At the beginning of this year we caught wind of a mysterious man cutting dubplates out of his bedroom for some of south London’s finest DJs and producers. From Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section to Henry Wu and Andy Blake, some of the vinyl you’ve found yourself grooving to on any given night out in London may well lead back to this guy.
Almost a year on and Dominic Jones’ uncouth DIY bedroom foundry has become an institution in its own right within Peckham’s flourishing music scene, and earlier this month he made an executive decision to step out of the shadows and onto Rye Lane high street to offer Peckham’s first ever walk-in dubplate cutting service.
We caught up with Dominic to find out more about the whole operation.
So last time we featured you, you were running an underground dub-cutting operation out of your bedroom and serving the likes of Bradley Zero, Medlar, Chaos in the CBD, Andy Blake and Henry Wu. Now you’ve just opened up your first walk in Dubplate service. Could you talk us through what you offer in terms of the service?
I still offer the same online service, where people can email and send music to be cut on to a dubplate, but there was also a quiet voice in the back of the mind that felt it would be great to one day move things out of the home, and into a place where people can walk in and have their record cut while they wait in more of a shop environment.
We’re located in Holdrons Arcade, Unit 21, 135a Rye Lane, Peckham, SE15 4ST. People can walk in with files on memory stick (must be PC compatible) or a download link, or book an appointment to reserve a specific time slot. Our opening times are Monday to Saturday, 10am till 8pm. We will be taking orders online as usual so always welcome to email or phone for a chat. More information can be found on our website and Facebook.
You’re situated in a pretty exciting location. Could you talk a bit more about it?
When I was thinking of moving out of home to a proper location I knew it had to be right, and one place we thought about was Holdrons Arcade. I did a pop-up in the backroom at Holdrons (a space they reserve for exhibitions and temporary stores) as part of the Peckham Rye Music Festival, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
Holdrons Arcade already has some incredible food and fashion stores, alongside YAM Records, CD Base and Balamii Radio. CD Base has been going for well over ten years, and every evening people come and hang out there, listen to music, play dominoes. It’s more than just a shop, it’s a social thing.
With YAM and Balamii it’s the same. There are always people hanging out, talking music, drinking beers, joking and generally enjoying company. I hope that we can add to that. I’ve started doing a monthly show on Balamii where I play my favourite cuts from the previous months. Now people can buy music, broadcast music, and cut dubplates, all under the one roof. Combine that with the food, clothes, and art, it’s really exciting.
The set-up is, in its simplest form, split into two parts. One is for preparing the file to be cut, the other is actually cutting the prepared file onto the dubplate. It’s very different preparing a piece of music to be cut to vinyl rather than copied to a digital medium, and entire books have been written on this topic. Essentially there can be no stereo in the bass, and the phase differences/stereo in the mids and tops have to be carefully controlled. As well as this, every cutter-head (the piece of equipment that converts the audio signal to the vibration that, via the diamond tip, cuts the groove into the dubplate) has its own unique characteristic sound, so before a file can be cut it also has to be sent through an equaliser to be adjusted for this.
Most of the time, this can be done in store. I have a pair of ATC SCM11 in the shop, which are a very competent set of monitors, and combined with the knowledge of the characteristics of the cutterhead, we can create a very good file to be cut. If something needs more detailed work though, I can always take things away to do this in a more suitable environment. At home I have a treated room with the customised ATC SCM50 based speakers I built so can fine tune there.
Once I’m happy with a master file, I then burn it to CD and then move to the cutting lathe. I like to cut from a CD rather than straight from the computer, as when doing multiple tracks to vinyl, it saves a lot of time not having to load different files etc. It’s about convenience, and also, it’s a great way to archive. When I am old and grey, I will be able to look back through and see the body of my work, perhaps some famous names before they were famous. Also, if someone decides they want another copy down the line, the master is there ready to go.
We have a strict policy/guarantee that, once done, the master CD won’t leave the archive without specific permission. Sometimes if I really dig a particular piece of music, we might ask an artist if we can cut a copy for our monthly radio show on Balamii where I play our favourite dubs from the past months, but only with the specific permission of the artist. Confidentiality is our utmost priority and commitment.
What made you decide to expand your set up to out of home, and has your set up changed at all?
