words: Pete Isaac - April 2010
Have you noticed that if you type the single word 'hospital' into google you'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd get any one of the hundreds of uk or even world wide actual medical hospitals coming top of the list. You don't. You get Hospital Records. OK, I know that's good indexing on the part of the web designer, but it's sweet all the same!
South London, April 2010, the modus operandi of the Hospital Records D&B machine is running at full steam, the well oiled (in more ways than one) cogs purring as they turn. At one end fresh ideas and conceptual seeds are fed in, and then sometime later, once put through the collective sieves of Chris/Tony/Tom, a perfect piece of wax comes off the conveyor. In those 12 inches of sonic excellence, excitement, wonder and more often than not a challenge to ones musical understanding takes place. And when dropped on dub plate to 3000 ravers at London's Matter, the ultimate reason why they go through the process becomes evident. Hospital know how to make Drum & Bass.
Captain of the ship is Chris Goss aka The Goose, a man of the highest integrity and passion for music. He has, along with Mr London Elektricity Tony Colman and Tom Kelsey, taken Hospital Records from an outsider label with jazzy leftfield leanings to the centre stage of UK D&B. Respected universally for releasing fast soul music of the highest calibre, breeding a raft of über talented artists and throwing absolutely stonking parties. No one can doubt the reach and strength of Hospital in 2010.
Jelly Jazz has long since known Chris since his days working behind the counter at London's Soul Jazz Records, where every Tuesday morning he sold me a pile of records over the phone to be played at the Quay Club the following night! His knowledge of soul jazz and what were the hot records in London that week was such that he always made me spend more than I wanted to, but I did end up building a wicked record collection with much of it bought on his recommendation in those early years! He then became the guest DJ who has visited us more than anyone else in the history of the club! Who remembers the infamous 'Goose Fever' sessions? (that question goes out to the old school Jelly crew!) In those 17 long years we have witnessed a fresh faced soul boy become one of the biggest players in the D&B scene, and achieving a slightly more ashen appearance in the process! We know how super hard working and dedicated he is, putting in the hours without complaint (well maybe) and forging ahead with plenty of desire and ambition left in the old bones. BIG UP Goosey. So Chris, fancy a pint and a chat….?
It's highly likely that a lot of Hospital fans are completely unaware of the jazz funk background of you and Tony, what would you say to your D&B punters about your early musical career?
We were two jazz+soul boys, schooled in the late 80s rare groove scene. We cut our teeth with Tongue+Groove Records: started by Tony for his own band Izit, which for a few years got in amongst London's Acid Jazz peers and did pretty well. 93 and 94 were good for us, but when 1995 became dominated by trip-hop we struggled. With our backs to the wall, we decided to turn in on ourselves, and got stuck into something meaty - drum+bass. Having spent a few years in North London, the soundsystem culture from that part of town was a big influence, and jungle/drum+bass seemed the obvious route. We also made disco-house for a few years, which was a lot of fun, hanging out with folk like The Idjut Boys, Faze Action, Nuphonic, Glen Gunner, all that crew. For a while it looked like that would be our day-job route, cos the early NHS jazzy-jungle outings were stuck on the fringes of the scene. But our make-or-break tune, Song In The Key Of Knife tipped the balance; supported by djs like Doc Scott, Fabio & DJ Lee, it kick-started the Hospital sound, and we knew this was what we wanted to pursue.
So the fact is we didnt grow up listening to hardcore, or driving around Essex looking for M25 raves; we were more likely to be found bugging out to Shake+Fingerpop, or the Move On parties with Soul Jazz. But that just made us who we are. I remember one of the first times I met Tony, he had a framed ticket for the first Bobby Byrd And The JBs gig from The Town & Country Club in 87; I went to that show with my brother, and it was a seminal night of my musical life. It was clear that Tony and I had the right frames of reference!
Do you think they would even care about Minnie Ripperton, Groove Holmes or Led Zeppelin for that matter?
