Over the last four years, Souped Up Records has reshaped the contours of drum & bass. With a rough- and-ready, technically advanced and yet distinctly approachable sound, Serum and Benny V’s label has been instrumental in driving jump-up’s ongoing renaissance. By moving away from the sub-genre’s mechanised format, they’ve injected a once-tired formula with a frantic clubland energy that’s instantly addictive. Both young and old heads alike can become hooked on the soup, a heaving broth that’s based on jump-up but also tinged with jungle and neurofunk flavours. The label’s tight yet relaxed sonic approach is matched by a visual aesthetic that’s bright and in-your-face, with funky cartoon curves that set Souped Up apart from an overly serious drum & bass scene saturated with moody shadows and bland palettes. This lighthearted, almost comedic angle belies the A&R machine which lies beneath, however, and it’s one which has turned new talent — most notably the Mancunians Bou and Dutta — into the stars of drum & bass’ new generation.
Serum and Benny V, the mechanics behind this machine, aren’t exactly new kids on the block. Serum has been releasing music since 2004 on a wide range of labels, from Doc Scott’s 31 Recordings to Jumpin' Jack Frost and Bryan Gee’s V Recordings. He says that working with Voltage was the catalyst for launching Souped Up, because they’d come up with “more of a rolling jump-up sound, which was doing really well, but there wasn’t a consistent home for it. It was a unique sound that a lot of labels seemed to want a piece of, but it wasn’t necessarily what they had been doing before. That was that really, the style came along at the right time, and the right people came along.”
Benny V was the right person. What Serum perhaps lacked in label experience, Benny had in bucketloads, having founded promotional outfit Dance Concept in the late 1990s before branching the brand out into a label in 2003. The pair were a perfect match because, as Benny remembers, “I had all these ideas and I had the energy, but I didn’t have enough material. Serum told me that he had loads of material, so I focused the energy on that.”
The pair are affable and have a natural chemistry, but what sealed the deal for Serum was that “Benny had been a promoter for a long time and so squeezed every single DJ in drum & bass, yet everybody still seemed to like him”.
The label’s early releases originated from Serum, Voltage and Bladerunner, who together form Hospital Records-signed mega-trio Kings Of The Rollers. The title is a regal nod towards the rolling jump-up twist so influential in the creation of Souped Up, a polarising sound but one which shapes all of the label’s output. Serum describes this output as “stuff that’s not too serious, weird music with a bit of madness to it or something that’s just fun to listen to”.