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10 YEARS OF SHOGUN AUDIO

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“Basically? No. Probably not…” Sat opposite me on a wet and miserable Monday afternoon is Friction. Sat next to him is long time friend, collaborator and business parter Keir aka K-Tee: the three of us are sat at the back of a pub a few feet away from Shogun Audio headquarters in Brighton. I meet with the pair to discuss Shogun celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Though, as Friction continues, neither he or K-Tee ever envisaged the label getting this far in the first place. “At the start there was no label manager, there were no staff. It was literally me in my front room. It wasn’t until about five years down the line that K-Tee came into the company on an ownership level.” K-Tee, who is managing director of the label, adds, “Me and Ed have known each other forever. We’ve worked together as Friction & K-Tee and also as part of The Militia. We’d put out tunes across a number of different labels, so Ed then made the decision that it would be the right move for him to start Shogun Audio. I was involved at a distance purely from us being mates and seeing what was going on. I’d worked on a couple of labels over the years and it was about five years later that Ed thought the label had grown and needed a bit of help and resource. I was able to do that and from that moment onwards we’ve been running it together and taken it from that point to where we are now.”

Where they are now is a label at the forefront of drum & bass, helmed by one of the scene’s biggest and best DJ’s and have been instrumental in bringing the likes of Alix Perez, Spectrasoul, Icicle and Rockwell to the masses via some top notch A&R and artist development work. Shogun Audio’s origins stem from Friction, who was steadily making his way up the ranks at the time, feeling he needed an imprint to compliment his burgeoning DJ career. “I’d won the first of my yearly awards for best newcomer,” he laughs. “I was like ‘if I’m gonna be a DJ, I need to have a label’, so I set up Shogun Audio.” The pair think back and highlight for me the pivotal moments in the early days when they realised they had something substantial on their hands. “We managed to blag a Noisia tune (Brainstitch / Deeper Love) for our fifth release. How I did that I don’t know.” explains Ed. “Around that time my agent had also managed to get us a Shogun night at The End. It was at that point I started thinking this is something really serious.” “One of the ones for me looking in on it at the time was when me and Ed did the Back To Your Roots remix for Johnny L,” says K-Tee. “Zane Lowe played it, Annie Mac played it a bunch of times. That was the first Shogun track I think that had fairly big radio support and wider appeal.”

Scoring tracks from one of D&B’s premier production outfits and securing a residency at one of London’s most legendary nightspots are just two of the defining moments in Shogun’s history and progression as an imprint. A notable turning point for the pair however was signing the trio of Alix Perez, Spectrasoul and Icicle. In doing so it set off what was an incredibly fruitful period musically for Shogun Audio – helping to shape and alter the sound and direction of the label during the latter half of the 2000’s. “It made us become a real entity.” K-Tee says. “What it was with those guys was we signed them exclusively to album deals. Up until that point we were releasing singles; which is cool, you can grow on that. To then layout your path and say you’re gonna work with these artists for however long we’re together for, it helped us move from being a traditional dance music label just releasing singles to being a development platform for people to work with.” “I think Icicle, Spectrasoul and Alix’s music at that time wiped the floor with any other music that was on that tip,” states Friction. That’s certainly a bold claim. But one backed up with enough evidence to prove that when it came to putting out, as he describes them, “gully rollers with soul”, Shogun certainly led the way for a particular period of time. “Once they all got moving with the music we were releasing from them everyone else started to follow but no one came close. I don’t think anyone could do what they were doing at that point or touch that sound.”

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With the first wave of core artists in place, Shogun cemented its position with some stunning releases from the home team and beyond: Let It Happen, Aztec, Perez’s 1984 album, Set It Off, Gangsta, the clicky brilliance of Rockwell’s Full Circle – which led to him signing exclusively in 2010 – these tracks and more had Shogun firing on all cylinders with no signs of abating. It carved a niche for itself which undoubtedly won them legions of admirers. But there were also a number of tracks that diverted from the sound Shogun had become known for, in particular Friction’s own singles Stand Up and Led Astray. These eschewed the stripped back, minimal feel for a more dancefloor friendly approach. It’s easy for dance music, and especially drum & bass, to be put into boxes or categories. This was a trap Shogun wanted to avoid falling into. “For me, we’ve never thought about us or the way we look at ourselves as having a particular sound,” says K-Tee. “If you go back to before Perez and those guys we were doing tunes like Let Loose, Butt Ugly Martians, Back To Your Roots, all of this stuff…” “Let Loose was a party tune. Aztec wasn’t a ‘headsy’ tune really,” interjects Friction, before K-Tee carries on his train of thought. “It was really only for three or four years when we were doing deeper music with Icicle, Perez and Spectrasoul that we got defined for a certain sound.” “When I did Led Astray that wasn’t me saying ‘I’m gonna make a commercial tune,’” Friction says, “What worked best was what I ended up doing. It was clear from peoples reaction it was gonna be a big tune and I could’ve signed it to a couple of majors but we’ve got our own label, so we put it out.” “What we do is put out music that we like,” states K-Tee. “What we don’t want to do is pigeonhole ourselves. If you get known for doing one thing – where are you gonna be in 10 years time? Because your audience is expecting you to do that one thing you do but they’re gonna grow up, they’re gonna move on and times change.”

It’s 2014 and Shogun’s artist roster has gone through a fair few wholesale changes since the first wave came through. Technimatic, Fourward and Joe Ford were added in the last 18 months, whilst Alix Perez has fulfilled his two album obligation and is now a free agent, though they do inform me he will continue to contribute music to the label in the new year. With a decade now under their belts, what are we to expect from Shogun Audio going forward? “We’re happy with where we’re at right now and our ambition is to continue what we’re doing and continue to grow,” says K-Tee. The music they have store is also a major source of excitement, especially for Friction. “I can’t wait for Rockwell’s new stuff to get out there. Joe Ford is killing it and making some insane music, same with Fourward. Then there’s the new Spectrasoul album that’s coming through. It’s gonna be interesting.” Prior to all of that is the massive 10 Years of Shogun Audio compilation, featuring new music from all of the aforementioned stable alongside a few tasty remixes including Calyx & Teebee’s remix of Aztec and Calibre’s remix of Alix Perez & Spectrasoul’s seminal cut Forsaken. There is also a massive collectors boxset bundle, which includes six 10” vinyl of all the tracks, three CD’s, a documentary, posters and all sorts of other goodies to commemorate the milestone.

Our pints are drunk and it’s nearly time to call the interview a day, but not before finding out from Friction and K-Tee what moment, in all of the ones that you can accrue over 10 years of running a successful drum & bass label, is their most memorable. There’s a brief pause. “I’ve got one,” pipes up K-Tee, smiling, “Outlook Festival… maybe three or four years ago. It was pissing down with rain; we had the Harbour Stage and there was about 3000 people going mad in a hurricane. I was stood at the back of the stage and it felt like a really great moment. It was an amazing spectacle to see it going on in front of you: all these people going mad in the pissing rain…” “SP told me he loved me on the mic as well,” Friction laughs. “The whole family was there, everyone stayed on stage all night. It showed me that we were doing something important and it was a really nice, heartwarming moment.” “Anytime someone has told me they bought a record and enjoyed it.” states Friction matter of factly. “Everything that’s happened for me in drum & bass I take as a blessing and I enjoy it. So anytime someone gets some pleasure out of what we do is a big thing for me you know? The novelty hasn’t worn off.”

Words: Wayne Mackenzie

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