As we look back on 2017, without doubt it has been a year to remember for drum and bass. Whether it was the relentless stream of high quality album releases, the explosion of supergroups like SASASAS and Kings of The Rollers, or Andy C creating history with a residency at London’s XOYO every weekend for three months. Many great things have happened and 2018 is already shaping up to follow in the same vein.
At this year’s DNBA Awards, the volume of talent on display throughout 2017 was clear to see, but one thing that particularly beckoned was the quality and diversity of the record labels this year. From exciting up and coming labels in Get Hype Records and 1985 Music, to Shogun Audio renewing their artist roster and Playaz Recordings leading the jump up popularity surge with their biggest UK events to date.
But there is one label in particular that continues to raise eyebrows through pushing the boundaries of the genre each year - Hospital Records. After delivering yet another sold out Hospitality in The Park, alongside stage takeovers at every festival imaginable, they defied all expectations by announcing two new festivals in 2018 - Hospitality on The Beach in Croatia and the more local Shockout in the West Country.
The label that started out as a mere dream of Tony Colman and Chris Goss, who at the time were trying to push their London Elektricity identity, has grown into a monstrous entity spanning global appeal.
One man that has been a part of the label right from the beginning is Danny Byrd. As the first signee to Hospital back at the turn of the millennium, he has not only seen the way the label has grown, but he has also been a part of the rapidly changing drum and bass scene in general - an underground genre that has gained mass appeal over the years, finding its way onto stages at Glastonbury and other major festivals, alongside radio and television channels.
“The genre has grown in an organic way this year and the music has been a lot more underground and purer than it has been in a while” Danny states. “I can say that it has been a lot better than 2016. I read an interview with Serum recently and he summed it up well by talking about how there was a lot less focus on radio friendly drum and bass tunes this year.”
The years 2015 and 2016 saw a dramatic swing in the style of drum and bass being created, with many producers opting to produce a more pop-inspired style. Sigma were the first producers to openly announce their intention to create chart-topping drum and bass. The release of their album ‘Life’ in 2015 was met with a wave of criticism for their decision to stray away from their underground roots.
“After the Sigma explosion it was like, everyone and their dog wanted a piece of that” Danny says. “I don’t blame people for doing that. How Sigma did it originally was actually quite organic, and when you try to replicate that it never works the same way. A lot of producers got caught in that cycle and had deals with majors who don't necessarily understand drum and bass in the way that the underground does. That slowed down the genre basically, but it has started bubbling up from the underground again this year.”
Hospital Records are one of the labels that have been tirelessly representing the core underground roots of the genre for many years. Introduced in 1996 as a platform for Tony Colman and Chris Goss to release their own music, the independent label has blossomed into a global brand.
“Every year it gets bigger and better somehow. The events are huge now and there are all these different types of events. You’ve got Hospitality in The Park, which is a unique drum and bass festival for 12,000 people in the centre of London, then you’ve got Hospitality in The Dock that has more of a warehouse vibe. There’s even Hospitality at Motion in Bristol, which has been a staple for many years. I guess it’s almost like a snowball effect. You’ve got all these great things that have always been there, like regional stuff, but Hospital keep adding to these with festivals like Shockout. I’m privileged to be a part of it.”
Being the first signee to the label seventeen years ago, Danny has witnessed first hand just how influential Hospital have been to the music scene. It was the label’s risk taking in opting to go further than other independent labels at the time that catapulted the growth of the company.
“When you follow the label back to the beginning, it makes logical sense for me because I did follow it from the start with Tony Colman’s and Chris Goss’ raw ambition. The first thing Tony said to me was that he wanted me to do an album. I was like - wow that’s really forward thinking. People on independent labels don't do albums, everything is very much single-driven. That was the first thing Hospital did differently, every artist would produce an album.”
“I was a bit slow back then. I remember Tony having a little go at me asking me if I had done anything for my first album yet, saying we needed to get something out. I could see the ambition of the label, they weren't messing around. The work ethic was there from the start and it continues to inspire me. Hospital worked harder than other labels at the time and they feed off that work ethic. That’s why they have got to where they are now!”
Over the years Hospital have made a name for themselves not just as a reputable music label home to an expansive selection of artists, but also as a world-renowned promoter - with their own global events brand in Hospitality.
Danny attended the first ever Hospitality event at London’s Herbal nightclub in 2001, which was attended by around 300 people. When Tony Colman first told Danny that Hospital were going to start running club nights, he replied that it “isn’t going to work” because record labels at the time didn't throw parties, promoters did.