Most definately. Not all of them, but that's not the point. Fact is, plenty of drum+bass people have much the same background as us; be that soul music or rock music. Think about tunes like Minnie's "Loving You", or "Inside My Love", or Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" or "Kashmir" - these are as much part of the fabric of underground, breakbeat music as Marshall Jefferson or Kraftwerk. People might not know the artists' names, but they sure as hell know the samples.
And what would you say to the jazzers? How could you leave us for such a techno monster!
I couldn't give a monkey's, to be honest. Don't get me wrong, jazz is a true love of mine; but there is so much bullshit, arrogance and ignorance in that scene, in some ways I was glad to get away from it all. When we released our LE debut album. "Pull The Plug", we were trendy; cos in 98/99 drum+bass was cool in the jazz scene. By 2002/2003 I remember jazzfunk people being surprised I was "still into that d+b"; it's tedious, that constant desire to be hipper-then-hip, and ultimately not have a fucking clue what it is you are into, or are supporting, and cultivating.
Your heritage is exactly why Hospital is the label that it is now. How have you cultivated your groove? Has it been with jazz sensibilities?
More than just jazz: soundtracks, contemporary classical, funk, dub, guitar bands, detroit techno, bossa nova, exotica. You name it. I think in many ways we have just made it up as we go along, in an instinctive, random sort of fashion. Oe of the advantages of starting up as a duo, is that you can continually bounce ideas of each other, and often pull in different directions. Hopefully that stops things getting stale. The most distinctive factor is a warm, soulful attitude, that we try to apply to everything we do.
When Hospital was fresh out the musical womb of Tongue & Groove, you also had Galactic Disco is nappies, both the love babies of the Acid Jazz period. Were you committed to both of these children equally or was it a case of who was the first to be toilet trained got all your love?
That's a delightful question. "Love babies". Or maybe "bastard offspring". From 96 to 98 we were committed to both, and enjoyed them as much as each other. In a perverse sort of way, given that drum+bass is much harder to make, and we were finding it much more difficult to break into that scene, we ended up much more passionate about it. And it ultimately felt a far bigger achievement to make a noise within drum+bass. Also, there was no question that the d+b scene was, and still is, one of the most exciting and unique musical genres, and we're very proud to play a big part in it.
Do you miss Galactic Disco?
Yes. I do. Not for some time, as we got fully carried away with the joys of drum+bass. But maybe during the past couple of years, I've found myself looking back. We had fun with that imprint for a couple of years. For some bizarre reason, it went down especially well in Southern Ireland, Cork City especially. Tony and I enjoyed some cracking gigs over there, and from time to time I have pangs of regret about giving it up. But fact is, you can't do it all. Maybe one day....
Were there some other more commercial labels or projects that we don't know about?!
Not that I know of!
You were one half of London Elektricity in its infancy and contributed to some amazing tracks, 'Hectic' for example. Now as label boss you have left the studio, do you miss the making music role?
Not really. I did for a while; and maybe I miss the luxury of being able to spend days on end fussing over the reverb on a snare drum, or the top end eq of a hi-hat. But the fact is, I bluffed my way into making music; it was Tony that convinced me to try and make tunes in the studio. Without his enthusiasm I would never have tried, and never got away with it. We had a lot of fun messing about in the Barons Court studio. I remember one of our first productions together, was a remix for DJ Food's "Refried Food" album on Ninja. We had to rework their 'Spiral' track, and Tony had some weird Alice In Wonderland spoken word thing - talking about "getting near to the centre of the earth". As a result one of my formative studio experiences was walking up and down our basement stone corridor, in an old pair of chelsea boots, a microphone at either end, trying to make it sound like i was descending a giant staircase. That's dedication for you.
Do you think creatively speaking, your talents are better served in taking the role you have now? And has it surprised you to be doing it?!
Yes for sure, cos I'm so good at my job! Hahahaha!! The fact is, I can't read music, and I'm pretty useless on Cubase and Reason. When we started we were working on an old Atari, with an Akai 1000, quarter inch tape, vintage keyboards and a knackered DDA desk. It was fascinating and bewildering; I didn't really have a clue what I was doing, but I had a great record collection, and I knew what I liked. We basically got to a point where we had to make a choice; either run with London Elektricity as the priority, and I insist on being a part of that. Or look at our options, and take the alternative route with Hospital as the priority. Given our individual skills (Tony and I) it seemed a pretty simple decision to me, though I'll be honest enough to admit it wasn't easy.
