Tsuba Records Boss Kevin Griffiths in the Hot Seat.
Launched in January 2006 by Kevin Griffiths, Tsuba is rightly regarded as one of the world’s key players in underground house music, with over seventy releases in its colourful eight-year history (w/ the likes of Detroit Swindle, Huxley, MK, Moodymanc, Larry Heard, Dyed Soundorom & Nina Kraviz). Tsuba has always been about forward-thinking, dancefloor-focussed music with depth and longevity, and in 2014, as Griffiths settles into his new Southern hemisphere surroundings, it shifts its borders from house into more expansive waters.
The recent move to Australia has not diminished any of founder Griffiths’ astute ear for quality, and in 2014 the label is widening its horizons to embrace a broader palette of sounds taking a more eclectic approach to its output. Alongside the forward-thinking house Tsuba has been known for, the label is delving deeper into the realms of Balearic Beat, Slo-Mo House, Disco, Techno and beyond.
The Tsuba philosophy to focus on quality in all aspects of the label, first and foremost the music, closely followed by artwork, packaging and label events, remains undimmed as its visual impact keeps pace with its sonic reinvention.
1) Hi Kevin, thanks for taking the time out to chat with us. Tell us where you are and how you are you feeling right now?
I’m in Australia right now, we moved here to Adelaide in January, so life has changed quite a bit in the last few months. I’m running the label from here now so its business as usual on that front, albeit from a sunnier spot than London. We wanted a life change and Mrs. Tsuba is from here originally – so it was a natural choice, it’s a great place to bring up our 2 daughters, the weather and lifestyle are obviously appealing. The City has a vibrant scene with The Carter Bros, Inkswell and the Untzz label all based here, its obviously much smaller, but that means those who are into underground music are very passionate & knowledgeable.
2) For those that don’t know, you are the creator and owner of TSUBA, the acclaimed record label; tell us about its inception and how the label came to be…
I was A&R and label manager for Fine Records in London, home to Tiefschwarz & Mocky at the time, so starting my own label was an instant decision. I actually signed the first 3 Tsuba releases for Fine Records originally and they let me take them for Tsuba, so i hit the ground running. Here I am 8 years later!
3) Obviously, the topic for today is the new EP “Street Lamps”, tell us in your words a little bit about Jamie Trench and the trax on the offering…
The latest release is by Jamie Trench, a very talented UK producer and DJ. Having bought several of his previous 12”s, I approached him in late 2012 about doing a release for Tsuba Limited, Tsuba’s Vinyl focused imprint, and he sent me these great tracks, it was really as simple as that.
4) TSUBA is a rather interesting name in any sense, what does it mean?
It’s part of a Japanese sword between the handle and the blade, the circular part that protects the hand. I wanted a name that was distinctive and memorable and knew it had to be short to catch your attention. My favorite jeans at the time were an Australian brand called Tsubi, so i just changed one letter and bingo!
5) You mentioned that the sound of the label is broadening over the next few releases – care to elaborate a little bit on that?
Since moving here [to Australia], I’ve been planning the next phase of the label, the aim being to widen horizons and embrace a broader palette of sounds. You’ll still of course find forward thinking House as the backbone of the label, but there will be more of an eclectic approach with forays into Balearic beat, Disco, Slo-mo House, Deep Techno and more album orientated projects. Ultimately the label is a reflection of my tastes and this is what’s exciting me right now. I’ve definitely been influenced by more coastal surroundings and also DJing a lot less means I’m looking at signings from a new perspective. I want to keep things fresh and there’s only so many straight up house records you can release without getting a bit bored. Moving forward there will be less releases in general, each will be on Vinyl with unique artwork rather than following a particular style like I have in the past. I’m working with some new designers and also learning the ins & outs of Photoshop myself as this is an aspect of the release process I’m very passionate about. Music forthcoming includes a release from Elaborate Hoax, a new project from Bobby Soft Rocks and Jaime LHAS with a wonderful remix from Reverso 68, a Techno EP from Norm Talley, an album from Craig Bratley and an acid EP from Steve Cook.
6) Apart from the obvious quality factor, what it is like running a record label? How has it changed say 5 or even 10 years ago?
