Interview: Damian Harris - Another Damian you need to know about

This one runs Skint, the label that (via a Sony mega-deal) is set to take British dance music to the world

IN the artex-squorled, attic-like HQ of record label Loaded-Skint, just off Brighton's most boho alley, Middle Street, there is a scene of uproarious mirth. The young, mostly male employees are amused that Skint's founder and boss, Damian Harris, has been quoted as saying "bollocks" in the NME. "Let's close the door, 'cause I don't want everyone laughing at me talking more bollocks," he says.

We are here because Skint has signed a deal with Sony, and has become, in one leap, a hot and expensive property. The label-home to Bentley Rhythm Ace (aka BRA), Fat Boy Slim (aka Norman Cook, once a Housemartin) and the Lo-Fidelity Allstars has become part of the giant Japanese corporation's portfolio, and its mega-clout will soon be marketing Skint's feelgood, dance-based acts to the world.

The deal is a measure of the current confidence in small British labels, and the global thirst for dance music, which the Americans call "electronica" or "digi-rock". And Harris, an affable chap who looks not unlike a young Mel Smith, is pleased that a year and a half of talks have ended so fruitfully. The Skint schtick, based around a core of warm, slightly wacky dance music, is now to be plugged from Oregon to Osaka, with bawdy old Brighton as its nerve centre.

Harris comes to the music industry as an enthusiast. He has been in Brighton nine years, since he left his hometown Whitstable to attend art school. "I did a fine art course called Alternative Practice," he grimaces. His degree show was nine record players in a room, deliberately stuck on the run-out groove, incredibly loud. "My dad came, thought the records had finished and put them back to the beginning. Very funny."

Armed with a third class degree ("misunderstood, you know"), Harris started to deejay at parties and clubs, and continued working in a specialist record shop, which was clearly the making of him. "Quite a few of our artists have worked there over the years, including Norman Cook. I miss things about it, like the little fights about who's going to put the next record on." Indeed, Harris found the Nick Hornby book Hi-Fidelity, with its record shop assistant character "scarily personal": doubly so, as he is a big Arsenal fan. "Football and music are those two things that you can get so passionate about. In the great scheme of things they mean bugger all. But they make for great pub conversations." Encyclopaedic knowledge about music has always impressed him, since he listened to his brother rattling off the personnel of obscure Sixties bands. And as record shops are full of genre freaks, poetic justice clearly demanded that Harris have a genre all of his own.

For Skint are not only suddenly global; they are also suddenly in charge of a musical style. Big Beat is the tag that has grown up around the Skint stable's acts, a name which stems from a Brighton clubnight, Big Beat Boutique - its name in turn nicked from a Fifties American shop. Loosely, it refers to an unstuffy dance sound with kitschy samples and a strong crossover appeal to rock fans. Naturally, the snootier dance fraternity dismiss it. "Musical purism fascinates me, and I admire that hardcore approach," says Harris. "But Skint is anything but purist. I don't mind pissing some people off. Anyway, I've always disliked the genre trap. Look at Britpop, which is now considered vaguely naff."

While at the shop, Harris also wrote a bit of dance music journalism. Then, after a couple of years, local record label Loaded asked if he wanted to come and work for them. He learned indie lessons, including "how to keep it really tight, moneywise. As independents you can take risks, but if you over-extend by trying to get a big hit, it can cripple you. The outrageous amount of money it costs to get people up into the charts is disgusting."

After a year and half he formed Skint - "I was really skint at the time"- as a sister label which would not have any of the house music that was Loaded's speciality. The acts arrived, several of them local, some by post. Both Bentley Rhythm Ace and the Lo-Fidelity Allstars were snapped up from unsolicited tapes. Good reviews came in, followed by advances from major labels. The bidding became frenzied. "We had a mad month where I ate out every day," says Harris. "I finally went to Brighton's nicest restaurants. There I was, having the salmon, with these people laughing at my jokes."

He was unimpressed by the more business-minded industry bods. Harris's role models were people like James Lavelle of Mo Wax, for whom music was an "obsession and a hobby, not an exercise in balancing books". And of course Alan McGee, Creation supremo, populariser of Oasis and burgeoning public figure. Before signing with Sony, Harris went to see McGee, who supped mineral water and offered reassuring and cautionary advice - particularly relevant as Sony owns a large slice of Creation.

After McGee's example, one wonders if Harris could become a part of New Labour's Creative Industries Taskforce. "God knows! I'll see. Everyone will be cynical, particularly as there is disappointment about Labour at the moment. But if it could do anything half-decent, like get the laws on marijuana changed, or speak about clubbing laws and restrictions, perhaps. But I'm no great ambassador."

Harris, now a richer man (he won't say by how much, except that it is "not a huge fortune") is going to recruit a couple more staff members, and buy a place in Brighton. "I've been in a horrible flat with a couple of mates for five years. It sounds really bad, but I still live like a student. If you could see my bedroom - well, don't. It's disgusting." He is also gratified that he can now buy his friends drinks. "I've been so long poncing drinks off people. That's one of the best things about having money; being able to get the round in."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

    Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

    Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

    C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition