A fresh spin on a beloved sound, a pool of slept-on talent, a sharp aesthetic — there are plenty of magic ingredients that make a label successful. People don’t talk as much about the power of balancing the books and making sure each move is sustainable, but an affinity for numbers and a day job in label management has helped Jen Hartley — AKA Yushh — grow Pressure Dome the right way. Nearly five years in, her label stands proud as a respected platform in the amorphous category of UK club music, distinct from Hartley’s own artistic output as Yushh, which is more likely to appear on kindred platforms like Wisdom Teeth and Well Street. From the outset of Pressure Dome, Hartley was more focused on shining a light on her friends’ music and fostering a sense of community.
“At the start I was just trying to get everyone working together and feeling part of something,” Hartley explains. “I used to have a radio show on [former Bristol radio station] 1020 on a Friday. It was our monthly social, everyone would bring their USBs and catch up. Loads of relationships and amazing music came out of that, people collaborating with each other...”
Sonically, Pressure Dome occupies the liminal post-dubstep zone where techno, jungle, ambient and electronica elements all slip and slide into reliably mutant productions. It’s a genre-not-genre spearheaded by labels like Livity Sound, but Hartley doesn’t consider Pressure Dome to be a Bristol label in the tradition of the city’s most fabled stables. She recalls Idle Hands’ Chris Farrell referring to the music she was releasing as ‘the new Bristol sound’, but it’s arrived at a time when this broken, dubby sensibility in club music has detached from geographical limitations to become a more global concern.
Even if Pressure Dome appears to run like a well-oiled machine with a clear-sighted trajectory, there was no grand plan when Hartley started the label. In fact, it was just a case of needing to do her coursework. “I was at uni doing music production,” Hartley explains. “At that point, I was writing a lot of music, but I wasn’t very confident with it. There was a module where they insisted you had to release something, and I was like, ‘I’ve got loads of talented mates around me, how about I release music from them?’”
As well as fulfilling her degree obligations, that first ‘Welcome To The Pressure Dome’ 12” set a tone for the label which has maintained since. The sound spiralled into vivid, tunnelling abstractions around the 140-ish axis, sporting plenty of sound design and HD effects processes. The assembled artists had little to no prior exposure, but they were all united in the high quality of their offerings.
Even the artwork by local designer Jesse Webb established a look which has held true in the four years since. Nothing was calculated, but compared to the rookie errors many make on their first steps into releasing music, Hartley immediately set creative and quality standards which have come to define Pressure Dome ever since. “There’s a time and a place for in-your- face dance music, but I think subtlety is really important,” she says. “I love sound design, I love things being interesting — when every time you listen to it again you find something new. Those intricacies and details, feeling like it’s not just a pure energy focus. It’s a lot more considered than that.”
Compilations have formed a central tenet of Pressure Dome to date. In the wake of the first 12”, Hartley pulled together a charity compilation on Bandcamp that widened the label’s scope and brought more emergent artists to the fore. Syz, Mish, Mulengasound and Balouu all returned after the debut, and acts like Cando and Sonic carried weight in certain circles, but the emphasis remained on new talent. By this point Hartley was building a reputation as a DJ in Bristol, no doubt in a position to tap up a few ‘bigger’ names to help push the profile of her burgeoning label, but the benefits of backing these breakthrough artists were manifold.
“There was maybe a slight strategy about doing a compilation like that,” she admits, “because I was releasing music from people who had never released music, so no one has a Spotify, no one has people who are waiting for their next release, but everyone’s got mates who see it and share it. So the thinking was, ‘We get 10 people sharing it, then 10 of their mates hear about it’, and we might be able to make a little bit of momentum that way without having to rely on one artist, which is difficult. It’s funny — it’s difficult getting press for a compilation because it’s a lot easier for someone to write about one artist, but in a more underground way it gets a bit more of an organic reach, you know?”
From there, Pressure Dome has steadily grown. Four volumes of the ‘PDCOMP’ series have been bolstered by the ‘INTL.PDCOMP’ editions, which take a pointedly international approach to A&R. Aided in curation by Mish, those releases have solidified the idea that Pressure Dome is more than just a Bristol label. It’s worth noting connections Hartley has formed with artists like Sha Ru in New York, part of a committed US twist on the typically UK-centric broken techno-bass music-whatever sound.
This year also saw a new compilation concept arrive, ‘Two [Is Greater Than] One’. Compared to her modest appearances elsewhere on the label, Hartley co-produced five of the eight tracks on this recent release as she built on Pressure Dome’s community spirit by working with core label artists like Syz and Delay Grounds. When we link up, Hartley is fresh from a week spent studio-hopping with different friends in London for the next instalment. She’s keen to get these new collaborations out before moving on to the next big step for Pressure Dome, Harry Rodger’s album.
“When I got introduced to Harry around 2019, he sent me a few tunes and I was just like, ‘Wow, this guy’s got something’,” says Hartley, “and I’ve been nagging him ever since. Two months ago, he sent me a bunch of tunes and I signed them all. It’s a proper album, but some of the tunes are still definitely club-ready if you want them to be. It’s going to be the first album on the label, and I’m really excited and kind of nervous because I really want to do it justice.”
The leap to a full artist album is a step forward for Pressure Dome, but Rodger’s relatively low profile maintains the label’s commitment to emerging artists. The label’s online profiles invite demo submissions, but Hartley explains it’s actually quite rare she’ll sign a release from a demo because it’s clear what she’s looking for when she finds the right thing. “I found the Design Default release at the very end of listening through a load of demos and signed it right away,” says Hartley. “It’s amazing how instantly I know if it’s the right thing. Otherwise, I do a lot of going through mixes on SoundCloud, following up on tracks that catch my ear. There’s definitely a lot of real, old-school A&R.”
If Pressure Dome started out with no specific agenda, it’s seemingly grown in a purposeful direction. Hartley still shrugs with a quintessential Bristol modesty about where things might head next, but she’s cultivated a sound which feels consistent yet, in keeping with these hybridised times, entirely open-ended. “Everyone’s taste changes. I’m getting exposed to loads of different things that are influencing my decisions all the time,” she explains. “Maybe the sound has evolved, but I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious thing. I can’t tell you how it’s evolved, Pressure Dome will just follow my taste and do its thing.”
Harry Rodger x Yushh ??? (Forthcoming)
Balouu ‘Never Level’
Keplrr x Human Resources ‘Spring’
MISH x McGregor ‘DD-13’
City Kudu ‘Twine’
Sputnik One ‘Overtime’
LWS ‘Day 7’
Roy Mills x Human Resources ‘Sycophantasy’
Beatrice M. ‘Fortunately (V.I.P.)’
Syz x Yushh ‘Fuzbidun’
Harry Rodger ‘Bounces IV’ (Forthcoming)
Delay Grounds x Yushh ‘Telomere’
Tano ‘Keep Your Distance’
Human Resources ‘At Tanagra’
Delay Grounds ‘Clatter’
Harry Rodger ‘Bounces III (Forthcoming)’