The Sound Of: The North Quarter
Launched in 2016, Amsterdam-based imprint The North Quarter has become a key platform for soulful drum & bass and beyond. Alongside a mix from its catalogue, founder Lenzman speaks to Ben Murphy about surprising listeners, originality, and the guiding principle of sharing the music he loves
“I feel like, with artists, if I discover someone new, the most important thing for me isn’t if they already have a fanbase or if the music is gonna sell loads of units,” says Lenzman, considering the musical focus of his The North Quarter label. “It’s more, is the sound bringing something different to the table? That’s what I look for.” Started in 2016 and based in Amsterdam, The North Quarter has swiftly established a loyal following and reputation for quality, releasing jungle/drum & bass from across the style spectrum, while also tapping into other genres that align with Lenzman’s vision.
Recent releases have shown The North Quarter’s sonic variety, from the lush pad sweeps and ambient jungle atmospheres of Sam Binary, to the dark-side UK garage of Satl, the armour-plated tech-step of FD, and the futurist liquid funk manoeuvres of Echo Brown. An international operation, the label’s artists hail from across Europe to North Carolina, USA and Auckland, New Zealand — but what unites them all is their originality. “They all have different skill sets and sounds that they bring to the table,” says Lenzman. “I feel like that variety is a great thing. I also love their individual sounds and talents.”
Originally from the city of Leiden in the Netherlands, Lenzman (real name: Teije van Vliet) already had a long career as a DJ and producer in the drum & bass scene when he decided to start The North Quarter. Having released celebrated liquid funk tracks on many of the biggest labels, from Spearhead and Shogun Audio to Metalheadz and C.I.A, he felt he needed a new focus, and starting his own label was a natural step.
“After I did my album with Metalheadz, I felt like I’d established myself enough as an artist that I would have a fanbase,” he says. “The real reason it accelerated for me is that I found out I was gonna be a dad, and I felt like I needed to have something that was a bit more secure than just doing DJ gigs.”
Named after the district where he used to live in Leiden, The North Quarter sprung most of all from Lenzman’s desire to share the music he loves. Talking to DJ Mag on a video call, he draws an analogy between the label now and his school days zeal for hip-hop.
“At secondary school, we used to have this cafeteria area for the older students, and me and my best friend would run down there every break time so we could lock down the cassette player with all this hip-hop stuff,” says Lenzman. “That enthusiasm for the music, and wanting to share stuff that I thought was good with other people, is kind of what the label is to me. It’s a more professional way of doing the same thing.”
The first release on the label was Lenzman’s own ‘All For You’ EP; it contained the gorgeous, contemplative remix of ‘Still Standing’ by Manchester group Children Of Zeus, and was an instant hit. Blending his love of hip-hop, soul and drum & bass, it’s proven to be something of a guiding principle for The North Quarter ever since.
“The challenge has always been to combine my biggest influences in a tasteful way,” says Lenzman. “Hip-hop and jungle/drum & bass have been my biggest influences over time. With the Children Of Zeus remix, I felt like I really nailed those two worlds coming together. Through hip-hop, I discovered a whole world of music through the stuff they sampled. When I listen to music at home, it’s rarely drum & bass — it could be soul, funk, jazz, R&B, anything like that. Black music in general has been a big influence on me.”
The North Quarter was initially conceived as a soulful drum & bass label at a time when there were few others around, putting out the kind of music that was once the domain of Creative Source, Good Looking and Soul:r. Though it’s concentrated on melodies, jazzy inflections and vocal touches ever since, the label has also expanded in recent years, and now incorporates darker, heavier material, rolling jungle breaks, and even tracks that depart entirely from the drum & bass template.
Zero-T & Onj’s album ‘Kilburn Park’ moves from hip-hop beats with squelchy synth bass and jazz keys on the title cut to the hyperactive chopped breaks, mellow electric piano and lush R&B vocal of ‘Twenty Three feat. Ms Nayé & Unitsouled’. ‘Gloom’ by Satl, a young producer from Poland, has everything from the murky 2-step garage roughness of ‘Werk It’ to the grimey bass machinations of ‘Zmiana’. Then there’s the full vocal LP from Manchester MC, Fox, ‘Squang Dangs In The Key Of Vibes’, with production from the likes of Calibre, L-Side and a host of label regulars, not to mention the incredible ‘Wonder Years’ EP from Lenzman & Redeyes, which has the unmistakable, hazy sampladelic funk of vintage Full Cycle Records releases.
“I had already envisioned not wanting to limit myself to releasing drum & bass,” says Lenzman. “Once stuff started coming out and I started working regularly with certain artists, I realised that it would become a bit stale and boring if I just continued to do it that way. I liked the idea of giving artists the freedom to write the music they wanted to write.
“When I first got into jungle and drum & bass, it was really varied,” he continues. “And any DJ set you might see from someone like Grooverider, his sets were really varied. I like the idea of representing that and also being able to surprise people with the music that we release.”
The moment Lenzman realised the label was truly a success was when he started putting on The North Quarter club nights in London. Initially hosted at Pickle Factory, when he moved it to the bigger Phonox, he was astonished at the reaction. “When we were selling out all these events and just booking label acts was when I realised, this might have legs, you know?” he says. “The first night we did at Phonox, there’d been a lot of music that had come out during lockdown, and I was playing a set of only label stuff. People knew all the words, and it was an eye- opening moment.”
Looking ahead, 2023 will be another banner year, with releases scheduled from Zero-T & Onj, Submotive, Echo Brown and upcoming Manchester artist Note. The label is also working with the EQ50 scheme, which aims to address gender inequality in drum & bass, and create fairer representation of women and non-binary DJs and producers in the genre. “We’ve got a mentee that’s been assigned to us now, imo-Lu, and we’re gonna be starting working together next week. So who knows, we might be releasing some music by her as well.”
There are other big projects planned, but Lenzman is staying tight-lipped for now. What’s certain is that The North Quarter will continue to surprise and delight fans of drum & bass (and beyond) for many years to come.
Listen to The Sound Of: The North Quarter, mixed by Lenzman, and check the tracklist, below..
Zero T & Onj feat. MELONYX ‘Blow’ (Kilburn Park, 2023)
Channell ‘Intrigue’ (NQ State of Mind, Vol 2., 2021)
FD ‘Not That Bad’ (Better Days, 2019)
Lenzman & Redeyes ‘Hold Tight Girl’ (NQ State of Mind, Vol 2., 2021)
Tyrone ‘Misconceptions’ (Hurt Index, 2021)
Submorphics ‘Infinite Void’ (Newport Magnetic, 2021)
FD feat. Lenzman ‘Baby Blue’ (Alone With Everybody, 2017)
Zero T & Steo ‘Keep Falling’ (Quarter to Quarter, 2020)
Redeyes ‘Low Key’ (Selfportraits, 2020)
Zero T & Onj ‘Killer Inside’ (Kilburn Park, 2023)
Echo Brown feat. KinKai ‘Affirmations’ (Struggles, 2021)
Submorphics ‘Botanical Life’ (Newport Magnetic, 2021)
Satl ‘Just Words’ (Lucid Dreams, 2020)
FD ‘Your Touch’ (Quarter to Quarter, 2020)
LIN000 ‘LIN002’ (LIN001-004)
Lenzman feat. DRS ‘Grateful’ (All For You, 2016)
Redeyes ‘Fool Of Me’ (Broken Soul, 2018)
Anile ‘Back On Days’ (Sheets of Empty Canvas, 2019)
Satl feat. Frank H. Carter III ‘Karma’ (Gloom, 2022)
Zero T & Onj feat. MANNY ‘Lifetime’ (NQ State of Mind, Vol. 3, 2022)
FD ‘Deadly Styles’ (Better Days, 2019)
Note ‘Affirmative Action’ (NQ State of Mind, Vol. 2, 2021)
Tokyo Prose ‘Brilliant Corners’ (Anile Remix) (Unreleased)
Satl ‘Danzig’ (NQ State of Mind, Vol. 2, 2021)
FD ‘Here With Me’ (A Vision of Hope, 2021)
??? - ??? (Unreleased)
Submorphics ‘Orchestra 313’ (Verona Highway, 2022)
Anile ‘Nothing Makes Sense’ (Sheets of Empty Canvas, 2019)
Myth ‘One Note Funk’ (Long Time Coming, 2020)
Fox feat. DLR & Alix Perez ‘Walk Out’ (Squang Dangs in the Key of Vibes, 2021)
Tyrone ‘Come Closer’ (Hurt Index, 2021)
Satl ‘Drifted’ (Things We Can’t See, 2019)
Satl ‘Coming Back’ (Things We Can’t See, 2019)
Redeyes ‘Next To You’ (Unfinished Theory, 2019)
Lenzman feat. Danny Sanchez ‘Gimmie A Sec’ (A Little While Longer, 2021)
Children of Zeus feat. DRS ‘Still Standing (Lenzman Remix)’ (All For You, 2016)
Redeyes ‘Carry Me Home’ (Selfportraits, 2020)
Atlantic Connection feat. Steo ‘Night & Day’ (Quarter to Quarter, 2020)
Akemi Fox ‘Fallin’ (Lenzman Remix)’ (NQ State of Mind, Vol. 1, 2020)
Zero T & Onj feat. Steo ‘Darkness’ (Kilburn, 2022)
Sam Binary ‘Surface Tension’ (NQ State of Mind, Vol1, 2020)
Echo Brown ‘Kusanagi’ (Midnight Static, 2022)
Tokyo Prose feat. Nether ‘Tremble’ (Wild Grace, 2018)
Submorphics feat. Satl & VEDA BLACK ‘Let It Shine’ (Newport Magnetic, 2021)