We are patiently standing by as the weekend draws near, bringing with it another iteration of Bass Coast Music Festival, and as we prepare to blast off into another fantastic year, we’ve got the next piece in our pre-event coverage!
If you’re a regular reader here at Dub Selekta, you know that we devour everything that Critical Records conceives and releases. So with a Critical Records showcase at Bass Coast this year, as well as multiple Critical artists making appearances, we decided to reach out to Boss man Kasra for a few words in advance of the main event. Recorded during a Skype conversation last month, Kasra and Amy chatted about Critical turning 15 and the brand new release to celebrate as well as some hot topics like vinyl (which always seems to produce an engaging and eclectic conversation) as well as how so many Critical artists got linked up with Bass Coast Music Festival.
Whether you’re attending Bass Coast this summer or not, read on to get some insight into Critical Records’ humble and modest leader and what he’s working on these days. For more information about Bass Coast, please checkout their website or Facebook fan page.
Amy: Can you begin by telling me about the origin of Critical Records; what was happening in 2002 that motivated you to start a record label like Critical?
Kasra: I’d started my first label when I was 15 and had always been fascinated with the mechanics of running a record label. All I’d been interested in, since a very early age, was music; buying records, going to gigs – stuff like that. I was predominately into bands, experimental guitar music and all sorts of different stuff.
After some exposure to the right kinds of electronic music, I fell in love with Drum and Bass. Around that time, like 2000 to early 2002, there seemed to be lots of online activity starting to happen, like Dogs on Acid.
I only had a couple of friends that were into Drum and Bass, not that many of my friends were fans , so I needed to find a way of talking to people about the music I was really into. Forums and message boards were a way for that to happen. I started speaking to some like-minded people and there were all these people that were making music and couldn’t find outlets for it. Back then it was really hard to break into the scene cause you had to be part of, what seemed to be, a clique of DJs.
Amy: Ah yea, or like a crew?
Kasra: Yea. Which is definitely something that has changed, probably partly due to the internet. It’s so much more open now.
Amy: For sure, a lot more accessible.
Kasra: Yea. My motivation was ‘I want to be involved in the scene I’m really into – what can I do? I think I know how to run a label. I’ve never pressed a record before, but it can’t be that difficult. Let’s work out how to do it!’
Then through trial and error, finding music online and finding people that I wanted to work with, that was kinda the beginning really.
Amy: Was it almost like a creative outlet for you?
Kasra: I suppose, to a degree yea, but a lot of the music that I grew up on was punk, hard core, underground stuff. Those scenes are basically built on communities of DIY musicians. DIY in the music community, to me anyways, means you do it yourself because you know that it’ll get done the right way. (And also sometimes because maybe no one else wants to do it!)
A lot of the characteristics of dance music, particularly drum and bass, resonated between the two cultures. This was the difference between making a record in a garage on a four track tape recorder and pressing up a 7inch, and being in a bedroom making a record on the computer and pressing up a 12inch; there’s no difference. It’s basically the same process, just different musical output at the end.
So I was kind of inspired by that as well, and I just wanted to be involved.
Amy: Reflecting on the past 15 years, what have been some of the defining moments for you that went on to shape Critical into the record label that it is today?
Kasra: It’s hard to pin point moments cause it’s such an evolving thing. There’s been times when things went really wrong, and out of that has come good and change of practice; things like that. We’ve put out some great records that have done really well, but then I also think sometimes a label is made up of all the records that people don’t discover right away as well. The tracks that take ages to be found can be what gives a label a catalogue and a history; a pedigree I suppose. It’s being able to find that one big record that draws people in, and then they’ll go back and listen to the weird, underground thing that it took a while for people to pick up on, you know?
Amy: Yea, that was so forward thinking at the time that it wasn’t well accepted…
Kasra: Yea there’s that. So much depends on when records come out and, you know, sometimes a record can be before it’s time.
Amy: That’s actually a great segue over to my next question which is about the record that you guys just released celebrating your 15 year anniversary (congratulations by the way). I’m curious as to how you curated the album and what the thinking was behind the tunes (and artists) that you chose?
