While most producers born of dubstep’s leading lights are only just getting around to making their debut albums, Paul Rose – AKA Scuba – is shortly to deliver his second, Triangulation.
He’s come a long way since 2008’s A Mutual Antipathy, one of the earliest consummations of the then-fledgling relationship between dubstep and techno. Fast-forward three years and all that talk of a dubstep-techno “crossover” of course seems incredibly quaint – thanks to Scuba and select peers it’s now abundantly clear how much those two dance strains have in common, and how porous the membrane that divides them is. The grammar may differ, but the language is the same.
Re-locating from London to Berlin in 2007, Rose became friendly with the DJs and producers – and avowed dubstep fans – who work at the Hardwax record store, and from there came to co-found Sub:Stance – Germany’s biggest and certainly most progressive dubstep night, running regularly at Berlin’s iconic techno stronghold Berghain. He continues to hold down a DJ residency at the night and this month sees the release of his Sub:Stance 01 – the first in a new series of mix CDs showcasing the titular night’s sound and aesthetic.
As a producer, Rose has continued to hone his craft and expand his palette. The new Scuba album, Triangulation, explores a range of tempos and styles, embracing not just dubstep and techno but low-slung house and the kind of rolling, minimal drum ‘n bass that the likes of Instra:mental, dBridge and Spectrasoul have made so popular of late. And yet there’s a continuity here with what’s gone before; for all its excursions into unfamiliar rhythmic realms, there’s no mistaking Triangulation’s essential Scuba-ness, so to speak.
Rose founded the Hotflush Recordings label in 2003, and has brough the world a steady stream of diverse basswise releases from the likes of Distance, Luke Envoy, Toasty, Benga and Slaughter Mob, as well his own ear-catching offerings; last year he made two particularly canny A&R moves, signing Mount Kimbie and releasing Joy Orbison’s world-conquering ‘Hyph Mngo’ 12″.
2010 looks set to be a particularly busy and prosperous year for this chatty and affably ambitious young man. Beyond the Triangulation LP and the Sub:Stance mix, he’ll shortly be kicking off his SCB 12″ series, dedicated to pushing the housier side of his sound, and then of course there’s the ongoing Berghain residency and a string of DJ dates around the world. That kind of schedule might bring a lesser man out in a…hot flush. Ahem.
FACT called up Paul at his Berlin home to hear how it all happened, and where it’s all headed.
“The first stuff that I was properly into was techno.”
First things first: what was your route into music, particularly club music?
“I played in bands from quite a young age. I played guitar and keyboards and various other things. I was quite into guitar-playing, but I always more into writing music than playing it, from quite early on…So I did the band thing for a while, had some bad band experiences, as lots of people have [laughs], and I guess I gradually got into electronic music by the typical route really – started going out and going to clubs and gradually got into the music as well as the going out part of it.
“The first stuff that I was properly into was techno, and then I gradually moved around in my teenage years from kind of early jungle stuff and then to garage. When I first started playing out I was in the jungle phase, and then, as I went into garage, that just kind of stuck but it also gradually developed into what I’m doing now. It was all kind of organic, really.”
You’re from London originally?
“Yeah, I’m from London, I grew up near Finsbury Park, but I went to uni in Bristol so I was there for three years.”
Did your time there coincide with the jungle epiphany or?
“By that time, it was more garage, really. I went to uni in ’98 – god, that’s fucking ages ago [laughs] – so garage was already big in London but it hadn’t really migrated out properly at that point.
Hotflush started out as a clubnight in Bristol; we did jungle in the main room and garage in the second room – that’s really how the whole thing started. I was still into jungle for a while, it only really started to get shit for me around 2005-6, or maybe a little earlier than that, 2004.”
Were you conscious of people like Pinch and Vex’d when you were living in Bristol?
“It’s funny because Pinch was at Bristol as well, but we didn’t really know each other, and we certainly didn’t do anything musically together…but I’ve subsequently heard that Peverelist came to a couple of the early Hotflush nights, so I suppose there was some unintentional crossing of paths going on.
“The whole proper dubstep ‘thing’, if you like, didn’t really start ’til around 2002 – I moved back to London when I’d finished, which was in 2001, and immediately set about getting myself a show on pirate and all that kind of stuff. FWD had started in 2001 – in its first incarnation when it was still in the west end it was very much centred around the sort of DJ Zinc kind of breakbeat garage type thing. It was very much centered around that – I guess there was also Zed Bias and El-B and things like that, but it was very much the cool thing, breakbeat garage.
