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The Sound Of: Scuffed Recordings

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UK label Scuffed Recordings has earned its reputable status with a roster of artists producing tactile, club-focused beats. As it expands further into live events and artist development schemes, founders Wager and Ian DPM deliver a thrilling mix from the label’s catalogue, and tell Dhruva Balram its story so far

Scuffed Recordings operates as an extension of its two founders, Wager (fka High Class Filter) and Ian DPM. The pair bounce off each other with the intimacy of close siblings, finishing each other’s thoughts and folding neatly into one person — the yin to the other’s yang. This becomes apparent when we meet at a pub in Dalston, east London in late September. Ian is running late: he’s coming into London from Portsmouth, where he lives, while Wager restlessly looks around for him. Eventually, a wide smile spreads across the latter’s bearded face as his Scuffed co-founder walks in the door. An animated discussion follows a light embrace; they haven’t seen each other since their Room 3 takeover at Fabric a couple of weeks before, a night they’re still reeling from. The event feels like a natural step in the journey of a label that’s been steadily on the rise for the past few years.

“In a way, that show was validating,” Wager says. The event celebrated the likes of Wigflex, Mall Grab and object blue alongside Scuffed. It was Wager’s first DJ set since lockdown restrictions eased and he played alongside Ian DPM, Dubrunner, Kilig and Maya Q.

“People were really supporting the music we put out over the past 18 months and we carried on doing tonnes of stuff, so that show [demonstrated] that it’s not just in our own heads that we’ve been smashing it.”

Scuffed, like most creative ventures today, was started through a series of DMs and emails. Wager approached Ian after listening to his YouTube channel Definite Party Material and realising they had similar tastes in music. They were living in different cities, but continued speaking for a year, sending each other physical items in the mail as well as digital music they were spinning. Despite having no experience running a label, they released their first recording in October 2017, ‘Cold War Funk’ by DJ Ronald Reagan. “We both wanted to do it,” Ian explains, “and we both kind of had the same idea of why we wanted to do it, but it was like, ‘Let’s just do it together’.”

Those early releases were based on intent and intuition, trusting their gut until it became a habit. The logo — a black-and- white, muscular stick-figure kneeling with a raised fist — was also created based on an effortless decision. Designed by artist Morgan Hislop, it fronts every release, the background colour shifting ever-so-slightly each time. 

“We’ve got a very good grasp of what we want to say,” Ian DPM says. “At the beginning, it was more through trial and error. Now, we know what we want in terms of production skills. We try to find things that are in-between the cracks.” Wager echoes his labelmate, adding, “If I get a cold email, I know [very soon after listening] whether it’s going to work.” 

The past two years have seen Scuffed Recordings level up. The label now has a regular roster of artists, while the pandemic allowed time to curate each release with precision. One of the stand-out acts has been Atlanta-based artist Nikki Nair, who has catapulted himself into the spotlight with a series of exemplary EPs, two of which Scuffed has released: ‘Exit Strategy’ and ‘Trying To’. 

Artists like Farsight, Fisky, Mitch Wade Cole, Maya Q and Young Muscle have all gained prominence through their work with Scuffed. New York City-based Ayesha is another person whose sound the label has brought to the UK. There’s a febrile presence that runs through these releases, each EP popping and fizzing with menace, rolling drums and frenetic production. They’re future-facing, made for the club; the ones released during the pandemic evoke memories of dark, sweaty, smoke-filled club-nights.

A pandemic-enforced lockdown allowed Wager and Ian to refine their body of work, gaining fans and reaching new audiences along the way. The demand for in-person events was only natural. In November 2021, Scuffed will bring US-based artists Nikki Nair and Farsight to the UK for a mini-tour. Coupled with the Fabric show, it appears the label is only just getting started when it comes to live events.

Lockdown also allowed the founders to cultivate their vision for what the label can bring to the industry. “It’s not a secret there’s a gender imbalance in music,” Wager says. “The demos we were being sent were very male-heavy and we made some attempts to rectify that, but it got to the point where we realised if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. So, it was like, ‘What can we actually do?’”

Earlier this year, Scuffed announced an artist development scheme for women and gender-non-conforming artists, an idea which was a long time in the making. The duo took some of the label’s profits and invested in setting up a six-month programme. The scheme was tailored to help five artists develop their production skills, artistry and music industry knowledge via production lessons from the likes of India Jordan, LCY, Elkka, Roza Terenzi, Nikki Nair, Drum Thing and Farsight. “We had over 500 applications,” Wager says in awe. “We had a Zoom call with the 10 finalists, before selecting the five artists.”

Realising that this scheme could go further than just those selected, Wager and Ian DPM set up a Discord server so that all the interested applicants could stay in touch with one another. The individuals on there now “share links, each other’s work and get track feedback”. They’ve also shared recordings of the Zoom sessions, so that the ethos of Scuffed — which puts the community first — continues to be upheld.

“Being a label, we didn’t want to shout about it too much,” Wager says. “But, we have had messages from people who are like, ‘I’ve been working with someone that I met in the Discord’. I’m really glad we’ve done it.”

The duo are now deciding whether to make this an annual venture, but they’ll need to get regular funding for it first. “We’d definitely like to do it again,” Ian says, “but there’s a lot of resources involved. It’s one of the things we can’t really say no to again, because it was so good.” 

“It was a great learning experience for us as well,” Wager adds. “If we’re going to do it again, I’d want to come back bigger and better, maybe even find some equipment. I feel like [addressing gender disparity] is such a major initiative and we’re getting better with DJs, but production, I feel like, is still lagging behind. There’s still a long way to go, but if we can make little improvements in the industry, then that to me is such a nice long-term goal.”

Listen to Scuffed Recording's The Sound Of Mix below, and grab tickets for the label's mini-tour with Nikki Nair and Farsight here.

Tracklist:

Croft 'Outstay'
Sister Zo 'Screw Cheek'
Naco 'OIZB'
Heritage 'Chrome Dome'
Nikki Nair 'Cclluubb'
Intern Hook-Up 'Do It Now'
Stones Taro 'To Rave'
Jason Code 'HOT!'
95Bones & Wager 'Purple Hilt (1315 Broadway Mix)'
Farsight 'Leg Shake'
An Avrin 'Plata (Sonia Calico Remix)'
Glances 'Bulwark'
Stones Taro 'Brainstorm'
Ayesha 'We Be Bubblin’'
An Avrin 'Stumbler'
Dubrunner 'Destination Unknown'
Jason Code 'City 17'
An Avrin 'Is It?'
Fiesta Soundsystem 'Phlso'
Stones Taro 'Ton Tan (Tim Reaper Remix)'

Want more? Check out Ayesha's Fresh Kicks mix and interview here, and check out The Sound Of Worst Behavior here

Dhruva Balram is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @dhruvabalram

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