The third of Tiger’s Hidden Depths events, following editions dedicated to Ninja Tune and Hyperdub, focusses on drum ‘n bass institution Hospital Records.
Presented in association with FACT and Black Atlantic, the Hidden Depths of Hospital party will take place at London’s XOYO club on Wednesday 25 July. Headlining is Photek – playing a Modus Operandi set based around his game-changing debut album of 1997. One of the most influential and satisfying full-lengths ever to have come out of jungle, we’re literally drooling at the prospect of Rupert Parkes revisiting it. He’ll be joined by some of the biggest names in d’n’b, as befits a label that’s been at the top of its game for over fifteen years: High Contrast, Fred V & Grafix, MC Wrec, Landslide, Swell Session, Other Echoes and Hospital co-founder Chris Goss. More info here.
FACT recently paid a visit to Hospital HQ to talk to Goss and his compadre Tony Colman (aka London Elektricity) about the mid-90s origins of the label – a time of near-death experiences, acid jazz, silly names and broken promises.
“We did release some shocking records as well as some good ones. But that’s how you learn.”
Tony Colman: “We don’t want to work together! We never did and we still don’t…let’s get that straight from the start [laughs]. Honestly, it’s such a long time ago, it’s getting on for 20 years ago. I’d been doing another label on my own, and I met Chris because he designed a flyer for me for a gig at Ronnie Scott’s. I had a kind of acid jazzy band called Izit at the time, who were doing marginally well in Japan. I liked Chris and I said, do you want to come and run the label [Tongue & Groove] with me?
Chris Goss: “I knew Izit, I had a few records of theirs in my collection, I’d been DJing since college. But I wanted to be a graphic designer…I was doing loads of graphic design work for nothing, but thinking i was really smashing it! [laughs] I was working at Soul Jazz Records in Soho for two days a week which I was really loving, and I was just enjoying being in London. The last thing that I expected was for to Tony to want me to come and work with him on a record label, so it kind of blew my mind a bit… then I just figured, well, why not? There’s nothing to lose. I’m clearly not going to make any money working with Tony and I’m not making any money as it is, so…. [laughs]. It looked like it would be really chaotic and fun, and thankfully that’s how it turned out.”
T: “I remember shortly after you joined, we landed a really big deal for Izit in Japan – we got about £100, 000 from it, and we bought the most expensive Apple Mac for you [Chris] – which was probably 128kb memory in total, but cost £6500…and that was maxed, one of those beige Apples, 18 years ago.”
C: “And you feel like you’ve really arrived…check us out…look at that [laughs].”
T: “I remember the RAM we put in it cost about three grand and it wasn’t until you [Chris] upgraded to the next Mac that you realised that in order to actually use the extra RAM, you had to allocate it in the Mac…[laughs]. Those were the days, Mac geeks…”
C: “So we worked together on this Tongue & Groove label that Tony had started it. Tony’s band, Izit, had signed this deal in Japan which was quite a massive deal to us, a huge amount of money, with huge promotion and marketing. We went over to Japan in ’95, it was the first time that either of us had been. We had this tour stopping of in eight different cities and it was incredible…and then soon after that the label folded.”
C: “There was this period – this three years between early ’93 and ’96 – where a lot happened.”
T: “I know. Though at the time it seemed like it dragged on forever…”
C: “We had some massive highs, and some huge lows and then…”
T: Three years now seems like nothing, but back then it was everything.”
C: “With Tongue & Groove I guess we were aspiring to be like labels like Ninja or Dorado or Talkin’ Loud, who were friends of ours and some of some of the leading labels at the time…”
“I went to Morocco and caught some mystery virus and nearly died…”
T: “…and Acid Jazz, who started the Blue Note.”
C: “Yeah, and Izit were doing really well, but we just couldn’t really make it work as a label. We worked with some other amazing artists -”
T: “- and some crap artists as well, it has to be said [laughs]. We did release some shocking records as well as some good ones. But that’s how you learn – if you want to do it properly you’ve got to have a trial run. And Tongue & Groove was definitely our trial run for Hospital.
C: “It did mean that we stopped Tongue & Groove and had to let go of the artists and two staff that we were working with, and there was a fair amount of soul-searching for me and Tony. I myself had a massive crisis of confidence – because on the one hand you’ve got a record deal in Japan and you go there and you’re treated like stars, and then you come back to Tottenham and it’s properly the other side of the coin, and you realise that actually a lot of other things really aren’t going all that well.
T: “Yeah, it was hardcore.”
