Ahead of playing Fabric on 2nd February, we caught up with Tsuba head honcho Kevin Griffiths for a chat taking in everything from his influences when he started out to his selection criteria for the label…
Hi Kevin, first up – what are the plans for Tsuba in 2013?
Hello! The main plan is to continue to release great underground house & techno, spread the love through my label parties & gigs and make a little new music. 2012 was a great but hectic year where I became a father for the second time & moved house, so I feel a lot more chilled heading into 2013. The schedule is full of some really great releases from the likes of Spencer Parker, BLM & Jordan Peak plus some new names to the label with EPs coming from Franck Roger, Detroit Swindle, Luv Jam and Jamie trench to name a few.
The artwork used on your sleeves is really impressive, the colours volume 1 release in particular. Who does the design and how do you go about sourcing artists for it?
I work with two designers on the whole, Pablo Gargano a long standing friend of mine who’s been with Tsuba since day one and more recently Sam Renwick who came up with the striking geometric Tsuba sleeves. I liked his work for Phonica so tracked him down and sent an email asking if he’d like to do something for the label, simple as that! Then for one off projects like the Colours album I worked with London designers Matt & Dan who delivered a stunning fully painted sleeve. I have a design intern at the moment who’s working on some ideas & concepts and doing some great videos for forthcoming singles. I take the artwork as seriously as the music, I want to make a mark with the releases and memorable art certainly helps to do that.
I’ve read previous interviews where you talk of the love of vinyl as a tangible object – how do you see the future for the oldest surviving format? Do you think vinyl will remain even when we’re downloading music straight into our brains from ‘music stations’ in shopping malls?
Ha, there’s a thought! Vinyl will always be around, I’m more convinced of that than ever. There’ll always be the real enthusiasts who want the wax and I count myself in that category. As a DJ and record collector I find it a lot easier to organize my vinyl as opposed to iTunes which is over run with promos & demos the majority of the time. In ten years time will I find myself flicking through old music on my hard drive or going through a big pile of the black stuff? The latter will most definitely be a lot more fun.
As a DJ who’s been doing it for a couple of decades, do you find that the majority of crowds you’re playing to now are more open minded than they were in the nineties? Do you think that, through the internet and ease of access to music, the audiences you play to are becoming more savvy?
It depends where you play really, Berlin most definitely and also Adelaide in Australia where the crowds are smaller but know more about good house music that most places I’ve played. Club music is meant to be fun and I always aim to strike a balance between educating and making sure the floor is jumpin’.
As a producer, who does A&R for your own label and also DJ’s, do you find it sometimes difficult to not be subliminally influenced by all the music you get sent and listen to? A lot of musicians claim to find it beneficial to switch off from listening to music stylistically similar to what they themselves intend to make – in order that they don’t accidentally mimic. Is this the case for you?
Yeah sometimes it does get a bit much with demos & the daily bombardment of music so it’s important to take a step back. At the end of the day when signing something I always ask myself ‘would I play it or buy it?’ and if I have to think about it too much, there’s my answer. Record shopping helps to unwind and put thing in perspective, I’m the one in control of what I want to hear as opposed to being on the constant receiving end of requests, which definitely grinds you down after a while. Its also important to keep DJing, that definitely gives me a clear idea about which tracks are the best ones with Tsuba in mind.
What kind of setup do you use to produce – are you more hardware or software orientated, or a mix of the both?
I use a very sophisticated piece of hardware, a bit grey around the edges but highly reliable – Mr Justin Drake! He engineers all my stuff, I turn up with a loop usually so have the sounds in place (I’m big on samples and use some ableton plug ins for the rest). I decided a long time ago I don’t really have the time to devote to being a ‘producer’, I much prefer running the label and that side of things. I enjoy the process of making music, but in small doses which is why you only see one or two releases a year. I make music when I’m inspired or feel a real urge to do it, not in order to get gigs which is the general model these days & has resulted in a wave of mediocre music. Myself and Justin are working on a new Midnight Special release too over the coming months.
You’re playing at fabric on 2nd February, as your travel around djing have you come to develop affection for particular clubs around the world, places that you feel at home away from home?
I’m not just saying it but Fabric is definitely one of my most favourite places to play. The soundsystem, layout of the club and people behind the scenes are really great, so its always a special night. Other than that, I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia so have done some great gigs – a daytime Sunday party called Sash is Sydney is always very good.
You say you turn down 9/10ths of the promos you get sent for consideration with Tsuba – are there any particular tracks/artists that have slipped through the net, that you wished you’d signed but hadn’t?
Yes there are a few, I used to run a label before Tsuba called Fine and a young producer called Guy Gerber dropped in the office one day with a demo. I didn’t get around to listening to that one and he’s done rather well since! There have been a couple of huge beatport hits I turned down for Tsuba, but I’d do it again as they were pretty cheesy. I don’t get the thing of finding an 80’s pop hook and adding a kick drum to it, a total credibility killer if you ask me. My accountant might well disagree with that!
When you first started getting into electronic music, who were the artists and djs you most admired, the people that made you want to do it yourself?
I was a big Andrew Weatherall fan around the time of his Sabres Of Paradise label, plus labels like Guerilla records, Junior Boys Own, Jackpot who were all pushing a UK take on US house. The whole Nuphonic records period was quite inspiring in terms of broadening my musical horizons & the importance of creating a strong label identity.
Finally, if you had to save just one record out of your collection, which would it be and why?
Williams ‘Pinball’ (Tsuba001)