Words: Simon Huxtable

Two Hundred. Two Hundred has a certain air about it, doesn’t it? More than a milestone but elegant enough to show intention; A refined number that doesn’t sound flashy but is, in reality, incredibly impressive. 

For Paul Sawyer and Darren Braddick, 200 releases has been the culmination of years of hard work in the underground, away from the glitz and glamour of the ‘big’ labels, where A&R and solid marketing has yielded them some remarkable successes. Indeed, they filter much of their back catalogue into other labels through some well considered licensing deals, growing their brand and reputation along the way. 

For their 200th release they have enlisted the studio talents of David Ricardo, Redux Saints and Giapan as well as the vocals of Vanessa Marie to craft a progressive house masterpiece – Free Inside – which also features remixes from two of the scenes perennials, Nick Muir and Blue Amazon. With high profile support from Hernan Cattaneo, Sandra Collins, Cevin Fisher and radio plays from Solar Stone and Aly & Fila already, this is one hot release. 

We sat down with this merry band to chat about the release, life in the business and the future of dance music. 

DMC: Hello all, we’re glad you could all make it. So, Paul, tell us about the release…

PAUL: David Ricardo came to me with a track that he’d been working on after recording Vanessa. This was about a year ago now, funnily enough and we discussed working on the track together. Originally, it was a Tech House track and I suggested that we turn it into something more Progressive. Both Jason (Redux Saints) and I talked about the direction with David and made some changes to the track and arrangement.

David then suggested we bring Giapan in as we were at the stage where it was almost ready, and he was the perfect choice to get the final touches added. It was great to bring everyone together as we had spoken about working on a collab track for a long time, so knowing that this was a track to celebrate a milestone made it the perfect choice.

DMC: Vanessa, tell us about how you became involved and how the vocal took shape?

VANESSA: David Ricardo contacted me on SoundCloud after hearing my music and asked me to write some lyrics to an instrumental he had made. The lyrics describe the feeling of being trapped by negative thoughts and feelings, and the imagery of ‘birds flying away for the summer’ was the perfect metaphor for feeling free. What started out online and is now a big collaboration with musicians all over the world and I’m very proud to be a part of this collab.

DMC: So Paul, how has the sound of Krafted Underground developed over 200 releases? And where do you see the next 200 taking you? 

PAUL: It’s developed a lot since starting the label. Back when I first started it, I was releasing all genres of house music and over time, I realised it needed its identity and to be honest, the best identity for it had to be the music I play myself. Hence edging towards Progressive House and Melodic Techno.

I’d like to see it attract more well-known names to the label, whilst still supporting up and coming artists. That’s really important for us at Krafted. We really want to ensure we give everyone a chance on the label. You know, we started at the bottom and worked our way up, so we all know how hard it is to get a break.
We have been so lucky to gain such amazing support from so many huge DJ’s and radio shows. We’ve managed to be featured on Pete Tong’s Radio One show, multiple plays on the Essential Selection, plays on Capital FM, Kiss FM, Mark Knight playing lots of our releases on Toolroom Radio, Aly & Fila on Future Sound Of Egypt, Solarstone on Pure Trance Radio, the list is endless to be honest.

In terms of gigs, again, there are so many. From Ministry of Sound, Egg, events in Europe and Los Angeles and release wise, we have had some great names on either remixes or releases including Doorly, Ben Remember, Dave Seaman, Nick Muir and many more!

The highlight from 2018 has to be the stream event that we organised at Popham Airfield with Dave Seaman and myself playing in such an amazing location. Getting such big brands to sponsor us including Porsche, Denon DJ, Frisky, Opus Audio and all the media partners including DMC World involved was such a massive achievement and something that we will always be proud of.

DMC: Let’s move on to the remixers. Hi guys. Having had such brilliant careers, what keeps you engaged with dance music?

NICK: Thanks for that – I have been a musician virtually from as soon as I could walk and have played all sorts of music in pretty much every scenario you can imagine. But when dance music and computer sequencing came into being it was the first time I really heard myself in a style of music, it resonated with me so strongly. That situation coupled with what was going on in the early 90s and the stage of life I was at meant I was totally sold on the scene. I feel like it’s part of me.

LEE: For me it’s an obsession that just doesn’t go away. I’ve had many breaks from music and also ventured into different things but I always return to it in some capacity. I’ve always got something ticking away in my head; an idea; a new project and it’s a love for the involvement of it all more than anything else.

Whilst everything a lot has as changed in terms of the digital world, I keep going back to my original intention of trying to do good work first and foremost. I still believe we can have longevity with music production and DJing. If we can put that first before the current trend of demanding personal attention via social media because that’s dull and we can spend more time crafting music and DJing.

DMC: What attracts you both to start a remix project?

NICK: When remixing I like to make the best version of a track I can which involves an investment of time and effort on my part, so I like to be confident the people who requested the remix are willing and able to give the project a certain amount of profile – there’s nothing worse than turning in your best work and watch it slip down the cracks.

The style of music is not necessarily as important as you might think; what I love is to come across an idea in a track which I think is killer good, but needs to be set in a context that makes sense to me as a piece of music for the dancefloor. That’s a great incentive to make a remix.

LEE: Well, remixing for me is all about the transformation of one thing to another. It’s about taking elements from an original source, no matter how big or small those elements are and creatively taking it somewhere else. I don’t have to love the original track so much, albeit it can help, but it’s more about what can I do with it. I analyse the parts and try to get a vision of what can happen. I think that’s the art of remixing music and being creative, I’m from the background where remixes where about experimentation, direction changing or creating the unexpected.

DMC: Can you talk us through your remix process?

NICK: Well it depends, but I’ll throw everything that I’m given in terms of remix parts or stems into an arrangement then start going through deciding what I think would good elements to hang my version on, at the same time chucking out stuff that I know I won’t use.

Then I make a decision on the vibe of the track, what sort of feel to give it in terms of groove, beats and so on. I’ll get a rhythmic feel looping round then try the elements that I’ve kept from the original over that groove. When I’ve got a rough idea of what’s working then I’ll start looking for a shape to the remix, which involves copying out the groove to remix length then muting things in and out to see if sections begin to suggest themselves. 

Once I have a fair idea of what’s going to happen where, I then start to ‘dress’ the track with fills, breaks, fx and so on. When that’s coming together, I start to think a little more seriously about the mix balance of the track and whether or not the elements I’m using are sounding legit and not like a demo. That stage I would say is the trickiest – getting it to sound like a record and not a demo. That’s pretty much it and I would say most people I know who make remixes and original tracks do more or less the same thing. A LOT of editing and automation goes on during the process at every stage.

LEE: I’d agree, there’s so many different ways about going about remixes these days. However, I usually fire up a good kick drum from either Sonic Academy Kick 2, Roland Cloud or even my own sample library that I’ve collected over the years, add a few elements from the original track and start layering synth parts around it like bass patterns or sometimes chords or riffs.This usually gives me an indication of the direction of what will work.

I think with most music, you kind have to set a theme in the early stages and what the key elements are going to be. For example, is it going to be a big bassline track, have a massive vocal or purely melodic. On this remix, I worked more on percussive elements first and then tried to get the bass and other bits around those percussive elements rather than the opposite way around. 

I’m using a lot of software synths at the moment with the occasional outboard retro synths plugged in and recorded to audio and edited. Internal software samplers have become such a useful tool for me, as I have thousands of samples I’ve recorded from older outboard synths and drum machines over the years. I can fire them up very quickly and use them scaled without a massive drawn out set up process. 

Compared to the old days where you would really just work on midi synth parts and arrangements before sound processing, we now have the ability now to do both at the same time. Often, when I’m adding parts, either samples or synths, I’m adding FX to them at the same time and even compressors if I think it’s going to be important to how the sound is sculptured. Adding delays on lead sounds at a starting point can dictate how you play the part so it’s good to try it right from the start.

I always look to have quite a bright or metallic synth part in a track or remix from the early stages. I find it helps you push the other sounds in the mix early to match the vibrancies of that part, you can even remove the part later but it can help build the sonic picture early. Arrangement-wise I go with what I feel works, it’s kind of making it up as you go along and figuring out what should happen next at certain points. 

I think it’s quite good to start arrangements quite early with tracks and even with minimal parts because it can help you picture what new elements should be added at certain points, what will help lift in certain areas rather than trying cram in hundred’s of parts just because you put them in from the start – keeps things more simplified and direct.