C: “We were both doing lots of other work on the side, whether it was doing corporate music or working in a record store or whatever, all sorts of bits and pieces to pay the rent.”
T: “I went to Morocco and walked up the Atlas Mountains and caught some mystery virus and nearly died…”
T: …but I found myself in the process. [laughs]. And then we changed our names: I was Pondlife and he was Goose.”
C: “All these great ideas that you have down the pub in Hammersmith late at night…”
T: “And one of those great ideas was calling the new label Hospital. Who knew it would work as well as it did?”
C: “We went through all these months of trying to work out exactly what we wanted to do and if we together had the energy and the confidence to give it a go.I know nothing about making music, I just have a great record collection and the passion to want to get stuck in, and Tony enabled me to get involved in the studio, and we did actually have a great laugh. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing…
T: “I used to wire up the Technics through a whole string of effects, like a Roland Space Echo and flangers and stuff so that Chris could actually become a musician live in the studio…and it really worked, it was wicked.”
“We knew instinctively that we had to do something that no one else had done before. And we called it loungecore.”
C: “We were renting a basement studio in Barons Court, a fantastic studio, with huge live rooms and massive DDA and mixing desk. And I guess we allowed ourselves 6-9 months of experimentation, and fun and made just the most bizarre range of music. We made all sorts of stuff: disco-house, downbeat sort of trip-hop…”
T: “The thing that was firing us up was the connection that we thought that we could make with jungle music and drum ‘n bass. We knew instinctively that we had to do something that no one else had done before. And we called it loungecore. That was our term for the early stuff that came out on Hospital. And if you listen to it now, it’s still an appropriate genre title – because it’s very much analogue lounge music at drum ‘n bass tempo with fast beats.”
C: “Taking a lot of source material from orchestral albums, Music For Pleasure, soundtracks as well as jazz-funk music. Intoxica in Portobello had the most unbelievable range of what people would call Easy Listening, and I remember people like The Karminsky Experience who were just the dons for that raw knowledge of the most bizarre French, Spanish, British music from the 1960s. We loved all that stuff, didn’t we?”
C: “And it really inspired us, around ’96.”
T: “Part of the process was going to charity shops and car boot sales and looking for the shittest lounge album that you could find and then making a tune out of it. It was great fun – a kind of hip-hop mentality, really.”
C: “So this was the period where we were trying to work out what we were doing, what we were going to call it, what we were going to call ourselves, what were we going to call the label and so on… so we started three labels, very stupidly. Hospital, Casualty (which was a downbeat label that last two releases) and then a kind of house label called Galactic Disco. And that’s how it started. We had about eight different artist names going but it was basically just me and Tony.
“When you start something, you want to give people the impression that you’re really successful – you shink-wrap all your records to make them look like records, you’ve got all those artist names…it’s just the smoke and mirrors of independence.”
T: The first decision we made after we’d come up with the name, was that definitely, we would never release anybody else’s music on Hospital…
T: “…because it had been a pain in the arse putting out other people’s music on Tongue & Groove. And we thought, let’s just put out our own, otherwise it’s long. Of course, we stuck to that for a while, and then we started to get good demos, and the first demo we got that changed our mind was from Danny Byrd. He sent a CD through the post, and it basically had his first two singles that we released on Hospital on there – it was brilliant. Shortly after that we met a man in Cardiff – we were DJing in Cardiff and this kid kept trying to MC for us, and we kept batting him off, telling him to go away. Then the next day we went into Catapult Records and this same kid was serving behind the counter – it was High Contrast. He played us this minidisc of his stuff in the shop and it was amazing…”
C: “…although really fast.”
T: “Yeah, it was about 185bpm , it was like gabba tempo.”
C: “It was one of those things where you go, what’ve you done wrong? Everything in there’s really good but…it’s bloody fast.”
T: “Even before those two we began working with a guy called Landslide – Tim Land. He was working at our studio as an engineer, and played a fairly important part in our first London Elektricity album. We realised that he was also a very skilled producer himself, and so we encouraged him to come through with his own music.”
“You shink-wrap all your records to make them look like imports, you’ve got all these different artist names…it’s just the smoke and mirrors of independence.”
C: “These things happen quite messily…they just evolve. And they probably happen because you’re not looking for them, you know. But then you find yourselves chatting in the pub and going ‘Of course‘. This, I think, is the history of music, the history of the record labels, This is how things ideally should happen – don’t resist it, embrace it. I think we were extremely fortunate the way that these two or three early artists found us.”
T: “Landslide was wicked. He was like proto-future UK garage. His one and only album for Hospital was called Drum and Bossa, and he was party of the original FWD>> crew, back when they used to do their nights at Plastic People and only 10 people used to go.”
