Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Ben Lovett The Grooveyard

Ben Lovett - The Grooveyard (Oct 2012)
Ben Lovett - The Grooveyard (Oct 2012) Tsuba Records Kevin Griffiths: Tsuba-Records Tsuba Colours: Colours Volume One Maceo Plex – AKA Eric Estornel

Tunbridge Wells is the place to be where cutting edge electronic music is concerned. No, seriously. For it is this quaint and leafy Kentish spa town that represents home to Tsuba Records; one of the coolest underground house labels currently on the planet.


Label founder Kevin Griffiths runs Tsuba from a tiny office at the top of his quiet suburban family home. Quiet, most of the time.... “I’m getting back to some kind of normality” he laughs. “I’ve had a busy summer holidays with the family. I’ve got one five-year-old daughter and a newborn, but the eldest is now off to school and the house is relatively quiet again, so I can crack on. I feel I have the balance... a way of doing things that allows me to fully enjoy home life and the music. I’m not sure I’ll want to be running Tsuba in 10 years time but it’s difficult to look that far ahead. Right now, I have lots in the pipeline and can’t wait to get stuck in. For certain music will always be there.”

Griffiths established Tsuba in 2006, after a decade of working on the business side of the dance industry. Time at download websites and club promotions agencies led to a Head Of Label Management role at distributor Amato (sadly no more) and, immediately prior to Tsuba, the opportunity to run Fine Records; a weighty sub-label of Berlin-based Four Music, home to 4-4 big dogs Tiefschwarz and Radio Slave. He was ultimately made redundant but a passion for label ownership had ignited.

“It took me a minute to switch on to the idea of creating my very own label” Griffiths acknowledges. “And I’m very happy with how it’s progressed. My previous roles gave me the best possible experience in terms of building something up from scratch. They provided a valuable understanding of both the business and creative sides of label management, and helped me grasp the mechanics of the wider music market.”

Tsuba launched at a point in dance history when vinyl sales were still healthy and the market was yet to tail off; if only by a few months. Without the distraction and saturation of digital downloads, 12” releases achieved greater standout. Tsuba, a big supporter of vinyl, had a clear path. “It would be much, much harder to introduce Tsuba today” Griffiths reflects.

Tsuba has remained impressively consistent, and relevant, over the past six years. The label launched confidently with Zoo Brazil’s minimal double-A Get You/Find My Way before stretching to influential releases by undergrounds titans Dyed Soundorom, Steve Lawler, Motor City Soul and Moodymanc. Sub-labels Tsuba Colours and Tsuba Limited were conceived and a series of successful international label showcases.

And yet there are those that regularly say Tsuba doesn’t get the hype that it deserves. That it could make more of its unique position and talented roster. Other British underground labels, riding clubland’s renewed interest in deep house, seem to be taking most of the plaudits, and arguably most of the profits.

“I don’t play the PR game” Griffiths says. “I don’t have an agency on retainer. I make my own living; there’s a real DIY ethic to Tsuba which gives me a lot of pleasure. I love the science of running a label.”

But in today’s climate isn’t that putting him under excruciating amounts of pressure? Never has the dance scene proven so competitive; nor standout been so important. For some artists and labels PR makes all the difference between survival and failure. “I have been thinking about playing the game more” he admits. “But the reality of running a label yourself is that you have to make brutal judgements very quickly. If it’s a matter of paying myself... paying my artists... spending money on a classic Larry Heard remix, or, on the other hand, paying an agency to raise Tsuba’s profile then I’ll always prioritise the former. I am wary of playing the game. The fact I already make a living through an independent record label today is pretty good going.”

Tsuba’s latest project is a compilation of Tsuba Colours best bits so far – including material by Steffi, Larry Heard, Sascha Dive - as previously pressed to limited edition colour vinyl. Another compilation is planned for 2013: “I love the sound of vinyl... the packaging... the shrink-wrap... all of it makes the 12-inch special; it’s not always the same experience with downloads. About three years ago I wanted to start a series of quality coloured vinyl releases that tapped into that feeling, so Tsuba Colours was born. I surprised myself earlier this year when I realised how many releases we’d put out; it felt right to take stock of things with an album or two.”

If Tsuba is widely viewed by others as a purveyor of deep house then it does, Griffiths points out, have a few other tricks up its sleeve. There will be an even greater commitment to versatility in the future. Earlier this year, the label released Canadian minimalist Tazz’s techno-driven album The Adventures Of Tazz and, right now, Griffiths is working on house meets abstract hip-hop combo The Carter Bros, from Australia no less. “I want to keep broadening into those other genres that match my tastes. I want to take bigger risks,” Griffiths urges.

What else is lined up for Tsuba? There’s a new Griffiths EP in November, for starters, and an EP from Moodtrap. Aside from the label, Griffiths is finalising a mysterious EP project with close studio compadre Justin Drake (ex Peace Division). The record, with a firm, track-y nod to old-school Chicago, will drop under a new alias and on another new label with no announcement and no real clue of crowd reaction.

Griffiths, buoyed by clubland’s reversion back to the melodic backbone of late Eighties and early Nineties deep house, is clear on what he thinks is the secret to happy label ownership: “You have to buy records and love buying them. It’s all about finding flavours... being patient and spotting the new artists that make a difference. It is rare people approach me offering me amazing ready-prepared releases; you have to be proactive looking for new sounds that might add something. Networking is important too; it helps open doors... you can never stop doing that.”

Vinyl is also very important to him, from both a label and DJing perspective. “I think I actually fit somewhere between vinyl and download” he clarifies. “That’s a hard position to occupy because I need to move with the times but still make space for a more traditional format. Vinyl, for me, is pure underground. It has a punky attitude because it goes against the flow of the mainstream music industry and that leads to big creativity which is crucial.”

Griffiths has been a DJ longer than he has a music manager or producer. He is more in demand around the world than ever, constantly reminded about how far the electronic music scene has spread from those embryonic Eighties days in pockets of America, Ibiza and England: “This industry has grown faster than most would have believed possible. It’s demanding but amazing fun. As I say, balance is key; if you have that then you’re likely to be in an amazing space.”

Tsuba Colours releases Colours Volume One this month


Maceo Plex – AKA Eric Estornel

Hotshot Texan producer Maceo Plex – AKA Eric Estornel – has spoken to me about his eagerly anticipated second album for label ‘de rigeur’ Crosstown Rebels. It’s due out next year and follows 2011’s successful debut Life Index, a charismatic fusion of intricate house, groovy tech and G-funk. “It is [the new album] going to have less of a focus on house” he teases. “There will be some deep house cuts, but there’s going to be far greater experimentation.”

Plex, based in sunny Spain these days, is currently wowing clubland with a new EP on his Ellum Audio imprint, entitled Love. The double-A pays tribute to Colourblind’s smooth cover of the Jones Girls’ late Seventies disco gem You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else, as remixed by celebrated Hacienda jock Jon Dasilva, and Chilean-German duo Closer Musik’s lustrous electronic jam Future Musik. It is the former that shines especially brightly, Plex tracking down Dasilva and Colourblind vocalist Joi Cardwell, legendary house chanteuse, for that extra bit of class and credibility. Nice....

ADE 2012

A quick word on the Amsterdam Dance Event too. Running October 17-21, ADE 2012 – both networking conference and city-wide party fest - promises its biggest, most varied club line-up yet. Mainstream stars including David Guetta, Carl Cox and Pete Tong will mix with underground titans such as Ricardo Villalobos, Francois K, Solomun, Joris Voorn, Richie Hawtin, Soul Clap, Wolf + Lamb and Damian Lazarus.

Interestingly, too, there is a fresh focus on soulful house, as Amsterdam’s younger generation of revellers and promoters cottons on to the original Stateside sound that helped give birth to electronic music culture in the first place. This year, attendees can expect to see Black Coffee – the flag-bearer for South Africa’s ongoing Stateside-inspired house revolution – at The Djoon Experience’s Sugar Factory soiree (October 17); DJ Spen and Terry Hunter at Soul Heaven’s De Bierfabriek show (October 18); Sandy Rivera at a party being thrown by Defected at the AIR club (October 19); and David Morales, Frankie Knuckles, Hector Romero and DJ Meme at MN2S’ 25 Years Of Def Mix blowout (Sugar Factory, October 19).

Beyond that Body & Soul triumvirate Francois K, Danny Krivit and ‘Joe’ Claussell play the MC Theater on October 20; New Jersey don Dennis Ferrer brings Objektivity to De Bierfabriek (October 20); and Quentin Harris hits The Sounds Of Blackness jam at Bump (October 20).

