For someone who professes simply to follow his own ears, Tom Kerridge has a habit of being uncannily on the money.
His label RAMP Recordings helped precipitate the past few years’ surge of interest in post-J Dilla hip-hop beats, as well as servicing a growing taste for the startlingly coloured synth fantasias of the likes of Zomby. Moreover, the catalogue is as good an emblem as any of where so much of the promise in UK dance music presently lies – namely the blurry hinterlands between dubstep, UK funky and garage. Zomby aside, Shortstuff, Hot City and Slugabed have all been on the books, as have like-minded counterparts from overseas such as Desto and Falty DL.
If the the label’s relatively diverse cohorts seem somehow to be chipped from the same block, it isn’t by design, according to Kerridge. All the same, that set of ears makes for a distinctive and personal approach to signing and releasing music. The RAMP man kindly agreed to let FACT find out more, supplying insights on topics including his shadowy network of side-projects, the pros of working with Zomby, and why net-labels suck.
“RAMP really started as an albums label…”
First of all, is it fair to say 2009 was a pretty good year for RAMP? Are there any highlights you’ll look back on particularly fondly?
“Indeed, we had a great year in 2009! Hard to pick out real highlights, I get so much from every release I put out. I am still genuinely as excited when I get a new test pressing – or when I hear a new tune I want to sign, or when I first see artwork some terribly talented individual has put together for me – as I was ripping open boxes of Transformers on Christmas Day when I was five. RAMP@Lightbox was a blast, but a bit of a blur thanks to everybody buying me shots every few minutes. Going to Loop festival in Brighton with Zomby was great fun too.”
Tell us a bit about what’s in the pipeline for you this year. We hear you have some albums in the works, which sound exciting – does it feel more ambitious than anything you’ve done so far?
“Not really: RAMP really started as an albums label, and we did put out the Skweee Tooth and Zomby CDs last year too. Still by far the biggest thing I have put out was our second release, BEGBORROWSTEEL by Count Bass D, closely followed by the Kankick album. I only really started doing singles seriously when I branched away from hip-hop. I’ve always been very album-driven, but I think how everything has been, we needed to release some 12-inches before people were really warmed up to what we are doing. I was very conscious of this when I did change up what RAMP was putting out, because at the time everything was so segregated. I am not interested in just knocking stuff out, I want to get everything right, it’s not just a case of throwing another release on the pile.
“We have full-lengths coming very soon from P.U.D.G.E., Maxmillion Dunbar, Computer Jay, Clouds, Ras G, NOCHEXXX, and a few more I won’t go into just yet.”
How do you tend to come across the music you release? Are there particular aims or principles guiding what you decide to put out?
“If I like it, I put it out, there is no science to it. Looking back (and forward) on the music I have signed, I’ve noticed that I do have quite a distinct ear, and have been able to draw a line between the music from an artist like Shortstuff to somebody like Ras G. There is a certain messiness to the music I sign to RAMP.
“How I come across stuff varies. Sometimes I hear somebody dropping it in a set or a mixtape, sometimes people approach me, sometimes it’s when I’m bored and surfing through MySpace or something. Sometimes I hear a random little release that grabs my attention, sometimes somebody will tip me off about a new artist – sometimes just in conversation with an established artist – and a release works itself out. Again, no science, it just seems to happen.”
Have you noticed a pattern of RAMP artists subsequently being picked up by bigger labels? Do you mind that?
“I can’t really say that happens a lot, as I can’t think of too many artists who have really signed to a significantly bigger label after releasing on RAMP, but I certainly don’t mind if somebody is destined for bigger and better things. It must say I’m doing something right! The whole concept behind RAMP was to not push the label brand down people’s throats, I’m much more interested in pushing the artists I work with instead of the branding of the label. Some RAMP releases don’t even have a logo on them.
“I do know there are other labels watching what I do, inside and outside of our scene, and they step in on my artists. I am pretty close with everybody I work with and help a lot of them on the management side of things, so I hear all of the offers that come their way and we discuss what the best plan of action would be. I’m certainly not going to stop somebody doing something that would be beneficial to them, but we have a great set-up here. I can give a release the same service a much bigger label can, without ridiculous overheads. We are also 100% completely and totally independent – I have had not help on any level from any external companies. You would be surprised how common it is nowadays for “independent” labels to have a much bigger company in the background pulling the strings.
“I am actually very happy with the people I am working with right now. I don’t want to release music by an artist who isn’t excited to release on my label, as I wouldn’t release music by an artist who doesn’t excite me, so as soon as that excitement stops on either side, so do the releases.”
Are you consciously giving a platform to music that’s on the fringes, so to speak, rather than bang in the middle of a genre or scene, or just doing what you feel?
“Like I said before, there is really no science to it. I am not consciously trying to do anything “genre breaking” or anything like that, it just so happens that the music that I like is not awfully shit dubstep or formulaic hip-hop. As long as I have been listening to music I have enjoyed stuff that doesn’t sound like anything else, and therefore my taste is constantly changing. In that way, RAMP is a complete and total reflection of my own fickleness and low attention span. If I was a different person who was into very generic and boring music, then RAMP would be a very different label.”