Kasra: Basically, everything I put out is stuff I’m into. So, there’s that, but then it was also that I went to the artists and spoke to them about the project. I approached everyone individually and said ‘This is what we’re doing; really want you to be involved, can you propose some music that you’d like to put forward?’
Everyone pretty much went off and wrote an original. There were some ideas that we’d been working on for other projects that worked out better for this release. So yea, I suppose the concept of a compilation album, unless it has like a theme, is pretty much a collection of music by its very definition. I knew I wanted to do a compilation to celebrate the 15 years. The process was to then work out what artists would be featured, which was predominately key Critical acts plus a couple of guests, and then approach the people and ask what they’d like to make; that was it really.
Amy: That’s awesome; it just kinda came together then…
Kasra: I mean, yea I’ve done a few of these now, and we work closely with the group of people. It takes quite a while to get the right music; not everything is right, people have other projects on the go, but yea. It was also about the concept of how it would be presented, and things like that. Obviously the music is the most important thing, but there is a whole lot of process outside of that you know.
Amy: Totally. I love the artwork for it, the vibe and the special edition that you guys released.
Kasra: Yea I’m really happy with it; really happy with how it looks.
Amy: Kudos. Looking back as to where you started and where you’ve ended up, how has your role as label head changed or morphed, particularly in your dual role as touring DJ, since you started Critical in 2002?
Kasra: Well I’m busier [laughs]…
When I started, no one would book me cause no one knew who I was. But now, I DJ quite a lot. I don’t really make music as well, which is pretty cool; to be able to DJ and not have to do it off the back of making music. But it is a lot busier now. I’m very lucky that I get to travel the world playing music and that’s a wonderful thing.
In terms of the label, when it started in the first few years, it was just me doing everything. Now we have a team of people: a label manager, an assistant, label staff, an artwork guy; people around us that help put everything together. My focus is mainly dealing with the artists and the music; that’s my priority. ‘Cause obviously without that, there would be nothing.
My roles have become less in terms of the volume of the different things that I do, but, in terms of the importance, it’s gotten a lot bigger. ‘Cause you work with a close group of artists, you have a responsibility to them to do a good job for them as well as have the bandwidth mentally to be able to support their music, you know? Dealing with music and artists there are a lot of different things involved: there’s emotion, there’s ego, there’s ideas that are hard to get across, and viewpoints and ultimately no one’s opinion is right or wrong. You know, your favourite song could be my least favourite song at the time, you know that kind of thing.
You have to have a lot of mental bandwidth to be able to do the job properly, I think.
Amy: Yea, that’s a very good point. Especially when you have so many moving parts and pieces on the go. I imagine you have to have good oversight of your big plan, but also who you’re working with in your day to day stuff.
Kasra: Yea, yea totally. That’s very true.
Amy: I noticed that you initiated a discussion on your Facebook as to whether pressing vinyl is worth the wait. I’m curious to know where you’ve landed on the topic and how Critical will strike a balance between the differing needs of audiophiles and other consumers?
Kasra: Well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know who buys our records; I wish I did. Its obviously fans but I wish I understood a bit more about how they consume the music. Maybe I should ask again on FB.
Amy: I do!
Kasra: Well that’s great! Why do you buy our records? Do you DJ vinyl?
Amy: I DJ vinyl personally but I DJ MP3s out. For me, if I really love an album, I will buy the vinyl because it’s something I want to have – I want to have the tangible. If it’s a song that I think I’m going to play out a couple times and that’s it, I’ll just buy the MP3. But if it’s an album that I feel that I want in my collection, I will buy it – no questions asked.
Kasra: Yea, ok, yea. ‘Cause I do the same; I don’t really buy any dance music vinyl at all, but I will buy a lot of vinyl. I buy a lot of band albums and stuff like that. But I do the same; so I may listen to it on Spotify on my phone and in the house sometimes, but for the most part, if I like a record I will buy it on vinyl.
But yea, that’s an interesting thing. It must be because people are buying the records and then using them to spin at home, or whatever. But you know, we sell out of everything. I mean , don’t get me wrong, we’re not doing thousands upon thousands of records, but I suppose to answer your question; it’s such a long process now, it can be up to 18 or 20 weeks to press a record which is, like, half a year!
Amy: Yea, that’s insane.
Kasra: And the thing I don’t like is this process where an artist will spend the time it takes to write a record, and then you’ll say ‘Yea great, so we’re gonna press it up and it’ll come out in half a year’s time.’ For the most part, actually, the artists are usually like ‘Uhhh…okay.’ [laughs]
But then I always say if you don’t wanna do vinyl, we don’t have to. I still think there’s this thing where it feels as though ‘if it isn’t on vinyl, it isn’t a real release’, kind of thing.
Amy: Ah yea, I guess so hey? To have that tangible thing, it makes a difference.
Kasra: The way I deal with it now is to give the artists the option. We can do vinyl if you want, but it’ll take this long. If you don’t want to do vinyl, it can come out then; what would you like to do? And if they still say they want to do vinyl, then we do it.
Amy: Yep, that’s fair.
Kasra: I mean, I still love putting out records and they’re amazing things. I suppose my point of view is that for an independent record label, putting out the kind of music that we do, it does seem like a bit of an antiquated way to put out music. But if people want the music on vinyl, and they want to buy it, then that’s cool. But I think we may try some different stuff this year; like maybe put out some stuff on vinyl after the digital and see how that works.
Amy: Yea, I was going to say, my suggestion is that most people that are buying the vinyl don’t actually mind waiting. They have to wait for it to come in the post anyways, so it’s not really usually one of those things where you have to get it so you can play it out on Friday. For the digital, I’m buying it the day it comes out so I can have it for the next show.
Kasra: Yea, for sure. There’s no right answer. The problem we have is that we put out a lot of records, like 20 records a year. If you delivered a track for a record now, we’d put it out in December. Whereas if you delivered a track and said put it out on digital, we could put it out on Monday. [laughs]. But anyways…
Amy: What a difference, hey? Crazy…
So, one of the reasons that we are chatting is because you are leading a Critical Records showcase at Bass Coast! I’m curious about what you’ve heard about Bass Coast and what gets you excited about playing it?
Kasra: Well, I’ve never played a festival in Canada. Sam Binga had played before, a few years ago, and Ivy Lab played last year (I remembered that they played on two different years), and it was a festival that stuck in my mind because the guys came back saying how great it was. After talking to the guys, and looking at it online, I saw that the lineups are cool and it looks like a really interesting place to have a festival. The whole approach and attitude to it seems really interesting and keeping in with the type of thing we like to do.
So it came together pretty easily; we started speaking to Bass Coast and they were really interested in working with us on something. I asked them how they would like to do it, and it was kinda a conversation basically.
Amy: That is so rad, we’re so excited to have you guys there!
Ok, so wrapping things up with one of my favourite questions; what is one of your favourite old school Drum and Bass tunes that you feel is underrated and that those new into DnB should check out?
Kasra: That’s a good question. I feel like saying something about Marcus because of what’s happened, but I can’t think of something of his that was underrated cause everything he did was highly rated.
But in terms of underrated stuff, there is definitely a tune that I absolutely adore that’s by Dom and Fierce. So Dom, from Dom and Roland, and Fierce and they used to produce tunes under the name ‘Outfit’. It was on Metro Recordings, which is Matrix’s label, in the 90’s and the tune is called ‘New York’. It’s fucking amazing; it’s really weird, the bassline is really horrible, it doesn’t really make any sense and it’s really great. I can remember hearing it in the late 90s when you used to be able to stream stuff through real player, and I remember there was a set of Andy C and GQ in New York and they opened with this tune, and I remember thinking ‘oh fuck, this is so cool!’. You should listen to it; it’s great but it’s really weird and really funky. And yea, it’s really underrated; when I mention it to people they’ve never heard of it.
Amy: To be honest, I haven’t either. I’m going to have to do some research so thank you for that.
Kasra: Yea you should check it out; it’s definitely one of my favourite tunes.
Amy: Awesome, very cool. Well Kasra, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. We’re really looking forward to seeing you at Bass Coast and catching the Critical Records showcase!