposure and understanding of the music outside of Dizzee and Wiley‘s crossover stints. Luckily, my later interests in dubstep and bass music really brought everything full circle and got me digging back into the history that I missed.
College Hill: It’s hard to remember, but it was probably somewhere around 2009 depending on what you’re counting as grime. The first Vex’d album totally blew me away when I heard it in high school and basically changed my outlook on producing music. Before then, I was only producing pretty rudimentary breakcore and dubstep tracks and link between dubstep and grime became very obviously to me as I continued to explore.
BP: What are your thoughts on the recent surge of interest in grime in North America?
College Hill: It’s obviously great news for everyone involved, ourselves included. That said, I do worry that some things are going to be lost in translation, namely the ties to more “traditional” dance music. I think there’s a danger in Americans just interpreting grime as just a British variety of hip-hop rather than the garage offshoot that it is. This was kind of exemplified to me at the last Skepta show in DC, which while enjoyable played to me more like a concert than a rave. To me, the latter format with more of a traditional focus on mixing is far more exciting and I hope that in the future there’ll be more of a focus on DJs and producers than just MCs coming to the States. Bringing people like Slimzee, Sir Spyro along with some MCs would be an ideal situation to me.
Panch: I think it’s great but it comes with a lot of the same risks/problems that we saw with the rise of brostep/EDM. Part of this has to do with the gatekeepers or “tastemakers” of the mainstream, like Aubrey, and the context with which they promote this music. Obviously I think Skepta is great, but I’d like to see these kids learn more about his 15 years in the game and go beyond just a handful of his latest singles. I’d also like to see those kids seek out more grime locally because it’s tough to build a lasting stateside grime scene without some sort of local foundations.
Panch: Well, it’s primarily Richard’s creation so he can answer that best. But when he approached me about helping him get it started I thought he had some great ideas and I knew he had a good head on his shoulders so I was more than happy to help.
College Hill: During the big instrumental grime push of around 2013-2014, I noticed that while there was an explosion of new talent popping up, the number of labels actively pushing instrumental grime is relatively small. I think there’s a lot of untapped potential in the form of newer producers on Soundcloud that deserve to have their music exposed to a wider audience.
BP: How important was it to have a physical 12″ release for Blood Frenzy? Will future releases be pressed to vinyl?
College Hill: Yes. Given how easy it is in 2017 to start up a small digi-only label or to just self-release content on Bandcamp, I think putting out vinyl represents a real, tangible commitment to an artist that justifies the inherent loss of control that comes with being signed. Also, while I’m not personally a huge vinyl collector, I recognize its importance to the culture as well as the value of physically owning music from the consumers’ perspective.
Panch: There’s a lot of debate about the importance of vinyl and I don’t want to open a can of worms. I just love vinyl. I love the history, the culture, the feeling, the sound, the hunt… Ultimately it’s between the label and the listeners though. White labels are definitely a big part of grime history and a lot of the serious heads still buy new stuff and hunt down rare older bits. Personally, I think on a more philosophical level it’s amazing to physically manifest an artifact that will outlast your lifetime. Part of this comes from my impractical education as an avant-garde cinema student but a lot of it comes from having completely lost and rebuilt so many digital music collections since I was a kid. So yeah, I love vinyl and I hope we continue to press!
Panch: You know, I don’t really follow Chicago drill as much as I do footwork, per se, but that’s definitely really cool. I remember when I first heard grime in 2004 I was also really into the southern hip-hop stuff of that era… especially everything Swishahouse was doing. I also remember Dizzee Rascal and UGKreleasing a track together 10 years ago. So this Trans-Atlantic exchange isn’t necessarily new but it’s inevitable and I’m glad that it’s happening. That said, when I wanna hear grime, I’d rather not hear a straightforward trap beat with a British MC as the only signifier of grime. I think grime has a lot to offer other genres of music – in terms of stylistic influence – and we’ve been seeing it in American hip-hop, club music, and even techno. I’m sure there’s all kinds of crazy hybrid stuff to come and it’s exciting.
College Hill: I honestly haven’t looked too much into UK drill/rap much at all. As far as grime fusion type things go though, they can be great once in a while, I think they sometimes veer into territory that kind of loses what made grime so special to me to begin with. Not that they’re aren’t exceptions of course, but if I wanted to listen to trap beats I would just listen to American hip-hop. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but from my perspective as an American I think some producers might be selling themselves short by relying too much on 808s.