In 1996 the "Hidden Agenda" brothers formed a series of tracks that appeared on Goldie's Metalheadz imprint. 5 years Hidden Agenda formed Dispatch Recordings and the label went on to release music from the most respected and innovative heads in D&B (seriously check the Discogs, it is ridiculous). Fast forward to present day and one of the Hidden Agenda trio remains and has been guiding the Dispatch fleet for some time. Ant TC1 has now lead the label to a landmark 100 releases - and bloody hell do they have a serious double pack of collections to celebrate reaching the big 1 double 0.
We caught up with the man who is not only responsible for running Dispatch but is also, low key, one of the most influential men in the D&B game. He has some rather interesting things to say and some seriously good free content for all you Drum & Bass heads.
Hi Ant, how are you? How has 2017 treated you so far?
Good so far definitely, not getting any younger or any less busy but wouldn't change all this for anything.
Dispatch recently reached the milestone of 100 releases – no mean feat in this era of disposable music – when you launched the label with Hidden Agenda and put out Dispatch 001 did you expect such longevity and success?
Never even dreamed of it, never imagined it once, I got a massive nostalgic feeling looking back at all the back cat by means of working towards the 100 2 part project, we've actually done way more than 100 releases already when you include the Limited, old digi limited label and all the albums plus Dispatch Dubplate releases. Good music coming on day by day week by week keeps us happily busy for sure.
If you could pick one significant or symbolic moment during your time of running Dispatch what would it be?
I think releasing Transit 1 (the first V/A album), it was a giant leap into a project on a much bigger wider scale and I've never handled a release of that magnitude before, it was daunting and nerve-racking at the same time. It felt good to get it out there, it's a project I look back on that I feel really covered what the label was about at the time (and still is) but it kinda represented it in our first 'collective package', a great group of artists all featured on a project I loved (and still do), I think it did a lot to really define the sound of the label that fans enjoy now.
OK, we appreciate this could be a difficult one for you to answer for various reasons; you have a peak-hour set at your favourite venue. You can choose one track from Dispatch to start your set and one Dispatch track to close. Which tracks would you choose and why?
Oooh, tough one! You could ask me this tomorrow and it'd be something different. Today I'm going for an opening with Zero T, Survival and Steo's "No More" and a finish with Octane, DLR & Break's "Murmur".
Out of interest what is your favourite venue?
I love Wire in Leeds, it's got a great system, I got my first ever warm up residency in the same spot (under another name) back in 1995, it's the venue where we do our now 14 year old night called Momentum too so there's a lot of love from many years going into that. I have to say Le Bekini in Toulouse is another that strikes real high, great crowd, system, and the monitoring set up is about as perfect as you could ever blast your ears with, it really is top notch. There's too many others, it's a tough question!
Are you still managing music and global events for the mighty Metalheadz? Does your professional relationship with them ever cause a conflict for your work on Dispatch?
I am, no conflict whatsoever, I ticked that one off soon as I started and came up with a process that doesn't even bring it into the foray, it was something I projected as a potential issue i.e. someone sends a demo that Goldie likes but low and behold it comes out on Dispatch or you could imagine that I might decide which label the demo is best suited for, contrary to what some people (in the past) have decided to presume out there, Goldie does possess a pair of ears himself (very good ones tbh) and actually picks / approves every track that comes out on the label, it's most definitely not JUST me, I have actually got pretty annoyed in the past when people have taken it upon themselves to presume otherwise, I find it a bit disrespectful to the both of us and a very presumptuous (and clearly ill founded) view to take.
So to celebrate a century of releases you have compiled two seriously beefy collections: “The Future Blueprint” & “The Past Blueprint” Tell us a little behind the concepts of the albums.
It felt like quite a simple one really and it sprung to mind real quickly, I feel like I move through this music thing without noticing the years pass by (and they really have passed by, I first got into this aged 12 / 13 and I'm now 38!), I felt like as well as doing something pretty standard and safe (ie putting something new out) I really wanted to test the waters of seeing if our new fans would take to some of our back cat that a lot of our new fans might have never heard, it's worked out well, the Past Blueprint was hand chosen by me and Alex on a long list of merits, it wasn't easy and you never know if you truly picked the right ones but we're happy with the choices we made for sure.
Was it a struggle to whittle down your final list of tracks for the blueprints? Any honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the list?
It was tough! Some that we missed were kinda calculated in choice, it won't be the last re-visit project we ever do for sure.
You are kindly giving away a free track to Juno customers as part of the takeover, the storming “Gravity” from Dispatch star men Octane & DLR – tell us a little about the track.
It's a real bubbler! It was on Octane & DLR's groundbreaking (I think so anyways!) album 'Method In The Madness' and we felt it was a good one to get out there to people who may have never heard it, this was 3 talents together in a studio creating something that just worked, I see it as a bit of signature representation of a label roller too.
You have also had hot prospects Gerra & Stone record an exclusive mix for Juno, it has been on loop on our sound system since we got it – did you give them any specific briefing before asking them to record it?
Na, I never ever give any artist this kinda thing, I don't like to have a hand in shaping, controlling what they do too much, their talent that made my ears prick up in the first place is enough for me to trust those guys to go off and do their thing.
Managing a label, producing, touring as a DJ, managing events- each job on its own would be more than enough for one person. How do cope with having so many plates spinning? Do you have a strong team around you?
I do, and I don't sleep much. I'm writing this at 2:30AM on a Sunday night.
Artists like DLR have huge hype around them currently, and rightly so. Other top labels must be queuing up to sign his music but DLR and many others return to Dispatch time and time again with their strongest EP’s and albums. What do you think it is about the Dispatch service that keeps artists so closely affiliated?
I think some of them are glutton for punishment! I certainly wouldn't deal with me time and time again hahaha, you'll have to ask them, maybe they are all crazy or I've hypnotized them into some kind of weird label cult who knows ;)
Are you still based in Leeds? Is the Drum & Bass nightlife scene still one of the best in country?
Yeah I'll never move, the chips and gravy have always been far too good up here and I live a busy but nice life overall, I wouldn't change it but who knows what the future holds really? The nightlife is good, I don't get out so much these days on top of doing the DJ shows I do as I'm chained to the spreadsheets and Google Docs innit.
You launched the label just as the wheels began moving for fundamental change in music industry, particularly dance music. What are the biggest positive and negative factors of the digital revolution for you?
I maybe feel that when digital music first started and was RRP'd at the kinda price values it was at the time, I couldn't help but feel it was under-valued, I couldn't help but feel "man, this artist, after creating this piece of music - it's gotta be worth more than 99pence!", I soon got over it, got with it, the great thing I definitely feel is that it's allowed our genre to reach places and the ears of people it never would or could have reached. Overall it's been a great thing and I really feel it has helped artists live performances reach out to places they might have never been able to represent too. I mean a city has to have some people into what an artist DJ / does somehow for a promoter to feel it's a good shout to get them on a plane and get them over there right?
You are one of the few Drum & Bass labels who still regularly release on vinyl. What factors do you consider when deciding whether or not a release gets pressed?
It's something me and the artists discuss on a case by case basis, it's a hard environment for sure, and a costly one, prices have just recently gone up 15% due to the GBP's continued poor performance against the Euro since Brexit (with some of the major pressing houses being in Europe and charging UK labels in GBP) so it's something that will have to be even more carefully considered now as pressing 300 records or my is really not cheap and not selling 50 of those records even can have a massive impact financially on the label and the artists, this is quite simply fact whether it's something people really don't like or are indifferent about.
Dispatch is certainly a label that seems to look beyond fads and trends for particular sounds and styles. So what is it that you look for when signing a release?
I'm not into any of that kind of way of looking at it, I follow my ears, always have always will, the day I become even slightly inclined by any other motives I'll give this whole thing up and do something different because that's a sure fire sign I've lost the love. I hope it doesn't happen, it hasn't in 15+years so far as far as the label goes.
Are you a fan of or actively involved in making any other styles of music beyond D&B?
I love good music, I like music that has soul and stirs emotion without going for the obvious. I wish I had more time to be creative myself as I used to but I am where I am and I enjoy what I do.
Where did the name Dispatch come from?
It stemmed from Hidden Agenda's first 'Despatch' 3 part release series on Metalheadz, it was then changed to 'Dispatch' the label. That’s the reason why Dispatch started at '004' via its catalogue number.
Something we have wondered for some time now…what does the TC1 in your name stand for?
I actually can't remember y'know, I needed to come up with something real quick for a flyer after deciding I was gonna change my name and that was it!
What can we expect from Dispatch and sub labels Dispatch Dub & Dispatch LTD in 2017?
A heap of releases, enough to possibly send me to an early grave already! There's definitely some amazingly talented new artists, more so on Dispatch LTD, we'll be releasing more albums than we've ever released this year too, it will be a very busy year, D&B is showing no signs of slowing down, that's going way beyond looking at my own label and it's plans, I feel like the scene in general is in a great place, I personally couldn't wish for more, there's some amazing music around the corner from so many across the scene.
Murderation: Filthy Habits have been pushing out high grade drum & bass for some years now, but this is a whole new level. Highlights include the way "Artificial Intelligence" subverts everything you know about drops with its rising, paranoid riff; the way "1.17AM" creates the sensation of driving 100mph down the wrong side of the motorway; the way "Retaliation" buzzes and jitters like a digital bees nest on fire and the way that sudden extra jungle fill on "Yeah" well and truly knocks you off your feet each and every time. Powerful, uncompromising and utterly, utterly filthy.
Agro a-go-go.. The Sub-liminal bossman breaks down the doors of 2017 with four absolute flatteners. The story starts with "The Music" where a crisp, warm skank and vocal are soon shoved into a murky pool of low-end riffage, jump-up with added funk in the groove, this will spark up any dance in any corner. "Vengeance" follows on a meaner tip as stern bass and sudden amen flurries lick upside your senses and "Cold Roads" has one of the coldest drops Agro's ever created - sinister, moody and tubular, it is 1997 all over again. "Crush" concludes this fearful tale with the help of equally rising Leaf. Slapping and buzzing with a mild nod towards the Bristol sound and Clipz in his early prime - there's mischief in the moodiness. We'll let the music do the talking from here on.
We're not sure how much The Force sold his soul for, but we reckon Beelzebub must have given him a handsome deal as there are some seriously savage skills at play here. The hurricane bass harmonics on "Sold My Soul To The Devil", the Die-style bass mischief of "Field Of Vibrations", the "Nightflight" style sub flutters of "Looking For Trouble" and the balance of dreamy strings and early Playaz style bass riffage on "Kick The Flow". The whole package is authentic, true to the craft and original. May The Force be with you.
Tyke's Holographic Audio sparks up a big fat 2017 with a hefty seven-piece from the currently unfailing Damage Report. Every release of his last year was a blinder and we're looking just as destructive this year... The high harmonics and jazzy breakdown on "The Jitters", the crisp minimal funk and loose triplet swagger of "Back Ark", the cosmic twangs of "Backspace", the sandpaper volcano that is "From Earth", the wideboy wobbling sub and lolloping drums of "Not Right"... Each track hits with its own distinctive yet consistently heavy charm and character. Always underplayed and rough around the edges, these are the perfect antidote to the over-produced, digital-finessed D&B du jour.
South coast filthy animal Damageman lives up to his name once again with another hefty collection on Eternal. Two new originals, two crucial VIPs: "My Selector" sets the pace with crisp sunshine skanks and a gritty Q&A drop while "Hit Me" flies into deepest space with eerie radar blips, woozy jazzy sax and a series of bass textures that hit you like a meteor storm. VIP-wise he's re-touched his last Eternal tracks with a few sinister surprises along the way. Selection satisfaction guaranteed.
Following the hugely successful launch last summer, Lenzman delivers another album-sized trove from his new brand The North Quarter. Once again he's in generous mode as eight tracks (including an intro skit and versions) flow like fine soul wine. From the silky dynamics of "In My Mind", where Manchester singer IAMDDB really flourishes with neo soul allure to the darker late night drive of the Jubei-featured "Park Hill" via the delicious smoky piano-lingering haze of the Steo-fronted "Tender Love", this is the sound of Lenzman in his element, relishing in his sound and vision at levels we've never seen before. The North Quarter is shaping up to be something really special.
Origin returns to Logan D's Low Down Deep with another superb pair of curveballs. "Chasing Funk" takes us back to early 2000s with the funk and playfulness of Bingo Beats, Full Cycle and V. Bouncy, fun and killer in the dance - this slays with finesse. "Savages" lives up to its title, too. Maintaining that classic early century riff and groove mentality but with a darker T>I or Serum style, it's an instant reload bullet. You won't be forgetting these in a hurry.
It's been a while since longstanding roller warrior Jayline last dealt out a six-tracker but, as always, the wait is more than worth it. This fact is evident the moment you catch a whiff of the vocal sample on "Unzip It". It's also evident the moment you're shaken to the core with a vigorous bass distortion on "West World", bitten by the funkier gnarly swagger of "Level 37 Wizard", hurled savagely into a the hornets nest bass of "Do It Right", hypnotised by the strange time stretched drum build on "Amazon Rhumba" or arrested by the dramatic chimes on "Enter The Dragon". Hell, it's evident in every release Jayline has put our way since 2009. Here's to waiting.
Some artists have the midas collabo touch. Artists like Need For Mirrors and Phil Tangent. Both superb vibe maestros in their own right, they also run extensive lines in partnerships... It was only a matter of time before they collided. And they've done so with five slices of pure gold. The whole collection is essential with highlights including the hazy swoops and reverse textures of "Candelabra", the restrained skin-melting poignancy of "Shifting Tones", the propeller-like heads-down rolls of "Residue" and a whole load more.
Nottingham rudeboy Slipz slides into Subway HQ with four stark, steppy bassline grunters that will melt any floor this side of 2020. Kanine jumps on board for the opening shots on "Keyboard Warrior" - all metallic and rasping with venom. Elsewhere "Check This Out" rattles with a harmonic riff reminiscent of a young TC and rattling snare-heavy beats, "Massacre" creates a blood bath with its Hazard-style thick-n-fast ravaged riff while "Ha!" has the last laugh with some heady Generation Dub style grunty riffage. Don't lay off this one.
Their first new material since their incredible Orkyd Project album, Scar switch over to Dispatch for four crucial ice slices. Coldness runs throughout the droning bass and graveyard atmospheres on the undulating "Veiled Threats" while "Run The Track" is all about the reese bass and some savvy heritage reference work. Deeper into the document we dig... "Rogue Wave" is a hard hitting drum thumper with one of the most paranoid breakdowns Dispatch have seen this side of the DLR album while "Rude Boy" rolls out with early BC style dynamics and some superb vocal sample manipulation. Essential.
Insanity jams: Subsonic & Fraksure collide for five pieces of pure mayhem. "The Maze" is almost operatic with its strings and its screaming bass riff, "Born Killer" shoots lazers so hard and fast you'll be in need of new trousers while "Sound Killa" causes sub murderation with its foggy, droning intro and ruthlessly lean subby drop. Elsewhere "The Beast" balances an incredible hammer horror score sample with a vicious sandpaper riff while "Apocalypse" gives us a finite date on human extinction with soaring reeses and a riff that guarantees nightmares. Epic scenes.
Find your own personal inner rhythm as prolific soul veteran Furney returns to SDE with four adventures into the divine deep "It Must Be You" sashays with a slight eastern twang, pipes and a distinctive lead vocal while "Missouri" is a spring morning jive, all sprinkly keys and light-fingered feels. "The End" pays homage to drum & bass's spiritual church with a badboy jazzy roller that wouldn't have gone amiss on the mighty V back in the day. Fittingly we conclude with "Much Of A Deepness", a tripped-out heads-down roller with wee traces of Calibre in the dustiness of the piano sample. Exceptional, as always.
Eighteen months and two cameos on Headz and Hospital since his last SGN:LTD soiree, west coast soul merchant Submorphics returns with four more moments of deep drum & bass clarity. The lead track that has that dusty sample feel that rolls with a loosely hewn restraint very similar to early 2000s Makoto or perhaps Calibre cuts. "Stratospheres" sees him team with US MC of the moment T.R.A.C for a cool roller that wouldn't have gone amiss on any Progression Sessions album. "Arcata" shows Submorphics's darker side with a S.P.Y-style cosmic stepper while Christian Tamayo brings serious soul and sensuality to the swooning synths of "Lost In The Lights". Think Riya and you're on the right track.
Fresh from his recent Metalheadz muscle flexing, Tangent makes his Horizons debut with three slabs of restrained, rolling dynamite. "Have Faith" hits with a similar air as Artificial Intelligence thanks to the ethereal vocal and its placement in the mix. "Crestfallen" is a real slinker of a tune, all slippery and jittery and coated with a downpitched vocal while "Procrastinateur" makes an art of our time-wasting thanks to its oceanic pads, keys and spacey textures. Stunning.
A key radar fixture since emerging on Euphonique's Sub-Woofah a few years back, Epicentre makes a return to Hybrid's Deep In The Jungle with five more jaw-dropping jungle jams. There's a strong sticky-icky theme as we spark up - "Dem Vibez" is a soundsystem shaker with notorious lyrical levels while "I Like Dope" wobbles with a bassline so authentically jungle it still needs to pay its Poll Tax. "Featherweight" belies its name with heavyweight drums and rolling breaks where a grunting sub provides the main hook. Stepping closer to the light, "Sweet Dreams" is a more cosmic roll-out with subtle psychedelic flourishes while "Watch Your Back" is an all-out lesson in jungle theatre - toxic bass, operatic vocals, sheer dance hedonism. 100% vibes.
As the dust continues to settle from Emperor's deeply personal debut album Dispositions, along come four unique versions that add whole new narratives to his tracks: long-time friend and all-round legend Phace flips "Haste" with a whole new dynamic of funk that's almost jump-up in its nature and attitude. Ivy Lab lay down serious halftime heat with the brilliantly slouching, lolloping g-style twist of "Jounce" while Klax switch up "Made Of Light" with different, more dramatic style of halftime. Finally we hit the most interesting curveball of all - a touching, unplugged take on the evocative "Made Of Light" where SOLAH's vocals tremble with even more poignancy against the piano. Emotional.
When Digital says VIP he means VIP. Each of these cuts smack with some of the finest, fieriest, fizziest dynamics drum & bass can offer: Swift's take on Digital & Drumsound & Bassline Smith's "Bail Out" is an epic jungle monster that will slay from now until 2417 (don't ask us what happens in 2417 - you don't want to know) Benny Page follows with a spaced-out bashy drum set on "Calling" that tips its hat to both Jamaica and Manchester while J:Kenzo does a madness on the cult anthem that is "Daylight Robbery". Finally S.P.Y takes a leaf out of the Roller Bible and writes a whole chapter for "Deadline". Very important.
Following last year's "Spaceship", Ukraine's Dub Head lands his craft at Dispatch HQ once again... "Cepheid" twinkles with a deep, almost jazzy or Detroit-ey resonance, all measured heaviness with light years of rolls. "Pulsar" emits stronger rays of energy. A tight stepper with sprung funk and molten lava textures, it's as magnetising as its name suggests. "I Need It" whips our heads back from the cosmos with a soul-slapping vocal sample that surges with allure while "Bad Signal" shuts down the system with a subtly trippy, minimal funk groove where every sound and element has its rightful place.
Fresh from a slew of slayers on their own InnaRhythm and SS's seminal Formation imprint, Yorkshire's finest Sweet N Sikka make their debut on Cabin Fever UK's ever-precise Natty Dub imprint. "Ridiculous" lives up to its name thanks to sharp horn stabs and a rising, croaking Dispatch-style bass presence while "Relative Pressure" hits with more of a subby swing that adopts a jungle-like flow when the claps come in. Insatiable.