Mike Atkinson

Dealmaker Records & Red.

Posted in features, Nottingham Post by Mike A on August 10, 2007

Thousands of miles away – both literally and figuratively – from the braggadocio, bling and suffocating conservatism of the commercial hip hop scene, Nottingham’s Dealmaker Records are quietly but persistently advancing the cause of a clutch of innovative, thoughtful, and occasionally pioneering new artists who, although they might never secure prime rotation on MTV Base, are equally dedicated to that well-worn old maxim, Keeping It Real. Think DJ Shadow rather than 50 Cent, Ninja Tune rather than Death Row, and you’re already halfway there.

First emerging in late 2003 with the acclaimed UK Duty Paid compilation, Dealmaker have steadily acquired an impressively diverse roster of artists, with twelve acts currently signed to the label.

Leading the way in terms of visibility are the duo Kids In Tracksuits, who have recorded Radio One sessions for Steve Lamacq and Rob Da Bank, and supported the likes of De La Soul, Amp Fiddler and Big Daddy Kane.

Representing the underground, Johnny Crump is a turntablist with a unique approach, whose mixtapes aim to redefine the boundaries of what can be technically achieved with two decks and a cross-fader.

In sharp contrast, singer-songwriter Sophie Johnson-Hill is a former St Peter’s Church choirgirl who, following an enforced break due to throat problems, is re-emerging as an artist with clear commercial potential. Her debut double A-sided single matches the dramatic, orchestral A New Dawn (inspired by the Nina Simone classic Feelin’ Good) with the witty and summery Bounce Your Head, whose easy-going conversational approach should appeal to fans of Lily Allen and Kate Nash.

The latest Dealmaker single, which hit the shops on Monday, is an intriguing release from a solo artist called Red: a former Nottingham resident, who started out as a drummer before switching to turntables following a year spent in California, where he was heavily influenced by the thriving Bay Area underground scene.

“I was quite lucky”, he explained. “While I was there, a kind of new movement was coming to fruition. They had a band of scratch DJs, each with one turntable and a mixer. One would be playing a drum part, and another would be playing a riff, and so forth – and so together, they would be making a complete track. I’m doing much the same – but I’m putting everything into one, using looping technology.”

Remarkably, every sound on the lead track Seenis produced entirely by scratching, as a video on Red’s Myspace page (myspace.com/redsource) demonstrates. Even more remarkably, only one turntable is needed to do the job, as Red’s scratching is looped back via foot pedals connected to a laptop, thus building up layers of sound. This “live looping” approach, which has been used on stage by artists such as KT Tunstall, Jamie Lidell and Imogen Heap, lends itself particularly well to a solo scratch artist. As for the vinyl that Red uses, this consists of one-off pressings of sounds which he has sampled – again via a turntable – from a variety of obscure sources, specifically to be used on the track in question.

For his live shows, Red combines these turntable techniques with beatboxing, live vocal loops and elements of showmanship, so that the crowd have something more to concentrate on than just one man, a deck and a laptop. Building on the success of his solo sets, the next logical step was to put a band together, in order to reproduce the music by more traditional means. The band in question, Full Fat, retains the turntables as the lead instrument, augmenting them with keyboards, guitar and drums.

“Part of me thought I could get a band together of scratch DJs, like I saw in California – but I couldn’t actually find any DJs who had the right mentality to do stuff like that. In the end, it was great that things happened this way, as it’s never really been done before. The turntables justify their place in the band – they’re not just there for a gimmick. I wanted to show that they could hold their own against other instruments such as guitars.”

Red’s forthcoming album Fingerprints aims to push the envelope further, in an attempt to demonstrate that turntables can be used in a more varied, emotionally expressive way. “Scratching is usually associated with noises – with percussive, “wicky-wacky” type sounds – but I wanted to show that you could use that technique to create moods and styles that people wouldn’t have associated with it .”

As for the people who run Dealmaker, Red has nothing but praise. “Ste Allan from the label has been a big supporter of mine for years. I think he represents a very small minority of people in the music industry these days, in that he supports talent, and he loves music, and that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing.”

Having built their reputation as an independent hip hop label, Dealmaker recently acquired two-storey premises directly opposite the Broadway Cinema, right in the heart of the city’s creative community. As well as providing a base of operations for the label, the property also houses a fully equipped recording studio. This opened its doors three months ago, following ten months of preparation.

While the label continues to showcase new music from the hip hop underground, the Dealmaker studio is open to all comers, and has already played host to everything from rock bands to string quartets. Taken together, both arms of the operation provide a much needed focus for musical independence and creativity at a grassroots level, in a city which has all too often struggled to provide its emergent talent with the exposure and support which it deserves.

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