The Sound Of: Banoffee Pies Records
Bristol-born Banoffee Pies Records is best known for its sonic diversity, V/A compilations and plethora of series and sub-labels. But as its founder Ell Weston begins a new life in Berlin and continues to navigate an industry torn apart by the COVID-19 pandemic, DJ Mag discovers his priorities are changing, and a label that’s maturing with them, evidenced in a mesmerising mix of cuts from its ever-expanding catalogue
From the lush disco and thumping funk of debut compilation ‘Cosmic Feelings’ to the pop-sampling jungle, garage and trance hybrids of Angel D’lite’s recent ‘Dolphins Have Sex For Pleasure’, Banoffee Pies Records has always been a label that’s hard to pin down. Since it was founded in 2014 by Ell Weston — otherwise known as DJ Autumn and, for some years, one half of a regular DJ duo with Sandy of Dr Banana — the label has evolved as an all-encompassing music platform, releasing music and running events.
The label has seen modern jazz from Ishmael Ensemble, minimal tech from Adam Strömstedt, lo-fi hip-hop via its Beats series, and hazy home-listening on its OTAKU offshoot — and that barely scratches the surface.
“I really like connecting with people,” says Ell of the decision not to focus on one sound or style. “If I heard good music and a good project, it felt like a bit of a shame to turn a blind eye to it just because my label didn’t do that sort of thing. So rather than looking at it like a sole brand, I kind of just look at Banoffee as an umbrella brand to what it hosts. Then it keeps it fresh for me as well.”
Ell remembers being into a wide range of genres from a young age. Though he says his family wasn’t particularly musical, he found “a bit of solace in music” as he was quite an introverted kid. Growing up in Hammersmith, London, he recalls getting into drum & bass and minimal Dutch house podcasts, sneaking into clubs like Fabric and Matter with a fake ID, but never aiming for a career in music. “I think when you’re younger there’s just so much going on, you’re not necessarily sure that all your interests are your permanent interests,” he says. But when he moved to Bristol to attend university “it all kind of slid into place”. Ell started doing various music-related jobs, promotion and the like, meeting new people in the scene — and it all snowballed from there.
Now, a rough count by DJ Mag puts Banoffee Pies’ roster at well over 100 artists. This begins to make more sense when you consider the majority of the 50-plus releases have been four-to-five-track Various Artist compilations — though it’s still an impressive number to reach in just six years. Many of these names will have been unfamiliar before they first appeared on Banoffee Pies; signees are often just starting out, or trying out new aliases for different sounds. When the label launched in 2014, Ell felt like too many outlets were focused on getting in the big, established names that the press obsessed over. “There’s always a lot of focus on artists who are in that top layer and are in the spotlight,” he says. “It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Oh I’ll never release with any big artists’ or anything like that, it was just more that my main focal point was not thinking too much about what sort of profile that person has,” he continues. “If the music’s really good, I’m totally happy to support that person and release it.”
When we speak to Ell in late August, change is in the air. Though the label has always been tied to Bristol, with the UK defiantly heading towards a cliffedge called Brexit, he’s ending his 10-year run in the West Country hub and moving to Berlin. And there’s more than just relocation on the cards; take the Banoffee Pies logo, for instance — he’s recently been moving away from the recognisable cartoon banana DJ to a slicker, retrofuturist text. His A&R approach is evolving too. “It’s been really great working with so many people but I think in this new climate, specifically, something that I wanna do to change the label is start to wean things back a bit and try to work on a few more solo projects with people,” says Ell.
The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has left him feeling like it’s more important than ever to support the artists he signs music from. He’s still unsure whether the club scene will become more localised and beneficial for smaller artists, or if it will only be huge commercial venues like O2 Academies that will receive the funding they need to survive, and as such, the scene will become even more focused on big name bookings. Either way, he predicts a long road to recovery. “I can’t see the music industry getting back to normal potentially until 2022 really,” he says. “Obviously a lot of the calendar has been mirrored into next year already … [so] if you didn’t happen to have a gig at this point in time this year, then you definitely won’t be playing a gig at this point in time next year. So I think the idea of having a stable DJ career, where you’re playing once or maybe a couple of times a weekend, for a lot of people is gonna be quite a distant memory maybe for a few years.”
Ell’s aim is to use his knowledge of the industry to advise artists and help develop their careers; combining the more traditional label development path with the more modern approach of non-exclusivity. It’s something reflected in the last year and a half of releases, which has included more solo EPs than ever, from the likes of Interplanetary Criminal, Soulstatejazz, Tristan Arp and Nikki Nair. “I’ve felt more attached to the idea of trying to help individuals more carefully and more precisely rather than just releasing lots of music,” he says, “doing a bit more behind the scenes to help those artists on their journey.”
Fans of the V/A projects need not fear, those will still run — “but I’ve realised I wanna put more of my energy into just helping out more individuals personally,” says Ell. For him, the V/A projects are a perfect entry point to the label, and he’ll often test out an artist on a compilation before giving them a full release. “There’s so many people producing music these days that it’s easy to be hellbent on releasing an EP, but I do try to encourage the artists I work with to just try to be a bit slower with their first project,” he explains. “I just think people nowadays can make so many assumptions on what your work is, and you could look back in six/seven months time and question whether that is the sound that you wanted to go for. So I think it’s quite nice for artists who’ve not really done many releases to drop a few tracks on V/As; I think it gives them a bit of a feel for how their sound sits amongst others as well.”
A perfect example of this is Gallegos, who first appeared on a V/A for the Limited Series back in 2017, with sparse, quirky soul cut ‘Save Your Love For Me’, graduated to a full solo EP in 2018, and now has a two-part release in the works for next year. There’s also solo effort from Cassius Select coming from the original Banoffee Pies label, a new album for the Beats series featuring a single producer and collection of vocalists, and more multi-artist projects on the Limited and Black series to see the year out. All in all, it’s not a total departure from the Banoffee Pies we’ve come to know and love, but the sign of a label and label boss adapting to the times we live in, and there’s no better way to stay fresh than that.
How Du 'Daze' (BPLP003)
Guava 'Pitch Control' (BPLS009)(forthcoming)
Adam Strömstedt 'The 3rd Bass' (BP002)
Tom Frankel 'Terp Flavours' (BPBL05) (forthcoming)
Bailey Ibbs 'Ever Long' (forthcoming)
Cassius Select 'Sicko Groove' (BP015) (forthcoming)
Angel D'lite 'DANCE LIKE DOLPHIN (JAY Remix)' (BP014)
Tristan Arp 'Oblique House' (BP012)
Nikki Nair 'Fidelity' (BP011)
Alex R 'The Drums Pt. 3' (BPRDIGI08)
Plush Managements Inc. [D. Tiffany & Regularfantasy] 'Plush Egg' (BP009)
Gallegos 'We'll Fly You To The Ends Of The Earth' (forthcoming)
Interplanetary Criminal 'Make Me Feel' (BP010)
Tom Kami 'Rivershells' (BP007)
Lucky Charmz 'Test Tubes' (BPLS008)
Sourpuss 'Common Ground' (BP013)
Filip Szostak '23 Ghettobee' (BPBL03)
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