“It just shows that I have no vision for these things…” Danny jokes. “It demonstrates how much things have changed! You used to have promoters and record labels, but you didn't have a record label that became a promoter in the way Hospital have. You had things like Planet V, but you didn't have it in the same way. I’m not sure why but at the time I just couldn't see the future!”
On February 24th, Hospital will be joining forces with a range of well respected promoters to form a new festival venture in Shockout. Fittingly named after one of Danny Byrd’s classic Hospital tracks and taking place on his doorstep at The Bath & West Showground, the festival comes with heightened anticipation for Danny.
“It’s only a 20 minute commute from home haha! This year I played Nass Festival at the same venue and I played Westfest. It’s a unique venue, so to bring the Hospital vibe there is something I am really looking forward to. Also to be working in conjunction with RUN, The Blast, Drum&Bass Arena and On A Mission, you've literally got every musical corner sorted. I’m really looking forward to J Hus. It’s great to see artists like him mixed with drum and bass in the other rooms. It’s an experience that is very exciting, especially down in the South West. It’s going to be special.”
Like Hospital, RUN is a particular example of how far drum and bass has grown over the years. Starting as a small scale event hosting no more than 200 people every Tuesday night at Native nightclub in Bristol, RUN has become an influential promoter to the city, spiralling into Bristol’s premier drum and bass night taking place at Motion nightclub.
“There were about 200 people crammed into a small club hearing brand new dubplates for the first time.” Danny reminisces. “Those things only come along every once in a while. It was real fresh, it brought the whole of Bristol together. They were legendary days because the DJs would play for next to nothing. It was a social thing, but the crowd was unbelievable! For RUN to then take that vibe and scale it up to Motion and now Shockout is incredible.”
Looking at Shockout’s line up, aside from the strength and diversity offered by some of bass music’s best promoters, there is something else that the line up conveys - the massive surge in popularity and quality of jump up drum and bass over the last year. With Stage Three nearly dedicated to it, it resembles the changing attitude to a style that has over the years not been considered a credible form of music by some.
According to Danny, “jump up back in the day was always the biggest sound in drum and bass, but it was never necessarily the most credible amongst all the cool Metalheadz stuff of the mid 90s. You had jump up in amongst that, but it wouldn't have been NME’s choice if you know what I mean? But whenever you listened to Fabio & Grooverider on the radio, they would do a sales chart and at number one it would always be a jump up tune! It’s always been the people’s favourite style and recently it has come back around to that. It’s nice to see those making it have stuck true to it and it’s now getting the credit it deserves.”
“I think it’s an antidote to all the pop drum and bass that was around a few years ago. With jump up, it doesn't get any more extreme. It’s going to piss off your parents… My philosophy as a DJ is that I try to play a bit of everything. I’ve always incorporated jump up in my sets alongside more musical tracks because there is nothing more impactful than a jump up tune being slammed into a mix.”
Whilst 2018 is shaping up to be a special year for Hospital Records, it is also going to be a memorable year for Danny, who will be releasing a new single in January followed by an album in September.
“The single is part of Hospital’s ‘Sick Music’ coming out on January 6th. It’s not a single from the album, it was one of the tunes that didn't quite fit the style. It’s called "Devil’s Drop" and harps back to a 98/99 drum and bass roller. It’s funny because I get nostalgic with different parts of the 90s. In the past it’s always been the jungle era of 93/94, but now we’re in 2017 I’m more nostalgic of 98/99 sounds. So maybe in future I’ll be looking at the naughties…”
It has been four years since Danny’s critically acclaimed last album Golden Ticket dropped. After releasing three albums in five years, alongside excessive touring and remixes, he felt the need to take a step back from his productions.
“Burnout isn't the right word, but when you make an album then tour it, you don't get much chance for a breather” he says. “There comes a time where you need to say - you know what, I need to take some time off from production and just experiment again in order to get a fresh palette of ingredients to work with - that’s what happened with me. I think this new album has definitely got a much fresher sound than previous projects.”
“I’ve been experimenting a lot more with old drum machines like SP1200s, which is an old hip hop drum machine that came out in 1988. It’s the one that Dr Dre uses in Straight Out Of Compton. Through making drum and bass on it you get a completely fresh sound. I’ve been using a lot more live instruments as well. With the "Devil's Drop" track for example, I’ve got a bass player called Pete Joseph, who's an amazing musician. He came in and played some funky bass and it sounds just like a sample, it’s wicked. It’s these little things that make the difference. I’m excited for 2018!”
Danny Byrd appears at Hospitality In The Dock on Friday 30th March and Shockout in Shepton Mallet on Saturday 24th February. Both festivals boast huge lineups with stars from all across the spectrum of drum and bass, jungle and grime.
Photo courtesy of Danny Byrd and Hospital Records
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