Sheffield is a city steeped in electronic musical pedigree, stemming from the early days of sythpop spearheaded by The Human League and ABC, as well as renowned industrial post-punkers Cabaret Voltaire. The Steel City’s fixation on synth-driven sonics has been sustained through bleep and bass music, pioneered in the early 90s by Warp Records. It comes as no surprise, then, that there has been a continuation into the present day, with countless labels, festivals such as No Bounds, and clubs promoting the very best in contemporary electronic production.
Central Processing Unit boss CPSmith is at the very centre of the electro scene, not only in his hometown, but throughout the British Isles. Long since the 90s, Smith has showcased the best of machine music through parties and his DJ sets, as well as his label. With a rapid release rate and an unwavering quality, CPU is one of the leading labels around; past mix guest Maelstrom‘s recent release on the imprint demonstrates this quite obviously.
To find out more about the man behind the iconic binary aesthetic of the label, and to understand how he became involved with electro music, we caught up with Smith to chat about bass, bleeps and beyond.
For people who don’t know about the Sheffield scene, who are some of the key artists/labels and venues from today and yesteryear?
Artists: Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Mark Brydon, Rob Gordon, Richard Barratt, 96 Back.
Labels: Fon, WARP, CPU
Venues / events: Jive Turkey, BLECH, NYSUSHI, Computer Club, Hope Works
Which artists ignited your passion for electronic music?
I grew up listening to Gary Numan, Ultravox and Human League because my brother, who is older than me, used to play them in our house all the time. During that time I was also playing a lot of video games so all things electronic were instilled in me at an early age.
It wasn’t until 1990 that I got into techno thanks to a mix tape doing the rounds at school which had Sweet Exorcist – Testone and other early Warp / Outer Rhythm tracks on it.
What made Warp the institution it is today?
I think it started at the right time and tapped into amazing local music and design talent. They are always forward thinking and have excellent quality control.
What was the concept behind the Computer Club parties you threw in Sheffield?
Computer Club is an experimental electronic music night. Focussing on a special guest live performance supported by resident DJs playing the latest electronic sounds, on a quality sound system.
A lot of people are seeing the recent focus on electro as something of a revival, though many in the scene never understood it to have diminished. Do you feel that promoters such as you and Scand played a big role in the continued presence of electro?
We definitely play a part but there is still a long way to go before big name promoters attribute the same value to booking electro artists / DJs as they do for techno.
As a producer, do you have a routine approach to making new music?
I don’t get the opportunity to make much music unfortunately. My studio is mainly for mastering, anything that says ‘Mastered at Computer Club Sheffield’ is my handywork. I love synthesisers though and have lots in my studio, my favourite being the Nord Lead 2. I use Ableton if I do get a chance to make music, but use Logic for mastering. I recently purchased an Octatrack which I love, you can easily spend hours chopping up the Amen break into Squarepusher territory.
Your label’s binary aesthetic has become synonymous with UK electro. Are there any inspirations behind the numbers?
Human, a design studio based in Sheffield, came up with the idea after I gave them a list of possible label names sourced from computer and science related articles on wikipedia.
Nick Bax who runs the studio said “The more I think about Central Processing Unit / CPU the more I like it. Not just because it suggests the kind of output that might come from the label, but it also gives the impression of a central entity selecting, collecting and releasing stuff, which is essentially what a label is.”
The binary catalogue number concept quickly followed after the name was agreed. I liked the idea because it encourages collectability, a label aspiration I had ever since I saw the early Warp records in purple sleeves.
Your label CPU has churned out plenty of top quality releases over the past few years. Is your quick release rate intentional or simply due to the amount of quality music you receive?
It’s the amount of music I receive. I could release more but don’t have the capacity (it’s just me, in my house while working a full-time job). I also don’t like annoying people and feel any more would mean too many promo emails and social network posts.
What can we expect from the label going forward?
There are definitely more albums on the horizon, double LPs with gatefolds and special packaging. The CPU vinyl philosophy is centred around DJs so releases will always be cut loud with plenty of club oriented material. Although I don’t mind CPU’s strong association with electro you can expect plenty of techno, IDM and braindance as well.
Keep up-to-date with all things CPU, such as the upcoming Djedjetronic EP, on the label’s website here.