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Buzzing: Oil Gang

Oil Gang has played a pivotal role in the sonic evolution of instrumental grime, both as a DJ and record label introducing the world to a slew of up-and-coming talent over the last three years. Whether it be the raw, unhinged sounds of Splurt Diablo or Novelist, or the melody-rich soundscapes of Murlo and veteran Slew Dem beatsmith JT the Goon, the label has grown to encompass everything good about grime. Buoyed by unwavering enthusiasm and the success of new, instrumentally charged club night Boxed, we caught up with label head Simon Hiscocks ahead of his second appearance at Fabric this Friday night

Looking back to ‘Cherryade’, it seems you’ve always had a knack for being ahead of the curve as far as releases go. What’s the secret?

Think it’s just listening to people’s Soundcloud pages, different radio shows and mixes and picking the very best of the stuff out there – just putting the effort in and not expecting everything to get dropped in your inbox really. With JT I got a free download he put out and was obsessed by a couple of tunes on it so got in contact – if I hadn’t of checked that EP I might have missed him. I first heard ‘Cherryade’ on a freestyle video and it was one of the instrumentals in the background. As soon as I heard that I knew it was a big tune and I was already in contact with Darq E Freaker after putting out ‘Rhythm & Slags’ on the Quadrant EP so I got in touch and then that blew up. Spooky’s Iron Gates remix was the first release of the new lot of 8 bar tunes as well. I did actually try and get Spartan for that EP but Spooky isn’t stupid and knew that was an anthem and I could never have done what Magic and No Hats No Hoods did with that anyway. I’m quite happy putting out producers that aren’t too well known either and am really pleased to have had the first releases from Splurt Diablo and JT The Goon. It is a bit different now as I’m working on projects with producers I’ve got a history with but if I heard a tune that I thought was amazing, I’d have a go at signing it.

Why do you think 2013 was such a good year for the label, and moreover, instrumental grime in general?

I think a lot more people got involved last year. The main thing for me is the networking side of it. JT is remixing Dullah Beatz tunes, Murlo and JT are writing together on tracks, people are doing guest mixes on each others radio shows. All of it combined is making it work and people are producing really high quality music at the moment. I was round JT’s at the weekend and he definitely gets inspired by hearing what other people are doing. He might get a Shriekin’ Specialist tune, hear something completely mad in it and load up a project file straight away to get something new on the go – same with Dullah. I’ll go round for a mix with him and Gradnmixxer, play all the new stuff I have from JT or Murlo and he’ll take stuff from it when he’s next writing.

Other than that I guess the broad range of styles has made it more interesting to people who might not have checked it before. I don’t play all of them in my sets but I like going to Boxed and knowing I’m going to hear all kinds of stuff that I’ve never heard before and its all grime – there’s variety all night. I’ve seen producers on Twitter saying they’re loading up Reason or whatever as soon as they get home from Boxed as they’re just buzzing from a tune they’ve heard at the night. All of it combined seems to have worked.

Could you pick a favourite release of last year?

Right, I’m not going to pick something on my label so I’m going with the Murlo – Last Dance EP on Glacial Sound. What I love about Murlo is he’s so different, nobody sounds like him. I guess it could be coming from a Dancehall/Soca background as he DJs that a lot and that’s what I first heard him playing out – I’m not sure to be honest but whatever it is I love it. The sounds he’s using are completely unique to him and so is his song structure. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when he sent me his Coolie Joyride remix, it’s nuts! Glacial Sound is a great label as well, definitely looking forward to checking what they put out this year.

You’ve unearthed gems in Novelist and JT, both at opposite ends of the grime spectrum, Novelist being only 17 and JT considered more of a veteran. What’s it been like working with them both?

Novelist was really easy to work with. I went round and explained how the label runs and what the costs are, picked the tunes and then just got the stems off him so I could get it all mixed down. That release should be in the shops already to be honest but my pressing plant are always delaying things so I’m still waiting for the test presses. It shouldn’t be much longer.

JT is great to work with as well. The thing with him is he writes so many tunes, he just can’t send everything out as there is just so much of it. I like to go there and check them all so I’m sure I’ve got what I think is the very best for whatever project we’re working on. Producers don’t always know what you’re after or what tune is going to grab you which is why I like to check everything. I got a zip from him the other day with 10 tunes in, flicked through them and the one that stood out to me was Winter Sun. So, I’m straight on twitter DMing him raving about the tune and how much I love it, it has to be on the LP… and that was one he had just chucked in the folder at the last minute which he didn’t think I would like.

What else can we expect from the label in 2014?

Well the Twin Warriors EP is ready to go up to the distributor now so that will be in the shops very soon. I’m waiting on the test presses for ‘Sniper’ too but that won’t be long now either. Murlo and JT are in the studio this week writing the last track for their EP and I can’t wait to hear what they get done. I picked another two tunes for the JT LP at the weekend so we just need another two and that’s all sorted. I listened to about 10 project files he’s just started and they were all sounding really good so I’m sure the last two will come out of that batch.

I put a lot of the tunes off his LP on my Fabric mix so people could have a listen but the last 4 or 5 we’ll hold back so there’s a bit of surprise on there. So yeah, as soon as that EP and LP are wrapped, everything gets bounced and we go over my mate Paul’s studio to get it all mixed in Pro Tools so it’s sounding as good as it can. Once the final mastering is done by Music House everything is ready to go. I think it’s worth getting it all mixed even though its another expense because even though most of the producers I work with can work a decent enough mix-down, I personally think it makes a big difference getting a pro to do the final mix. When I play ‘Lamped’ or ‘Sniper’ in the club I can hear it straight away – the bass sounds huge and the difference in sound quality is really noticeable. Looking ahead to the LP, it’s going to tie up a fair bit of cash but I reckon it’ll be fine. That’s the hardest thing about running a label really, juggling the money.”

Looking ahead to Fabric, Boxed hosts room 3 for the second time. How important do you think Boxed, and moreover the Fabric residency in particular, has been for the growth of the scene?

I’ve not really considered it too much. I do find myself in a bubble listening to the EPs I’ve got coming up, creating the artwork and just planning stuff. It’s only when you stop and have a think about it that you realise you get to play at the biggest club in London and run a set on Rinse. It is a bit mad really as we’ve been playing the same music for years and not that many people paid any attention. Now people seem to be interested and its growing really quickly. I think Slackk’s monthly mixes, the Rinse takeover we did, the FACT mixes and the mix I just put together for Fabric show what we’re all about. I think some producers have got some stuff signed from having tracks included in them so it’s definitely going well. Some of the DJs we’ve booked had never played fabric before which is a big thing too and lots of them write tunes specifically for the night. I know Murlo is lining up a load of VIPs ready for Friday…

Where can you see things being in a year’s time, with both Oil Gang + Boxed?

I can’t really plan that far ahead with the label really. I’ll be happy if I can get all of the releases I’ve got signed out for people to listen to and buy. I’d like to see the producers I’m backing getting more bookings too, but the big one for me would be getting to 500 units. At the minute I press up 300 and that seems to be my limit but if I could get it up to 500, then I can pay people a bit more and it would just make everything a bit easier.

As far as Boxed goes, I’d like to keep playing at Fabric if they’ll have us and just keep booking the producers we’re all rating. It would be great to take Boxed to New York or something like that one day too – I can dream anyway..”

Oil Gang plays Room 3 at Fabric tonight as part of a Boxed takeover including Mr.Mitch, Visionist, Slackk, Logos and Murlo. Buy tickets here.

Tomas Fraser