“I went to the first one and went every month for about four years after that, and a little community just started to grow, and by the time it moved to Shoreditch – Plastic, where it still is now – it was just a few people who were making tunes in the bedroom…I mean, a few people were attached to the garage establishment – like Hatcha, he was already playing out properly and actually at FWD from early on, and obviously Benga and Skream and all that were mates with him – but there was loads of other people who didn’t have any connection at all with the establishment, and it was a just sort of a nice little monthly meeting place. And the music just gradually developed into dubstep.”
“The ‘haven’t got a fucking clue’ thing was kind of applicable to the label too.”
When did you make your first forays into production?
“I didn’t start producing properly until around 2002, but when I say ‘properly’ I guess I mean just messing around in the bedroom with some very basic equipment. I didn’t start producing properly properly until 2003 or 2004.
“Me and my then DJing partner, who I’d been at Bristol with, had had the idea of starting a label for ages, really from since when we’d first started playing out. And so we were putting that together, and me producing was just a thing on the side – even though I was really into the idea of doing it, it was just one of those things where when you haven’t got a fucking clue, it’s a slow process. [laughs]
“The ‘haven’t got a fucking clue’ thing was kind of applicable to the label side of things too, but we basically just pressed some records and put out the first one. And that was 2003.”
Where did the first releases on Hotflush come from?
“The first ever release was some of my early tunes. The second release was Distance. So it was basically just our mates – people we’d met down FWD or wherever, likeminded people who wanted to do similar stuff but without the infrastructure or maybe just not knowing the right people to do it. So it was a complete DIY thing.”
‘Financially, from a business perspective, it’s always been a waste of time.”
Has the way you’ve run the label changed much over the years?
“All we’ve tried to do from the start – and it’s still true to a large degree now – is to give a platform to music that wouldn’t otherwise be heard. I know that sounds a bit silly to say that now, because it’s since become quite a big thing, but certainly back in those days – in 2003 and 2004 when we were playing out, we were just playing sets of unreleased tunes, and people would come up and say, ‘What’s this music?’ Without us putting it out ourselves it wouldn’t have come out. We just wanted to provide a platform and build something from the ground up.
“For all the people who were into it, some people would come up and be like, “What the fuck is this racket?” – so for it to have got as big as it did still surprises me a huge amount. However many people are making a living out of it now, there was probably about four years of banging your head against a brick wall thinking it was never going to get anywhere.
“The thing with the label is that financially, from a business perspective, it’s always been a waste of time – it’s never been anything other than that. And f you don’t expect to make money out of something, it’s easier to justify spending x amount of time and getting very little money out of it. ”
Yeah, the days of decent independent labels making money are long gone.
“Certainly if you’re talking about proper money, yeah, it simply doesn’t happen any more – the sales figures just aren’t there. It’s a kind of depressing exercise to think of a label the size of ours, and think how many units it would’ve been shifting in the mid-90s, and how much money you might have made out of it. But you can’t let yourself get saddled with that stuff, there’s no point thinking about it.
“It’s true of the whole music industry, really – artists are making more money from live performances than records now, and it’s the same for everyone, from the top down. So yeah, the record label was never a business thing really [laughs].”
“Whether a tune like ‘Hyph Mngo’ gets the kind of attention it did is always going to be slightly arbitrary.”
Your two most notable recent signings have undoubtedly been Joy Orbison and Mount Kimbie. Can you tell us how you came to release their music?
“The process of A&R – for want of a better word – is kind of ongoing. When you run a label and you’re trying to put out new stuff and keep everything interesting, you really have to pay attention to every demo you get sent, and the rest of it. Having said that, most of the A&R over the years has been through my DJ sets. If people send me stuff and it fits into my sets, then I guess that’s the first stage in the process of putting them out on the label.
“Obviously that’s not so true in the case of Mount Kimbie’s stuff, that’s a slightly different thing. Basically Dom from Mount Kimbie was sending me tunes for ages, a couple of years before Maybes came out, but really, really out-there stuff – much, much more out-there than anything we’ve released [laughs]. It just caught my attention, you know, and I thought, well, you don’t get sent stuff like this every day. So it was just a long process of them sending stuff to me, and it developed and developed. The sound they’ve got now, well, they’ve been building up to it for a while. When they sent me Maybes, I was obviously like, this is great, let’s put it out, it doesn’t matter if no one plays it. As I said before, the point of the label has never been to make money; you obviously want to well with releases, but selling units isn’t the primary goal. I thought, if it sells, it sells; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I was actually quite surprised with how quickly it caught on and how many people were really into it.
“And yeah, it’s just been really smooth since; they’re working on the album at the moment, which is hopefully going to come out in May. And like I say, with the kind of lead-in that they’ve had over the last couple of years, they’re really confident in what they do and how they’re work, and I think it’s going to be a great album.
“With Joy Orbison it was more of a traditional Hotflush A&R process. Great tunes, stick ‘em out, sort of thing. It’s kind of the opposite to Mount Kimbie really, because I don’t think he’s been writing tunes that long, but he’s still coming out with tune after tune after tune. With ‘Hyph’ [‘Hyph Mngo’], obviously it’s a great tune, but obviously whether a tune gets that kind of attention is always going to be slightly arbitrary. But it’s great for him, and it’s great for us putting it out; and there’s much more to come.
“When you don’t have to get a job, and you don’t have that kind of pressure, it makes the whole thing a lot easier.”
Was it for personal or musical reasons that you relocated to Berlin?
“It was a bit of both, really. I moved over in 2007. It had got to the stage where it was a viable thing to want to do; I had a proper job, as it were, until the summer of that year. So I got to the stage where I thought I could do this [Hotflush, producing, DJing] full-time if I wanted to. So, I thought about it and I thought yeah, I could do it, and stay here [in London] but then I’d always wanted to live somewhere else and I thought, fuck it, this is as a good a time to do it as any other.
“I’d played in Berlin a few times, so I knew it a bit, knew a few people out here. And Jamie from Vex’d has just moved there, so I spoke to him about it, put my stuff in the car and drove, got here and that was it really. A lot of people spoke like it was a big deal moving to another place, but it didn’t really feel like that to be honest. When you don’t have to get a job, and you don’t have that kind of pressure, it makes the whole thing a lot easier.”
Did the prevalent club sounds of Berlin have an immediate impact on your own DJing and production?
“When I moved I was in the middle of writing the first album, so pretty much the first few months I spent here [in Berlin] was me just sitting around trying to finish it. I had my head down, I didn’t really engage with the city at all. When I finished the record and had a bit more time, I obviously started going out more and seeing what the place was like, and the most unique part of Berlin is really the club scene – it’s totally different to anywhere else in the world that I’ve been, certainly different to anywhere else in Europe, it’s just a different world.
“I’d been kicking around the idea of starting a night for ages, since I first moved back to London really, and when I got to Berlin there was a scene here – a few little dubstep nights – but no one had really stuck their neck out and put on a big line-up at a big club and just seen if people responded to it. So myself and the guy I run Sub:Stance with, Paul, we were just kicking ideas around, and obviously the pie-in-the-sky one was to do it on a weekend night at Berghain [laughs]. One of the things I did do when I moved over here was to get to know the guys at Hardwax, because they’d been supporting the label for ages and been really helpful. So I got to know them, and there’s a lot of overlap between them and the people who play Berghain, there are connections in that respect.
“When we properly sat down and made some concrete enquiries about trying the night, we hooked up one of the guys who worked at Berghain and set up a meeting with the owner. We got there and told them the kind of night we wanted to do – they’d obviously already heard all about it from the guys at Hardwax – and pretty much the first thing that they said to us was, ‘Do you want to do a Friday night?’ [laughs]. It was poker faces all round and then when we got out of the room we were jumping up and down…
“It was all very straightforward, and they’ve been great to work with…they’ve got a very slick in-house promotion team and they handle pretty much everything themselves. It’s only us and one other night that’s actually promoted by ‘external’ people. First night everyone was bricking it, but it went great…”
Were you worried about what the response would be from the audience at the club?
“Totally, the first night we were terrified, absolutely terrified. I don’t know if you’ve been there but it’s an enormous space, it’s terrifying. But the way we figured it was that the people who run the club had given us their blessing and got behind it, and so we thought, OK if it’s good it’s good, if it’s not it’s not.
“[Berghain’s] the perfect room, I think, for the music – it’s got such an amazing atmosphere, and then the system as well. So yeah, it’s gone really well, which is amazing.
Has the audience changed much over the time you’ve been doing it?
“I guess the reason it was successful from the start is because dubstep already had a solid following here, they were just waiting for someone to put something big on, I think. So not really, in that respect.
“The other thing is, I keep talking about dubstep, but really it’s not a dubstep night. The one negative thing that we get is people complaining that not enough actual dubstep gets played there!
There’s not really been a big wobble night in Berlin, but I think if someone put one on it would be absolutely rammed…
“Drum ‘n bass was big here for a little bit, but there hasn’t been a big ‘urban’ scene here for a long time, and I think there’s enough people here who want to hear it and go out to it.”
“There’s not really been a big wobble night in Berlin, but I think if someone put one on it would be absolutely rammed…”
Did moving to Berlin cause you to reconnect with house and techno?