Doing the pop-up really cemented the idea of opening a shop as well as where I wanted to do it. When I set up working from home, people would always ask if they could come and watch the cut. Doing it from home certainly added a friendly approachable element to this, which I will always strive for at the shop, but with hindsight it was only a matter of time before I outgrew the spare room in our flat.
I will always look back fondly at the times spent with artists on my sofa, preparing music whilst they got to know my cat, but equally I’m excited about having a place where I’m now not so anonymous, but in fact connected right to the heart of the local music community I love so much and feel grateful to be a small part of.
Another part to the expansion is training up someone to help with the workload, someone who I have cut for plenty in the past, and who’s style of writing music, patience and precision demonstrates all the right characteristics to cut well.
How has business been since the launch? Any notable artists using the service?
We have been in the unit for a few weeks, and things have been busy. A lot of it has been internet orders through our website as that side of the business has been running for a while now, but we’ve had some walk-ins as well.
We had a notable dubstep artist come in this morning, cutting a remix of something he had previously released on Tempa which was really good fun to cut, and have some things to cut for the Whities label.
Since we last spoke we have cut music for Martin Ware (founding member of The Human League and now one half of Heaven 17) as well as things for artists from Wolf Music, Rhythm Section etc. One thing that we really enjoy about the job though is discovering talent that doesn’t yet have the recognition it deserves, and we cut something recently for an amazing artist everyone should check out called Lewis Hunter. Simply amazing. A real highlight though would have to be cutting 13 different tracks over 40 different records for Awful Records from Atlanta.
With Balamii, Yam Records, Rhythm Section and so many other cultural institutions based in Peckham, why do you think there’s such a vibrant music scene here?
One thing I have always loved about the scene in south London is the inclusivity. There is none of the hierarchy that I’ve witnessed so much in other parts of London. I remember rushing across London to a well-known record shop with dubplates I had cut of my own music, to be greeted by a low cut v-neck who just dismissed me with ‘leave it here and we’ll get back to you’ (they then went on to sell the dubplate even though we hadn’t arranged any kind of sale or return agreement. I have nothing against low-cut v-necks, but the attitude of ‘I’m cooler than you’ is something that I haven’t encountered here. Everyone is so enthused and passionate about the music, the art, not the status, and that in itself breeds true creativity.
You’ve had a busy year cutting dubplates, what have been some highlights so far (including any special/memorable dubplates cut)?
As above really, the one really stand order out since we last spoke was doing a small run for Awful Records as part of their RBMA gig in London. I was sent 13 tracks from various artists from the label/collective and cut 40 dubplates across various sizes, including a couple of 8-inch blanks I had kicking about. Each vinyl had different combinations of tracks, so it was a tricky cut but a real pleasure to work on such great music.
We hear you are opening a studio in the new year too? What’s that about?
Yeah, so I’m opening a studio in the new year. We (myself and Tom Gillieron) move in on December 20th this year, but need to do a bit of work before it’s functional, treating acoustics etc, but hope to be up and running early January. It’s not a business as such, the idea is to create somewhere where people from the south london music scene can get together, collaborate, etc. A place for friends to get together, jam and experiment, then perhaps cut to dub to play out.
Sometimes having a new space to write music in can help with creativity. I certainly find that if I’m at home writing music it’s easy to get distracted, I almost find anything else to do other than write. I’m guessing I’m not alone in that, and hope to use the studio as a space that people can go if they’re experiencing writer’s block. There will be no wifi! Perhaps I should lead line it as well for no phone signal?!
And building a PA soundsystem? Could you take us through that too?
So that leads nicely from the studio question, because music is great when shared, and we thought it would be great to have a system to do this. I have a lot of experience in designing and building amplifiers and speakers, and actually started off building PA systems for parties in fields etc, so it’s something that really goes back to the roots of where all this started for me – writing music and buying records to play in fields around Cambridge. Of course, with the Jamaican music culture in London, it has by-chance rather than design followed the model of the dub/reggae sound system culture. Dub plates and sound systems and studios all under the same banner.
How can people get in touch to get their dubs cut?
The shop is Located in Holdrons Arcade, Unit 21, 135a Rye Lane, Peckham, SE15 4ST. People can walk in with files on memory stick (must be PC compatible) or a download link, or book an appointment to reserve a specific time slot. Our opening times are Monday to Saturday, 10am till 8pm. We will be taking orders online as usual so always welcome to email or phone for a chat.