Electronic music producer, DJ & label owner: Stu Crosbie (UK)
The first time I connected with Stuart was after purchasing a record from him that was released on his label, ‘Dark Arts’. The DA08 EP showcases tracks that are continuously balancing on the verge of different genres and sub-genres: ‘Radius’, for instance, is on the verge of techno & electro, while tracks like ‘Blueshift’, ‘Final Orbit’, and ‘Further Out’ are like balancing acts between dub-techno, deep house and downtempo.
It’s been one and a half years since our first interview. Since then, Stu has released another EP (Dark Arts 09) reviewed by Matt Sever, while some other tracks of his, like ‘transmission 9’, were supported by artists like Jane Fitz in Rinse FM podcasts.
I have never met Stu in person, but every time I talk to him, he comes across as a down-to-earth, polite, and kind guy who keeps releasing deep, experimental music that touches the soul – and he does that without trying to force himself into the spotlight. His humbleness is another reason why I respect him so much.
I usually like to start personal stories ‘ab ovo usque ad mala’ as the Latin says, thus, from the beginning till the end – as I am genuinely interested in the different paths everyone walks, together with its joys and struggles to become the person they are today. However, this journal will also be like a journey back in time with a quick dive into the UK’s electronic music scene through the memories of Stu.
GF: How did you get in touch with electronic music? Which city has nurtured your artistic tendencies?
S. Crosbie: “I studied just outside London and I went to lots of gigs. I was always more into guitar music when growing up. First heavy metal then more indie type material, but I was getting interested in bands like Ministry and NIN, so I guess an electronic element started creeping in. Also towards the end of my studies, I met a new group of friends who were heavily into clubbing. I have to admit I was cynical at first. I went to a couple of house nights, but the night that changed things for me was a party some friends of friends were putting on called ‘Boo’. They had booked Evil Eddie Richards as the guest and it was amazing – probably the first time I heard techno and house music – I was hooked.”
[GF: Ed Richards or Eddy Richards, aka Acidman / Jolly Roger / Key Largo / Kode, etc. was one of the very first people to play house and techno in the UK back in the mid-eighties. Under his many different aliases, he has done several remixes, amongst them multiple ones for ‘The Shamen’ in 1991, f.e. ‘Love Sex Intelligence’ or ‘Oxygen restriction’.]
S. Crosbie: “For me, the timing was absolutely the key. This was in London in the mid 90’s which was the most amazing time for the scene. It was such a fertile period. It felt like you could go out and hear the best of any given scene 7 nights a week. But for some reason I was instinctively drawn to techno and to clubs like Club UK and The Complex. Lost in particular was something I’d never come across before – it was just so single-minded. For music so intense and uncompromising to bring so many people together was very inspiring.”
[GF: ‘LOST’ has been going on since 1991 and the mastermind behind the record label (Lost Recordings) and the event series was Steve Bicknell himself, throwing notoriously dark and sweaty parties in the best bunkers London had to offer at the time, influencing everyone who’s anyone in the UK underground scene and beyond.]
S. Crosbie: “And bookings like Mills, Hood, Young etc – this was where I really found the Detroit sound of the time. One I particularly remember was Suburban Knight playing! It was so stripped back yet filled with so much funk.”
[GF: Steve was one of the first people ever to bring Jeff Mills, Robert Hood or Richie Hawtin overseas to London. Without him, the UK techno scene would not have been what it became. As described by Arthur Smith, “LOST was a real gateway club and its atmosphere was incomparable with any other UK clubs. Every single person was zoned in to exactly what was going on: no-one was talking to each other, no-one was distracted, everybody was hanging on every single moment of the music that was being played”. Bicknell is still actively present in today’s scene. He is also known as one of the members of the formation LSD – Luke Slater, David S. aka Function and himself. They have been performing in the Netherlands at last year’s Reaktor Events during ADE. In 2018, they were performing at Dekmantel festival in Amsterdam and at Draaimolen festival in Tilburg which is a big deal considering the fact that LSD for a long time was a “Berghain-exclusive act”.]
S. Crosbie: “There was definitely something unique about the Detroit artists approach to futuristic music, though I never underestimate the importance of the UK artists either. For me some of the most enduring music of that period was coming from artists like Stasis and labels like Ifach. I’m not really sure if the word ‘underground’ is the correct term but at that time, even though the scene was huge, you felt as part of something that was taking place away from the spotlight. It didn’t need (nor crave) attention to justify its existence, and Lost was the perfect example of that. The opening of The End was pivotal – I think that was very important for clubbing in general.”
[GF: ‘The End’ was a nightclub in the West End of London, UK. Started in December 1995 by DJs Layo Paskin and Mr C, it was also responsible for the label End Recordings. Musical genres played there included techno and house, drum and bass, breakbeat and dubstep. Throughout its nearly 14 year history, it was regarded as one of London’s most popular mid-sized venues for electronic music of all kinds.]
S. Crosbie: “Again, just quality music, whatever night you went to, and yet such attention to detail in terms of the venue, sound etc. That dance floor is undoubtedly the one I’ve spent most time on – I went the weekend after it opened and was still going when it closed. I admire the risks they took with programming. I was getting into drum and bass around this time, too, as there were definitely links between the deeper end of d’n’b and Detroit. I remember a Promised Land night at The End and being blown away: a) by the depth of the music on show and b) by the atmosphere (it was so friendly at a time when d’n’b had a reputation for moodiness). I always felt you could trust The End to be presenting the quality end of any scene. Fabric opening was also important for the scene – underground sensibilities but in a beautifully designed space.”
GF: Did you get to visit some clubs outside the UK, too?
S. Crosbie: “I went to Berlin’s Tresor for new year’s eve 2000 – 2001 – the atmosphere in the Globus room that night was something very special. It actually felt much more like a party than I expected. The Tresor room was, of course, so intense but the venue as a whole felt very open and welcoming. There’s definitely a thread running through these nights – Lost, Tresor etc – it feels very inclusive, you feel part of something but they make no compromises on the music which, let’s be honest, is the beating heart of the scene.
GF: Any memorable festival visits?
S. Crosbie: “Yes, ‘Tribal Gathering’ 1997. I have to mention this – anybody that was there will know why. An entire tent dedicated to Detroit artists. And Kraftwerk in another tent. The whole thing was a blur – a lost weekend – but I genuinely get goosebumps thinking back – took me a long time to recover!”
GF: So after attending all these nights and parties, how did you get started with DJing?
S. Crosbie: “Around 1996 I bought a pair of Technics 1200s – and I’ve still got them today. After that, record buying becomes a sort of compulsion. You start to view money in terms of how many 12 inches you can buy with it. But again the timing was vital. London was packed with amazing record shops, tucked away in back alleys.”
S. Crosbie: “I always tried to take a few risks when buying – picking something up without listening to it. Maybe buying just from the description on the shop’s label or something. It’s funny how specific moments stick in your mind. I remember buying my first Robert Hood solo record in Soho’s Tag. It was ‘Apartment Zero’ – I can genuinely remember seeing it on the racks and taking a chance on it blind. Got it home and to this day it is one of my favourite records. I have to mention Glasgow also – I’m Scottish and my parents still live there so whenever I was visiting I would go record shopping to Rubadub or to Rat Records. It was these trips, in particular, that got me hooked on electro. I remember buying on labels like ‘Interdimensional Transmissions’ (TA: Detroit based electro label run by Ectomorph.) and picking up Drexciya 12″s. That was next level stuff for me – in fact it still is.”
S. Crosbie: “I had played at a few house parties, but a friend I knew from work who was putting on a mid-week drum ‘n’ bass night asked if I wanted to play in a bar. Unbelievably this bar turned out to be the Blue Note in Hoxton. So yeah – crazily my first proper gig was in one of London’s most iconic venues. It was packed and I was so nervous but it went down a treat and I was asked by one of the guest DJs to come and play at his night. It kind of snowballed from there but the sound I was playing at these nights wasn’t my real love. I was supporting artists like Faze Action and playing jazzy beats, deep drum n bass etc. I love the buzz of DJing but my real passion was always techno / electro. After a while I realised that I wanted to focus on something that felt a bit more honest. So myself and two mates started our own night – Shady Brain Farm. There was still a wide musical range played across the night but at last I felt I could play what I wanted and take a few risks. It ran at various small venues for a couple of years and we had some great nights but eventually after a fall-out with the owner of the last venue, we wound it up.
I still love DJing and I’ve been involved with several nights since then (at spaces such as London’s Corsica Studios), but for a few years now I’ve definitely focused more on the production side of things. But DJing is another great way of expressing yourself and I have re-discovered the passion for it recently.”
GF: I guess this is time to ask how you started producing and what led you to establish your label…
S. Crosbie: “I got a second hand computer from one of the guys I eventually ran the night with and he had put a couple of basic programmes on there – Acid Pro and Soundforge – so I started messing around with loops etc. I loved it and started to obsess about it. It immediately changed how I listened to music, starting to try and work out how things had been put together. I guess if I think back, I’ve probably been doing it for around 15 years or so. It’s a strange one for me – I have a daily battle with self-confidence. I think it stems from questioning what my role is – I don’t really consider myself a musician, don’t know a great deal about the technical sound engineering side of things.
When I’m producing I’m just looking for something that provokes a gut feeling. And often that is achieved (to these ears anyway) with a relatively small number of components. Hence my material often being referred to as stripped back. I’m endlessly fascinated by how some producers can get so much swing out of so few elements. I tend to find the groove I’m looking for and then remove different elements to make sure it all still works. At times, by doing this I find that the idea is stronger with a reduced number of elements.”
“Life is just so busy with work, my amazing family – these are all extremely important to me, so finding the time to get into the studio can be tough. And of course there are some studio sessions where you can create something strong very quickly, and others where you toil away for hours and end up with nothing of value. But I’ve learnt something recently – if an idea is good enough, whenever you go back to it, it will still sound good. My battle is learning to trust my instincts. The last EP took a year to get finished. I can be quite scattergun in the studio with ideas flying around all over the place. With releases on DA there’s not really a pattern – I just know when I’ve got there and am happy with the tracks. I always try and put out an EP that, even if it contains disparate styles, stands up as a cohesive whole. That’s always felt important to me.
In 2005, myself (under the dubious name ‘marbles’) and a very good friend, Spencer (under the marginally less dubious name ‘shockt’) put out a 12″.
It didn’t set the world alight but Spencer’s tracks in particular did get some support from people like Swayzak. After that I was still producing in the studio but was lacking vision – enjoying learning about it but not really with any focus. Then my wife, daughter and I moved from London to Brighton and I set up a much better studio space and more cohesive ideas started to take shape.
In 2012 I decided to take the plunge and launched Dark Arts. One story sticks in my mind. I had used up all my savings to press up DA01 myself. So when it arrived I took a few copies down to my favourite London record store to see if they would stock it. “You’re in luck – the buyer is here at the moment” said the bloke behind the counter. So I stood at the counter whilst I heard them flick through the tracks in a back room… only to come back out: “Sorry mate – not really for us”. I was gutted. I thought I’d wasted my time and money and the self-doubt kicked in. It took me quite a while to build up the confidence to let anybody else hear it – but I got in touch with Diamonds & Pearls in Berlin to see if they would possibly take on the distribution as they looked after some of my favourite labels at the time. They turned everything around for me and I can never thank them enough. They took a chance on me, took on the record, it was stocked across the world and within weeks it had sold out (even in the London record shop that had initially rejected it). Some very strange things started happening – I got an email from a guy called Zak saying he’d ordered his copy but it wasn’t going to arrive on time for a gig and he was desperate for it so could I send him the wavs. He was so genuine and polite that I sent him the files – ‘Zak’ turned out to be DVS1! Tracks started being charted and turning up on mixes / radio etc.”
“So of course this gave me the confidence to persevere and DA02 and DA03 continued to do really well. People like Answer Code Request, nd_baumecker, Dario Zenker, Stenny, Roger 23 and Resom were supporting the label. And as someone who loved The End so much, it felt very special when Mr C put a track from DA02 in one of his Superfreq mixes.
I never thought that I’d be here over six years later, having just released DA09. I think if you listen to all the Dark Arts back catalogue, it’s quite varied but there is a link running through everything – maybe there’s a little bit of myself in there holding it all together. It is such a labour of love, there’s no money to be made in production but that’s just never been the point.”
GF: It is always an interesting question for me: what are your sources of inspiration – which artists do you follow, either from a DJ’s or a producer’s perspective?
S. Crosbie: “I tend to be inspired by people’s attitudes towards their craft, be it DJing or production. People who have a clear vision – it’s that singular idea running through everything. I have so much respect for so many producers that I don’t really like mentioning specific names (and of course it can change from day to day) but at the moment, people like Terrence Dixon, Marcellus Pittmann, Jamal Moss, Shake are up there – they are proper artists with a totally unique sound. They’re not trying to fit into any scene.
I watched a recent interview with Shed which I‘ve re-watched several times ‘cos I just love his attitude – he just makes music he likes, doesn’t compromise and trusts his own instincts.
But it’s not just big names I take inspiration from – some of the most inspiring DJs and producers are the lesser known ones. At a recent Night Moves event in London, the Until My Heart Stops crew of Duckett, Leif and Joe Ellis played. I reckon it was the best night of music I’ve heard in several years – within a house and techno framework but doing something very different rhythmically. It seemed so fresh. And I can’t mention Night Moves without talking about residents Jane Fitz and Jade Seatle. They have been so supportive of me. Jane got in touch about the label on Soundcloud and we met up for a few beers. I went along to Night Moves and immediately felt part of something very special. Then they invited me to play their Field Moves tent at Field Maneuvers festival last year.”
“It was one of the best DJing experiences I’ve ever had – everyone was so open-minded. And the music in their tent was next level all weekend – mostly played by DJs you’ve probably never heard of – just so inspiring. But what sums up people like Jane and Jade for me is also what sums up the best parts of the scene in general – they are totally ego-free and they do things for the right reasons. They made me feel totally accepted. Oh and they are absolutely flawless DJs.
I really admire labels that are brave and just put out what they believe in. I guess people who have a purity in their vision, and the confidence to follow that path – be it producing, running labels or putting on nights – that’s what I admire and take inspiration from.”
GF: … and here we jump in time and I will sum up the things that were about the happen in 2017… In August 2017 you got to play in Brighton (with local legend) Donga and Forest Drive West at one of the awesome Well Rounded parties. Then your split EP with Frazer Campbell came out in September 2017 which got some great feedback and support.
S. Crosbie: “Through a shared appreciation of our productions, I hooked up with Frazer Campbell (Open / Mosaic) and he asked me to send him some material for his own label – Elliot Project. Frazer is such a good guy, supremely talented and just goes to show that one of the greatest parts of our scene is being able to meet up with likeminded souls.”
“I’ve also been lucky enough to release some material on other labels – the Venice based Where We Met label is quite rightly building an excellent reputation with music from the likes of Mihail P, Reedale Rise (aka Fernando The Lobster – another alias of the artist, Simon Keat), Derek Carr and some excellent new talent, so I was blown away to be asked to contribute. And also keep an eye out for the London-based EYA Records who have released 3 excellent records in 2018. I’m delighted to be working on certain projects with other labels.”
[GF: Mihail Petrovski aka Mihail P is hailing from Vinica, Macedonia. An artist with passion for the deeper sides of techno & house. Simone Keat aka Reedale Rise’s biography on Resident Advisor writes: “His teenage years were spent listening obsessively to techno and drum and bass mixes taped from the radio, with the likes of LTJ Bukem and Jeff Mills being pivotal influences in terms of his current sound design and musical moods. Liverpool’s Bugged Out! parties led him deeper into the world of house and techno, with Carl Craig and some others becoming ongoing influences and inspirations. Reedale Rise’s debut vinyl release was a deep techno cut on Edinburgh based label Common Dreams which was followed up on the Rotterdam based label Frustrated Funk.”]
[GF: Derek Carr’s biography on Discogs reveals that Derek perhaps might not be the most-known figure in the scene, yet he has been producing and releasing Detroit-tinged electronic music for almost two decades. Derek got an early taste for finely crafted melodic techno through compilations like f.e. Warp Records’ ‘Pioneers of the Hypnotic Groove’. According to Discogs, once recognising the home made ‘punk’ ethos of early ‘Bleep techno’, he began to pick up second hand instruments including a cheetah sampler and boss drum machine and he started working on his own sound – influenced by techno pioneers like B12, the Black Dog, As One (aka Kirk Degiorgio), the duo of Nexus 21 and Rhythmatic just to name a few. In 2001 Derek launched his own label ‘Trident Recordings’ and released the ‘Copper Beech EP’ which has since become more of a collector’s item.]
GF: What are your plans for the rest of 2018 and 2019?
S. Crosbie: “I want to keep developing the label. I’m always toying with the idea of a side project / sub label to put out some of the more off-beat material I’m working on and I think 2019 will be the year that happens. I’ve also got a couple of releases for other labels lined up, which I’m really excited about. And I’d love to say that DA10 will hit the tracks but I can’t make any promises. I just want to keep meeting new people – there’s always something to learn about our scene.”