The deep house genre label gets stamped on releases a little too liberally these days by producers and imprints jumping aboard the bandwagon of its current commercial popularity.
But so many records saturating the market lack the substance and soul that characterizes the authentic classic deep house sound. With its jazz and soul roots, deep house is supposed to be about lyrical songcraft and timeless quality, not ephemeral cookie-cutter dancefloor tools.
Few labels understand this better than London's Freerange Records, which is why for going on two decades, the label's released nothing but gold by some of the most virtuosic and beloved deep house artists in the world.
Behind Freerange's pristine A&R vision is Jimpster (AKA Jamie Odell), a deep house production luminary in his own right, not to mention a celebrated DJ on the international scene. Catch him at the Electric Pickle on Friday, but first find out what he had to tell Crossfade about growing up during the UK rave explosion of late '80s, Freerange Records, and his new long player due out next summer.
Crossfade: What sort of musical upbringing did you have and how did you first get drawn to electronic dance music? Did you experience the UK rave boom of the late '80s and early '90s first-hand?
Jimpster: I'm lucky enough to come from a musical family with both parents being professional musicians. My dad is the drummer for a group called Shakatak who were very successful in the '80s, and my mum is a gigging jazz singer. My dad often took me with him when the band were in the studio, so that gave me first-hand exposure to the whole recording and engineering process, and I used to spend hours playing with the synths that would be lying around while he was busy -- this would have been around 1983.
And at the same time, I was getting heavily into breakdancing and collecting the legendary StreetSounds electro compilations. These were my introduction to electronic music, and I guess that's also when I caught the bug for collecting records and making mixtapes, which later led to DJing.
Tracks like Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" and Cybotron's "Clear" were the pivotal tracks which got me hooked on electronic music around that time. I was able to borrow early drum machines such as the LinnDrum, TR-808 and TR-909 and the Simmons Drums, and learned to program beats and make basic tracks by syncing them up to my Roland SH-101.
I grew up in an area called Essex which was the epicenter of the rave explosion, so in '89 and '90 I was very much part of that scene alongside The Prodigy, Shades Of Rhythm and countless other "bedroom producers" who all came from the same area. It was an amazing time and felt like anything was possible, especially watching the meteoric rise of The Prodigy.
My first official release came in 1990 on a UK label called Jumpin' & Pumpin', who also released the early Future Sound Of London stuff. I started to get booked to play "live PA's", meaning I'd turn up with my keyboards, DAT machine and a couple of dancers and do a 30-minute set of my own tracks which was how it tended to be back then. Hundreds of DJs and PAs on the lineup, all doing 30 minute sets!
Freerange Records celebrated its 15th anniversary this year. What was the concept you had in mind for the label when you first launched it, and how has that concept evolved over the years?
Tom Roberts and I set up the label in 1996, primarily as an outlet for my own productions which I'd built up a collection of during my time studying music in Manchester. The first few Jimpster releases were actually course work and included a lot of live elements from other musicians I was playing in jazz and funk bands with at the time.
This mixture of live elements with trip-hop and drum 'n' bass beats was very much the sound at the time with labels such Mo' Wax and Ninja Tune really leading the way. I guess they were the main musical inspiration for the label when we started, and we soon found ourselves releasing music from other like-minded producers as the label grew and got more recognition.
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It's always been a very organic and natural process with Freerange, both of us preferring a slow and steady build rather than jumping on different fads or going for a more commercial approach. In the early 2000s, we settled into a deeper house sound which is still really what we consider ourselves to be today.
What sort of challenges has the label faced since the rise of the Internet and digital distribution? How have you met those challenges in order to stay afloat?
Also, with the gradual decline of physical product, the emphasis and demand is for single tracks, meaning the LP format is increasingly redundant and irrelevant. We're lucky enough to have a good solid base of supporters of the label, but it's certainly getting harder and harder to stand out in the oversaturated market, especially on sites such as Beatport where the abundance of new releases is just completely overwhelming.
What's next for Freerange? Any forthcoming artists signings or releases we can look forward to?
I've just finished compiling and mixing the 10th and final Freerange Colour series compilation, which is our yearly round-up of the best releases plus a selection of exclusive "secret weapons" that also go on the vinyl sampler. I'm very excited about our new signing, Nils Penner, who has just released his Munich/Berlin EP which has got amazing feedback. We've also got new releases coming up from Tony Lionni, Manuel Tur and Roberto Rodriguez.
And what can fans expect from you on the production front next? Any plans for a new LP?
My "These Times" track has just been remixed by Dixon, Manuel Tur and Kyodai, and that release will be coming out in early January. I'm so pleased with how the remixes came out! They're all absolutely rocking and much better than the original! I've just finished my fifth Jimpster LP which we are looking to release on Freerange in May 2013. I'm very happy how it turned out, as I really enjoyed being able to make some more downtempo and experimental tracks, and being able to think about a listening experience over the course of an hour instead of just focusing on the dance-floor.
It's been a quiet year for me with remixes as I really wanted to focus on the LP before taking on any new remix projects, but I'm about to start one for Gummihz and have a couple of others lined up, as well as new Franc Spangler material coming on Delusions Of Grandeur.
Jimpster. Friday, December 14. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.