C: “Along with people like, say, Zed Bias, Horsepower. I think we’ve always felt that Tim never truly got the recognition that he deserves, because he was ahead of the game. He was ahead of the garage and dubstep thing, but he was also ahead of broken beat: he was doing that before Bugz In The Attic. But Tim was such a humble kind of guy, and too much of a perfectionist. But yeah, I still listen to that album.”
Was there any particular record released in the early years of Hospital that made you feel like you’d found your identity, like you’d arrived?
T: “Well, the tune that stopped us giving up was ‘Song In The Key Of Knife’ by London Elektricity, which Chris and I made. We had our house label, Galactic Disco, and that seemed to be going better than the drum ‘n bass, and we knew that we had to make a decision between one and the other. And we’d sort of decided that we were going to stop doing the drum ‘n bass and concentrate on house – because house is actually a lot easier to make. Well, it’s much easier to make good house music than it is to make good drum ‘n bass; its easy to make crap drum ‘n bass. We were selling more units of the house records, so we thought, let’s just do that, but before we do let’s make one more drum ‘n bass tune. We started this track together, I locked myself in the studio for a week and when Chris came back it was almost done, and we finished it off together. Two days later we were flying out to Japan to play a gig, took the DAT to the club, put it on and…we knew, we knew instantly.”
C: “It was a beautiful moment.”
T: “We looked at each other and thought, we’ve really got something here. We’re quite good at this.”
C: “Remember, at the time, not only did we feel we were doing better with the house music, but also were really only on the fringes of the drum ‘n bass scene. Completely on the outskirts of it. And that’s quite tough – when you feel like it’s a closed shop. But then when you do something like ‘Song In The Key Of Knife’, that you have absolute faith in, then that gives you the impetus that you need to crack on.”
T: “It’s very different now, in 2012. There’s drum ‘n bass, there’s dubstep, there’s electro, whatever – it’s all bass much. And a lot of people today don’t understand how cliquey it was back then: it was a really, really tight clique.”
C: “But this wasn’t so much because it was the nature of the genre. Back in the mid-90s, pre-internet, was a world away. You could be a closed shop, because you literally controlled the door in every aspect of it. Whether it was the cutting houses, or the clubs, or the DJ booths, or the pirate radio, there were just a handful of sources through which you could be a part of that. Now, you can create your own scene on Soundcloud, or WordPress, and just run with it, and people come to you. It’s the opposite to how it was.”
T: “Back then it was like being in a cellar with one door, and you could choose not to let anyone in; nowadays it’s like living in a hothouse, it’s all glass, and anyone can see in whenever they want, you can’t hide. Which is good and bad.”
“Nowadays it’s like living in a hothouse, it’s all glass, and anyone can see in whenever they want, you can’t hide.”
Did your outsider status feed back into the nature and direction of the label?
T: “The feeling of being outsiders definitely informed what we did. I mean, I was 35 when we started Hospital, which is already well over the hill by a lot of standards – so that was weird. It’s a very young genre and I felt really, really old. So we had a lot of things to conquer, and were right on the outside of it, but what was good about that is that we were never involved in any of the politics – and there were a lot of politics at the time.”
C: “A hell of a lot [laughs].”
T: “A lot of baggage, a lot of wannabe gangsterisms going on…”
C: “I think also the power of working as a duo…because you have the mutual support. I think if I’d been there on my own, I’d have just given up.”
T: “Me too. I would’ve crumbled.”
C: “Gradually, through that record and a few that followed, you gradually get to know a few more of the like-minded souls – people like Jon B, or Carlito & Addiction…certain producers who you’d meet at Swerve, at the Velvet Rooms, or whatever it might be. It evolves slowly over months and years…and then eventually you get this sense of, hang on a minute, maybe I am now part of something. Something like our first Plastic Surgery compilation was a good example of that – to me, that was us finally beginning to say yeah, we’ve got some mates in drum ‘n bass too, and people who make music kind of like we do, and suddenly we felt like we could join the dots.”
T: “Within drum ‘n bass we had quite a unique outlook on music, if you like – which is basically the result of our history and record collections. What we didn’t realise was at the time that we were laying the foundations for quite a big genre shift, which you look back on and think, yeah, it did happen, though at the time all we were thinking about was releasing music that we loved, and making music that we loved. What I’ve now learned is that you do that, and if you work hard enough, and you turn up repeatedly and don’t give up – and you’re quite good at it – then you will actually create and build something that wasn’t there before, that couldn’t have been there before.”