The 54-track 'Five Years Of Four40 Records' compilation is out now
Can you remember your fifth birthday? Our very vague memories mostly involve a cake with farm animals on it, and a particularly hotly-contested round of Pin The Tail On The Donkey. Last week, though, Birmingham bass label Four40 celebrated their fifth birthday in much more grown-up fashion, by releasing their first-ever label compilation.
It might have taken them five years to get around to it, but now they have, they've done it in style. The imaginatively titled 5 Years Of Four40 Records features a whopping 54 tracks, mostly culled from the label's back catalogue but with a few new/exclusive tracks thrown in for good measure. Stylistically, the collection ranges right across the bass music spectrum, with the darker, grimier end of UK garage predominating but with room, too, for excursions into house, breakbeat and dubstep.
That variety reflects what we like most about Four40 as a label: when a new Four40 release drops, you don't know quite what it's going to sound like, but you can expect it's going to come up to a certain standard regardless of genre. But that, and the fact that the label was set up by James Crone (of Hybrid Theory fame) and Thomas Giles five years ago, was about all we really knew about them... they're not really a label that goes in for a huge amount of self-aggrandisement, it's fair to say! There's not even a discography or label biog on their website.
So we got Tom on the phone to find out more.
So, happy birthday! Five years...
"I know, it's been crazy. The last five years, it's just gone from strength to strength."
Tell us how the label came into being in the first place?
"James was making music under the name Kitch & Sync with Huxley, and they were running a label called Lu10 Records. I approached James to do some design work for them, and later he realised I had an interest in music. I wasn't really producing at the time but we had a lot of taste in common. I was into the more experimental stuff which Mary Ann Hobbs and Benji B were playing on Radio 1 and 1Xtra at the time, along with the house and garage sound from the likes of Kissy Sell-Out and DJ Oneman,. So I was doing artwork for James, and he realised I was into my music and he was like, 'We should start our own label'. It all came about from that."
What was the label's first release?
"The first was by a dubstep producer from the States called Namloc which did quite well, gained early support from a lot of heads in the dubstep scene. We then we started to spread our sound and release music with Bondax, Last Japan, Enigma Dubz, Cloaka, Jamie George, Tom Shorterz, Chris Lorenzo and Pete Graham."
Is everything digital, or do you put out vinyl as well?
“Yeah, we have released vinyl. We had a vinyl release on a garage tip with Enigma Dubz, which did really well, following that we did another with Last Japan feat Bobbie Gordon backed with remixes from Bondax, Asa and Stumbline. We do plan to do more physical releases soon."
The Four40 'sound' is quite wide-ranging. How do you describe it?
"Bass, house, garage and everything else in-between, We've never been a label that aimed to be predominantly house, or predominately anything else. our idea is always, if everyone's going right, go left, and that's what we've tried to do with the label. If anyone latches on to what we're doing, we will go the other way.
"We like to mix it up as well, in terms of having a variety of mixes on each release, if we're working a single release we will try to offer our audience a variety of sounds. So the main track might be on a house vibe but it will be backed with a couple of remixes on a bass or garage tip. That's kinda key, too, if you want to gain radio traction."
We've talked about the birth of the label, and we've talked about the new album, so let's talk about the bit in-between! What have been the best and the worst bits of the past five years?
"There haven't really been any worst bits, to be honest. But it's been a steep learning curve, for sure. If you think you can just put a record out and not do any press, not put any effort into building up a network… that's not gonna happen. So it's been about making connections, understanding the publishing aspect, bringing new artists in. I would probably say one of the best things to happen early on was when we started to get radio across Radio 1, 1Xtra and Rinse FM from people you would look up to."
Do you feel you had a head start in that, with James running the label with Huxley before?
"Definitely. James had more of a handle on the logistics side from the start, whereas I didn't know anything about distribution and stuff. I'm a creative type, I'm a graphic designer by trade, so James handled more of the logistical side of things. But we pick the artists we bring onboard together and the sounds we push."
And the best bits of the past five years?
"Things like getting playlisted on Radio 1Xtra last year, when they picked up on Enigma Dubz feat Trilla, that was a big thing. Having a takeover show on Radio 1Xtra for a whole month, featuring on Just Jam, working in conjunction with The Experiment in Birmingham to throw nights at the Rainbow..."
You sound pretty happy and on top of things at the moment...
"Yeah, definitely! We're pushing towards doing something fresh, something new, and we've got a couple of big things in the pipeline in terms of releases. We've got releases lined up from Fish, South Royston & Skapes and Nu Era."
You seem to almost have a little stable of artists, is that something you've deliberately worked towards?
"No, it's really just that… they've sent us music that we like! And if they're consistent and they do well, then it makes sense to have them back and release more with them."
For people that don't know Four40, complete this sentence: "You might like Four40 if you like…"
“House, bass, garage and grime."
Now you've got five years' experience of running a label, what advice would you give a youngster thinking of starting up a label now?
"Do your research, and realise that you're not going to make any money right away, so only do it if you really have a passion for it. And work out where you want to go with it. Our vision for Four40 is to keep growing and pushing new sounds."
Where do you see yourselves in another five years?
"I would like to see us still doing well independently, but who knows where things might lead to next…"
But no plans for your own festival, or a raft of sub-labels, or anything like that?
"Not sub-labels, no… but we do have plans. We're working with The Experiment night in Birmingham, and we'e being approached for a lot of Four40 takeovers. We're also working behind a new project which we'll be announcing shortly!"