Given its relative proximity to London and the rest of Europe, there’s a sense that Belfast hasn’t enjoyed the recognition it deserves when it come to dance music. A city blighted by sectarian violence in the 20th Century can’t have helped it form a strong musical identity, but there’s been an ever-determined underground scene, which is really starting to find its voice now tensions have died down.
The recent Boiler Room with Bicep and AVA Festival in Belfast, showed a wider audience what a hotbed of talent and passion this small city is and, as far as labels go, Extended Play should be viewed equally alongside. Credited for giving Bicep and Ejeca early exposure, they’ve worked tirelessly to create a platform to support local and emerging talent in the city. 50 releases in, we thought it a good time to speak to them about the history of the label and their hometown.
Thanks for sparing the time to talk to us. Could you give us a little background to Extended Play and its origins?
It was started up primarily to release our own music at a point when we had long gaps until the release dates, so having control over our own music meant we could keep a steady flow of releases out there. Chris Duckenfield (Swag) was a big driving force in getting the label up and running in the early days but John (JMX) and I pretty much do most things in-house including A&R, the day to day stuff as well as recording. The name is meant to resonate a feeling that we are trying to achieve with a more traditional house sound, meaning hopefully you can discover the label at any point and it should all sound relevant. We are here for life not just Christmas type of attitude.
Outside yourselves, has there been anyone else involved who’s been pivotal to the label’s success?
Well as mentioned above Chris was very instrumental in making it happen in the first place and he is someone we respect greatly. He kind of showed us the essentials and then left us to it but we reckon he knew it was the right thing for us to do at that point.
Could you put your finger on the Extended Play ‘sound’, and do you think that’s changed since you began?
It’s all dancefloor based and we only sign tracks that we can play in our own sets but that could mean start of the night, picking up the pace and peak time, predominantly house but touching on techno at times. We don’t really go for the latest trends in dance music so everything has a very classic feel that you can come back to time and time again. (we hope!)
What tracks / EPs are you most proud of releasing?
There have been so many but basically any of the Belfast guys’ singles as that’s kinda of always what we wanted to be, in this platform for local music. We have an OK ear for picking up on interesting new internationals so commisioning remixes from KiNK, Neville Watson, Ejeca, Rampa, Borrowed Identity, Jamie Trench & Brame long before the hype set in is another thing we are proud of.
Have there been any that got away?
Yes a certain track from some tallented chaps in Sligo but we lost out to Kerri Chandler so we didn’t feel to bad about it in the end and the guys got our blessing.
Outside the Extended Play catalogue, what have been some of your most seminal records since you started the label?
Audion’s ‘Mouth To Mouth‘ is one that came out around the time of our residency in Shine and was such a hit there and we keep coming back to and it and it seems to get better with age that one. Cobblestone Jazz – ‘Dump Truck‘ is another one that has a kinda timeless feel. Levon’s ‘Man or Mistress‘ is another of those magic, hard-to-categorise type of timeless tracks. I guess seminal to us means big at the time and dating even better.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a label?
Delays in our vinyl release dates is a real chore and then you get artists getting peaved at longer release periods than with digital (we don’t blame them). But it’s kinda out of your hands at times so very frustrating.
What achievements are you most proud of?
Making it to fifty, encouraging and mentoring a good few of the artists in the city and becoming the label we always wanted to be.
The title of your upcoming release, Statement of Intent, suggests this is more than just it being the 50th release. For want of a better word, statement about Belfast music are you trying to make with this collection?
Yeah bold indeed but, as we said, it was always our mission to get here and become this Northern Irish platform, so we think we may have turned that corner. The fact we could put together a release as strong as this, combined with the fact we will have singles lined up from everyone on the comp in 2016, means that we got that roster we can really develop now. That is our stament of intent, to take this local music we believe onto a bigger stage.
Outside Extended Play, are there any labels that are particularly impressing you at the moment?
We love the stuff coming out of the Netherlands right now, Clone don’t put a foot wrong across all their stable of imprints and Rush Hour are unbelievable too. Classic are the UK dons. Great singles, remixes and artwork and going stronger than ever after all these years.
Focussing on your hometown of Belfast now, given how geographically close it is to London and the rest of Europe, it does fell a little removed as its own scene. Do you get the same insular feeling being on the inside looking out? If so, why do you think has happened and have you noticed a change recently with geographical borders being broken down?
It did feel like that for a long time yeah but the Internet really helped create cultural reference points for young people here, meaning that people here are ridiculously well-clued in, especially regarding music that the little Belfast bubble feeling has long gone. That aiside even when we were a bit more shut off from things we still had some of the most respected club nights and DJs on the planet happening here.
Religion is a big past of the social history of Belfast. Do you feel it has impacted on dance culture in any way, in a positive or negative way?
Well in a positive way the first club nights created places in the city centre were people of different religions could mix freely at a time when they wouldn’t have been able to in their own segregated areas. Negatively after an initial period the paramilitaries moved into these scenes and ruined a lot of the good elements.
What’s the best and worst thing about living in Belfast?
The Best is hands down the people. The worst are the archaic licensing laws.
Who’s doing good things for Belfast music at the minute?
Well Bicep are the best poster boys you could want for tbh, Bloom, Twitch, The Night Institute, the AVA Festival, Belfast Underground Records/Radio. We get a lot of jealous emails (in a nice way) from DJ friends saying they wish they lived here right now based on what they see online, which is a fair point.
You spotted Bicep and Ejeca nice and early in their careers, so you’re pretty well placed to spot new talent emerging in the city. Are there any young producers you think we should look out for in the coming years?
Could you tell us about the mix you made for us.
It’s a little 60min ride through our city, kicking off with some wise reflection from David Holmes (his club nights here are the stuff of legend) and then it’s back to back Belfast heaters, little exclusives from ourselves, our labelmates, edits by friends from here, a few EP50 selections and some previews from next year’s release schedule.
Beyond after EP50, what’s next on the horizon for EP?
Well we have the singles nailed for first half of 2016 from January to June and when those start dropping we will be nailing the second half of the year. Label parties will be popping up all over too, world domination awaits as we play longer, haha.
Belfast Street Noise
David Holmes Interview/Cophin – Superfreak (T-Bone’s Battle Bridge Mix)
Bicep & Hammer – Go (Flanger Mix)
Embezzlement Society – House Arrest
Moodtrax – Translantic
Jordan – Want To Be
JMX – Chasing It
Martin De Brig – Agent Osman
Scoper & Bubba – Adonisfied Booty
JC Williams & T-Bone – Tears (Vosper Remix)
Afrilounge & Chardronnet – Shake It (Ejeca Remix)
Slurrp – FOY
Schmutz – Splint
Cophin – Way Mon Ta
JC Williams – Pin Up Booty
Belfast Street Noise