Tools I’ve got into using recently inc, Air Hybrid synth 3, The Cable Guys plug-in set, Eventide Blackhole reverb, lots of Fabfilter stuff, and I recently bought into the UAD world and experimenting with their classic stuff.

DMC: Streaming has seen a sharp rise in recent years further altering the business model we’ve all become used to. Detractors will argue that companies such as Spotify are devaluing music and squeezing the music makers out of business. Firstly, is this a fair representation of the music industry in 2019 and secondly, what do we do to prevent talented artists losing their drive and leaving the industry?

PAUL: I think our new label partner, Simon Sinfield is best to answer that…

SIMON: Thanks Paul. It’s certainly true that music streaming services now dominate the global market and the challenge back to those service providers should be “what are they doing to support artists?”. 

For the independent label/artist the exposure available via these services is far greater than trying to shift boxes of vinyl from the boot of a car. The challenge is how to entice a higher percentage of people to listen to the streams. It means that today’s artists need a higher level of commitment with the reward being a wider reach in audience, rather than a financial one. From a label perspective, supporting artists with a plan of releases, gigs, interviews, social media exposure and collaboration opportunities will help build their experience, widen their exposure and hopefully keep them within the industry.

LEE: I think streaming, in general, is fantastic; it’s given people access to endless amounts of music at ease. Classic albums, playlist, DJ sets and so much more is readily available and on demand. The issue for the industry and artist is that there isn’t much revenue generated from streaming to support artistic output and even the existence of labels.

Everyone will say “well at least it generates live / gig work for the artist” but realistically, there are only a hand full of people who can tour regularly, which doesn’t include the artists who mainly just want to produce music. I think streaming or subscription-based services could compensate the industry more, even if that means it costs more to the public. We expect everything for nothing, treating music as a consumable product isn’t a good way to look at things and damages the motivation to do something outstanding.

There are other ways for the industry to survive such as music publishing, sync etc, but there isn’t enough straightforward information out there for young artists and labels to understand.

There’s a big lack of music managers out there right now or key professionals who can help in this area. However, there are lots of advertised courses and fabricated services that are expensive to use that make huge boasts that seems a contradiction to me when on the other hand the message is: there’s no value in streaming and music from a retail point of view.

Ultimately I think we need to work harder at placing more value on music commercially again and higher value for the retailer/subscription service. It not just a responsibly of the industry it’s also a responsibility of the public too.

NICK: Spotify, Apple Music and other content providers have definitely changed the dynamic of how music is consumed – but at least there is some revenue coming in. That could be reviewed and weighted more in the creators favour, but the real problem are those sites which just throw the tracks up illegally. It’s SO disheartening to see something you’ve worked hard on suddenly appear on 150 free download sites.

These people use content illegally to keep their own sites in front of people and their profile up. The powers that be: the collection agencies, the internet providers etc could do so much more to clamp down on this. There’s two main reasons why they don’t, one is that they still work on principles that no longer apply, the other is that the providers are doing okay out of it. This aspect needs sorting out.

VANESSA: I think that the accessible nature of streaming services such as Spotify are positive. For unsigned artists to be able to put out music on these platform’s gives us a good platform to build a fan base on a global scale, artists like IAMDDB, Chance The Rapper and Jorja Smith have all become artists in their own right, without the need of a major label. I’m an unsigned artist myself with music available on Spotify. I wouldn’t say that it is devaluing music or squeezing music makers out of business.

If I hear an artist I like on Spotify, I’ll head straight to their social media, follow and like their pages and share their content. I’ll go to a record store to get the physical copy if they have released a physical format, if not then I’m buying their merch and supporting them. And if they are touring I’ll go see them live. We are living in a world now where social media can be such a useful tool for artists. The model we have all become used to is changing, that can only be a good thing. I think it is a fair representation of the music industry in 2019, we are in an age of technological revolution.

Drive. That’s an internal force that no one can fuck with, stay focused and remember why you started to make music. For the love and passion. If you start there you’ll be on the right path, you need to genuinely love what you do, the rest will follow. Artists need to support each other. More collabs, man!

Social Links:
Paul Sawyer
David Ricardo
Redux Saints
Krafted Underground
Vanessa Maria

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