Just as it takes many ingredients to make a fine meal, so several elements come into play when putting a record into the shops. There's mastering, pressing, sleeve design and printing, publicity and promotion, distribution and a whole lot more to consider. No one part is more or less important than the other in this process and without all the parts fully functioning you're going to have problems.
In this issue we're going to focus on the distributor and their role in the drum & bass scene, and, in particular, Nu Urban Music based in Thatcham in Berkshire. It helps, of course, if you live and breathe drum & bass, which these guys do.
So what exactly is Nu Urban all about? Managing director Phil Wells gives us a brief outline. "Nu Urban Music is the UK's premier drum & bass distributor and alongside the drum & bass we also have a hardcore, nu-rave and dubstep department. We offer a comprehensive service to underground labels, which comprises of press and promotion, manufacturing, art and design, internet services and web design.
"We distribute vinyl right across the globe and we're about to launch our own digital distribution service distributing MP3s and other digital music formats worldwide. Let's not forget Nu Urban USA too – we have offices in New York and we're the only dedicated drum & bass distributor in the USA.
"I believe that the fact that Nu Urban team combines knowledge covering 15 years of dance music gives us the edge ahead of our competitors. Even taking into account the problems of the past five years including the drop in vinyl sales and the proliferation of MP3 downloads we have managed to create a hugely successful company through sheer hard work and optimism."
That sounds like a pretty strong argument when you realise that Phil was one of the founders of the legendary Basement Records label and shop. He is now head of sales at Nu Urban and joining him is technical director James Shallcross who is in charge of their internet services as well as playing out as DJ Illusion. Head of A&R and Nu Urban's label manager is the infamous Tobie Scopes, otherwise know as Tera of Serial Killaz, Chimera and Rising Sons fame. Tobie is also account manager for the biggest underground record shops in the UK.
As well as helping out with A&R, Andy Neill – the man they call Danjah – manages sales to high street shops like HMV and all of Nu Urban's CD projects. He also heads up the digital music department, assisted by Benny Page who needs no introduction as he is one of the hottest producers in the scene right now.
Also on the sales team are Nick Reddick (DJ Squire) and Chris Bates (DJ Reckless), while Jeryl Wilton takes care of promotion as well as being editor of the Dogs On Acid website and a journalist. Joining them are web designer Kevin Broome, warehouse staff and an accounts department making Nu Urban a full self-contained working unit. They're on a mission here and a passion for drum & bass is clearly at the core of everything they do.
"We now distribute over 100 labels from all over the world," explains Tobie Scopes, "with some of biggest including Ganja, D-Style, Full Cycle, Audio Zoo, Frontline, Chronic, Frequency, Propaganda, Congo Natty, Black Sun Empire, Undiluted, C.I.A., Urban Takeover, Aphrodite, Infrared and Charge to name a few.
"New labels are also catered for and we can offer pressing and distribution deals to anyone who we think has the right attitude and, more importantly, the right music. We can take a track from the early stages of a demo CD to getting it manufactured, sorting out press and DJ mail-outs, designing artwork, and right up to getting it into the shops all over the world."
"As a distributor we wouldn't be doing our job properly if we didn't hit every corner of the world," adds Andy Neill. "In the USA we have always wanted to enter the market ourselves and we were fortunate enough to find the right men for the job late in 2004. Drum & bass sales are now back up to pre-2001 levels."
Back to Tobie and what A&R criteria do they use in selecting new labels and music for Nu Urban? "Personal taste is irrelevant when selecting tracks from new artists, the only thing that really matters is whether people want to buy it. As long as we think it has a place in today's market and the music is exciting and fresh, then we're happy to distribute it."
So how has new technology impacted on their business and is there still a place for vinyl? "We opened our digital distribution service at the beginning of 2006," says Andy Neill. "It's an area we have to operate in and are looking to really develop the format over the next two years. I believe the vinyl market will be around for a good while yet; it's such a great medium for music that it would be an injustice for it to disappear."
As well as running their own website, Nu Urban also hosts sites for people like Dogs On Acid and Echo Location, In fact, the Nu Urban site also includes news and reviews, and an active forum, as well as selling MP3s with full preview facilities, CDs, vinyl and merchandise. Expect everything from the hottest promos to second-hand rarities, while house heads might like to follow the link to the Urbangroovez website.
Finally, do they have advice for budding young label entrepreneurs out there? "2006 saw more new artists break through than any other year I can remember," says Tobie, "which is amazingly healthy for the scene. The best advice I could give new artists is that they should try and get some releases signed to established labels first. It would give them experience of dealing with the drum & bass scene as well as giving us a selling point when it finally comes to launching their own label."
Tera and Danjah give us the lowdown on this issue's cover CD. They mixed one half each and Tera's mix features several specials, personalised versions of tracks made especially for him.
"We thought the best approach was to both concentrate on the different shades of the music that we know best," explains Andy (Danjah), "and that way we managed to cover the full spectrum of what Nu Urban has to offer."
"I took the reggae and jungle side of things and included a lot of specials and dubplates," says Tobie (Tera), "and I tried to create a live soundclash feel with lots of big breakdowns and effects. I selected tracks by artists that I play regularly in the clubs and this is the kind of set I would play under my Serial Killaz name."
"Everything I put on the mix will be out via Nu Urban at some point in the next few months," adds Andy. "I literally went through all my current vinyl and dubplates to pick my favourite tracks, then scratched my head a bit when trying to piece them all together."
PART ONE MIXED BY TERA
01. REBEL MC – WARDANCE (SERIAL KILLAZ VIP MIX) (CONGO NATTY SPECIAL)
"Graham Warnock from Vital Elements and I have been producing under the Serial Killaz name for a while but this is something new from us. Rebel MC asked us to remix it last year and he's really pleased with how it turned out. It's also a wicked tune to intro with!"
02. KENNY KEN – EVERYMAN (BENNY PAGE VIP MIX) (MIX & BLEN' SPECIAL)
"The original was a jungle anthem and one of my favourites from that era. When Benny said he'd been asked to remix it, I knew he was the right choice to update this classic track and as always he doesn't disappoint."
03. ROUGHCUT – JAMROCK (VIP MIX) (DUBWIZE)
"Roughcut has been another producer I've kept my eye on in 2006. He has this heavy jungle vibe complimented with wicked effects and sounds. It never fails to smash up a dancefloor. He's signed to L Double's Flex Records and I'm looking forward to seeing him blow up in 2007."
04. ROUGHCUT – JAMROCK (COUNTERACT MIX) (DUBWIZE SPECIAL)
"I teased in Ruffcut's Counteract Mix to add that live juggling feel you get in a soundclash. I'm not sure if this will be released but it's wicked to bash about into the mix."
05. MORPHY & 9 TAILS FOX – THE STOPPER (VIP MIX) (DUBPLATE)
"Morphy has been making wicked tracks for years and I'm certainly going to be pushing him hard in 2007. He has a great reggae vibe to all his tracks, whether it's rolling dub numbers or heavy dancefloor smashers like this special he did for me of Cutty Ranks' infamous ‘The Stopper' track. Watch out for him in 2007."
06. BENNY PAGE – CAN'T TEST ME (DUBPLATE)
"2006 certainly saw some great new artists come through and no one can deny that Benny had a fantastic year. This is something he did a while ago and has still to see a release. It's that typically good vibes roller that Benny seems to be able to make standing on his head."
07. VISIONARY & BENNY PAGE – SKYLARKING (VIP MIX) (DUBPLATE SPECIAL)
"I have been a fan of Marcus' tunes for years now and it's great to see him finally getting some well deserved recognition. Here he teams up with Benny Page for a wicked conscious roller for DJs only featuring the late, great Garnett Silk on vocals. This one is a killer!"
08. BENNY PAGE – BABYLON (VIP MIX) (DUBPLATE)
"Another one from Benny and all of my sets include a few of his tunes – he has an ear for a great hook and is also a good mate. He also knows exactly what I want from a tune, so I always find myself reaching for his dubs when I play out."
09. SOUNDCLASH – RUN FOR COVER (DIRTY DUBS SPECIAL)
"Well, what can I say? This one is of my favourite tracks at the moment, it's pure soundbwoy killing and I play it in every set. The Akon verse smashes it hard on the dancefloor. Big tune!"
PART TWO MIXED BY DANJAH
10. LOMAX – ON A ROPE (SPEARHEAD)
"This is the latest offering on BCee's Spearhead label and Lomax is my favourite artist at the moment. This track is a slightly more liquid look at things and a great example of his diverse productions."
11. ATLANTIC CONECTION – LEAVING HOME (WESTBAY)
"Atlantic Connection will be on the lips of many during 2007 and he was also part of what was Basic Operations. It's all about the orchestral elements that ooze pure emotion – I'm always a sucker for strings."
12. AGENT ALVIN – THE VOID (DIRTY HABIT)
Agent Alvin caused a serious stir last year, which culminated in his signing to Full Cycle. The Void is a techy affair but musical by the bucket load, and the first release on Jason Mackie's new label, Dirty Habit."
13. BREAK & HYDRO – FUTURE (LEVITATED)
"I don't think I'm alone in stating that Break is one of the best engineers in the business and his manipulation of percussion is second to none. This is a typical Levitated release – deep, rollin' and strong on the dancefloor."
14. SUPPLY & DEMAND – RIGHT MOVE (COLD STEEL)
"The best way to describe this one is as an ode to Brown Paper Bag. It's all about the double bass hook - pure quality."
15. THE DRUNKEN MASTERS – KILL BILL (TAXMAN REMIX) (DOPE AMMO)
"The whole Kill Bill effect has been nothing short of phenomenal and the number of units Dope Ammo shifted of their first version would put many of the top labels to shame. This 2007 remix by jump-up man-of-the-moment Taxman really hurts the dancefloor."
16. LOMAX – ARTISAN (BOUNCE)
"Without a doubt my favourite track in this mix, I can't get enough of it. It's a modern take on days gone by, spine shattering basslines with a touch of Stephen Hawking thrown in for good measure."
17. SILVA D - LOVE & HATE (BCEE & LOMAX REMIX) (EASE UP)
"Yes, more Lomax, this time with sparring partner BCee. The bassline is completely original, complemented by spine tingling strings and a touch of reggae."
18. AGENT ALVIN - WEIGHT WATCHER (GAIN)
"I don't really know which pigeonhole you would file this one in (if you're that way inclined). I just love it because it's different and seems to fit well in most sets – the cinematic stabs help too."
19. DK8 - MURDER WAS THE BASS (METRIK REMIX) (COLLECTIVE)
"‘Murder Was The Bass' is the biggest techno release of the last five years and thanks to the ELP label the drum & bass fraternity have been fortunate to be gifted a handful of remixes. This, the latest, is by the massive talented Metrik, one to watch out for in 2007."
20. SHOCK ONE - LET ME GO (INCITE)
"This is the most recent release on Rick Modul8'S Incite label out of the USA. To me this is as good as Pendulum, bursting with energy and a fully formed piece of music – it's a great tune to finish on!"
Mix hosted by www.digital-tunes.net
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