As the head of legendary Drum 'n' Bass label Hospital Records, Tony Colman has been responsible for some of the genre's most notable and celebrated releases.
The label has toured the world with its Hospitality events and 2013 sees them return to Parklife for what is always one of the festival's biggest draws. The Hospitality takes place on the Saturday of this year's Weekender, headlined by Netsky and featuring appearances from label acts including High Contrast, Fabio and London Elektricity himself.
What have you been up to recently?
I've been very busy. Juggling label responsibilities with DJing and so forth. I have to kind of pre-determine what I'm going to be doing or it all gets on top of me. If I'm in the studio, being London Elektricity, I turn my phone off and turn the internet connection off and that's who I am. If I'm at the label, then I'm doing label stuff. I have to time manage quite well and keep all the plates spinning. If I'm at home with the kids then I'm their dad and if I'm on the road, I'm London Elektricity.
It's quite simple really, as long as you keep sensible control over it.
You've commented before that it's not your style to knock releases out and that you prefer to work patiently over long periods on your music. What's your approach to studio work?
A lot of producers, thankfully I don't think any on this label, when they get a big tune they kind of keep remaking it and slightly changing bits and releasing it as a new piece of music. But you can hear that the drums and the sound palette is the same, and the arrangement and structure is sort of the same. That's kind of one way of carving out a career is that when you get something that blows up you repeat it and make it your trademark, but it's quite a short-term way to go about being a much-loved artist as it were. I take a different approach, which is if I release a piece of music I sincerely hope I won't make another piece that sounds the same, which may seem contrary but it means I'm never going to get bored and therefore I hope people won't get bored listening to it.
One thing that stands out about Drum ‘n' Bass is that it's a type of dance music that emerged twenty-odd years ago but has had the capacity to grow and develop and gain a new generation of fans, because of its ability to not just churn out the same stuff. A lot of other scenes have disappeared in the time that Drum ‘n' Bass has been around.
I think that's a very good point. A classic example of that is dubstep; the reason dubstep has died such a massive death is because so many producers jumped on the dubstep bandwagon. They bought sample packs for their Native Instruments massive synthesizer plug-in, they bought dubstep packs for it and they all made exactly the same brostep tunes. And it killed it. The golden goose can only lay so many eggs. So dubstep is well and truly rinsed. There are a lot of people working in dubstep who could charge as much as they liked for their gigs last year and this year, they can't even get a gig.
A lot of producers with that approach of milking something don't realize that a period of short-term success is followed by the inevitable drop-off. People move on very quickly.
If you milk it at all, people will know that. They'll sense it and they'll know that because you're an artist that milks things, you're not an artist they want to follow for a long time.
Taking the long-term approach and trying to ensure that everything you make sounds fresh, it's a much longer game you're playing and ultimately much more rewarding.
What are your thoughts on where Drum ‘n' Bass is now? Does it still strike you as a healthy, vibrant scene?
It really is. I was having lunch today with Nu:Logic – Nu:Tone and Logistics – because they were down to record a podcast. We went out to a café and were just chewing the fat about tunes and music and all three of us were saying that there's so much really good music and it's a great position to be in when you're DJs deciding what to buy, what to play and what to cut,we're spoilt for choice. At the moment I do a podcast once every two weeks and it's a real struggle for me to cut down what I'm playing so that I've got few enough tracks. There's far more tracks that I'd like to play but it would make it last about three hours. That's an indication of how healthy the scene is right now.
How different is it from picking tracks to make up your podcast to scouting out acts whose music you want to release?
To want to sign someone on a proper career deal, you have to have a very very strong instinct that you're right and that this is a person that is going to go on a journey that you want to be part of for seven years or whatever. You have to feel very strongly about that. You have to get to know them enough to know that you can spend a lot of time with this person, whether it's on the phone or on the road or chatting on Skype or whatever. You have to be able to get along and enjoy spending time with this person, because it is a very personal relationship you have with this person. It's not just like "Yeah bruv, send me some tunes" once a year, it's nothing like that at all. A producer might be making the most brilliant music in the world but if he's an absolute nightmare to get on with, we won't sign him. Life's too short to be spending time with people who are also very negative.
That's a mentality that stands out about Hospital – you're not just in it to release one track by someone and then they move on somewhere else. You seem to always work with people who you'd want to go out for a pint with. It's a community thing. Do you think that's why Hospital has done as well as it has?
I do think that. I think the spirit of that shines through not only in the music we release but in the way it looks, the packaging, our website, the events that we do. There is a real inclusive, family spirit and our fans feel part of it as well. We try really hard. If someone shows us love, we show love back. We try and include people in that and get people involved in what we're doing.
One thing that stood our about the Hospitality event at last year's Warehouse Project was the fact that almost everyone on the bill arrived in the same tourbus from London, all went out for dinner together, all came back to the venue together...
If conditions allow, then we do like to do that. If everyone's in the right place at the right time and we can all travel together, then it's a good thing. We all really enjoy each other's company so if that's an option then all our DJs will go "Yeah, wicked" and we'll do it. It's like having an outing at school, like having your Geography field trip: "Let's all go to The Warehouse Project!"
When you have the Hospitality events, what's it like to have a large number of the label's acts all in one place at the same time?
It feels brilliant. A couple of weekends ago we had our first Hospitality event in Bratislava in Slovakia and it was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Everyone was playing their A-game, it was superb. We had Danny Byrd, Camo and Krooked, me, S.P.Y.... everyone was delivering. Dynamite was there as well and we booked Dynamite just to host a long set, which normally means the MC just says something. But he power-MC'd for almost five hours non-stop. We didn't ask him to do that, he just wanted to do it. It was absolutely wicked. It's a fantastic feeling to have such a great collection of artists on the label and we've been on journeys with all of them, of different lengths. High Contrast has just re-signed to Hospital for about the third time. And Danny Byrd has been on the label even longer than Lincoln Barrett. Artists want to keep re-signing to Hospital and that's the best indication of any that we're doing our job well, is that artists don't want to leave. That's how we like it because we treat all our artists like we'd want to be treated if we were on someone's label.
What can we expect from Hospitality at Parklife 2013? You've hosted at Parklife before, as well as The Warehouse Project, and it's always one of the most popular arenas. How are you feeling about coming back?
You would be absolutely within your rights to expect it to be much better than anything we've done before at Parkife, and it will be, because we're all upping our game constantly, and that includes me. I've been blown away by what our DJs our playing this year and that's basically because of the music they're making. Danny Byrd has got his album coming out this May, it's called Golden Ticket. Camo and Krooked are deep into their next album and it's extraordinary how that's sounding. We've got Metrik who we've just signed, Dan and Matt – Nu:Logic – have got their album coming out. It's probably going to be our best year for new music ever. So obviously all our DJs, all our producers, love presenting the new music that they're creating. That's the core of their sets if you like. If you don't get the best Hospitality at Parklife ever, I'll eat my hat. We all work extremely hard every time we play to smash the dance, and I think this could be the best summer ever!