'Stars Get Down'
Exactly how many caps do you wear? (Surely you don't make the tea any more!)
Not tea, no. I am effectively Label Manager, meaning I need to oversee the daily runnings of the entire label. More specifically, I still have an overview on all our product manufacturing, with Edgar doing the stock control and ordering. I take charge of the label's art direction; historically I was responsible for all of our design work. Thankfully in recent years the mighty Ricky Trickartt has come under our wing, and is part of the Hospital family, and he now takes care of the majority of our design. Events are my domain, and I am in charge of the Hospitality shows from Matter, to all the UK and European residencies. Merchandise is also under my jurisdiction; design and new product. There's quite a lot of artist management work I arrange, with a more specific role taking care of High Contrast. For all the roster this means managing their remix work, and non-Hospital production jobs, whilst for Lincoln HC it can be a much wider variety of tasks. I also spend quite a lot of time working on sponsorship opportunities, and our work in a range of other fields.
The Hospital team has grown somewhat, who are the crew?
Aside from myself, Tony is in charge of finance and accounting, and naturally part of the 3-man A+R team. Tom(ahawk) Kelsey is the other A+R bod alongside Tony and myself; he also runs all our promo work, especially the radio-plugging, and all-round marketing work. Matt Riley is in charge of all online promo, as well as our sync-licensing, which is basically plugging music to computer games, tv and film. Zac Vibert takes care of Hospital's digital media, and also oversees our online webshop and warehouse. Ashley Howard has come in to manage the publishing wing (Songs In The Key Of Knife) which is a vital part of any contemporary record label; or should be. And Edgar Dewsbery, the latest team member, has taken over our manufacturing schedule - the production of our cds and vinyl. We also tend to have 2 to 3 volunteers at any one time; usually college graduates, who will do 2 days a week work experience, helping out with a broad variety of daily tasks. All the fulltime NHS staff started as volunteers, and I'm incredibly proud of all of them.
So it seems that 2009 was the year where Hospital went REALLY big! With Tony's podcast reaching 100 episodes and winning it's 3rd award, Hospitality going bananas at Matter as well as many many Hospitalities around the country, and of course the individual successes of your artists. Do you find yourselves in a happy place right now?
Was it really? I don't know; I guess we have actually been growing steadily ever since 1996. It's harder to see it when you're on the inside. There's no doubt our residency at Matter has been a high profile move, which developed our move into big events at London's Heaven nightclub. I would like to think that generally we have been able to improve ourselves as a company, year after year. We work extremely hard at everything that we do, but don't tend to sit around the office patting each other on the back, basking in our own glory. There is simply so much to learn every day in the music business... you cannot stop. But yes, no question; we've had a great year, and we're definitely in a happy place.
At what point did you think that the formula was spot on?
To be honest I don't think our formula is ever perfect. We have to continually keep assessing the company's activities. Looking back, 2004 was a key year: we bought our own premises, and later that year launched our own physical and digital webshop. So at that point, I reckon we had our overall structure in place. But like I say - you can always do better. Always.
One might say that it was Quantic that propelled Tru Thoughts forward, who has been the artist that defined Hospital for you or indeed your punters?
Initially it would have been Elektricity, since Tony and I were the label, and the artists(s). That helped get things set up and established. But these past 5-7 years, it's probably been High Contrast. This is enormously satisfying, given that we started from the ground up with Lincoln. We met him at a clubnight in Cardiff, when he wanted to mc for us (!) His initial releases were pretty much ignored within drum+bass, yet today he is one of the most recognised artists within the genre, and in dance music in general.
Having met Lincoln (High Contrast), where we talked about everything but D&B, I could see why he fits with the Hospital ethic. His awareness of a much wider cultural landscape obviously influences his music. Did you recognise this trait when you first heard/met him?
