An interview with Scuba

From London to Berlin and back again, Paul Rose’s extensive discography under his Scuba and SCB aliases is a testament to an impressive career spanning nearly 20 years.

Back in 2003, he launched his Hotflush imprint, a label that has propelled careers of the likes of Or:la, George Fitzgerald and Mount Kimbie, as well as constantly evolving his own style and embarking on new musical endeavours.

For five years, Rose ran a night at Berghain, simultaneously ticking off perhaps any party planner’s biggest goal and bringing the sounds of the dubstep/techno crossover to a Berlin audience. The collision of the UK-centric dubstep movement and techno brought a diverse range of artists to Berghain, leaving a legendary legacy for the party.

Never static, his status as a label head has facilitated his refusal to be boxed in by certain styles by allowing him the freedom to experiment. This desire to constantly push boundaries has remained true to this day as his recent EPs – Never Forget and This Is For You – have marked a transition to utilising more live instruments.

Following the release of the Never Forget remixes by Effy, Baltra and Peter Ibbetson, we had a chat about his constantly evolving techniques, his SUB:STANCE parties, as well as the future of clubbing in the UK and beyond.

Hey Paul, how’s it going? How are you coping under the current coronavirus circumstances?

It’s alright, personally it’s okay because I can still go to my studio without getting in contact with anyone, so I’ve just been leading my normal life to be honest, just with going to the pub on skype instead of actually in person.

Ah nice! If you’ve been able to get to your studio have you found it hasn’t hindered your creative process?

Yeah, I’ve just been cracking on, it seems to be that quite a lot of people are finding it difficult anecdotally but personally, it’s been great. It’s been unencumbered by distractions – I’ve been quite enjoying it actually!

That’s good! I’ve also seen you’ve been offering remix stems and songs on Bandcamp for free because of corona – what’s the response to that been like?

Yeah really good. It did strike me initially that people might find it difficult sitting around because sometimes fewer restrictions can actually be counter-productive creatively, so I figured we should do a little bit to help. Obviously with the financial thing as well, so many people have lost their jobs and the pressure is crazy, so giving away stuff for free makes sense.

The remix stems were of some of your recent releases, including This Is For You, which I’ve been enjoying a lot recently. Could you talk me through the process of making this EP, as the sound of your releases over the past year is quite different to your previous material?

Well I’ve played guitar since forever and I never really used it in my tracks before. I’ve kind of been puzzling out over the past, probably two years, how to fit it into club music in a tasteful way. I mean many producers would agree that it’s pretty tough getting electric guitar into club music without it sounding pretty ridiculous, so much experimentation and trial and error went into the process that I eventually arrived upon – which basically is just not use very much of it!

Never Forget was a part of that and also a track on the previous EP called “Burn Out” was one of the earlier successful attempts. I made all my previous albums just using software in the box and basically since then I’ve spent an unnecessary amount of money on outboard gear and a long time trying to use it, trying to figure out how to make music with it because it is completely different.

And you’ve been using your voice too? Can we expect any live shows incorporating that in the near future?

I have learnt to sing as well, which I’m slightly reluctant to go into too much detail about. Not in the immediate future, but I have been writing some songs but I’m not going to go any further than that! Some formal song writing has been happening which may or may not come to fruition in a release type sense.

I massively dialled back my touring schedule a couple years ago partly because I felt like it was boxing me in in terms of the music I was making, which is kind of useful now because there are no shows to play. I’ve had a good two years of just messing around and just coming up with different things, different recording techniques and ways of doing things I didn’t do before. I’m not suggesting that I’ve split the atom or anything in terms of doing stuff in the studio but I’m using techniques which are new to me and just trying to learn new stuff and immersing myself in it and it’s been really fun, which is what it should be!

Definitely! Having your own label must be good too, allowing you more freedom. Can you explain a bit more about the roots of Hotflush?

I went to Bristol Uni which is where it started and I’m going to age myself quite badly here, but it was 1999, I think. It was a jungle and garage night that I ran with a friend of mine and when I graduated and moved back to London, I started playing on pirates with a guy who I was in a DJ team with – we did Rinse and all the rest of it. I’d always liked the idea of having a label without really knowing anything about it. I was making tunes but not very good ones and I finally made two tracks I was happy with and we just put them out on vinyl and that was it!

We didn’t have a distribution deal, we didn’t have a label, we just went to the pressing plant and pressed 300, sold them out the back of the car, went around shops, gave them twenty and went back two weeks later to pick up the money. Proper old school DIY dance label stuff and it went from there – the first release was 2003 and I think we’re now 200 deep. I can’t emphasise enough how little I knew about it when I started – I literally had no clue whatsoever. I try to help people who are starting out doing similar sort of things, because I never really had anyone to tell me what to do.

Can you give any examples?

I don’t know if I should! One thing that I can say is whenever we sign people to Hotflush, what I encourage them to do is to set up their own label so they can release more.

Like Or:la and Deep Sea Frequency?

Yeah and Locked Groove as well and also Glaskin, who are two really talented techno guys from Munich. They have all set up their own labels and therefore been able to put out more and have more complete control over what they’re doing, which is really important, especially with dance stuff as a lot of what you make is experimental and it’s good to not have the A&R hanging over you. As a label person I definitely shouldn’t say that, but as an artist/producer, that’s really important to me. I actually sat on a PRS panel recently talking about labels and the ways to make music and I was talking with two hats on the whole time, as an artist saying don’t ever sign to a label ever, and then actually I am a label head and you should sign to a label.

And when you moved to Berlin and started SUB:STANCE parties, were you surprised at how dubstep took off in Berlin?

Yes, in fact definitely. I was more surprised by how receptive the people that ran or still run Berghain were to it and how ready they were to hand us the club for a night four times a year.

How did that come about?

The person who I had run a night with randomly bumped into Andre who did the PR for Berghain in the office. They got talking and he mentioned our idea and Andre went back and mentioned it to the powers that be at Berghain. They invited us in for a meeting and they just said yeah, you can do a Friday night. It was one of those meetings where you keep a straight face and you come out of it and you start jumping up and down because it was one of the best things that has ever happened.

Yeah that excitement must have been near impossible to contain! Were there any stand out moments from the parties?

It was nominally a dubstep night but we put on all kinds of stuff so we booked Dillinja and he was going to play the second to last set and I forget who was playing before him, but someone playing dubstep, and he walked in to Berghain and was like “Jesus, what is this place!” Obviously, he knew it wasn’t going to be a drum’n’bass night, but he was like “what should I play?” And I just said “you know, the people here know who you are and they want to hear your music, so just fucking play your music!” So he went on and tore the house down almost literally, and when he came off he was just so emotional, like “aw that was one of the best nights I’ve had since the 90s.” And then he stuck around for the next four hours of the party. So yeah, that was a bit emotional; one of my musical heroes, really having the time of his life in Berghain.

I never went to a SUB:STANCE party, but from listening to the records it sounds like Berlin infiltrated the music you were making. Was this a conscious decision or something that kind of just happened?

I mean there was a short lived but really cool – or what I thought was cool anyway – dubstep/techno crossover which was already happening before we started. I moved over in late 2007 and people like 2562 from Rotterdam and me and a few others were doing stuff which was influenced by a techno sound palette and approach and a bit less UK, you know rewinds and all the rest of it, a bit less like that and more European. Then, as soon as I moved to Berlin I was immersed in that dub-techno sound.

Hard Wax the record shop was a really big thing at the time, so that was super influential as well and then when we started the night it gave us a platform to push that even further, even though what we put on at the party was always pretty wide-ranging, there was almost always a representation of that dubstep/techno crossover which my first two albums certainly reflect a lot.

You mentioned Hard Wax there, and obviously places like Hard Wax are a really great hub for sharing music. I saw you tweet something quite interesting recently saying that vinyl is pointless and environment wrecking, and how people need to stop fetishising it, which I do somewhat agree with. However, do you think places like Hard Wax – which is a great community hub – could exist without records?

Yeah, I mean that comment was intentionally provocative, but there’s something in it. The point I was making is that the underground dance scene generally speaking is pretty conservative. It’s extremely resistant to change in a way that doesn’t do it any favours. The way that people run their labels, or look at business generally, isn’t helpful. On a general level, it’s how slow people are on the uptake of new ways of doing stuff, which is always the case.

In the initial instance it was resistance towards downloads, which has now become this sacred model, and that streaming is evil, which just seems a bit ridiculous. But in terms of record shops, I think you definitely make a good point – they were the eco-system to this scene from day one in terms of dance and electronic music from the 80s onwards, but before that too the way you could get an unusual or rare record was always at the record shop. It’s difficult to see where in a physical sense that goes – I mean obviously there’s an online equivalent but without the immediate face to face interaction you definitely lose something, so the answer is I don’t know. Vinyl is an anachronism in many ways but it’s also a unique thing and I can see it sticking around.

Then you moved back to London. How would you compare the clubs in Berlin and London? With your residency at XOYO for example I saw you were thinking about implementing a no phones on the dance floor policy (like most clubs in Berlin).

The thing with no phones is that if you were at a good club you don’t need to enforce that. I feel like an old man saying there shouldn’t be phones at a night club, and I think it’s an easy thing to moan about. Generally, in an ideal world you shouldn’t have your phone out in a club, but the more worrying thing for me is that small clubs are in decline quite dramatically and I suspect a large part of the reason is that you can’t film in small clubs or take good pictures and a lot of people want to be able to capture good content from their night out. That’s super depressing.

If you look at how popular something like ELROW is, which is really an event designed specifically for people to stay on their fucking phones. Fair enough they’ve been majorly successful and good luck to them, but I think it’s illustrative of that kind of trend and it’s not a trend I’m a big fan of. It’s easy to complain but I think you’ve just got to support the venues doing it in the right way. In fact, part of the reason that I like Berghain so much is that they’ve completely refused to compromise on any of their principles about it, whether it’s about corporate sponsorship to policing of the door to having phones out, I think this is the best example of the way to run an underground venue.

In the past you’ve discussed issues with alcohol, has it been hard to change your relationship with alcohol given your job? Harder drugs get all the attention, while alcohol is largely accepted – how can awareness be increased?

Well a big part of the reason why I cut down on touring was because of that. My personal view is that alcohol is the worst drug you could possibly do. It has, I think, the worst effects of pretty much anything and a blind eye is turned to it for the reasons you’ve just given. It’s a social thing and people don’t want to recognise when it’s becoming an issue and I think that lots of people do drink to extremely unhealthy levels and it affects them in ways they don’t care to admit. Certainly, the DJing lifestyle is mind-blowingly unhealthy and booze is a big part of that for sure. Drugs are seen as more dangerous, but I think the most pernicious one is alcohol and I definitely have been candid about this in the past.

I really struggled for a long time with the combination of having to play three shows a week and the necessity of getting drunk at every one was tough. I had to make a real effort to cut it out and I had nearly two years where I didn’t drink anything at all and I sort of considered myself as a recovering alcoholic and subsequently have been able to reintroduce it slowly and in a responsible way and I can now have a drink without going crazy and it’s alright. It’s a big occupational hazard of the whole lifestyle and when it’s your job and you’re playing over a hundred shows a year, it’s really easy to get out of control with it.

It must be super tiring touring that much.

Yeah and you get through it whatever way that you can, and often it’s just by drinking, because it’s the social crutch for many people, whether they’re playing a gig or not. When you’re expected to perform and you’re on your third or fifth show in a row, it’s really difficult and people don’t recognise it as an issue. I was really shocked, disappointed frankly, when I first said that stuff, at how blasé people were. I was saying some quite serious things about what is a serious mental health issue and people were just like “oh no it’s alright you’re fine.” That’s just not really the right way of looking at it – it’s almost like if you’re not drinking a bottle of vodka a day, then you haven’t got a problem. That really couldn’t be more ignorant as to the nature of alcohol problems. When I play shows now, I don’t drink at all and I think it’s much more common for DJs to not drink and people understand more. Ten years ago, if you weren’t having a drink at the party you were essentially the bad guy and I don’t think that’s true to the same extent anymore.

Sounds at least like it’s moving in the right direction. What can we expect next from you? Will you go back to touring or will your recent releases culminate in an album of a similar style?

I don’t know about touring, I played 15 to 20 shows last year and felt like I could’ve done a few more so, assuming everything returns to normal, I’ll probably continue and play a few more shows. I’m just tinkering away on music, making quite a lot and it’s coming together into what might be an album project but at the moment it’s still a bit up in the air. To be honest with corona, it feels like there is a bit of time to mess around, so I’ll just take that opportunity.

Yeah it does feel that way – it seems like a lot of people have taken up new hobbies and I’ve never made so much banana bread.

Everyone’s a fucking baker now! That’s one thing I haven’t done. I’ve made an oxtail stew.

Aha that sounds delicious though! Thanks a lot for chatting with us Paul.