Visit for more information.


Dale Howard – Inner City EP (UK Lost My Dog)

British house producer Dale Howard, whose CV includes cuts for Fear Of Flying and Noir, presents a second Lost My Dog release after Merrt earlier this year. Howard’s Inner City EP builds four reliable rough-edged house grooves around neat, skippin’ beats, chunky b-lines and retro synths.

Candi Staton – Hallelujah Anyway (UK Defected)

Legendary soul singer Candi Staton fronts this feel-good, impeccably polished house groove, produced by Yank legends Frankie Knuckles and Eric Kupper under their newly-assigned Director’s Cut guise. In their accomplished hands, and gilded by Staton’s weighty delivery, Hallelujah Anyway offers soaring synth, pad and gospel organ interplay over tight 4-4 drums and dramatic breakdowns. Germany’s Larse, on the other hand, strips back and slows down; his deeper, almost melancholic glide putting more focus on Staton and giving her stirring single a different kind of power. Enriching....

Supernova – The Light Goes On EP (UK Defected)

The title cut of Italian duo Supernova’s new EP eases into top gear with Ferrari-style slickness, swinging drums and a marauding low-end accelerating into an airy male vocal packing just enough soul and sincerity to make the whole damn thing work. Flipside lick I Can’t Do Without You takes deeper, synth-stabbed manoeuvres; a grinding workout sure to engage the early morning crowds.

Arnaud D feat. Heidi Vogel – Rollin On (UK Tribe)

Deep, immersive yet expressive soul-house from the ever consistent Tribe stable, Arnaud D’s meaty, electronic production gathering hypnotic steam behind Vogel’s rich, beautifully paced vocals. Remixers David Harness and Chris Lum offer subtle variations to Rollin On’s irresistible movement.

Pirupa – Party Non Stop (UK Defected)

Defected snaps up Desolat’s brassy hip-house anthem from earlier this year and applies fresh remixes by Riva Starr and fast-rising knob-twiddler Huxley. In Starr’s frenetic hands Party Non Stop loses control, abrupt stylistic shifts, over-egged breaks ‘’n builds and a cold, maniacally-looped b-line causing chaos rather than party-hearty cohesion. Huxley’s deliciously raw garage-house jack makes far greater sense.

Gadi Mizrahi AKA Baby Prince – Nobody EP (Ger/UK somethinksounds)

Wolf + Lamb mainstay Mizrahi steps out on his own as the ‘Baby’ with confident mid-tempo house cuteness. Title cut Nobody, featuring Soul Clap’s Charlie Levine, conjures rich atmosphere through quirky vocal samples, smart scatter-jack beats, choice warbles of bass and gorgeous, fantastical sweeps of melody. He Doesn’t Say It To Me pares down to deeper, sinister, utterly hypnotic house groove, whilst Prince’s remix of Lucky Paul lick Demon Spawn is a cavernous digital freewheel doubling as future soul classic. Miguel Campbell and Lucky Paul remixes of Nobody, adding cosmic disco and heavy percussive flourish respectively, round things off in impressive, genre-smashing style.

Freaks – Black Shoes White Socks (UK Hot Creations)

The Freaks – underground staples Luke Solomon and Justin Harris – overhaul conventional 4-4 thinking by landing this deliciously off-kilter, Arabian-spiced house jam, complete with double-clarinet solos, on Jamie Jones’ Hot Creations imprint, the label that currently can do no wrong. The remixes are similarly strong, and outlandish, US house legend Cajmere deliriously looping snippets of vocal over pumped analogue groove, wAFF injecting techno bite and Darius Syrossian infectious jack ‘n’ bass.

Various Artists – 2 Bears 1 Love (UK ITH/Defected Records)