Not really, no; though we got on pretty quick. Initially, it was simply his music. But beyond that, we quickly struck up a bond, and enjoyed each other's company. Film and literature are are major part of Lincoln's cultural makeup, and with his film-school background he has enjoyed producing his own videos for some of the High Contrast singles. Over the past 2 years or so he's put a lot of time and energy into working on his own feature film scripts, which I hope one day will come to fruition (though, hopefully not at the expense of his music career!). He's a thoroughly entertaining chap, with a lot to say; and we're very proud of him, and what he's achieved.
Do you in fact look for producers that aren't blinkered?
We try to look for a few things. Naturally the music has to come first, and ideally the music itself needs to bring something fresh and original to the table. We have to be able to work with artists who can push the genre, and end up making a significant mark within the scene as a whole. There's no point finding a producer who effectively makes High Contrast music, cos he's already on the label. Ideally, each new producer we make a commitment to, is someone that can compliment the exisiting roster, and help widen our appeal as a record label. But along with that, it's pretty essential that we get on, cos we're a very hands-on label. We like to get stuck-in on the A+R side. And we also like to get know people; go down the pub, hang out together.
The Future Sound Of's have been stunning, and now with Russia taking the hospital spotlight, do you feel you have unearthed a potential gold mine of music in that country?
Could be. And it's a big country, so who knows how much good music could be over there. We got a headstart by working with Bop on his debut album for Med School. Since then, from Subwave to Electrosoul System, Engage to Unquote and SizeF, there appears to be no end to the breadth and quality of music in Russia. Having said that, it is not an easy country to work within - there is a fairly 'loose' understanding of copyright, as well as plenty of complications surrounding contracts, payments, and a frequent language barrier. Regrettably, there are quite severe restrictions on visa applications, which has meant touring opportunities can be very limited. Stiil; if the music is hot, it's hot.
Who else is really excelling at Hospital, and have you got your eyes on any up and coming producers (no names!)?
Discovering new music, and signing new artists is the best part of what we do. It's also pretty exhausting - the volume of new music that is sent in here (primarily over instant messenger) is pretty overwhelming; all of us listen to new music throughout the day, though the principal responsibility lies with me, Tony and Tom. Right now we have Danny Byrd finishing his 2nd album (Tom is down in bath with right now); Nu:Tone is firing on all cylinders prepping his 3rd album for this Winter; Tony is working hard on a new Elektricity opus, and HIgh Contrast is in the studio again, having just completed 2 tracks for the new Underworld album!
Our most recent, and exciting signing, is Netsky. He's only 21, and lives at home with his mum in Antwerp. To be honest, I've never seen such an immmediate wave of hype and excitement around a new producer. He was over recently for his first UK tour, and the reactions were crazy! Kids hanging off the booth, shouting "I love you Netsky!!!"
It's brilliant. This is when I really love my job. His debut album drops on 14 June, and it's great. Instant, catchy, dancefloor, radio smashing drum+bass. I'm also delighted to say we're bringing back Sonic, whose first single for a few years 'Piano Anthem' was out in March. The brand new Sick Music project will be out by the time your read this: naturally it's amazing, haha! Another combination of up+coming stars, established names, and Hospital first-team players, making for a truly broad, drum+bass experience. 'Hyper Hyper' by Nu:Tone will be be out in May, and this summer we have new music from Camo+Krooked, and B-Complex... bam!
I have to ask, when Mistabishi got caught miming to a mix cd at a club, was it in fact good for his profile in the end?
No not really; I was pretty bloody cross about that. There's no doubt that for a moment his name appearred to be all over the dance music world. But not in a good way. And I didn't appreciate so many fans and industry people generally sticking the boot in, on James and us; you can learn a lot about some folk at times like that. I guess what happened in the aftermath was that we let the furore spin itself out... to the point where drum+bass forums were ranting amongst themselves about how Hospital had orchestrated the whole thing. That ended up being quite funny. The internet is truly it's own parallel universe.
His music is pure genius at the end of the day, and for me makes his misdemeanour unimportant, do you think that view would have been taken by many?
