How DJ Hybrid's multi-label pincer movement is currently killing all sides of the drum & bass game…
While some of us are just beginning to nibble into 2017, others are chomping at it like an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Others such as prolific drum & bass jungle DJ, producer and multiple label owner DJ Hybrid. By 10 April, his labels will have released five singles and two exclusive-packed albums this year, the latter each featuring 30+ tracks by a total of 48 artists, including nine of his own productions.
Seriously, DJ Hybrid (real name: Alex Ford) has chomped so much he should be clinically obese.
He's not. But the music he makes and his labels release could definitely be described as such: across Audio Addict and Deep In The Jungle, he covers two very clear sides of the ever-sprawling, frequently fragmented D&B scene. The former, his flagship label established 2010, covers the upfront, heavier side of drum & bass with strong roots in the rave. The latter, established a year later, is dedicated to the Amen/ragga and breakbeat-based sounds of modern jungle.
Both labels are now well established with their signature sounds. Both are home to an interesting roll-call of next generation junglists and bass-smiths such as Kumarachi, RMS, Epicentre, Scartip and Section. Both plastered in his own productions, Alex has generated a momentum strong enough to drive two massive albums in the last four months alone: Deep In The Jungle Anthems Vol 3 and Audio Addict Mix Vol 1. With well over 50 exclusives across the two releases, these are not your standard label bundles - they're walloping dispatches of brand new, upfront drum & bass and jungle that genuinely cross the spectrum and join the dots.
His next dual-label tactic could join many more dots - this time within his own discography. In a manoeuvre that, to our knowledge, has never been done by an electronic musician before, he's about to drop an album-sized body of work across both of his labels.
We've established he's not obese, but there's still time to decide if he's crazy or a genius...
I like how you came through on your own label and have built things up on your own terms…
"That was always the idea. Digging the foundations. I was working at a record shop at the time - I had time to observe how labels work. When I got to a stage where I felt I was ready to release, I did it myself."
Unless you're older than you look, that was the very end of the record shop golden age, right?
"I'm 30, so it was past the golden era - people were closing down left, right and centre! But the shop stuck at it for years and I got involved in everything I could: ordering stock, dealing with distributors and so on. I realised running a label wasn't as hard as I'd thought. So when I was ready, I got involved."
You were pursuing quite a different sound then…
"At that time I was hugely inspired by Ram Records, and by Drumsound & Bassline Smith's Technique label. Which was silly, because that type of sound is one of easiest to imitate but the hardest to really smash."
I can hear jump-up influences too…
"Of course, I'm from the midlands! When I got into drum & bass I was purely into jump-up. That was the era when Generation Dub and Twisted Individual were killing it. Loads of little labels round here, too, with guys like DJ Escape, Alpha, guys like that. Those were the DJs we were seeing round here and they were playing their own stuff on their own labels. That caused a real interest among us locally."
Was Class A one of those labels?
"Yeah, CKB had a big influence on things around here too."
He signed the first releases from guys like Turno and Total Recall
"I didn't know that!"
Yeah. And it's the perfect segue on to you signing new talent on your labels… the beast that is Kumarachi, for instance
"It would be amazing to be that label who gave a massive act their earliest support, definitely. Kumarachi is such a talented man. I've been releasing his music for a few years but I've been following him for a good seven years on Soundcloud."
With two labels, you must be following a lot of new talent?
"I'm always on the look-out. But as the labels are a bit more established, I'm also interested in artists who are already making their way through and have a buzz. I'm constantly watching the charts and investigating new names. The A&R stuff is a side of things that I've come to really enjoy and get my teeth into."
When did Deep In The Jungle start to form as an idea?
"Not long after I set up Audio Addict. I was beginning to hear much more of a ragga jungle influence in things, and wanted a label that was just dedicated to that sound. Things started getting serious by the third release. The Back To The Jungle EP started a bit of a following and people got talking. That was also the same EP my tune Bad Boy came out on, and that's one of the tracks people still ask me about now."
Now both labels are whacking out albums. Two this year already, and all pretty much all exclusives. That's quite a lot in three months...
"It's been hard work, yeah. But the Deep In Jungle album was the third volume so I've got into a nice rhythm with that, collecting odd tunes that aren't part of releases or a bit special in a folder and presenting them in this way. There's a few back catalogue tracks but 75 per cent is all new stuff because people want new music and compilations are the best way to do this. Everyone loves getting over 30 tracks for a tenner! They're a great way of representing a lot of new artists and new music."
How about new music from you?
"Well, I've got this project coming up where I'll put out an album-sized release across two EPs on both my labels. I don't think anyone's released an album in this type of way. It will be interesting to see how they compare sales, chart or support-wise, and I can showcase both styles on my own labels."
Maybe that's why an artist has never done this before? An album on two different labels could be quite complicated?
"Maybe! When your music is signed it's out of your control. There's a lot of labels I really rate but I much prefer the DIY route."
A lot of artists are. There's a real groundswell of independence in D&B with new labels…
"I've noticed that too. I've said it before - setting up a label isn't rocket science. You don't have to invest too much upfront, and all the processes are easy to work out. I love running labels - just as much as DJing and producing. I didn't think I would, but I wouldn't have it any other way now."
As a producer, you must have had a label 'bucket list' at some point, though?
"Oh yeah, who hasn't?"
Then sign out by telling us three of them...
"Dread, without a shadow of a doubt. They've been constant inspiration through every stage of my love for drum & bass. Ram would have to be on the list, because when I first got into drum & bass they were a massive influence for me. Finally, Bingo. Zinc's sound as a producer, DJ and label owner when Bingo was killing it was a huge influence. I still listen to his old sets now and it makes me want to make tunes that sound like that. Might go and listen to one now, actually!"
Words: Dave Jenkins Pic: Marko Obradovic Edge
Deep In The Jungle Anthems Vol 3 is out now. Audio Addict Mix Vol 1 is out on 10 April.