29,200 Twitter followers, 126,569 Facebook fans and charting at No.8 in the UK Official Top 40, Wilkinson is big news, but it hasn't always been like this. Simmering gently away on the drum & bass scene, Mark Wilkinson began making a name for himself in 2010 after the inclusion of his tracks on Hospital Records' ‘Sick Music’ and Andy C’s famous ‘Nightlife' series. The Ram Records boss kept him under his wing, helping him develop and progress as an artist before his huge single ‘Afterglow’, which has sold over 200,000 copies.
We chat to Wilkinson about how his life has changed since signing to Ram...
Hi, what have you been up to?
“Touring a lot really, just came back from [North] America, did a Ram show out there in Miami and one in Toronto, and I’m working on a second version of my album, it’s just adding more songs onto the album and taking a few off, and repackaging it.”
How did you find America?
“Yeah, wicked! Ram do Ramiami, and they’ve been out there for 10 years, it was really cool. I’ve been out there quite a lot, but I’ve never been to Miami. We went to a pool party in the day and then we went, obviously, to the Ram show in the evening, which was sold out, and it was wicked, it was Ed Rush and Optical and Rene LeVice and Loadstar, and everyone was there, so it was a really cool night.”
When did you first start producing?
“10, maybe 11, 12 years ago now. I was just writing sort of dance music, I didn't really know what I was writing. I was young and I was just playing around with the software, playing around with like garage and hip-hop, and then I developed my musical taste and discovered I liked drum & bass and starting writing that, then I started listening to Ram and Hospital, and sort of took an interest in the way that the tunes were made.”
When you were first producing garage and hip-hop was that what you were listening to at the time?
“Yeah, I was really into my hip-hop when I was younger. I was listening to bands like Red Hot Chilli Peppers, then I got into Nas and A Tribe Called Quest, you know Biggie [Smalls] and all that, I’ve been a drummer for years, so I’ve always loved breakbeats and samples. I still have that love for that, drum & bass and hip-hop are the only things that sample so heavily, they go hand-in-hand. It was sort of a natural progression.”
So there wasn’t any defining moment when you started to make d&b?
“My brother gave me an Essential Mix, I can’t remember who it was… but I had it for about two months on a Mini Disc player and it was the only thing I was listening to — and I really wanted to try to make it. And then I met up with Cyantific who is signed to Hospital Records and he took me to a few gigs, like Herbal and when Hospitality was at Heaven. I went to those when I was about 16 and I saw what it was like, and as soon as I saw it I knew that I wanted to do it, I could see that you could make a career out of it if you do make it, so I just told my parents that’s what I wanted to do and they were like, 'Give it a go'.”
You blew up quite quickly, how did it all happen?
“Cyantific played my music to a few people and got it into the hands of Andy in April 2010, and Andy just saw potential, there was nothing that I gave Andy that he signed, he just listened to my music and was like ‘You’re gonna be able to write albums, but you need to work on your production and we’ll develop you’, then he signed me for three albums, and that was the first signing since Chase & Status, Sub Focus and Culture Shock. I thought I was just gonna get a single, not an album deal. If something positive hadn’t happened by the time I was 21 I’d have given it up. That was my time limit. And fortunately he signed me a month before that time limit was up!”
How did Andy C help to nurture and develop you?
“I’d saved up for ages to rent a studio and get stuff, and it was pretty tough, and I’d have to ring Scott and Andy and ask them to cover my rent, and he’d always be like, ‘yeah cool’, and when my laptop broke Andy just fronted the money to buy another one. It’s like a little family and it’s cool, because I do the small student gigs but I get to play at the big Ram events, like the proper raves, so I get to do both sides of it.”
Drum & bass fans can be quite dismissive of commercialism, how do you think you’ve managed to cater to both sides?
“I haven’t really had people directly slag me off, I’ve heard people say ‘I don’t like that tune’, but at the end of the day I went from selling 3000 records to selling quarter of a million, so anyone that wants to slag me off or whatever, I can just be like, at least I can pay my rent, you know? I don’t do anything for the money, I just make what I like. I like making musical drum & bass, and still love making the harder-hitting stuff for the clubs.”
You’ve been booked at loads of festivals over the summer...
“I’ve been booked at Glastonbury and I’ve never played there before, so I’m looking forward to that, and Bestival because that was one of my favourite gigs last year. Reading and Leeds I’m really looking forward to, and the Radio One Big Weekend too, I'm getting a big tour bus and taking a whole production up there, gonna do the whole live thing. I think I’ve got 100 gigs booked for over the summer.”
Being from South London are you looking forward to SW4?