Some might say there has been a rejuvenation in the last few years of instrumental electronic music at a hip-hop tempo. Would you say that’s true, or has the good stuff never gone away?
“I think the fact is a lot people have only just started to realise what’s going on. From early DJ Shadow and Mo Wax stuff (and probably before that too, but that is where I got on) there has been an incredibly strong stream of instrumental music with a hip-hop beat. Before Flylo and Hudson Mohawke were big, we were listening to Dimlite and Dabrye, and swapping Dilla and Madlib beat tapes. Instrumental hop hop didn’t start in 2008.”
For a label to issue vinyl is becoming a less popular choice, even though there are still people who really value that. Has it been tough for you to do, or is it just a question of getting it right?
“I think if you put out quality music all wrapped up in lovely artwork, people will buy it. I have definitely seen a massive growth in digital sales, but our vinyl sales have certainly not dropped off in the slightest! I can also say that these digital only labels are really missing a trick – having a physical release does push digital sales massively. Vinyl is still cool as fuck, I still buy shitloads, and it’s not going anywhere. I think digital-only labels suck cock, it’s lazy and boring, and shows no commitment to the music and artists you are releasing.”
What would you say to someone thinking of starting a label themselves?
“It’s tough giving people advice on this, and it’s something I’m always asked. I know a lot of seasoned industry people, who have ridiculous amounts of experience way over and above the experience I have, massively crashing and burning in their new ventures. All I can really say is, do something different, do something exciting, be passionate, accept advice, and find a distributor who won’t rip you off.”
Can you reveal how many different labels you’re running or have in the works?
“Hmm, I’ll tell you some of them. BRAiNMATH I’m sure everybody knows about already. I have always loved those cliquey, scene-setting labels, the ones with a real vibe about them, ever since I started listening to house and hip-hop in the 90s. RAMP has really been completely all over the place, so opposite to the thing that really made me fall in love with electronic music labels. So I set up BRAiNMATH to try and do something a bit more focused, and keep a visual theme running. It’s funny: since starting BRAiNMATH, a lot of the labels with a specific sound around at the moment who I revere seem to have moved away from what they were doing, and are now on the whole mash-up of styles thing I have been pushing with RAMP for a while.
“I’m just starting up PTN, which is kind of a house offshoot of RAMP. As I was saying earlier, the stuff we put out on RAMP is pretty messy, and the PTN sound is much cleaner. The first EP is Doc Daneeka, then Hackman, then Hypno with a Julio Bashmore remix.
“I do have another project brewing up, of which I have signed a few bits, but no more info until I have things finalised. Where musically RAMP and BRAiNMATH are based around a feeling I get from certain tracks, this new label is pretty concept-heavy, which I am interested in showing visually as well as musically. I’m genuinely excited about doing this, as the way I am signing music is so different to RAMP and BRAiNMATH. It’s challenging going for the concept, but still keeping the quality to the normal high standard.”
What has it been like working with Zomby? Would you say he’s basically one of the most talented musicians to come along for a while? Who else has been exciting to work with?
“You are putting words into my mouth there! It always makes me laugh how people play top trumps with producers. I’m not going to make sweeping generalisations about Zomby, but he really is a talented guy and has had an influence on what’s going on right now. I think I have over 4000 unreleased Zomby tunes on my Mac. One time I timed him making a tune. It took him 13 minutes, and the track was pretty good too! It can be up and down working with him, but I do think he is genuinely a nice guy and I like him a lot. One thing I don’t think people know about him is that he has an incredibly wry wit.
“I’ve been excited to work with most of the people on RAMP. Some of the bigger artists I had a lot of respect for before working with them did let me down in a big way, but I suppose I should have expected that. I think once people receive over a certain amount of attention or have been established for a while, egos tend to get very large. It is a massive shame, especially considering how relatively insignificant what we are doing is in the grand scheme of things. I suppose when you are immersed in this little world, as so many of us are, it’s easy for somebody to get carried away.
“Everybody I currently work with is absolutely amazing though, and I have built up real friendships with all of them. I count myself very lucky that I have found a path through life where on a day-to-day basis, not only do I get to do what I love, but I also get to work with incredibly talented musicians and a bunch of really lovely people.”
Like RAMP? Think you might like RAMP? Well turn the page to stream a nine-track playlist of tracks from the label, some old and some new, kindly provided by Tom Kerridge. Shortstuff, 2562, Count Bass D, Zomby and more feature.
P.U.D.G.E. – Insensitivity
Pattie Blingh & The Akebulan Five – Brother – The Point (2562 Remix)
Shortstuff – Herb Face
Zomby – Godzilla
Maxmillion Dunbar – Girls Dream
Count Bass D – New Edition Karaoke
Computer Jay – Epiphany
Clouds – Timekeeper
Becoming Real – Fast Motion