Peng Sound 001 – The interview

Peng Sound, a dance that started in a Bristol basement in late 2009 and has played host to some heavy hitters in the world of Dub music as well as the likes of Kahn and Julio Bashmore now celebrate their first release on their own Peng Sound Records imprint. The inaugural 12" is also the debut release for Gorgon Sound (Kahn & Neek) on the A side, a Dubkasm version of the track makes up the flip side. I caught up with Dan Davis, the man behind Peng Sound as well as Alex Digard from Tape-Echo, the collective that have been working with Dan, also known by his DJ name Ossia, on the first release. I start things off by asking what it was that made Dan want to start the label - “The label was born directly out of the night,' he starts off, 'I doubt this would ever have happened if it wasn’t for the night, it’s not like I had a 5-year plan or anything. It’s just been one thing after another, I mean, through the night I met Gorgon Sound and Dubkasm then the Tape-Echo crew, came and played on their radio show and next thing Alex was doing the posters for the nights, then we started talking through plans for the label...It’s all contacts, it’s in the moment. That’s the best way to do things – hands on style.’ It’s a fairly big jump from putting on dances to starting a record label, especially these days where all you seem to hear are endless tales of how vinyl sales are already down the toilet. It’s obvious that Dan is passionate about records, but what was it that finally made him decide to start the label? ‘My step-dad worked in the music industry for years,’ he starts off, ‘it always seemed cool but felt out of reach when I was younger. It was a natural progression from doing the Peng Sound nights and also seeing my friends starting their own labels. Livity Sound was an eye opener for me, it was raw, they had no contracts, there was nothing holding them back. They do things entirely on their own terms. You have to have faith, which is something I didn’t have at the start. One day Sean at Idle Hands said, ‘You should start a label’, and after that I really started giving it some serious thought.’ ‘Find Jah Way’ was only being played on dubplate by a handful of DJs and the first time I heard it was at a Peng Sound dance. The track has been in demand for some time now. How did you manage to sign this track and get the Dubkasm remix? I ask Dan. ‘Gorgon Sound handed me a CD with some of their dubs at a Scientist gig over a year ago and although all tracks on there were fire, 'Find Jah Way' really stood out. It's just got a raw energy that really made it stand out from the rest. I cut it to dubplate and played it out a few times – every time it got dropped that track really caused a stir!’ The excitement is still clear on his face nearly 18 months on. ‘It wasn't until a few months later,’ he continues, ‘that I decided to start the label, and I'm pretty sure having my hands on these tracks, that had been kept well under wraps and were pretty exlusive, was a catalyst to this whole project. I asked gorgon if they wanted to release the track. They seemed up for it but wanted to strip some of the samples out of it as they were keen to showcase completely original material of theirs, which I understood. ‘Saying that though,’ he pauses for a second, ‘I think part of the appeal of Find Jah Way is the fact that it references and borrows from other music which, if you ask me, is what reggae music is all about.’ In this case it borrows from a completely different style of music, I think you could class Superisk's 'Find Your Way' as Grime Music, and I think that is what defines Gorgon Sound's aesthetic: rooted in dub, but influenced by more modern UK dance music, such as grime, which is what makes their music so unique and true to themselves. So to cut a long story short – we went back and forward for a while, with Gorgon making new versions of the track, but it was always the original dubplate version that had that rawness to it. One day we met up to talk about this at a bar in Stokes Croft and on the way down I bought two cans of 'Ting' Grapefruit Soda, one for each of them, and that settled the deal! At this point Alex from Tape-Echo walks into the cafe and I rope him into the interview while he is trying to order coffee. So with the go-ahead from Gorgon, was the next step to get a track for the flip or did you always intend on having it versioned for the other side? I ask. ‘Dubkasm had already made their own dubplate mixes of Find Jah Way and cut them to acetate especially for their live shows,’ he says while stirring sugar into his second coffee, ‘and I was initially interested in putting them out along with the Gorgon Sound original, but then they suggested doing a whole new rework of the track in their newly built studio, a complete reinterpretation of the the track rather than the initial dubplate mixes they had made. I think that was a great decision and the contrast between the two versions really works. They compliment each other and it just seems to bring a nice balance to the record as a whole.’ With the two tracks ready to go the Peng Sound boys all headed over to Exeter to the Stardelta mastering studio to attend the mastering session, the tracks were both run to half inch tape before being recorded back into the computer to add that analog glow to them. After that they waited on test presses, planned the artwork and how to deal with the imminent arrival of the 400 records they had just ordered. One advantage in pressing your own record, they both agree, is that rather than handing it over to a third party for a P&D deal is that you are free to send the records to whoever you like, whenever and wherever you like, as long as you’re prepared to put the leg-work in. The other advantage, one that I can see they both are very keen on, is that you’re not forced to pedal a digital version of the tracks. With both of them now sitting round the table, Dan continues, (the distribution was all done) ‘through links really, contacts from the night, that sort of thing, the community was already there, the demand for good music is always there,’ he says. ‘The artists have their own links and they’re enthusiastic about the label and want to get their music out there, it’s just something that works within itself.’ As he puts his Americano back down on the table he adds, ‘It’s funny, before the record had even been launched properly we had people worldwide asking if they could stock it. We were selling records faster than we could stamp them. The best promo for a record is, simply, having a good record to put out.’ One look at the record tells you that it’s a labour of love. There’s countless ink stamps on it, messages etched on the vinyl run-out and heavyweight, brown paper insert inside the sleeve full of photographs of the making of the record. Dan explains why they went for the DIY approach to the design and production of the record. ‘It's a product, a local product. It's not like we sent off loads of emails and had stuff sent to us. It was all done face to face. Attending the mastering session and really getting a feel for the process, digging through paper samples at the local printers looking for just the right type of paper for the insert, designing our own fliers and going out in the streets putting them up. It just puts a face to it... makes the record, for want of a better word, lovable. ‘I think records are objects that should show personality, tell a story,’ he continues with his typical enthusiasm. ‘When you look at [Find Jah Way] you can tell its story - the etching, the stamping. Someone said to me the other day, 'it's not final till its vinyl', and I think there's a lot of truth in that. It gives the tune the respect it deserves if someone is willing to reinvest in that music with their time and money and transform it into a high quality, physical product. Aesthetically, the record shares a lot with some of the older Dub record label designs, the inkstamps used look like something from Jah Guidance and the crown graphic on the front of the sleeve is as boastfull as anything out of Studio 1. I turn to Alex and ask him to elaborate on the design of the record. ‘Ever since I started working with Peng Sound, doing the posters and fliers, it always felt special, worth going the extra mile for. I've always wanted to make posters that people would want to keep on their walls long after the event they are promoting has passed. Thankfully Dan has always been supportive of my ideas, and it's been great to have that level of freedom. When it came to the record, it was a logical extension of that. I wanted to make it something that people would really want to own, something they could be proud of owning and something that they could explore both visually and sonically. ‘That's something that's missing in the digital age, the interaction with the music. It's not just clicking the play button and zoning out, the only way to hear these tracks is by interacting with your turntable, taking the record out of the sleeve and putting the tone arm on it. It might sound a bit strange but that little bit of extra effort really makes that you pay attention to it when it's playing and appreciate it more. You can read the insert and it tells the story of how the night and the record came to be.’ In closing, he says, ‘ I guess it’s basically it's all about making stuff that I personally would like to own, and hoping that other people like it as well.’ As the interview draws to a close I ask Dan what parts of the process of starting the label he enjoyed the most. ‘I couldn't say just one... but watching it being mastered in the proper environment, seeing it being transferred to tape, that was magical. Hearing the test pressing being aired for the first time on Stryda's show really solidified the whole deal for me, the fact that it was really happening. ‘Obviously the launch party was great, that made it official as well as kind of completing the circle, it was like bringing it back home, you know what I mean? Taking the music back to where it all started, that basement.’ ‘Getting the TPs through was wicked,’ he continues. ‘Stamping them and getting them to the right people, the moment when all these boxes of vinyl turned up at the front door... that's another reason for the hands on approach. It wasn't to show off, we chose to do it that way so we could actually live these moments we love, rather than just handing the tracks over to a company that would do it all for us. We wanted to live it all, from the master to the distribution and all the work that goes in between. Lots of late nights, little sleep, a lot of coffee, it's been a labour of love, pulling in a lot of favours and learning a lot as we went along,' they both say 'but it's been worth it.’ What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about putting a record out? I ask. Straight away, they both say - 'Just go and do it.’ A limited number of special edition PengSound001 records are available from the Tape-Echo shop, featuring alternative sleeve artwork as well as an extra insert with the original 'Find Jah Way' logo. Interview by Adam Link, Photography by Tape-Echo