Grizzled producer-DJs Joe Goddard (Hot Chip) and Raf ‘Daddy’ Rundell (Greco Roman Soundystem) roar loud and proud on their debut mix comp as combo alias The 2Bears; a partnership that has already seen them drop a series of EPs on labels including Southern Fried and Bitches’ Brew over the past two years, not to mention studio album Be Strong. Like those releases, 2 Bears 1 Love is shot through both with gleeful, tongue-in-cheek abandon and wide-eyed dance music reverence. Hence, on the decidedly London-centric first disc, field recordings of a drunken ‘dread’ (recorded outside the pub), grime-y, multi-ethnic swagger courtesy of Dalston Airline 149, Heartbreak’s super rude dancehall rumble Blaze Up and Rebolledo’s insane Theremin groove Pitaya Frenesi mix it up with real-deal US house via Mood II Swing (their seminal remix of Kim English’s Learn 2 Luv) and Mike Dunn, and Mosca’s intensely tribal take on Four Tet production Sing. Disc two is altogether house-ier but an uplifting balance of classic and comedic is still there, Isolee’s classic micro-house jazz jam Beau Mot Plage and the timeless techno of Paperclip People’s Throw rubbing shoulders with Mickey Moonlight’s Caribbean lilting, seriously wigged out remix of Crowdpleaser’s Nenekri and the Bears’ own chirpy take on Wiley’s I’m Skanking. It’s clear that 2 Bears 1 Love is all about having a good time, but for all the fun, frivolity and bouncin’ accessibility there is serious artistic intent and impressive musical knowledge of some 20 years of dance. A real growl-pleaser....

System Of Survival – Needle And Thread (Ger BPitch Control)

Italian duo Alex Carpetieri and Pietro De Lisi thrill and illuminate with the kind of sunny Balearic grooves that regularly enthral the masses at infamous Ibizan party Circo Loco, where both are resident DJs. There is an interesting range of sounds and tempos here, the synth-pop sass of W Pitch Down leading into the sweet Nineties house of Attitude (featuring vocals from Hercules and Love Affair’s Shaun J Wright) and then the jazzy-jackin’ X-Pert, techno-led Phat Trax and dreamy breakbeat of Nihil. In summary, System Of Survival have a smart debut on their hands - Needle And Thread stitches together disparate influences into something at once fashionable and long-lasting.

Terrence Dixon – From The Far Future Pt 2 (Ger Tresor Records)

Venerable Detroit minimalist Terrence Dixon presents a new album some 12 years after acclaimed debut long-player, From The Far Future, which it is intended to link to. Dixon calls his latest work a “statement album”, designed to reflect his “real life drama” and gritty Motor City home. The strict rhythmic discipline and minimal futurism (in turn paying homage to Detroit’s past) is still here but there’s definitely more - in actual fact, two distinct versions of From The Far Future Pt 2. Only three cuts overlap the home-orientated CD and club-geared vinyl formats being released by Tresor. The former, spanning 14 tracks, embraces bleak techno (Path To Mystery, Lead By Example) next to soulful, rhythmic house (Self Centred), dub (My Journey Here), off-kilter jazz (The Switch) and mellow soundscape (Vision Blurry); it is an intense and ambitious collection with much to glean on repeated listens. Pt 2’s eight-cut double-vinyl, meanwhile, offers tougher, comparatively inflexible dancefloor workouts - Light Of Day and Band Together typical among them – but quality and personality remains evident, and whether it is placed next to, or away from its digital counterpart, the reputation of Dixon can only continue to grow. From The Far Future Pt 2 is a personal yet epic collection offering something to all fans of Detroit; a monumental release re-affirming Dixon’s position as techno game-changer.

Various Artists – Dimitri From Paris: Back In The House (UK Defected)

The undisputed disco don of contemporary clubland, Dimitri From Paris returns to Defected for his sixth compilation outing and, reassuringly, the va va voom is still there. Back In The House includes two CD mixes, one a live recording of Dimitri’s recent set at London’s Horse & Groom; the other programmed in the studio (at Dimitri’s Parisian ‘mansion’, of course...). The former disc is more forward-looking, knitting snappy nu-funk, disco and deep house from current darlings Soul Clap, Miguel Campbell, Maceo Plex and DJ T with real verve. Dim’s second mix dishes further recent treats via MAM (remixing WebQueawry) Holy Ghost! and himself (a delicious retro-pop-laced cover of Pet Shop Boys hit Domino Dancing with DJ Rocca and Tim Benton) alongside vintage house and disco cuts by Marshall Jefferson, KC Flightt (remixed by Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez) and Dan Hartman but maintains the compilation’s contemporary approach to, and interpretation of, soulful dancefloor genres conceived back in the last century. The fact that Dim has edited and specially remixed a large number of the tracks on offer only adds to the continuity, and supremely well-presented, lovingly commandeered groove. Deep, dark underground Back In The House is not; but its upbeat wares provide gimmick-free mirrorball shine. Glittering....

Ben Lovett


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