Rush Hour Records – A Retrospective (Part 2)

Follow this link to read ‘Part 1’

On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I got into a conversation with a local about the beauty of Dutch culture, “You know, the main reason why I love this place, is because it’s open minded and gives its people the freedom to do what they wish”. Indeed, the hotly contested practices of euthanasia, recreational drugs, and prostitution are legal over there, simply because the Dutch government believe that everyone is responsible for their own health, they see it as a fundamental principle to the well-being of their people. Open-mindedness, liberalism, freedom and curiosity; all qualities I feel are prevalent in Holland and arguably the reason why outfits like Rush Hour have been so consistently successful.

The label has a profound respect for what has been in the past, and has curated and revived a number of movements as a result of this. Consequently, the label has facilitated the exposure of lesser-known (but equally capable) artists over the years. In particular the fairly obscure but hugely influential Anthony “Shake” Shakir features on a Rush Hour re-release. At the end of 2009 the label published a compilation of his works in a monster 35-track album. This tellingly illustrates how vital RH is as not simply a record shop and musical community, but as an educator, and this is a quality that I ardently admire about the label. Their particular focus on preserving, respecting, and renovating past music is an approach that is far too overlooked and this constant retrospective feeds into their output in a multitude of ways. The label is a forum for individual artistic exploration, and has been a platform on which artists have been able to reach out into the world. Indeed their Limited series (LTD) is just this. The 2005 release of Carl Craig’s ‘The Album Formerly Known As‘… (an overhaul of a previous album, ‘Landcruising‘) was his first on the RH imprint and inaugurated the grammy-nominated Detroit stalwart into the RH family. Additionally re-release compilations such Kenny Larkin’s ‘Vanguard EP‘ and ‘Metaphor EP‘ (initially signed to ‘Buzz Recordings’ and ‘R&S‘ respectively) have contributed as strong additions to the label’s sizeable back-catalogue. RH frontman Antal’s love for all music – not just confined to four to the floor – also resulted in sister labels ‘Angst Records‘ and ‘Kindred Spirits‘ (among other sub-label projects) with the focus of putting out music that looks further afield, orientated outside of the electronic dance music domain.

Breathe Deeper – Shake

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The year is 2010, enter, Kirk Digiorgio, also known as ‘As One’. Digiorgio been around since the ’80s, contributing to the musical landscape through his own imprints ‘ART’ (Applied Rythmic Technology) and ‘Op-ART’ (famously putting out early releases for the likes of Carl Craig and Aphex Twin), and being responsible for pushing the IDM movement forward in the pre-digital world. Digiorgio under his birth-name alias is known for his jazz-infused techno and appears as such on the RH imprint. ‘The Ripple Effect EP‘ features the Deep Techno roller ‘Time Spin‘. Digiorgio masterfully builds up the texture through treated bass-lines and finely produced acid hooks. New layers of sound continuously renovate this track into a glorious mesh of sound. The arching six-minute contour is brilliantly refined and complete, a hallmark of any quality producer.

Time Spin – Kirk Digiorgio

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Other highlights of 2010 include the first ever release of a relatively new sub-label release series under the Rush Hour umbrella. Curated by Tom Trago, the ‘Voyage Direct‘ series aims to release purely feel-good House music. The ‘Junofest EP‘ features two tracks produced by Dexter. Another Dutch native, the producer has been actively releasing material since 2000 and also runs a busy DJing schedule; additionally, last year saw a release on the inimitable ‘Ostgut Ton‘ imprint. The title track ‘Junofest‘ washes away your worries with its uplifting synth leads, while rounded syncopated synths accentuate the jump-up hats and forward, upfront atmosphere. The flip, ‘Not The Only One‘, continues in similar vein – symbolic flurry of reverse-kicks break us out of the intro and into an up-beat Chicago flavoured anthem. The gritty lows bounce underneath the undulating chord progression, one step forward, one step back; the vocal mix is particularly good and adds an element that the original could have been missing.

Junofest – Dexter

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Rush Hour boast a seriously impressive cohort of artists, among them the highly revered KiNK – Bulgaria’s greatest export in recent years. Known to some as Strahil Velchev, the producer-DJ made his debut on Rush Hour back in 2008 on the Hour House Is Your Rush extension of the label. His work on Rush Hour is almost exclusively done via a collaboration with English producer-DJ Neville Watson, a fertile relationship which was first sparked on and confined to Myspace for a couple of years before they actually met in person. This relationship saw two releases in 2008, ‘Inside Out‘, and ‘Full Flight‘. The latter artfully uses filtered hats and an ascending looped synth refrain to steadily sustain anticipation throughout the track, countered with the ambling bass-line that tumbles downward. Their 2010 offering includes ‘Metropole‘. The two track EP is a real fist pumping body-mover and provide us with an entertaining, analogue-fuelled take on the Chicago style. Though having said this the somewhat pensive atmosphere of ‘The Long Wait‘ is also reminiscent of the motor city days, with its meandering pads and deep and thoughtful synth lines pondering along the riverside sunset. Title track ‘Metropole‘ marches on confidently via a catchy bass-line hook and disco strings, classic use of the 808 and 303 add a heavy sprinkle of vintage onto the track.

Metropole – KiNK and Neville Watson

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One of the more exciting releases of 2011, was the ‘Black Square‘ LP from BNJMN : a probing exploration of introspective sonic landscapes. Personal highlights include ‘Wisdom Of Uncertainty‘, calculated, robotic precision bears down on the listener in this oppressively fateful number and ‘Keep The Power Out‘, a powerful wall of synthetic analogue grit and immersive pads. The album is seriously worth a listen.

Wisdom Of Uncertainty – BNJMN

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RH celebrates its pride in local talent with ‘The Amsterdam All Stars MMXI‘ release and is a timely showcase of what the label is capable of. Released in 2011, highlights include Tom Trago’sOnce Upon A Time In Amsterdam‘, a classic take on minimal with an insistent bass-line hook that glides over playful rim hits and underplayed syncopated hats, meanwhile a second and third synth refrain amuse us with interjections. The opening track ‘Caught On You‘, a typically cool rock’n’roll inspired number from Proper, sits casually at 110bpm with funk-infused guitar riffs and a suitably conservative vocal line (sung, I’m guessing, by Proper himself). From the unassuming Maxi Mill comes the mysterious track ‘No Time‘, a little gem that ticks along with bouncing discordant synths that leave us wanting more. Boris Werner’s ‘How Far Can I Go‘ is a beautiful number; Latin-inspired grooves set the scene for some gorgeous strings to ease into the landscape. Guided by a somewhat nostalgic lead hook, the strings return to haunt us for a sentimental journey across pale-white clouds and blue skies, only to vanish back into the mist. ‘Liberty Hot‘ instantly grabs your attention with female moans and emphatic drums opening the track. Suspenseful synths hold us over the edge while broken drums and more moaning take us for a joy ride into a steamy porno sample at the end. Overall, the Amsterdam All Stars album is an eclectic mix of largely accessible house and is hopefully the start of a regular fixture for the label.

How Far Can I Go – Boris Werner

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A maturing Braiden sees his first RH release in 2012, the ‘Belfry Tower‘ EP. The fledgling DJ and producer gives us a soothingly hypnotic number entitled ‘Paganini‘. Interjecting 808s in the foreground reinforce that UK Bass sound, with emphatic percussion littered with congas and shakers. The flip is a dark techy roller, darting panned percussion and a menacingly disconcerting hollow lead.

Paganini – Braiden

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Also released in 2012 is an EP from the legend that is Boo Williams. His ‘Moving Rivers EP‘ is a shimmering mirage of ethereal sonic journeys. The title track ‘Moving Rivers‘ marches on meditatively with cutting synths and soothing harmonic textures. The flip ‘Peaking Points‘ rolls forward with classic piano stabs and airy vocal pads. The EP is complete in its style, harking back to Chicago with its typical arrangement and funky bass-line, as well as Williams’ classic take on the breakdown. Additionally, the label also boasts luminaries such as Âme with his minimal ‘Erkki‘ track, which appeared on this year’s ‘Music For Autobahns‘ album.

Errki – Ame

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2013 has been a strong year for the label as per, steaming ahead with a number of projects including their fixture at this year’s prestigious Amsterdam Dance Event. Only released a couple months ago is Interstellar Funk’s ‘House Train‘, the ‘Makam Feel Good Remix‘ will undoubtedly round up the dance-floor for the peak of any set.

House Train (Makam Feel Good Mix) – Interstellar Funk

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BNJMN delivers once again this year, with an EP inspired by body movement on the dance-floor and his own symbolic explorations of the graceful hummingbird. The Xamiga (a killer combo consisting of man-of-the-moment Legowelt and Xosar) remix of ‘Hummingbird‘ is excellent also. Stylistically drawing upon his Dutch counterparts, there are elements of Âme and Trentmøller in the pathos and drive to BNJMN’s music.

Hummingbird – BNJMN

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2013 also sees the welcome addition of Moiré. A FACT mix last month and another release on Ninja Tune give the producer a more than adequate introduction onto the stage this year. A huge 3 track EP of what he fondly refers to as ‘London Techno’, with tracks ‘Real Special‘ and ‘Rolx‘ guaranteed to get dance-floors heaving.

Real Special – Moiré

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This has been by no means an exhaustive list of Rush Hour tracks and only serves to highlight a small portion of gems that can be found on the label. The RH family is a stunning display of creativity and innovation, maintaining an inspiring balance of past classic styles and contemporary, forward thinking creativity. The ‘genre’ debate has been a long and highly contentious one for many years, and if anything RH successfully defies the clinically pedantic categorisation of music we often see today. We see here the rare combination of outstanding consistency in delivering quality, unadulterated music in large quantities, in which RH is second to none. Part of the beauty that is Rush Hour is their constant, simultaneous pull and tug on the past and future, teasing the boundaries whilst at the same time keeping it fresh and innovative. Not purists per se, but a blatant acknowledgement to ages long gone, as well as a still-growing vinyl business regardless of the economic climate and a truly holistic outlook on music makes Rush Hour one of the most eminent musical institutions in the world today.

Rush Hour boss Antal was kind enough to give us a few words:

DJs travel a lot and there is a large body of infamous anecdotal literature regarding flight-related experiences. What is the worst experience you’ve had regarding airlines, airports, and aeroplanes?

The worst was a delayed first flight to Frankfurt from Amsterdam, and as a result missing the flight to Melbourne. A 24 hour trip to Australia turned out to be a 58 hour trip divided over 6 flights… After arriving in Adelaide I couldn’t tell what day it was anymore… This was a couple of years ago when we did an RH Australian tour.

The musical landscape has changed rapidly since the outset of Rush Hour in the late ’90s. The label began as a record store initially and the digital revolution had not yet come into full force. In what ways do you feel time and place affected the success of the store and label, and how has it influenced where the company is at today?

Time and place is very important, but it is also what you do with it, and how you react on things. We felt a lack of good music in Amsterdam, and so decided to start something – out of frustration, and of course out of being total record nerds. The timing was right and because of Amsterdam we grew in so many directions. I was so bored with loop techno that I started to look into many other directions, plus the clientele in Amsterdam also pushed us in various directions. Shortly after that we started up our website because we got lots of feedback outside of Amsterdam; I guess because we were so specialised. If we hadn’t started the website so early, we would probably not have made it concerning online mail-orders, and so on…

What has been your approach to managing and shaping the label? Have you always planned things out and been very specific in where you wanted to take it or do you take more of an improvised, go-with-the-flow approach?

For a very long time it was go-with-the-flow until a couple of years ago when we started to delegate properly on the various things we were running within the company; specialised positions for each person – no more multitasking.

Though rooted in House and Techno, RH exercises a pretty much ‘anything goes’ policy. What influenced your decision to make it this way?

We see all music as one. We’d rather choose a good African record instead of another techno record, which can be boring and predictable sometimes. Basically companies like PRIME back in the day made that very clear for us. They were pushing so much rubbish into the stores that we felt like “who needs another Drumcode record? Let’s start stocking Ghana Sounds on Soundway instead”; and I guess this is also how we felt with our own label(s). Lots of companies are very much focused on genres, “now this is hot, now that is hot”… We just like to think about good tunes. But of course we have our specific directions as well and we stay close to that, or alternatively we start a totally new label for certain sounds, but we try not to narrow it too much.

The label enjoys a balance between past and future music. Where has the curation and retrospective outlook of your label come from?

We have always had a retro touch. We have always kept looking into the past for music we like(d). There is, I guess just more to be discovered in the past, although we keep focusing on new sounds too. But with us passing 10 years of running the business, we felt the need for reissues and so we started re-releasing some of the things we really liked. Next to that we re-release things we only know about for a very short time, but are impossible to get. Like for instance many of the African releases we do on our sister label Kindred Spirits.

Has there been a pivotal point in the label’s history where you were faced with challenging times and/or tough decisions?

I think around 2005, was quite boring in Amsterdam and a bit harder to find new directions. Loads of people moved from vinyl to digital. At that point loads of shops closed and distributors went bankrupt. We never had financial problems but it was fucked up to lose €8000 here, and €5000 there. Having to play alternative collecting agencies, while driving into other countries, returning with cash and a baguette for dinner that evening. Having to explain “that you still play vinyl”, “yes the store is still ok”…etc, etc. But… as we decided to keep doing vinyls, and do even more vinyls instead of sneakers, toys, condoms and what other bullshit, everything turned in favour of what we where doing. Young kids came and they decided they needed vinyl records of classic stuff. They brought new energy into the game. Older guys who played digital only Tetrised themselves out of the game, because the kids wanted vinyl and didn’t think that CD-only stuff was very cool. Basically it lifted the whole house game here, which was SO good for us. We are not so strict in exclusively selling vinyl and are ok with being part of the digital world, but we do love vinyl. We like to do both so it’s all good now.

Electronic music has really blown up over the last few years and today we are abundant with genre-defying innovation and powerful creative communities such as RH pushing the scene. Where do you see European dance music going over the next 5-10 years?

Everything has become very clubby. I hope to see a bit more jazz/funk/fusion and soul on the dance-floor in the near future… I liked the Jazz dance/Straight No Chaser influences. I have always liked to hear that stuff with more tracky stuff on a dance-floor. And why not, so to me it can be a bit more of that again. Mix up stuff more, but as I see it, we all are learning about music more quickly because of all the possibilities to discover and listen to new music, so I guess different types of music will only fuse more with each other in the near future.

If you owned a hotel, where would it be located, what would it be called, and most importantly, what music would you play in the elevator?

Haha that might as well happen. It would be in Brasil, Tokyo, Paris, London, New York and somewhere in Africa. Just because these are the places I would like to go myself. The music we would play would be extremely wide… from minimalistic electronic music to Sade or music of Mali. Basically EV-ER-YTH-ING GOOD!!

Orange juice. With bits or without?

With bits!