“I’m gonna have Becky there singing and that’s my hometown, my parents have never seen me DJ before, so I gonna bring them down. I’ve been doing this for so long and they haven’t really experienced it, they don’t really know what I do, they like my music, there’s tunes they don’t really understand, but they understand it goes down in a club, then there’s tunes like ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Too Close’ which they love. But it’s gonna be really nice to be local, to be at home and get to the gig in 15 minutes. It’s wicked.”
Did you go to festivals as a punter?
“The only festival I went to was Bestival, I went there two years in a row, I was making music but I wasn’t signed or anything, I just went as a punter. I saw Chase & Status, which was wicked. It was when they started to do their live sets and it was really inspirational to me. That was an eye-opener, to see that music playing on the main stage, it was amazing.”
Catch Wilkinson at SW4 on London's Clapham Common, Sunday 24th August.
“When somebody comes along and makes a tune like ['Afterglow'], they always make a mark, and when you’re a lovely guy like he is, he meets people and everybody warms to him. And he follows it up again and again with phenomenal tune after phenomenal tune.”
“It’s one of them beautiful tunes, there’s a great sentiment in the tune, it reaches out to men and women, it tells a story that we can all relate to if you’ve been raving over the years. Fantastic record, Becky’s voice on it is amazing — and that intro. I was very proud we were putting out that tune.”
Long-time friends and fellow metal-freaks Mark McCann and Bart Van Dijk make up Anglo-Dutch duo June Miller who were steadily carving out their own profile with killer tracks on Critical and Commercial Suicide before joining the Ram camp in 2013, a self-confessed “dream come true”.
“Ram leave no leaf unturned, give us full support in whatever our musical inspiration tells us to do and are really going to help us reach our full potential,” says Mark. 2013’s two singles (‘From Autumn To Ashes’ and ‘Empathy’) were a hell of a boy-howdy and Andy C himself is a massive fan, saying on their signing that “June Miller are not messing around! Their production is unreal… laser guided precision and disgusting bass; their tunes are destroying clubs! We’re very proud to have them onboard. Get ready!” Fresh meat. Just listen.
CALYX & TEEBEE
“We'd spent four years working on tracks, and even at the very beginning of the process, we always said to each other we'd take it to Andy and Scott first. Once the time was right and we'd spent months obsessing over hi-hat volumes we took it to Hornchurch and the rest is a little piece of Ram history.”
Isn’t it nice when artist and label synchromesh as perfectly as this? From their beginnings in the late '90s, through their work in the noughties for labels like Moving Shadow and Renegade Hardware or their own Subtitles and Momentum imprints, through the lengthy creation of their debut masterpiece long-player ‘Anatomy’, it was always clear to anyone who heard their perfectly sculpted barrages of beats and noise that Calyx & Teebee (Londoner Larry Cons and Norwegian Torgeir Bryknes) would find a perfect home on Ram, something that finally occurred in 2012 for the release of their sophomore opus ‘All Or Nothing’. ‘Anatomy’ had been a game-changer, kicking off a non-stop world tour by the duo, venturing into joint DJ sets (six decks, two mixers) which laid the groundwork for the follow-up LP that would eventually take five years to complete. When it finally arrived, ‘All Or Nothing’ was one of the major highlights of the last few years' output on Ram: for the busy duo, getting signed to Andy C’s legendary imprint was the realisation of a long-felt need for a secure base for their music, a home they could work wonders in.
“Ram is one of the original labels. They've outlived most, and grown in a very difficult musical climate. That doesn't happen by accident .The label is very well-run, and very professional in every link in the chain. The closest we can come to a comparison is back in the day dealing with Moving Shadow.”
A kind of family vibe? That encourages creative freedom? “Yeah — there was a similar family vibe back then with Shadow where friendly competition was healthy, like between the Ram artists today. We listen to advice from the Ram A&R department as their track record speaks for itself. There is a certain standard and expectation from a Ram release, and as long as the quality is met, the creative freedom is endless. We’ve never had them try to mould us into something we're not. After all, being in our late thirties, we have a vision in what we want to sound like!
You can hear that creative freedom all the way through ‘All Or Nothing’, one of the last few years' most dazzlingly diverse-yet-thrillingly incisive d&b releases. You do get the sense, listening, that not many other labels in d&b would’ve been comfortable releasing something that so often slips away from the usual d&b template, but it’d seem Ram actively encourage Calyx & Teebee to pursue the pure musical ideas beyond genre that have clearly been obsessing them for a long time. What are some of your favourite Ram artists and releases?
“Impossible to answer! We used to love the Ram Trilogy stuff but as to picking just one, or even a few is way too hard! Signing to Ram gave us a dedicated staff, budget and strategy in place to make sure our music was pushed in all the right channels at the right time. After all, you've got to somewhat spend money to make money, and it felt amazing having Ram believe in our stuff and push it as hard as they have .We've reached a new level as artists because of that. For that we are very grateful.”
Could you sum up your own perception of the ethos behind Ram Records?
“There is a love for the culture and music at the core of everything they do. That makes them the undisputed leaders in our opinion. Amazing to see just how far this music has come, and Ram is a huge part of the reason for that.”
What do you think people expect when they see the Ram imprint? “Quality!” Did the fact that you’d signed to Ram mean an increased focus in the creation of ‘All Or Nothing’, or at least more confidence and security in knowing you had a home?
“It gave us the opportunity to focus solely on the music bit, as everything else is taken care of. And we know and trust the label to have our best interests at heart. It was a no-brainer. Anyone would sign to Ram.We feel very fortunate.” Aren’t we all. The best on the best. Keep it locked.
Bristol: home to many a musical genius, a diverse melting pot of cultures, bubbling away to create the perfect backdrop for any artistic interpretation. Growing up in this wonderfully exciting place, a young Gavin Harris had always been surrounded by the melodious ingredients that make up drum & bass. He moved to Liverpool and under the guise of Xample he was booked at some of the biggest nights in the North West. He began producing and soon released on labels Hard Leaders, Penny Black and L Plates. Nick Hill had also grown up in Bristol and was inspired by local legends like Roni Size. Nick started to produce tracks under the name Lomax and released tunes on prestigious labels Critical and Bingo Beats.
Andy C had noticed both artists as solo entities and Lomax was signed exclusively to Ram with his debut EP for the imprint ‘Fait Massive EP’ immediately hitting No.1 in the dance charts. Xample was signed to offshoot label Frequency and after a successful run of 12s, he graduated to Ram. In 2007 the pair started to produce together, with Ram releasing the lethal ‘Lowdown/The Latter’. After years of working together but still keeping their separate identities as DJs and producers, 2010 was the year that Xample and Lomax started work on their first album, and confirmed their partnership with a specific name. Loadstar was born.
The pair have become a highly sought-after remix team, working with rapper Example, Jessie J, and Ed Sheeran, as well as remixing tracks from fellow d&b artists Breakage, Chase & Status and Rudimental. Loadstar continue to showcase their varied music credentials by producing tracks for Grime artists like Dot Rotton, P Money, Benny Banks and Scrufizzer. Last year the lads released 'Future Perfect', and the album cemented their formation as a duo and marked a momentous new chapter. Being known primarily for dancefloor bangers, with 'Future Perfect' Loadstar wanted to demonstrate a more diverse style of production, and we were left with a critically acclaimed album of 15 tracks that whet the appetite for what the pair can achieve.
“The first album was fantastic, they’re touring around and absolutely smashing it. And their new material is massive, too.”
Raised on a wholesome diet of garage, jungle and hip-hop, David Franks, known to the dancefloors as Frankee, acquired his first set of 1210s at the baby-faced age of 14. After years of hard graft in the studio learning the tricks of the trade, in 2010 he collaborated with friend and fellow Ram artist Basher, which led to releases on Proximity. Meanwhile Frankee had pricked up ears at Ram HQ, and, in testament to Frankee's skill, his tracks 'Firethorn' and flip 'Pandorum' were given the accolade of being chosen as the debut release to launch Ram's sister label ProgRam. Rising through the ranks in 2013, the 'Turning Point EP' marked just that in Frankee's career, as his last release on ProgRam before he is exclusively signed to Ram. Frankee's popularity seemed to accelerate from 0 to 60 in very little time at all — who knows what will happen under the watchful eye of one of the biggest labels in drum & bass?
Toronto-born LaVice made a splash in d&b with early releases on Stride, and alongside Gremlinz with Bad Concept Records, New World Ordio and Machinist Music. As the buzz around him grew, DJs like Marky, Sub Focus, Total Science, Sigma and TC began to push Rene’s music, as well as Andy C who signed him to Ram in 2012. Signing to the legendary label seems to have pushed Rene to even greater heights than his early work hinted at — ‘Headlock’ was an astonishing debut single for Ram, part homage to the past, part hymn to the future, the Ram ethos in a nutshell. His debut album ‘Insidious’ was one of 2013’s highlights, showcasing RLV’s willingness to not only push the d&b form to its limit, but also to step outside of the 175bpm blueprint and fully explore the outer reaches of his musical consciousness. New single ‘Where My Ladies At’ is also one of 2014’s freshest pipe bombs to the dome. Keep an eye on this guy.
“He’s from Toronto, an incredibly talented producer, a snowboarder/skateboarder, film-maker — so talented. His first album, ‘Insidious’, was phenomenal but the new stuff he’s doing right now is out of this world. He’s done a massive remix of Chris Lake, and a few of his tunes have blown us away. I played ‘Where’s My Ladies At’ on Zane Lowe’s show recently and Zane was like ‘I need that tune’. It is hardcore. He’s so creative, he writes his own lyrics, sings his own songs, does the whole thing. A unique sound.”
“Ram consistently sets the benchmark for drum & bass. It’s not the kind of label that churns out the same style over and over again; everyone is striving for progress. There are high expectations from all sides. Everyone involved with the label, and the fans, want to be inspired by what they are hearing and this continues to fuel the fire and keep the quality of the music high,” say Delta Heavy.
They are clearly relishing their time on Ram — Si James and Ben Hall who make up the duo were long-time Ram fans before signing to the imprint in 2010, even though legendary debut track ‘Abort’ was bought out by Viper in 2010 who just pipped Ram to the post. It must have meant a lot that Ram had expressed an interest?
“Yeah, totally. Ram was the ultimate goal for us at the time. We have both been huge fans of the label for many years, buying all their output on vinyl, going to the Ram nights at The End and DJing in our bedrooms pretending we were Andy C! It was a great feeling when we joined Ram and were playing at Fabric alongside some of our favourite producers like Sub Focus, Culture Shock and Chase & Status.”
What’s the vibe like at Ram? Businesslike, a family, competitive? Clearly you feel free creatively as subsequent DH releases have revealed — you don’t sound like you feel limited to d&b...
“Until recently Ram has always been a small operation behind the scenes. As the roster has grown so has the team behind Ram, but there is still a family vibe to the label. This comes from the way Andy & Scott have always run it with the personal touch and also because everyone who signs to or works for Ram has looked up to it as a label and influence on who they are as creators or music fans. It means a lot to everyone who is involved in the label. Creatively, obviously Ram is predominantly a drum & bass label but they have been very accommodating to us, allowing us to do what we want, and developing Delta Heavy with the vision we have. The main aim is to release quality music.”
Anything else isn’t an option on Ram. Long may Delta Heavy be dropping bombs for them.
Anyone who heard Andy C’s ‘Nightlife 5’ compilation would’ve noticed that a couple of the stand-out tracks ‘Soundboy’ and ‘Echoes’ were by this dedicated d&b DJ and producer, formerly known as hard house DJ Ham. Not the most prolific of producers, but clearly taking care and painstaking musicality to bear on all of his stunning singles so far for Ram (particularly the sublime ‘Deep In My Heart’ from 2012 and last year’s simply astonishing ‘Schema EP’), Hamilton had conquered several dance music genres and worked as an international DJ for well over a decade-and-a-half — his new focus on d&b culminated with him signing an exclusive deal with Ram as the last decade ended. D&b aficionados still wait on a debut album and can be assured that Hamilton’s happy as a pig in the proverbial.
“Ram is going from strength-to-strength right now. It’s great to see the newer guys coming onboard. Moving forward, I can see Ram just getting bigger and bigger.” Big label, big sounds, let’s hope more big things soon come from H.
Though hardcore d&b heads will be familiar with DCB through singles for Restless Natives and Viper, a lot of people will have been introduced to the work of DC Breaks through their indefatigable and hugely innovative ability with remixes — even re-rubbing JLS into something anyone wouldn’t be ashamed to have in the bag. Well, maybe. Picking up massive radio and club support since their beginnings in 2005, Ram had already signed several DCB tracks to their Frequency imprint before 2010 saw the duo sign in full for Ram. A slew of superb singles have followed since from the pair (Dan Havers and Chris Page) who split their time between London, Bristol and playing DJ sets all over the world where they’re currently unleashing new material ready to roll. Scene leaders, true innovators, born to be on Ram.
“They’ve been around on the scene for a while, doing some real quality releases. They did some releases on Viper before coming to us, and we put a few releases out but in the past year they’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head with their sound — it’s pretty uncompromising. Absolutely smashes the arse out of the place, real dancefloor bangers. But at the same time they’re very talented songwriters and they’ve got some songs coming up on their album that are really hooky – like one of them, I woke up in Milan the other morning and I couldn’t get one of their songs out of my head — and I’d only heard it a couple of times. That’s a good sign.”
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