A Ramp In Quality: Tom Kerridge

Ramp Recordings has been integral to the development of UK bass music that has been taking place since dubstep’s breaking year in 2006. With a hold on the ‘post-dubstep’ canon that sees the label take in an artists roster that counts Shortstuff, Tokimonsta, P.U.D.G.E, Maximillion Dunbar and Zomby as its stars, Ramp has consistently pushed the envelope of forward-thinking dancefloor music, having a stellar year in 2010 with releases that take in the sounds of dubstep, hip-hop, house and UK funky, disco, and more.

With the release of Maximillion Dunbar’ debut album ‘Cool Water’ just around the corner, we caught up with the Tom Kerridge, the brains behind the label, to chat over his passion for music, eclecticism and why he’s the ‘white Suge Knight’.

“I’ve always had an obsession with music. Even when I was six years old I used to go to Woolworths and look at the 7″s, just reading all the information on the sleeves and looking at every bit of detail.”

That attention to detail isn’t something which was a phase for the young Tom Kerridge; he has never grown out of it. If one thing can be said for the output which has come from his three labels (Ramp, BrainMath and PTN) it is that the care taken to produce, package and deliver his records is obvious. Artwork by people like Tobias Jones (who made a name for himself doing indie flyers in east London) and Kate Moross helped the records to stand out from peers and give the output a distinctive look and feel. He started his first and most well-known label, Ramp, with the aid of a bank loan in 2004 and since then has created one of the UK’s most respected dance labels.

Ramp Crew: L-R - Tokimonsta, Tom Kerridge, P.U.D.G.E., Shortstuff

His love of dance and hip-hop developed while studying in Liverpool where he attended the city’s legendary techno night Voodoo, cathcing DJs like Green Velvet and Andrew Weatherall at their very peak. He got hooked on labels like Mo Wax and Stones Throw, which were putting out albums by Loot Pack and Quasimodo which Kerridge is still enamoured by today. That mix of genres and styles is something that is evident in Ramps genesis.

By his own admission the output has been “messy” with underground US hip-hop artists featuring on the same label as people like Zomby and Brackles, but that eclectic taste is something which has kept people listening out to hear what Tom will release next.

The self-titled ‘white Suge Knight’ didn’t make a name for himself by looking to the west coast of America, where his name-sake made his by hanging rappers over balconies, but rather by releasing an album from an MC and producer from Nashville, Tennessee. Count Bass D’s limited 10″ Down Easy and follow up album Begborrowsteel were successful (helped by Count’s appearance on the now legendary MF Doom album MM…Food) and gave Kerridge a solid base to build the label.

“My release schedule wasn’t that hectic then. I did a couple of years of slowly getting stuff out and I was doing a lot more albums around then, maybe two or three a year at that point,” Tom recalls. From 2004 to 2008 Kerridge put out nine releases, mostly underground US hip hop which sold well and gave Ramp a good name among artists and critics. In 2008, Kerridge signed a little-known artist from Leicester called Zomby and the shape of the label started to change, although he believes the evolution was a natural one rather than a noticeable shift in direction.

“I don’t think things really changed. I think personally that even when I was putting out the hip hop stuff I was listening to huge amounts of other music as well. I wanted to put out all that different stuff but at the time, but it felt like I was running a hip-hop label and I couldn’t really put that out. I thought about setting up another label but that wasn’t really doable at that time. I think I’ve carried on with what I was originally doing but just moved the boundaries a little bit. I think that freaked people out and again recently I’ve started putting out slightly different things which has caught some people out.”

Zomby’s Liquid Dancehall/Strange Fruit certainly got people’s attention and slowly DJs and critics started to support the tracks, giving both Zomby and Ramp more exposure. But Kerridge did not get carried away by the success of the release; instead he focussed on the next step he should take. “I always have a lot of stuff in hand. When I’m talking about a current release I already have my next five lined up. At the time I had Clouds, Computer Jay, Falty DL and Flying Lotus set to drop. I didn’t let the Zomby success affect me I just thought ‘right I’ve got the rest of this to get out’.”

Releases from Computer Jay, Falty DL and Flying Lotus followed, alongside critically-lauded Zomby 12″s like, The Lie and the One Foot Ahead Of The Other EPs. 2008 and 2009 were prolific years for Ramp with 15 releases and an ever-expanding roster including artists from all over the world. Dealing with that many artists isn’t always easy. There are egos to satisfy and expectations to manage; “Some artists are definitely harder to work with than others and some artists become more difficult with the more releases they have out. Some expect more than others. Some are happy just to have a release out and have some press attention whereas others don’t even seem to know what they want.”

But the headaches of running a label were not big enough to stop Kerridge from setting up another two; BrainMath in 2008 and PTN (pronounced pattern) this year. With the advent of the MP3 revolution in Djing and consumer listening habits a like setting up a label in 2010 is a lot different to how it was in 2004.
“I know a lot of people who have started up labels recently and really you can walk into a distributor and say these are my first three releases do you want to fund me? They’ll pay for manufacturing and everything. It is a lot easier. Saying that, because of dwindling vinyl sales it is making that harder. People don’t just go out and buy every dubstep release that week on vinyl like they used to. People are pickier now. You can still sell vinyl you just need to pick the right releases.”

Maximillion Dunbar

So why did he start the other labels? “I’d get an idea for different labels quite often. Ramp is all over the place, it’s more like Domino in a way. But those aren’t the kind of labels I like. I like the cliquey labels with themed artwork and all the rest of it. I was keen to do a label that was similar to the ones that made me fall in love with electronic music. So BrainMath just kind of evolved. With PTN I was listening to people like Doc Daneeka and Hackman but they would not really work on Ramp. PTN was born out of necessity. ”

That desire to put together labels dedicated to one sound has been realised, especially with PTN. The label is only five releases young but already the work of Doc Daneeka, Hackman, Breach and Hypno has a noticeable similarity. Kerridge uses “deep” to describe the sound and that adjective certainly fits. That deeper take on UK Funky is breathing new life into a sound which has become labelled as ‘not credible’ and ‘cringe-inducing’ by some critics.

However, Kerridge isn’t content to be just another dance label, he is encouraging his artists to write albums (Airhead have one out in early November) and releases often come in different formats to the standard 12″ and digital offerings of other labels. The three part Summer of Shortstuff 10″s and Maximillion Dunbar’s album are both something which Kerridge is proud of and show his intent for future releases. “I like the way that indie labels release things, with an EP, album, single and maybe an exclusive 7″. It’s more interesting than the barrage of 12″s in dance music. I don’t want to do the computerised sleeves. I like things which are more handmade and interesting. I like to be engaged with what I’m working with and my artists like that as well.”
His prolific release rate does not look like slowing at all, with records planned to come out before the end of 2010 on all three labels. That childhood attention to detail has served Kerridge well and his ability to surprise has ensured that you never know what he will put out next.

Interview: Lanre Bakare

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