Scuba + Distance Talk Hotflush, Dubstep, And Bass Music

The revered imprint turns 20...

Hotflush Recordings and Scuba have become two names synonymous with the ever-changing palette of dance music. From the formative years of dubstep and grime to Berlin influenced techno and UK house, both artist and label have been behind some of the most iconic records within contemporary club culture – such as Joy Orbison’s ‘Hyph Mngo’ and Dense & Pika’s ‘Colt’ – and breaking the careers of Mount Kimbie, George Fitzgerald and Or:la.

Positioning himself as one of industry’s most astute tastemakers, Scuba and Hotflush’s sound has never stayed in one place for too long. The very first record on the label was a double single (‘Nomad’ / ‘Third Wish’) by Dubstep Warz affiliate Distance – an ethereal cut of low-end bass weight that very much captured the aesthetic of the FWD sound that was currently making its way through London thanks to iconic club Plastic People. It was here that Scuba and Distance would first meet in person, after a few interactions on bass forum

Two decades later and the Hotflush legacy still lives on. To celebrate Scuba is launching new collaborations with Nikki Nair, Roska, Distance and Recondite, four mixed compilations of new and old music, a vinyl compilation featuring classic Hotflush tracks and will be embarking on a tour across the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.

Clash caught up with Scuba and Distance to chat about special memories with Mala in Berghain and the legacy and future of the label.

The label has operated in the spaces between bass, house, techno and more over the last two decades. Has there ever been a style of music you have explored that felt like as much of a blank canvas as the early beginnings of dubstep?

Scuba: It wasn’t dubstep that was the blank canvas, it was part of the wider blank canvas. The kind of stuff we were influenced by when starting the label… Dubstep was part of it but so was breakbeat and garage. It came to be known as dubstep, but back then the terminology wasn’t really like that.

Distance: Yeah, it went across half-steppy grime 8-bar beats to breakbeat garage to straight up garage. It was quite varied, but it had a certain vibe to it all.

Scuba: People look back and call it the early dubstep scene, but back then it was defined more as the FWD sound. 

What do you make of the current landscape for dubstep? When I interviewed Pinch he said that he finds there little to be excited about, that the reason he was so attracted to it initially it was so new, whereas now he views most dubstep music to be well produced versions of what’s come before. 

For example, when I listen to ‘Empire’ by Distance, there is so much going on – it’s dubby, it’s skippy like garage, there are even some UK funky elements on there. Are people experimenting enough now?

Distance: I think due to the age of the scene, it’s like drum ‘n’ bass isn’t it? Young kids weren’t there when we were making it, now they’re catching up so it’s natural to want to make something that you’re inspired by. You’re never going to find something that’s totally unique, but it’s a lot harder to find someone that has a sound that is completely their own. I get sent a lot of tunes that I skip over because I’ve been there and done it, but at the same time there are people who are just starting labels who are really excited by it. I think it’s just an experience thing.

Scuba: I think the main difference now is the scene is full of random people spread out all over the place, when back in the early days, geographically, everyone was so close. There are a couple of people making cool stuff, one I would pick out is Hassan Abou Alam who is based in Cairo. He’s making stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily call dubstep, but it’s definitely bass music. The stuff that pops out is random and isn’t so much a part of the ‘scene’ in the same way that the early FWD days were, but there is good stuff out there.

Is that the inspiration for keeping the Hotflush back catalogue so varied? Was your move to Berlin motivational for what was to come? 

Scuba: The label was always meant to be multi-genre. We were very influenced in the very beginning. The first few years of Hospital wasn’t just drum & bass, they were quite varied, maintaining a similar vibe and aesthetic but across different BPM ranges.

It developed through my own journey as a DJ and producer. Moving to Berlin was a big thing, that was informed by dubstep becoming very popular and me wanting to differentiate myself from the elements that I was comfortable with. I wanted to do something a bit different, make my own way. Moving to Berlin was a way of doing that.

