“Keeping it family”: in conversation with Dixon Avenue Basement Jams

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Photos by Sean Bell

“When we started the label we had no aspirations about what we wanted to do. We just said ‘let’s spend a bit more time together, put some records out and fucking have a laugh’”. Kenny Grieve (aka ‘The Wasp’) doesn’t beat around the bush when quizzed about the mind-set adopted by himself and co-owner Dan ‘Monox’ Lurinsky when their label was first conceived. Three and half years on and Dixon Avenue Basement Jams has hit heady heights that were never in mind when they dropped that inaugural Jared Wilson 12”. We sat down with Kenny and Dan to talk Glasgow, coloured vinyl, Record Store Day delays and how family principals permeate everything they do.

It had just turned midday when I stumbled into the lobby of their hotel. I find Kenny slumped in an armchair, struggling to come to terms with the damage left from a gig at Oslo Hackney the evening before. Despite what appears to be a hangover of monstrous proportions he manages a brave smile and fights through the nausea to accommodate me with some idle chatter while we wait for Dan to join us. Choosing to relocate to a place where the duo could fill their rumbling stomachs with a bit of grub, their easy-going demeanour became apparent the moment we sat down.

After some brief apologies for their “physical state” we get straight into things, starting with a bit about their background and the city that defines them – Glasgow. If you weren’t already aware, the Dixon Avenue basement actually existed. The stuff of legend, it served as an after-hours refuge to many unwilling to succumb to the city’s criminally early licensing hours, but the fuck-off attitude pervading throughout the DABJ curation was forged at nights like the now-defunct Disco X. “It was a proper disco night in the sense where people just go and get fucked and fucking dance”, Kenny recounts. With a label motto that reads, “real rocking raw shit, from the street for the clubs”, it seems like the seeds were sown during those formative years.

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Then there’s the fascination with American dance music to consider. “Glasgow has always been a house and techno city,” Dan explains, as he digs into a plate of bacon and eggs. “Detroit and Chicago are the places you look, so that’s kind of why the obsession’s there.” Take the world-renowned Sub Club or Dan’s current employer, Rubadub; two Glaswegian institutions steeped in a tradition of US house, techno and electro that, according to Kenny, goes “way back to the early 90s with Pussy Power.” They were the first UK promoters to book Cajmere and, well, the rest is history. Even when most of the world has its collective head turned by the latest ‘cutting edge’ genre, Glasgow’s commitment to the sounds of the American Midwest has never wavered.

With one city almost literally beating to the same drum, it’s hardly surprising that these two find themselves surrounded by so many likeminded souls. Glasgow natives Denis Sulta and Big Miz are testament to that, having turned heads with impressive debut efforts for the label, while the former was also recognised at the same recent DJ Mag ‘Best of British’ awards, where DABJ picked up the gong for Best Breakthrough Label. Without coming across at all smug, Kenny is clearly enjoying the purple patch Glasgow finds itself in. “Look at the awards” he remarks, “there was a clean sweep by Glasgow people.”

Glasgow is a hotbed of creativity at the moment and keen to nurture homegrown talent; the door is wide open to peers, colleagues and strangers alike. “Nine times out of ten they come to us”, Dan noted. “We had loads of stuff sitting, from friends who would send you stuff to play.” Marquis Hawkes, Denis Sulta, Big Miz and now Mark Forshaw as Casio Royale are all reaping the benefits of what Dan describes as “keeping it family.”

Pride was a consistent theme throughout the conversation. Pride for the recognition their city was receiving – having just cleaned up at those aforementioned DJ Mag awards – and pride for the success both the label and its artists have been enjoying of late. Dan talks of getting a “buzz” from playing a part in the rapid ascendency of friends Denis Sulta and Marquis Hawkes. “Long may it continue”, Kenny adds, and the way these two tell it, it probably will. Kenny mentions a friend who is set to make his debut on the label in the not-so-distant future and hints that those tracks will make a sizeable impact too (this friend, we later learn, is Fear-E who’s track ‘Candi’s Quadra’ just featured on DABJ Allstars Vol. 2, with full solo EP due out in coming months). The confidence is palpable, but you only have to look at the label’s consistency to know that it comes with good reason. 2015 saw them put out a mere three releases, but the quality present was more than enough to turn heads.

Recent times have seen DABJ and their affiliates hitting the headlines for all the right reasons, for the most part. That said, there was a brief moment of controversy surrounding one of the label’s most prominent artists. I thought it might be something they would like to properly address, so with a certain degree of trepidation, I popped the question. To those still in the dark, it concerned Marquis Hawkes and the accusations directed at the producer regarding his pseudonym and the naming of his second DABJ release, Cabrini Green. Some people speculated that naming your record after a housing project in Chicago and assuming an alias that, to some, obscured Marquis’ racial identity was an attempt to lend his music a false air of authenticity.