Probably for quite a lot of people, yes. Plenty Hospital fans are not remotely bothered by drum+bass forums and chatrooms. And it's also fair to say there are plenty of other djs whose sets are not exactly 'spontaneous'. But that's not really the point. He's a silly boy for thinking he could get away with it. But as we said, he should focus on what he does best: making outstanding music.
'The View From Nowhere'
So, Hospitality at Matter, absolutely mental! How about that?
Smashing it. Loving it. To work at a brand new, multi-million pound venue is an absolute pleasure. I was invited down The O2 in the Spring before they opened, and wandering around that concrete building site it wasn't easy to envisage the superclub it has become. But the interior, the visuals, the bars and facilities, let alone the superb sound systems, make for truly one of the leading international club venues. We've been there over a year now, and have sold out every event in advance; that's amazing. I keep expecting the bubble to burst.. but we have our May 7th show coming up, and 3 weeks before almost all the 2800 tickets are sold. Love it!
Could it be any better?
I'm sure it can. It's all in the details, and if we try hard I'm sure we can always improve it. We're ambitious, and so the production details could be go as far as you like... though, unlike Heaven, we can't make a mess, make holes in the floor, scratch the paintwork etc. I work hard on the line-ups especially, trying to strike a fine balance between big name artists, Hospital's core roster, up+coming names, and an exciting range of non-d+b acts for our 2nd room. In planning, I always tend to stick the proposed lineup onto a flyer design; I need to look at it that way, to workout if it's an event that I want to go to.
Where next for the Hospitality juggernaut?
We have occassional international shows - like Poland, Germany, Japan. But in all honesty, the UK is always my priority, as it leads the way in drum+bass. In late 2009 I thought I had decided to cut back on events; but then we got into the new year, and have been overwhelmed with offers and requests. So in 2010 we are also doing Newquay, Portsmouth, Southampton, Edinburgh, and maybe some others. I'm working on a Canadian weekend, which might take a while, and am working through plans for Australia and New Zealand. We hope to do Bratislava in October, somewhat inspired by the artist B-Complex: its his home town, and his debut 'Beautiful Lies' was our most downloaded track in 2009. We were offered Southend last week.
As a record label it's very evident that you are focused on vinyl yet have all other format bases well and truly covered. What advice would you give to other labels that are luddite by nature and still clinging on to the golden age of vinyl?
Now steady on. There is nothing luddite about vinyl. I think one of the key issues here is to understand that supporting the vinyl format has nothing to do with ignoring the value of digital; we have always tried to point out that we actively pursue all formats for our recorded work. What's key is to be organised with your content and catalogue, and get to know what is required in the sale and distribution of digital media. You should also focus on the key retail platforms, such as iTunes, Beatport, Amazon, etc. Simultaneously, find a quality broker for vinyl production, and dont under-estimate the consistent, niche market for vinyl buyers and collectors.
You take an active and admirable role in music industry education at various colleges, is this something you are proud to be doing and what motivates you?
It's rewarding and enjoyable to find yourself in a lecture theatre, or conference seminar, and have to think on your feet. The college environment is always worthwhile, if you think you can help motivate and maybe inspire some students to really dedicate themselves to a music career. Conferences and seminars can also be satisfying experiences; I was on one recently in Bristol, and managed to start an argument with a panellist within 2 minutes. Not for the sake of it. I genuinely felt he was misleading the audience and just trying to sell his company's web package. I have been to so many events where smug industry folk like to sit back and bask in their own perceived glory, when the actual purpose should be to help de-mystify some of the day-to-day realities of the music business. And if I can help offer some common sense, and a few simple pointers to emerging UK talent, then that has to be worthwhile.
How is the office banter then?
Think it probably depends on the weather, football, and kids' sleeping habits. But safe to say we're an extremely witty bunch of individuals.
Beer or wine?
Now that's a silly question. I suggest you all watch the film 'Sideways' for a straight-forward answer.
Lastly, is there something you'd absolutely love to do that is a million miles away from music?
I've spent a while trying to think of something entertaining and convincing... but you know, the fact is; I'm nowhere without music. Utterly unemployable.
Massive thanks to Chris for taking the time out of Hospital's ultra busy schedule for this interview.
If you haven't been to Hospitality yet, get yourself there asap!