What is known now as post-dubstep (weird term for it), but a lot of that came out of that period. That period was a little disappointing in how it developed. The post-dubstep scene turned into a house scene within a couple of years, which was the most boring way that music could have gone. I’m as much to blame as anyone for pushing it down that direction with the DJ sets I was playing and tracks I was making. 

20 years of the label – looking back there must be so many highlights, but any particular memories that stand out?

Scuba: One of the guys at Rinse FM was doing a rough and ready distribution solution for us. They’d do a few hundred records or whatever and I would also be going around the shops. I remember being sent on my way so many times.

I remember going into Bar Vinyl in Camden with ‘Candyfloss’ and basically being told that the production was shit. I had to hell him I didn’t actually make the record but that it was released on my label. I told him I’d let the artist know (laughs). Shit like that is very memorable, the bad experiences are always the ones that stick in your mind.

The first album we did, my first album, was certainly memorable. The first really successful double vinyl release we really had was the first Mount Kimbie album which came out in 2010. This was during a period when we were pushing a lot of CDs. We were pressing so many of Mount Kimbie, I couldn’t work out how so many people liked this music. 

Distance: Turning points of the scene and when I did the Mary-Anne Hobbs Dubstep Warz show on BBC Radio 1… That was a huge milestone for the whole scene and opened up the possibilities of playing around the world. I then went onto start my own label and seeing it go from nothing to flourishing. There’s probably quite a few memories on Paul’s podcast.

Scuba: One thing that isn’t on the podcast is you coming to play at SUB:STANCE.

Distance: Oh yeah! Those nights were very special.

Scuba: You played at the first one, didn’t you?

Distance: Yeah, I think it was me and Mala. 

Scuba: That was the first night we did in Berghain. That was memorable because the FWD cross-over sound came together in such a nice and neat way that evening. Mala and Gregg were playing then typical dubstep sound that had become very popular and Shackleton and myself were playing stuff that was more off the sound of that. 

Any advice you would give your younger self about starting a label?

Distance: I’ve always believed in releasing music that you genuinely like. I’m sure there are labels that are guilty of wanting to keep the momentum up and are happy that they’ve got a release coming out every month. With Chestplate Recordings, I thought every release was heavy. As it got more saturated I slowed down as I couldn’t find the music that I wanted to release. 

Also, don’t get caught up in vinyl. Dubstep had such a stigma around it; this belief that vinyl was everything and if you did digital you weren’t staying true to its roots. Now, in this day and age, it couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re making music the goal should be to have your music out there to hear, regardless of format.

Scuba: Make sure you keep photos of everything. That’s my biggest regret. I don’t have any photos of those early years. Keep as much as possible.

Distance: The advice now might be to stop taking photos!

Scuba: That’s it. Put your pocket phone away in the club, but keep some photos. 

Chat to me a little about the releases that are coming out to celebrate – it feels like a nice mix of old and new with classic tracks and fresh collaborations with the likes of Roska and Nikki Nair.

Scuba: I’ve produced four tracks with different artists to fit in with the four different mixes that will be released as part of the twenty year celebration. I’ve covered four different musical styles with Distance (early dubstep era), Nikki Nair (post-dubstep era), Roska (UK house) and Recondite (techno).

I wanted to add something new to each of those mixes to give a slightly updated take on the styles. The new stuff we’re releasing on the label is closer to post-dubstep really. Anna Kost’s ‘See Life Better’ was released earlier this month and it’s a mixture of bass music and techno. That’s where we’re at now.

Showing no signs of slowing down, what does Hotflush hope to achieve in the next 20 years?

Scuba: I was reminded the other day that when we hit the ten year mark I didn’t want to celebrate it. I was actually going around trying to get people to not draw any attention to it. I felt that it wasn’t really on message with what we were saying at the time, but to have it hit twenty now is incredible. 

What we’re doing now musically has come full circle in some sense. I’ve always done the A&R myself and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I’ll be pretty old in another twenty years, but not that old! I’ll still be working, for sure.

Catch Scuba on the road:

3 Bristol The Love Inn 
17 London Venue MOT 
20 Glasgow La Cheetah

Words: Andrew Moore

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