Now that the holidays are over and the new year is officially off and running, it’s time to pick this feature series back up because there’s a ton of stories to tell. Take Terrorhythm Recordings for instance. Yeah, we’ve shown the imprint a ton of support over the last year and with extremely good reason. Just since I joined the team back in October, the run of releases from them with Awe, Ganz, Curl Up, and the Turquoise compilation to close out their year was mind blowing to me. And to do the research and see that it all basically falls on the ears (and shoulders) of the UK bass music legend that is Plastician. Most will probably recognize his name and know his influence as being one of the key figures in the global bass music scene for over a decade with his radio show residencies, original productions and an intense DJ gig schedule. But what interested me most was that the imprint has essentially been around his entire career as a DJ and producer. That’s getting into it when dubplates were still huge, Napster was changing the scope of the entire music industry and grime and dubstep were infant music genres. If there’s a brain to pick on how things have sculpted over the last 10 years and change in bass music, it’s this one. Let’s get it on.
On the Terrorhythm Facebook page, it says the imprint was created around 2002. That’s almost as long as you’ve been in the game as an artist. Is there anyone else behind the scenes that was instrumental in helping you get things off the ground? When did you actually start to think you wanted to run your own imprint?
I started out initially as a one-man operation. The label itself was set up to put my early releases out myself, but toward the back end of 2002, some of my tracks were picked up by other labels. So although it was intended to house my first releases in 2002, it actually had it’s first release later on in 2003 when I collaborated with Mark One (now MRK1) on a release as part of a swap deal – he put out my “Hard Graft” track on his label, Contagious. Before I started producing, I had worked in the record distribution business so I knew what it would take to put the music out myself and the basic runnings of an independent label. I met Neil Joliffe and Sarah Lockhart who were running all of the labels under the Ammunition umbrella (Tempa, Shelflife, Ghost, Vehicle, Texture, Bingo, Road – all the big early dubstep and dark garage labels I loved at the time) through my work in distribution, and I kept a close eye on how they acquired music, how they dealt with releases and stuff like that, and I used that as my own blueprint on how to put my music out there. They definitely were an inspiration to me back then. I put a release out through them on their Road imprint called The Lift EP, and at the time I was banging out three or four full tracks per week. I just needed an outlet of my own to get things out quickly as I was so eager to build awareness up about what I was making in order to get more DJ gigs, and to save the tracks from rotting away on my hard drive without being released. This was the sole reason for me beginning the label back then. As I said, it was a one man operation until about 2005 when I brought in my friend Charles Holgate – he was working in the press side of the music industry and I thought combining our knowledge would be a really strong look. We joined forces and he helped me put together the release and campaign for my Beg To Differ album, and in that window I also signed Joker‘s first release – “Gully Brook Lane.” Charles wanted to move into management and through our work with Joker, he began managing him, and still does to this day. It became highly time intensive for Charles and the management became a full time position for him as Joker’s reputation built up. Although I do the running myself again now, Charles is always on the end of the phone and I often consult him with any ideas I’m unsure of. He’s been a massive help over the years and is one of my closest friends. These days I do the runnings of the label on my own, my wife helps with the accounting side of things when needed, and I have Sean Knowles, who does all my artwork. I also have to big up Patrick Havey who writes our press releases!
2013 has definitely seen a flood of releases from you guys. Do you feel like there’s a solid roster beginning to develop? Do you project any potential internal expansion with label staff, roster, etc in the near future? If not, why?
I think by the end of 2014 I’ll definitely need some people helping in terms of staff / interns. With me branching into events for the label, on top of the general runnings on a daily basis it is becoming quite a workload, but I’m a bit of a control freak so I can’t foresee me handing over too much of the decision making. We’re definitely starting to mould a bit of a trademark sound within the label. In terms of roster I’m always up for expansion, I think the releases themselves define the label as opposed to the artists people associate with Terrorhythm. I wouldn’t necessarily sign every release one of my crew sends me for that reason, and it’s why I tend to work more on a release by release basis as opposed to tying people into long term deals. I think this is better for all involved – it means the artists have complete freedom of direction, and I have the right to turn down anything I don’t feel is right for the growth of the label at the time – then they can do what they want with anything I’m not feeling. I don’t want to dictate where I think artists should be headed with their sound, as music is a form of expression like any other art and I’m happy to let my crew do what they want to with their sound – so this means a lot of music does get turned away by me, but it also means the artists can release it themselves or with another label if they so wish. I think that’s how I’d like to be treated as an artist myself, so that’s how I treat my own crew, I just like to have first refusal on stuff. I’m always willing to help my artists out with releasing their own music as well.
