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Photo Credit: Theo Cottle

Son Raw’s busting illegal u-eys in front of the popo.

Crazylegs released everything from screwface-inducing Grimey bangers to the sexiest gyal tunes in 2014, solidifying their spot in the conversation when it comes to the latest generation of UK labels pushing new sounds forward. This eclectic and genre-defying approach to music feels specially vital at a time when mainstream clubs are sticking to a defined format, but underground producers are more open than ever to cross-polination, combining England’s rich dance music history with club styles from America, Africa and beyond. To get the inside scoop on what makes the label tick, I spoke with man behind the scenes (and sick DJ in his own right) Andy Musgrave AKA DJ Shandy about dance music past, present and future. For anyone thinking of starting a label and getting involved in underground music – this is essential reading.

Hey man, introduce yourself for the good people out there.

My name’s Andy, me and my mate Jamie started a club night called Crazylegs in Bristol in 2008, which became a label in 2012. We spent the first year of the label’s existence dropping exactly 1 record *laughs* and we’ve gradually picked up the pace ever since. We thought we’d be up to about a hundred releases by now but running a label is a lot more work than you expect.

I’m realizing that. 6 months ago I was planning on starting one but after looking into it I figured… why not go into production instead?

Hah! It’s tremendously rewarding though – it teaches you about the music industry as a whole. Promoting parties and releasing records are completely different things that require very different qualities.

How did you get into promoting parties? That was quite a while before launching the label.

You know what it was? The main reason we started the parties was to curate things musically, it wasn’t really for the parties themselves. We did it for the musical connections we were able to create. It was putting things together that we hadn’t seen put together in a club before. The third or fourth party we did – I think it was Feb 2009 – we had [Funky producer] Lil Silva, Nastee Boi who was making some of the roughest bassline at the time, and D1 who’d just put out this amazing dubstep record on Tempa. That was the kind of cross section we were interested in. Not only was it refreshing for people in Bristol to hear all of that in a club at once, I think it was also good for the producers to come into a club and hear other stuff that was happening – maybe that would bleed into their influences as well.

I guess at that point in time barriers were just starting to break down but that would have still been uncommon. Genres in the UK were quite segregated. The Grime guys would look down at the Dubstep guys thinking they were weird, the Funky guys thought Grime was too aggressive… 

Yeah I think things were different back then, scenes would grow without really being influenced too much by anything else that was going on. I mean obviously we had the Internet but it wasn’t nearly as dominant as it is now – now you can’t really escape, everyone’s music is all over your Twitter feed, in your notifications, in your inbox.

Speaking of genres, how did you first get into dance music? What were the moments that sparked your path on your way to starting a club night and label?

I can pretty much pinpoint exactly when I got into dance music. I mean I used to like a load of chart dance stuff as a kid – stuff like Maxx, 2 Unlimited, Alex Party *laughs*. But in ’97 or ’98, do you remember that Stardust [Alan Braxe & Thomas Bangalter] record – ‘Music Sounds Better With You’? I was only about 15, I kept hearing it on the radio and I was actually sick of it to be honest. I just didn’t get it. One weekend that summer we visited my cousin in North Wales, he was a bit older than me, maybe 17 or 18, and he was really into French stuff, house, disco, Hip Hop. We spent the whole day listening to Bob Sinclar, Etienne de Crecy, Cassius, that kind of stuff. Suddenly I understood the context of the Stardust record and I loved it. So that led to me spending the next couple of years exploring that. I bought so many records – Dimitri from Paris, Demon, Alex Gopher, Thomas Bangalter, DJ Falcon – everything on Roulé & Crydamoure actually [the labels owned by Thomas and Guy-Manuel from Daft Punk]. I still love that sound, we just signed a record that fully channels that vibe. I’m really excited about it, people always talk about French house in a nostalgic kind of way but you don’t really hear anyone making anything fresh in that vein.

It’s interesting how some genres burn out quickly, others survive long-term and others fade away but then get brought back as reference points. The UK’s got a particularly fast turnover in terms of styles…

I just think it’s the ones that get more time to develop that end up surviving longer. Grime and Dubstep came through at time before the Internet was really a mainstream thing so they had a chance to grow without other influences coming in. But you look at Funky and Bassline – they barely had a chance develop an identity before major labels were picking people off, trying to get tracks in the charts and all that. They lost their identity too soon.

You said the club nights were about curating music, what made you take the leap towards developing a label?

We just wanted to contribute something a bit more tangible really. We felt like we’d made a solid contribution to the club scene and I think what we did encouraged quite a few people in Bristol to come through and do similar things in terms of being open with their program. We just wanted to take that step forward and put records on the shelf with that same ethos really. It was a big learning curve though, like I said the two things are so different – with a party it’s like you’ve got this deadline, a finite amount of time to tell people about that thing and if you don’t fill the club the party’s shit and you lose a ton of money. It can be pretty thankless if you’re just trying to do something interesting. With a label though, really it’s just about making sure what you do is quality, once it’s out there you’ve done all you can, people will either discover it or they won’t. It doesn’t make the record bad if people don’t buy it. I think it was just letting go of that sort of relentless hammering that club promotion teaches you. I don’t think that vibe works for a label. You don’t want music shoved down your throat, you want to discover it for yourself, have a friend recommend it or whatever.

One of the things we’ve chatted about in the past is the idea of cohesiveness within a label vs the freedom to do something completely unexpected. How do you balance that?

Probably not very well? This is something I’ve only recently got fully comfortable with to be honest – that the musical direction isn’t what gives Crazylegs its identity. It’s more about what it stands for, supporting things that don’t necessarily fit in anywhere else. I was talking to Pinch recently about this, he did an interview in RA where he spoke about this concept of ‘solidarity in sonic ambition’ – I loved that idea. I asked him why can’t a lasting scene be built around sonic ambition? And he said you can’t maintain a scene for long without cultural references. I don’t know – I want Crazylegs to be that – just a community of sonically ambitious artists. You see it happening right now, everyone’s talking about this new wave of Grime but what’s happening is so much more than a genre, it’s more about the real creative guys coming together to push forward, people from all scenes and backgrounds. You’ve got people who just started producing last year but you’ve also got more established guys getting involved at a roots level again – Pinch, Mumdance, Untold, Scratcha, Mickey Pearce – these guys were at the cutting edge five years ago the last time things were wide open like this. Some of them even ten years ago. Some people just don’t want to get stuck in a groove and that’s their common ground.

That Grime thing is touchy. I’ve spoken to some artists who’re adamant about the fact that they’re NOT making Grime and others who are just as adamant that they are.

I don’t know, I feel like every few years you get this thing where a certain sound has been dominant for a bit and people get bored, then you get a kind of counter movement – but there’s always a buzzword for it. A few years ago we called it ‘bass music’, it didn’t have a sound really but it was the same thing! It was a tangible thing with a specific group of people, DJs, labels, club nights involved. To me that’s what we’ve got again: it’s a scene without a sound and we’re calling it Grime to simplify it.

Geography plays into it as well. You’re from Bristol and that city has some pretty distinct movements to this day, despite the Internet connecting scenes so much. What Pinch and Livity Sound are doing stands apart from pre-existing definitions of Techno and the Grime coming out of Bristol sticks to the original concept a lot more than what’s going on in London, being vinyl only, 140BPM…

Yeah definitely alot of stuff being made in Bristol feels like a legit continuation of that classic Grime sound – not in a throwback way but it’s just very honest. That’s because the people behind it actually know their shit, they didn’t just discover Grime last year because they got bored of House or whatever.

And yet you guys are Bristol-based and you’re fully doing your own thing apart from that.

Our direction is different for every single release. Every move is a total fucking u-turn and I like it like that. I think if you can surprise people enough in the first few moves, you’re free to do whatever you want.

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