With a new EP out on Friday, we catch up with the South Yorkshire producer who's been around a bit longer than you might think....
Barnsley, South Yorkshire native Sandy Turnbull is no newcomer to the house scene. In fact, he's been earning his living as a DJ since the turn of the millennium, holding down a residency at Sheffield's famous Pin-Up Club and being the go-to back room house DJ for Gatecrasher, while in this decade his releases have graced such respected labels as Soulfuric and Look At You Records.
But it's fair to say his star's currently very much in the ascendant. For that you can think After Comiskey Park, the three-track EP he released on his own Galleria Records label in late 2015. Spanning a range of house styles, the EP found favour with everyone from Mark Farina to Tony Humphries, putting Mr Turnbull well and truly on the map. He's not looked back since.
This coming Friday (3 February) will see the release of a new two-track EP on Galleria: Deep Inside Yourself/Going Back. So now seemed like the perfect time to grab him for a quick chat and find out a little more...
Let's start at the beginning... tell us a bit about how you got into DJing and producing in the first place?
"Well, I was always the kid that had lots of music. I had a long bus ride home, so I had a Walkman and loads of tapes. Then when I was old enough I started going to a local club in Barnsley, where half the music was commercial rubbish but half of it was stuff like Todd Terry and Masters At Work. I'd have been in my late teens at that point, so it was around 98/99.
"I became friends with the resident DJ there and he took me to Sheffield and Leeds to show me some of the more specialist vinyl shops. I didn't have any intention of DJing at this point, it was just that you couldn't buy those tunes any other way! So I ended up with this huge stack of records, which meant I ended up getting some decks to play them on, and eventually I got a residency at that same club.
"From there I started DJing at a few other local bars and clubs, and I ended up making that my living for a while. And then I started approaching clubs outside my home town, places like Miss Moneypennys, Tall Trees, odd gigs around the country. And then I met the guys who were running the Pin-Up Club in Sheffield. It had been going for just under a year at that point, and after I played there a couple of times they asked me to become a weekly resident. That was in 2005, I think.
"At Pin-Up Club, you'd have people from Nic Fanciulli to Joey Negro playing, so I'd play quite a range around the guests. Being in the same city, Pin-Up had quite good connections with Gatecrasher, so we used to host their back rooms, and we'd do back rooms at Sankeys and Shindig and various other places as well. And I ended up coming onboard as one of the promoters of Pin-Up, and we played for Gatecrasher weekly in Leeds, and on the tours as well, doing their house rooms."
So how and when did you make the leap from DJing to producing?
"I started producing around that time, but I didn't really know what I was doing until I went to an electronic music school in Sheffield. There were three of us on the course: one of the guys was Nyra, who did a lot of work with Darius Syrossian early on, and the other one was Daniel Evans, who runs a label called Dilate. The tutor at the time was Leiam Sullivan, who was Max Linen, and he taught us how to do music production properly!
"It took a while but I got some records out on some small labels, and then I got a message from Soulfuric, who liked something I'd sent them a long time before and asked me what else I had. So then I had my first release on Soulfuric, which was a track I collaborated on with Danny Krivit - it had a nice vocal of Danny talking, and they used that to relaunch the label."
How did you come to hook up with Danny?
"That was completely through [Soulfuric boss] Brian Tappert. I'd spoken to Brian about this interview Danny had done, and Brian said it'd be cool to get him on this new track I'd done. So he spoke to Danny, made the introductions and got him onboard."
And signing to Soulfuric… was that a big 'wow' moment in your career?
"Yeah, Soulfuric was one of the labels I'd always aspired to be on. I didn't even realise they'd 'disappeared', they just didn't put any music out for a while. And then I got this email out of the blue saying that they were relaunching, so yeah, that was good!"
Was it a bit of a shock when Brian got in touch?
"It was, yeah. It was one of only a couple of times in my career where I've basically been like a big over-excited kid!
"First of all the track appeared on their Soundcloud, then I got this email saying 'Can I give you a call?'. I'd met Brian before, but just being introduced quickly at a gig. So yeah, it was great, and I still talk to Brian now. Even though we're not officially doing anything we'll meet up at ADE and stuff, and he's still giving me tips and advice!"
Is it fair to say things have moved up a level for you in the past year or so?
"What's happened is I've been more organised. I've been saving stuff… like the track Going Back on the new EP, I've been sat on that one for two years. I built up a collection of tracks and I was trying to sign them to other labels, then I came up with the the idea of having my own label, just to have an outlet to kind of take control for myself. So it's just been me being more organised now, and pushing myself mentally and saying, 'You need to get a release out every couple of months', rather than just having a couple of releases a year because I've been trying to sign stuff to other labels. I've got a release schedule six months ahead now."
So what's going on with Galleria Records at the moment?
"Galleria was set up as an outlet that I can control, because I've been on a couple of labels that have just kind of put records out without any kind of marketing or promotion. Some of them kind of put stuff out on the back of the Soulfuric track, but they didn't really do anything for it apart from stick it up. And from speaking to a few friends I realised, well if they can do that, I can do that! And then I'm in control of who gets the promos and stuff, and make sure we get the music to people like yourself.
"We're on our ninth release now, and I think there's only been one where the lead track was by someone else. That was The Lewis Project, which was kind of one of the reasons I started the label. The Lewis Project is a local group of musicians, fronted by a guy called Vernon Lewis. They'd made a record and they asked me for advice about who to pitch it to. And I passed it on to a few people for them, and no one really bit so I said, 'Look, this is a great record. I was thinking of doing a label so I'll sign it, do a remix of it and put it out.'
"I still put things out on other labels, but now it has to be labels I really want to be on. Like Guesthouse, I had a track out on there last year, but I wouldn't just go and sign tracks to any little label that'll put them out any more."
How are you finding being a label boss?
"Well, I've been lucky to have some really good advice from Leiam Sullivan, he's helped me with things like PRS and all the other stuff that you kind of don't realise is involved when you start out. I've just been working on this year's remixes, because 2017 is the first year where I'm really looking to get remixers in to work on stuff, so that's been interesting and fun. I'm also enjoying the part of making sure that the record's getting out to people properly, and that side of things.
"Going through all the demos can be a bit tedious sometimes, but then when you find one you do really like, it kind of makes it all worthwhile!"
What about the paperwork/admin/legal side?
"Well, I'm quite lucky in that my girlfriend's a lawyer, so that side of things is taken care of! The admin stuff takes time, but I DJ and produce full-time so I do have the time to do it... and I've learned so much more being a label boss than I ever did just being an artist. Again, being organised is the key to it."
And presumably, if you're mostly putting out your own material, it's not too onerous in that regard? It's not like you've got 500 royalty statements to get out…
"No, it's not. There will come a point where that happens, but right now, being my own boss with the label I don't have to worry about that so much, except with the Lewis Project and a couple of singer-songwriter types we've worked with. And even then, it's more time-consuming than difficult or challenging, particularly."
So would you like the label to grow and sign more people, or do you want to keep it tight?
"Yeah, absolutely! I'd like it to grow, get a little team of people we can work with consistently. We're now getting remixes from artists who I like, and who've liked my stuff, mostly just doing remix swaps with other labels. So hopefully you'll see it becoming more than just my music this year, but it's still early days."
What about an album - any plans for a full-length?
"It's something that was discussed last year. Thing is, I've never found that many DJ/producers who've made great albums, particularly if they're a DJ who produces rather than a producer who DJs, if you see what I mean. But I heard a couple last year that were really good, so that made me think maybe it is something I should be looking at - maybe for next year?
"I've got a bunch of records sitting there that aren't in the release schedule yet. I've got the release schedule up to the middle of the year, so maybe that'll give me the time to work on something that's more of an album size, because I don't have to worry about putting singles out and keeping the momentum going."
If people want to hear you DJing in the next month or two, where can they find you?
"I've got a couple of things lined up in Sheffield, doing Fridays at a venue called Code, and then I've got my residency at Soyo as well... that's Saturdays, once or twice a month."
Finally, you're not ancient by any means but your career's taking off fairly late, compared to 18- or 19-year-olds starting out. Is that ever a hindrance, do you think?
"I think if you're the hot new youngster, it's quite exciting. But I can go out and play the older records, so I think the breadth of musical knowledge I have is a bonus. I certainly don't feel age is a hindrance in any way, in terms of the gigs and the travel.
"So you can look at it two ways. If you're the hot new face on the scene and you're young, it's exciting, it's relatable to people on the dancefloor, but I don't think I'm at a point yet where younger crowds can't relate to the stuff I'm playing. Especially with where house music is at the moment."
"As long as you're keeping it fresh, I think older people are almost celebrated, as well. Because ours is still quite a young industry overall when you compare it to, I dunno, banking or something. So when you look at someone like Danny Krivit, he's crossed over from disco and the fledgling scene before house. Same goes for people like Francois K, or even Carl Cox. And you certainly couldn't say people like that don't still get the youngsters excited."
Words: Russell Deeks
The Deep Inside Yourself EP is out on Galleria Records on 3 February