“Well, I think it was already well on the way to happening anyway… so I wouldn’t say I was consciously affected, but by living here, I’m sure it’s had some effect, even if only on an unconscious level. And the house and techno project that I’m doing, SCB, I doubt I would have started that if I’d still been living in London; it’s a direct result of going out to Panorama Bar at 11 in the morning, you know…
“London doesn’t really have a scene in quite the same way. I mean, house is huge there, but there isn’t really what I’d call a house and techno scene. “
How did you approach the mix CD?
“I wanted it to be as representative as possible of the kinds of sets I play at the night – that was the intention. Obviously I wanted it to be a good home listening CD as well, there’s a certain amount of trade-off between those things, but it’s pretty much reflective of the kind of sets I’ve played over the last year or so. Simple as that.
“There’s a lot of Sigha stuff there, Joy Orbison, Instra:mental – the kind of stuff I play. I did make an effort to make it up-front; I had to mix the CD last August so I was tapping up people and asking them if they had any stuff that wasn’t going to come out for ages, ‘cos I didn’t want the mix to just be a bunch of releases.”
What’s can we expect from your SBC project this year?
“There’s a 12” coming out next month, the first proper 12”, and that will be part of a series. Originally it was just a studio experiment, but I’ve been playing more and more house – well, house for want of a better word – DJ sets, and I’ve really been enjoying it. You get to play to a completely different crowd, and it’s a completely different thing, I find it really refreshing. So to begin with SCB was just a case of making tunes to play in those sets, you know? And it’s as refreshing in the studio as it is when I play out, a nice break from making dubstep, or the kind of weird dubstep, that I make under the Scuba name.
“It’s just fun. That’s generally what I’ve been trying to do throughout my musical life, just make things fun, and have a laugh doing stuff. Because at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about – not having a proper job and just doing what you want to do.
“I’ve also been doing quite a lot of – I don’t know quite how to say it – drum ‘n bass-type stuff, the kind of thing that d-Bridge and Instra:mental do and present on their podcasts. On the album there’s a couple of tracks like that, and I’ve been working on that kind of stuff quite a lot, because again, it’s just fun to do something different. ”
“Being a drum ‘n bass fan from quite an early stage, and watching it get more and more shit over the years, to hear something creative and interesting being made in its name again is a nice breath of fresh air.”
Do you feel that the minimal d’n’b sound of Instra:mental, Spectrasoul et al is going to grow and develop further?
“I hope so, yeah. I really like what they do, love their podcasts, and we’ve actually had d-Bridge and Instra:mental come and play at the party. And being a drum ‘n bass fan from quite an early stage, and watching it get more and more shit over the years, to hear something creative and interesting being made in its name again is a nice breath of fresh air, you know? So it’s great, I love it.
“There’s always been this supposed thing that drum ‘n bass is all kind of controlled by this central cabal of people who let people in, or don’t let people in, and all this kind of stuff [laughs]. And the upshot of that was aways going to be that it got narrower and narrower and narrower. I find it quite amusing really…especially having seen people try to do the same thing with dubstep and just failing massively [laughs].”
Tell us about the title of the album, Triangulation…
“It’s basically it’s the three central musical ideas of house/techno, dubstep and this weird drum ‘n bass stuff. These were the three inputs, if you like.
How did your approach differ to that for A Mutual Antipathy?
“The approaches didn’t really differ, in the sense that both of them I wrote a whole album and then scrapped it and then started again [laughs]. I wanted the first one to be sort of like a DJ set, consistent tempo, smooth transitions, more like a mix CD than an album. What came out at the end of it was sort of like that, but not quite. So I wasn’t thinking like that at all with this one [Triangulation]; I wanted it to be coherent and to hang together well as an album, but I wasn’t going for something specific like I was with the first one.
“The way it’s come out, it’s sonically pretty different to the first one, but the way it’s put together is quite similar, in the sense that the CD version is all kind of seamed into one thing. It’s hopefully the kind of thing that you’ll listen to the whole way through, you’ll get more out of it that way than picking out individual tracks. There are a few tracks on there that are club tracks or whatever, but it’s not a connection of ‘tunes’, as it were; I hope it works well in a line, if you see what I mean.”
Are there any collaborations on the album?
“I haven’t actually collaborated with anyone musically since I was in a band, about fifteen years ago [laughs]. I can’t really stand all these guest vocalists and collaborations on albums and that kind of stuff.
“There’s a couple of vocal tracks on the album…On the last album I was kind of messing around with vocals and seeing if I could get melodies out of vocals without using words, that kind of stuff; so there’s a bit of a development of that on a few of the tracks, without going down the diva route…[laughs]
“I worry about what’s coming, all the major label dubstep records and guest vocals. It’s definitely happening. The less said about it the better!”