The last twelve months seem to have been rather pivotal for Bob Bhamra, the man behind the assorted operations of West Norwood Cassette Library. The label frontier of the project made the step up to the 12” EP format at the tail-end of last year, and 2013 has seen host to a further four EPs of WNCL branded House & Techno, from the likes of Bobby Champs, Spatial, Kamikaze Space Programme and most recently Pennyroyal affiliate, J.Tijn.
The closing months of this year will also see several of Bhamra’s own projects coming to fruition, with a Plastic Soul EP (Bhamra’s collaboration with Paul Bateman) scheduled for release on WNCL later this month, as well as a double EP due out in December with Alex Jones’ Hypercolour imprint.
We caught up with Bhamra recently to discuss dubplates, the forthcoming releases, and doing things the Cassette Library way.
Although not always working under the West Norwood Cassette Library moniker, you have been releasing music since the mid-1990s (as far as your discogs profiles tell). What were your original influences in making music, and how have they changed over the years?
Hmmm. I’m in danger of boring you to death with my first answer – the list of mavericks, legends, genres, producers, DJs and tracks that have influenced and inspired is endless.
If something is profound enough to influence and inspire you to make music, chances are it’s going to stick around in your life for a while and that’s very much the case for me.
Plastic Soul is another of your projects, that had a couple of releases in the late 1990s /early 2000s. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Plastic Soul is a collaboration between me and my good old friend Paul Bateman that has taken on many guises over the years – we’ve dabbled in 60’s-influenced Garage and Psych, put out a Jungle 12” on Flex back in ‘97 and are now about to release a four track EP of House tracks on WNCL.
We’re both very particular people – extremely fussy about all the elements that go into making a track – so this was never going to be a quick project to finish. It does mean that we both have complete satisfaction regardless of how the record is received. Which is pretty much the modus operandi for anything that comes out on the label.
You are one of the few DJs who still choose to cut dubplates to mix with, despite the high cost and limited durability. Where does your commitment to the physical format come from?
I’ve never bothered to learn to DJ with anything other than vinyl and dubplates purely and simply because I still really like vinyl and dubplates. So, if there’s something unreleased, my only option is to cut plates.
The other option, of course, is to be practical, learn how to use CDJ’s and save myself a heap of money, but where’s the fun in that? I’m not on a mission to convert the world back to vinyl and I’m not anti-digital but it’s fair to say that I still get a sense of excitement when I cut new tracks to dub that I don’t get from merely playing an MP3. That’s my curse and I’ve learnt to live with it.
We touched on some of the issues of being a vinyl only DJ earlier in our email exchange; are poorly maintained decks something you come to expect when playing out?
I still get very nervous before a gig. It used to just be the fear of looking like a dick while everyone watches me playing records. Now, it’s more the fear of looking like a dick while everyone watches me not playing records. I keep getting told that I could easily avoid this by learning how to DJ by other means but I just don’t really fancy it – I’d rather not do the gig.
What’s your production setup like? Your music has quite a raw analogue feel to it as though it there may be some hardware involved, although this may be a trick of the ear.
I don’t really have any allegiance to analogue or digital, hardware or software. I’m the worst person to talk to about gear and production techniques – I still can’t wire a plug without a manual. The track writing process can be a hair pulling exercise because the studio is full of cheap rubbish that’s really only fit for the bin, but I’m fond of it and the sound it produces. It is what it is.
You have a double pack 12” upcoming on Hypercolour - How did this come about, and what can we expect on the release?
Jamie Russell at Hypercolour approached me a few years back to do something together and we eventually agreed on the idea for this project. It’s an eight track double 12” that’s made up of tracks that I’ve been keeping back as secret weapons on dubplate for ages.
Do you see the Hypercolour release as a collection of singles or should it be treated like a more cohesive EP?
Both. To me it sounds like a collection of singles gathered together to make a cohesive EP although I wouldn’t say there’s a deliberate narrative or any particular concept to it.
You changed your release format on the label side of WNCL from 10” singles to 12”, four track EPs at the start of the year. What prompted the change in format?
Partly to get more of an artists work on one bit of vinyl and partly because my inner OCD demon was telling me to stop at ten 10” releases.
The last release on the label was from Pennyroyal affiliate J.Tijn, and comes from a more melodic, house oriented angle than his previous releases. How did the release come about ?
J got in touch via SoundCloud a couple of years back and has been sending me tracks since then. I was immediately excited by “Decimated #4” (at that stage, it was a 140bpm heart attack) and then his “The Anti-Mixdown” release on Turbo really pricked up my ears.
By the time we eventually got to talking about a release on WNCL, the two Pennyroyal records were in the works. They had a very definitive style so it seemed obvious to use the WNCL EP to showcase another side of J Tijn.
Much like the other releases, the process also involves a period of getting to know each other. Not essential but a pleasant side effect of working with good people. We really started to pull the EP together after we’d met and had a few ciders outside The Blue Posts (unofficial WNCL HQ).
**Was it a long process to get the final four tracks confirmed? **
It was similar to the other 12” EP releases on the label in that it took quite a while to reach the point where we both agreed that we had the best possible, strongest set of tracks to unleash unto the world. I’m too uptight and fussy and protective of the label to be able to say to an artist “Just give me four tracks and let’s do a record”…and luckily for me, I’ve had the pleasure of working with producers who will humour me on that.
**WNCL is free from Twitter or Facebook profiles, and any updates are transmitted through your blog. What is the reasoning behind keeping WNCL free from social network sites? **
Again, it’s just personal choice. I’m not trying to make a statement by avoiding them nor do I feel any obligation to sign up to anything just because it’s what might be expected of me.
Like everything else we’ve been talking about – cutting plates, playing vinyl, having a dysfunctional studio etc. etc. I’m aware that people may consider my approach to be naïve but I’d rather carry on as I am for now. I’m still managing to get gigs, produce tracks and run a label without bashing people over the head every five minutes on Facebook and Twitter.
Finally what’s in store for the Cassette Library over the rest of 2013?
The Plastic Soul EP comes out on WNCL in November and the 8 Track Cartridge EP on Hypercolour in December, so that pretty much takes care of the rest of the year.
Label mate, Don Froth, will also be releasing his Re-Flexed EP on his own Froth’n imprint before the year’s out – that one has remixes from me and Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir.