A close, family ethos has always seemed to distinguish West Norwood’s best (and possibly only) House imprint WNCL from the crop. Label head Bob Bhamra’s signees rarely appear on the label as mercenaries - tending to work closely with WNCL across multiple releases. Perhaps best epitomising the ethic at the core of the label is the ‘We Are Family’ series, where frequent collaborators are invited to reinterpret one another’s work.
With the second in this series available imminently, we decided to let Mr. Bhamra exchange thoughts with another featuring artist, J.Tijn, on beards, babies and jumping on the Outsider House bandwagon.
WEST NORWOOD CASSETTE LIBRARY INTERVIEWS J.TIJN
WNCL: I thought I’d kick off with one of the more pressing issues of our times. Why does everyone in techno have a beard these days?
J TIJN: We’re secretly all just lazy, it’s pure coincidence that having a beard is cool now. You’ll be next.
WNCL: It won’t happen (although my anti-beard stance is rooted in my failings to grow a full one). Your earliest musical associations were with Anti-Social Entertainment, known for their leanings towards the more soulful side of 140bpm dubstep. Do you ever get any flak for your move away from the dubstep scene, which can be notoriously die-hard or do you still have a foot in that camp / affection for that music?
J TIJN: Not really, my dubstep was terrible. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I didn’t release any records so I don’t think anybody was bothered. As for ASE that’s something I’ll always be involved with as long I’m friends with those guys. That’s what it’s about really, a group of friends that make music. I get that people know it for the soulful stuff but if Silkie/Quest/Jay 5ive/Rekta…. decided they hated chords and only wanted to make rhythmic noise for the rest of time that would be fine (I for one would encourage such a move).
WNCL: Second that. Here’s hoping you’ll be able to convince them. What do you think of the latest wave of instrumental Grime / Grime influenced tracks? Do you think there’s anyone out there doing it with enough conviction or is it just another ‘revival’? With your background, you would seem well qualified to integrate those motifs into a techno template. Is that something you’re interested in?
J TIJN: I think a lot of it harks too much back to 2003/2004 but there are exceptions. Mumdance, JL Sanders, Impey, Logos, Mike Midnight off the top of my head are all doing interesting stuff based around Grime (in varying degrees). It’s not really something I’ve consciously tried to do much, and when I have it’s sounded crap. I do think though that, because I was into Grime so much and at such an important time in my musical development, it will always be there in some way - same goes for the soulful 140 stuff mentioned before.
WNCL: From the recent batch of trax you’ve been sending over, amongst the heavy techno stompers that you’re known and loved for, it sounds to me like you’re exploring different styles or searching for something. Is that true and if so, what are you looking for?
J TIJN: I’m really trying to jump on the Outsider House thing right now mate. But no, seriously, I don’t think I’m trying anything particularly different to what I have been the last year but I’m finally turning out tracks that I’m happy with in styles I couldn’t quite nail before. I’ve been trying to make House even longer than I have Techno but the two are starting to merge in the things I’m making now.
WNCL: Haha! Well somebody needs to jump on Outsider House, that’s for sure. It’s interesting to note that you’re efforts at making House music predate your Techno releases. On first hearing the lead track on your WNCL EP, “Flat”, the execution suggested to me that this was someone that wasn’t chancing their arm at something outside of their perceived safety zone. We know about your early grime and dubstep connections - what other musical passions outside of techno do you have that might surprise people?
J TIJN: Brazilian music, all of it, it’s all bloody great.
WNCL: Especially the sounds of sobbing schoolboys in a 7/1 time signature. As you know, I was the unashamed World Cup tourist this year, whereas it’s evident from your Twitter feed that you’re an ardent follower of the game. As you also know, I’ve never tweeted before in my life. You tweet a lot and sometimes I read them because I like to know where you are at all times. Does this kind of exposure to the universe bother you?
J TIJN: Hahahaha, yeah I love football and I’ve been particularly active on Twitter during World Cup matches. I don’t think it’s difficult to spot that most of what I say on there is a pisstake so it doesn’t really bother me that it’s all public. Hopefully we’ll get you on there one day, strictly for promotion I mean, obviously.
WNCL: I think the chances of me joining Twitter are about the same as me growing a full beard. But anyway … back to the tracks. You’ve been sending me material for quite a few years now. Was there a particular track or artist from the WNCL roster that prompted you to get in touch?
J TIJN: Yeah Locked Groove linked me to a Knowing Looks track, which I can’t remember now, but that was my introduction to the label.
WNCL: I’m guessing that it would have been one of the tracks on WNCL004 in that case. Nice.
You’ve put out material on a number of labels now that all release on vinyl. Without wanting to get into the tired old vinyl vs digital debate, I know that your preferred medium when you DJ is USB sticks. Is having a vinyl release a deal breaker for you when you sign to a label or are you not fussed?
J TIJN: Found it.
For me it’s not so much about one or the other, they’re both important and I wouldn’t do a digital only release or a vinyl only release. They’re both deal breakers I guess. There’s nothing more annoying for me than hearing something amazing and not being able to play it because of the format. I can imagine it’s the same for guys who play vinyl with digital only releases. Best to do both and avoid that altogether I think.
WNCL: Ah yes - Ghost Baby. Proper nutcase vibes. And a handy way to plug both Knowing Looks releases in one interview. Wise words on the format front too. I think that’s my lot…
J. TIJN INTERVIEWS WEST NORWOOD CASSETTE LIBRARY
J TIJN: OK, cool. Only one place to start really. You’ve recently become a dad (congrats!), It’s still early but in what way(s) can you see that changing the way you approach what you do in music going forward?
WNCL: Thanks, J. I’m entering week two of fatherhood so it’s difficult to say right now. I gather from other friends who are DJ’s / producers / label owners with young families that it can all still be done but some focus is required - free time is precious and should be used wisely, that sort of thing. If that’s the case then it’s no bad thing. I’ve been procrastinating over nothing special in the studio for far too long over the last couple of years. I could do with a kick up the arse, frankly.
J TIJN: Was hoping for a “Wait! Trance IS amazing!!!” epiphany to be honest but there’s still time. You’ve also been into a variety of different dance music styles over the years. What would you say, looking back, was your favourite one?
WNCL: Haha! I’m sorry to disappoint you again, J. I promise that I will set up a trance appreciation twitter feed for hirsute football fans soon. So far, I’m happy that I’ve managed to get a stint in on deck and knock up a bass line in the studio with Ivy in one hand. She’s responding well to Kerri Chandler in particular. Train ‘em up young, innit?
As for a favourite style of dance music - I’ve always had real problems pledging my allegiance to one genre or favouring one over the other. House music was / is / always will be a foundation for me just because I was the right age at the right time when it hit this country and, despite many, many fallow periods, it still manages to shine through in some way or other. On the other hand, if you get me started on late 80’s hip hop or early 90’s hardcore, we could be here for a while…
J TIJN: I’m all ears…
WNCL: I wonder how best to do this without sending you to sleep. Suffice to say that all these genres end up feeding into each other. Around ‘87, I got the hip hop bug - the stuff with heaps of samples before the music lawyers got involved. Fast forward a few years and those very same import 12”s were getting sampled at 45rpm and hey presto, you’ve got hardcore. We’ll have to save the bits in between for our next session down at The Blue Posts over a couple of cold ones.
J TIJN: Haha that leads very neatly onto something else I wanted to cover… Practically everybody on the WNCL roster knows that The Blue Posts in Soho is where it’s at. Tell the people dem why they ought to ditch their local and drink in there from now on.
WNCL: It’s not always possible to meet everyone on the label because they are scattered all over the world, but when it’s feasible, I’ll always suggest a pint at The Blue Posts - a much nicer way to cook up the plans for a new release. It’s one of the few real boozers left in Soho, unaffected by any trendy comings and goings, dirty carpets and all. It’s true to say that it has become the unofficial HQ for WNCL business purely based on that fact that it’s my local and I’m lazy - it’s conveniently situated around the corner from the Verso office (where I work by day) and next door to Sounds of the Universe record store (where I spend most of my lunch hours…and wages).
J TIJN: As you mentioned there are folks on the label from all over the world. Would you say there are any main stylistic differences between the London-based artists and those from further afield?
WNCL: I may be too close to it to be objective but I don’t think so. If I didn’t know the facts before hand, judging the music alone, I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint your sound to West London or Don Froth’s to LA. The common thread with all the artists on the label (and the thing that I enjoy most about their music) is that everyone is pretty headstrong - doing their own thing with a healthy disregard for what anyone else is doing or what’s considered trendy. Geographic location would appear to have no affect on the output.
J TIJN: Does having artists all doing such different stuff on the label make it hard to find releases that fit together, or is it really just a case of putting out whatever you personally like?
WNCL: Very much the latter. I really like labels with a singular focus and easily identifiable sound - I’m quite jealous of them, really - but it just doesn’t suit me to do it so I follow my instinct. Luckily, I’ve had good support and encouragement in the past with distribution etc, giving me the confidence to carry on representing my personal taste with the label. Other people tell me that, despite the varying styles between releases, they can see how it all fits together. I couldn’t put my finger on a “WNCL Sound” but I sort of know what they mean. It all makes sense to me, of course, because these are all records I would have in my collection regardless of what label they were released on.
J TIJN: How does that work with your own music? You’ve released some of your own stuff on WNCL Rec. but have also released with other labels. How do you decide out of your own stuff what fits the label and what doesn’t?
WNCL: As I’m sure you can testify, when it comes to putting out someone else’s material on WNCL, I’m an extremely fussy bastard. Everything has to be right. We both have to be in love with the tracks. The track titles, running order and all manner of other trivia have to be just so. It’s hard enough putting someone else through that, almost impossible to apply the same (if not higher quality) filter to my own stuff. Despite my original intentions with the label, I’ve actively tried to avoid it becoming a vanity project and so I try not to flood the release schedule with my own stuff. I’m also very conscious of not spreading myself too thin outside of the label - I’ve put stuff out on a very small number of labels where there’s a mutual interest and respect for each other’s work.
J TIJN: Haha yeah, it’s difficult but ultimately I can imagine it’s worth it when you can look back over the catalogue with no regrets. You mentioned before that you got into House around the time it came to the UK (would that be ‘88-ish?) How long after that was it until you started making stuff of your own?
WNCL: It must have been ‘87 - obviously, I would have only about three years old then, if anyone asks - because the record that did it for me (and for hundreds and thousands of others) was Phuture’s “Acid Tracks”. I’ll admit that, before hearing that record, I wasn’t completely feeling the House stuff that I was hearing - it was all plastic pianos and vocals to my ears. I was more interested in the booming, jump up Hip-Hop records that were coming out at the same time. So, acid really did it for me and then I went back and scooped up what I’d been missing out on - pretty much anything on Trax and DJ International with that raw, basic production that has very much made it’s presence felt again over the last couple of years.
It took me ages to try my hand at actually making tracks. I was still trying to work out how these people were getting two records to play together in time let alone getting my head around being in a studio. And, it goes without saying that, what followed, were years and years of the most embarrassing excuses for music that you’ve ever heard!
J TIJN: Where these embarrassing excuses for music House? I think I remember you mentioning you put a Jungle record……
WNCL: Yeah, the stuff that’s locked away are all cassette demos and you could loosely call it House music, at a stretch! By the time anything was put out on vinyl, around 96, I would have been a lot happier with the output. Although, listening back, most of it hasn’t dated very well at all. The jungle record was Plastic Soul (me and my friend Paul) - I guess people were calling it Drum & Bass by then - and came out on Flex in ‘97. I still like that one. Paul and I recently dusted down the moniker for a House EP on WNCL. Two records in almost twenty years. I told you I wasn’t bothered about being prolific, didn’t I?