There was a lot of super creative and adventurous records that came from your camp this year. Is there a particular vibe you’re currently on the hunt for? Outside of the excellence of their music, what are some other qualities you’re looking for from the artists you pick up?
I love music that can’t really be defined; always have. I like playing different styles as a DJ, so I am always on the lookout for tracks that sit between different styles and work as the glue in the set, holding together all the elements. If you take Awe’s Eagle Soul EP as an example, there are tracks there people call trap, dubstep, future garage. Nobody really knew what to call any of it, and that’s exactly what it’s all about for me. It’s always exciting for me to get to know the people behind the music, with Joker – he was just 15 when he was sending me his first tracks – I knew instantly he was going to be a big artist because the level of his production was so high and he had barely even got started yet. Similarly with Awe, who was 17 when I first discovered his music. When you find something that good produced by youngsters, it’s exciting because you know it’s just a matter of time before they strike gold. I like to think with a little direction and advice I can help them realize that. As I’ve gotten older I find less and less time to produce my own stuff so I like to express myself through the music I release on the label, so helping these guys establish themselves on a global scale is just as pleasing to me as achieving it yourself.
As mentioned, you’re well over a decade in running your own imprint, what do you ultimately dedicate your continuing success to? If you have some landmark/favorite releases… what are they?
I’m so proud of all the releases. I still play even the oldest ones out. I played “Lift Off” by Macabre Unit recently – which was released in 2005, I think. People were asking me what it was called like I was dropping something brand new! It’s timeless! I think out of all the releases, “Gully Brook Lane” by Joker, “The Corridor” by Om Unit, and “Lift Off” by Macabre Unit are possibly my favorites, but it’s hard not to pick so many. The best thing about the stuff I’ve put out is that it comes and goes in waves, and the old releases come in and out of cycles that make them relevant again every few years. I think I can dedicate the success of the label to working with artists who are so willing to take my advice on things, have patience (because releasing music properly does take time!) and are ready to work. I have had the pleasure of working with so many good people down the years and I’ve never had to deal with any egos. That can bring a great deal of stress and the absence of that in the label running keeps me sane and able to keep striving on.
How do you feel about the idea of a label “brand” still being important aspects in today’s free for all mindset in the music industry? What are your thoughts about going through traditional digital retail methods to distribute Terrorhythm music as opposed to giving more music away?
I am big on branding. I think it’s so important. I’ve always been really jealous of labels like Trouble & Bass for the strength of their branding, which backs up the great music and events they run. It’s really important for me in 2014 to bring that through. I want people to feel proud to represent the label and the work we put in. I have to big up Sean Knowles for his strong re-brand earlier in 2013 – it’s made that vision seem a lot clearer. I’ve always had good art guys around, before Sean I worked with Nenad Radojcic who also delivered some stunning art for the label and me in general. Before I became interested in music I wanted to be a graphic designer so I can fully appreciate good art and branding. We’re definitely on the right track right now and I think defining the label as a brand in 2014 will help push our sound even further. These days it’s not just about sounding great, you have to look good, too. It’s strange when you think about it, but it’s the digital age we live in.
Tell us a bit about what’s in store for the new year. What are some long term goals you see/have in the foreseeable future?
We have some great stuff almost ready to go right now. Awe’s “Crystals” single, Skit & Tijani’s “Sweat,” and Varsity’s single as well as new EP’s from Anton F already well under construction – the first three months of the year are going to be crucial. We also have our London event running bi-monthly from February in the basement of Plan B, and a launch night on the 31st of January in Glasgow with that also possibly running more regularly afterwards. We’ll definitely be doing some short merchandise runs as well to test out some designs and get people wearing our stuff! Long term I’d love to help put some more EPs out from our artists, collaborations with some lifestyle brands on events is also something I’m hoping to achieve somewhere down the line. But for now I just hope the good music keeps flowing in my direction from artists who feel passionate about what I’m doing at Terrorhythm!