Running a label is like an addiction! I can’t believe its been 8 years, the time has seriously flown. The business has changed dramatically in the last 10 years since I was working for Amato Distribution, the largest distributor of vinyl in the UK at the time. You would regularly see labels sell 5-10k units, whereas nowadays numbers are typically in the hundreds. Digital has obviously opened the market up to a much broader audience which is very positive. The only way I make Tsuba work as a business is literally by doing everything myself, so I’m always very busy but I’ve been doing it so long I can run the label in my sleep pretty much.
7) What do you want to accomplish with your imprint?
Leading on from the point about broadening the sound of the label, I want to develop more acts into album artists. In 8 years, I’ve actually only released 2 artist albums, so the aim is to have at least 2 per year from 2015. The Craig Bratley album coming soon is a good taste of what’s to come. Craig has been making quite a name for himself over the last couple of years with his brand of chuggy electronic house & releases on Andrew Weatherall’s Bird Scarer label amongst others.
8) What keeps you motivated after all this time? Tell us about the highs and the lows…
The main thing that keeps me motivated is continuing to be excited by new music and unearthing talent. I’m still a music junkie, my entire life is consumed by it and when I’m not in Tsuba mode, I’ll listen to all styles of music, from guitar acts like Jake Bugg, Beck, Tychno & Jack White through to Dub, Drum n Bass and Electronica. I enjoy the A&R process immensely and working with great people who are on the same wavelength. I love to create concepts and there’s no better feeling when it all comes together.
I think when you have your own business, the highs are higher and the lows are lower! Notable highs include some amazing club nights, the best being a freezing Feb night in 2012 with over 800 people raving in a warehouse overlooking London’s Olympic stadium. I think just still being here as a label with a great fan base is an ongoing high. One low would be when Tsuba’s vinyl distributor went bust in year one, that was quite painful financially. It can also be a lonely job as I do everything myself, so sometimes it would be good to have a partner to bounce ideas off, but 99% of the time I like having total control.
9) What are some of your personal favorite cuts from the label and why?
Its a bit like picking your favorite child! The Larry Heard mix of Moodymanc is an obvious one, but the moment the mix came in I knew it was very special. Likewise with Nina Kraviz, and her remix which I waited for a long time to get. Peace Division ‘Eh Oh Um’ was huge in 2009 and was at the peak of the Manheim sound, but this was a very UK sounding track from the masters of the groove. Sascha Dive’s ‘Jus Groove’ was the following year and is just a devastatingly simple house track, but often the best ones are. The Carter Bros album is a real gem, like a house music version of the Avalanches, so I was very proud to release this one.
10) What’s you’re opinion on the current state of house music?
I would say it’s in a healthy position, the vinyl side of things continues to grow and likewise with digital, even if the markets are quite different musically. Tsuba tends to sit in the middle and appeals to both sides hopefully. This was another reason for the move here to Australia, so I can just get on with my own musical vision for the label without being sucked into the hype machine. I like the feeling of being an outsider looking in rather than being too influenced by what other people are doing.
11) Where does a music media store like Traxsource fit into your musical agenda?
Traxsource is very important as you guys are passionate about House music and that shines through in everything you do. Tsuba is proud to be a part of the Traxsource family!
12) What has been your best business decision in favor of your music career?
Without doubt starting the label when I did. In many ways it’s much harder nowadays to establish an imprint that appeals to both Vinyl and Digital fans. These days it seems to be one or the other.
13) Any secrets from within the industry you’ve learned along the way? If so, what?
I would say just have 100% belief in what you’re doing, be positive, stick to your vision and don’t compromise. Finally, be nice to people!
14) What would be your short list of dream artists signings, past or present – dead or alive for TSUBA?
15) Any final things you would like to say to your TSUBA fans?
I very much appreciate all the support since the beginning, the label would not be here after 8 years without enthusiasts who pay for music. I hope you’ll stay with the label on the next phase of the journey and will enjoy the ride!
Kevin Griffiths artist page & releases on Traxsource.
Tsuba Records label page & releases on Traxsource.
Interview conducted by Chris Mackay for Traxsource
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