What is it about records that keeps people fiending for more? In an age where almost all music is available within a few clicks, the lure of the 12" platter and its sleeve still has a heroin-like grip over many.
A year on from the launch of the now legendary 'Percy' by Kahn and Neek on their Bandulu label, they are back, stronger than ever with the second release Chevy // Thief In The Law.
As has already been well documented, the pair are huge advocates of dubplate culture, a rarity in any genre these days and all the more remarkable within the fast-paced and hype-filled grime scene they inhabit, not too long ago turning up to play a set on Rinse FM alongside many of their idols who must have been very surprised to see the pair roll up to the studios with a record bag, let alone one filled with acetate.
A year on and Bandulu is poised to release another banger. The label has stood true to its original manifesto, maintaining a vinyl-only stance and paying a huge amount of attention to the artwork and manufacture of the record, each sleeve being hand-printed.
A few days before the release I found myself in the middle of a screenprinting studio on Stokes Croft with Joe Kahn, Sam Neek and Bandulu art director/screen printer Joshua Hughes-Games.
Undoubtedly their profile has risen to great heights since the release of Percy, but what is it exactly that underpins the label and its aesthetic?
'I think that's the way it goes now with labels,' Joe starts off. 'We have had people asking us, "what's the best way to start a label?" and to be fair, if you've got a bit of money, just literally do it yourself, you don't need a middleman...or backing in any way.
'That's the way I like getting records, knowing there's only a limited number, being on it, you know, it takes a bit of, what's the word? Not professionalism, but a bit of mastery of what you're into. If you are really involved with what you're doing then you'll have that tune, you'll know where to get it, you'll get hold of it.
'Obviously with the way things are these days,' he continues, 'that's quite a bold thing to do I think... but I think it's sticking true to what we are about, the format we play... and the mentality, there is a thought process behind it, it's not just like "let's put some grime out because its cool".'
Sam looks over. 'It's weird now, with people playing out, doing vinyl-only labels but playing out on laptops...you have to practice what you preach, you know....it's like, what are the kids going to look up to? They are going to go buy a record and then see you in a club playing a cd or an mp3 – what's the point? It doesn't follow on.'
'You can understand why people do that,' Joe chips in, 'I mean, those people playing in clubs probably have big record collections but from the start we thought "let's do this, let's do it properly, we can't cave in…".'
A year on since the first release and there are copies of the original press floating around on discogs for around £50 – the re-press is sold out too. While there were complaints about no digital version being offered I can only imagine how many versions of it are floating around on various file-sharing websites. Hardly surprising, nor limited to vinyl only releases – there will always be file-sharers – but those that choose the piracy route miss the point. The amount of time and care put into each of the records they are printing during this interview is amazing: the room is filled with the sound of the vacuum table, the zip of ink being pulled across screens and the crash of drying racks being closed.
That's when you realise just how DIY the whole operation is. Hours have gone into this and many more will after I leave. Josh takes a break and comes over. 'Knowing you guys for so long, it's always been a vinyl thing for you and it feeds well into my perspective as a designer because I'm not a DJ, there's this whole debate in design as well, that authenticity... so with you guys saying grime is being made on PlayStations, that for me has a lot of resonance with, say, screenprinting. So when you asked if I wanted to get involved with the label, it seemed like a natural progression of that, that everything should be sticking to this one basic point of being hand-made, not in a fairy craft way but almost in that DIY punk aesthetic, but obviously in a different context…
'It's amazing to be given a project that this much scope and longevity,' he continues, 'because so often jobs that I do are just like, "do one thing in one way for one person and something different for the next" and there's no chance to develop the idea and really pujsh it. So when we were talking about the project we said, "well, it's not a new concept, but right now it's a new concept, in a way. So I wanted to get imagery that was quite old and present it in a new way, use screenprinting. All of the imagery is based on old Russian prison tattoos and things like that, and you don't see things like that on grime records.'
'That's just it,' Joe says, 'you don't associate grime with... well, its almost like, I like the word gothic. That represents us, that's our take on the whole thing, there's a weird sort of dark side to it.'
Sam wraps up the our chat. 'There's a darkness to grime, isn't there, and it's that darkness that [the scene] has moved away from. Some of the old instrumentals had so much dread in them.'
Bandulu002 is out next week.
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