“It’s absolute bullshit”, stated Dan, clearly eager to nip this one in the bud. “We wanted to come up with a name that sounds like his name, but wasn’t.” Understandably a touchy subject, I try to delve a little deeper in order to lay any misconceptions to rest. “It was never meant to be some kinda ‘let’s pretend he’s from America’”, Dan continues. “He did some stuff on a label called Pro-Jex under the name DJ MH. DJ Funk and DJ Deeon and all those guys had done stuff on that label as well.” Kenny then chimes in, “the Cabrini Green thing was just a reference to loads of things. It was a probably a wee tip of the hat to Chicago, but I don’t see the problem with him having a respectful nod”.

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Looking forward, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be waking from the DABJ fairytale any time soon. Despite personal commitments and the external pressures of running a record label alongside a day job, it would appear that the next twelve months will be their most productive. Aiming to “have 12 to 14 releases out” in 2016, Kenny lays out a slightly adjusted modus operandi. “That’s the change. We plan stuff now,” he says with a laugh.

It may not be long before we see some original music from the duo either. “Trying to fit everything in can be a bit of a ball ache sometimes,” Dan states, “but we’re going to make a concerted effort.” Starting a family only seems to have strengthened his resolve too. “Having a kid and getting married has actually helped me focus a little bit on stuff”, something Kenny can also relate to. “When our lives got busier we started having to plan stuff and look further down the road.”

One thing’s for sure: style and convention have never been much of a concern. “There’s a lot of our personality in the label, so it’s not construed or thought out. It’s just how we do things,” says Kenny. “We’re not looking at ourselves as a house label or a techno label. We’re a label that puts out good music,” adds Dan. House and techno have been the dominant forms throughout its curation, but the door is always open to broadening the label’s horizons. “If someone sent us an electro record and it was an absolute nailer, it would be out.”

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Even the switch to making the DABJ back catalogue available digitally wasn’t dwelled on for too long. Not willing to restrict themselves or their artists, fears of estranging the so-called vinyl purists were cast aside in favour of a progressive attitude. The switch raised a few eyebrows but, ultimately, it was a necessary step forward. “You start to feel like you’re maybe holding your artists back a wee bit,” Kenny explains. “They deserve the exposure that comes from it.”

Before you pick a side in the vinyl vs digital debate, you should consider three words that strike fear into the heart of every independent label owner: Record Store Day. “There were supposed to be about three times as many records that came out this year,” Dan explains, admitting that the inevitable RSD delays put a spanner in the works. Learning from their mistakes, Kenny speaks of precautions they can take to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself – “You need to have a buffer, man, because you’re going to get hit by it. There’s going to be a couple of months where you won’t get anything.” So in addition to pressing in advance to pre-empt delays, they’re hoping that putting out releases in digital format will serve to “fill gaps” should any issues arise. “We’re going to do exclusive digital releases as well,” says Kenny. “Again an exposure thing for artists. Artists are waiting so long to get another record out but they’re being loyal to us and not going anywhere else.”

If you think that a switch to digital and a few glitzy awards would inspire a lacklustre attitude or compromise the quality of the label, you’d be sadly mistaken. From the coloured vinyl of the early releases to the inserts featured in recent efforts, aesthetic and presentation have always been carefully considered. In short, this is a label for those of us that still seeking something tangible when we spend our hard-earned cash – a quality that’s hard to come by in an increasingly digital age. “We didn’t want to just go with the straight black vinyl without making a wee bit of effort,” Kenny explains.

There have been growing pains as the label has matured, but no obstacle has proved too great. When the pressing plant ran out of colours, they took it as an opportunity to invite another old friend into the fold, in the shape of York-based artist, Dan Axon. “He’s been our friend for like fifteen years,” says Dan, “he’d been trying to push himself recently as an artist and we’ve got a platform to put his art out. We really liked his art and had a discussion about what we can do and he was like, ‘I’d be up for doing a series with a theme’”. The theme? Glasgow, of course.

“It was a kind of deconstruction of Soundhaus,” says Dan in reference to the insert that accompanied Denis Sulta’s LA Ruffgarden EP. “They’re all like abstracts. There’s one of Soundhaus, one of Sub Club, there’s one of Rubadub, there’s one of the M8 that goes through Glasgow, there’s one of Dixon Avenue – the original one”.

Team ethic, community spirit, a family bond, whatever you want to call it, Kenny and Dan have fostered something with real substance. From the inner sanctum, to the wider Glasgow community, everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction, with DABJ right at the centre of things. As Kenny succinctly puts it – “every city has its cycles, and now I think it’s Glasgow’s turn”.

Catch Dixon Avenue Basement Jams & Denis Sulta at Patterns, Brighton (18th Jun).
Photos shot exclusively for Stamp The Wax by Sean Bell.

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