“I don’t have the time sometimes. Between running a label, DJing and everything else it’s really hard. I enjoy collaborating more than I do making stuff on my own. It’s something I’d like to change but it’s difficult.” Not for the first time, I’m grilling Kasra on why having run Critical for 12 years with some of drum & bass’s biggest and best producers (Break, Calibre, Icicle and Spectrasoul to name but a few) pass through his label during that time, he’s only ever had TWO solo production credits to his name. The little known Perception, back in 2009, was one. His latest offering, DFM, can be found on the recently released Underground Sonics album, Critical Music’s standard setting various artists’ compilation. Its no secret Kasra is in ownership of what is now considered one of the scenes premier imprints. A track on Critical is the stamp of approval any producer into the more underground strands of the genre wants on their CV. But in a way that’s what plays a part in Kasra’s reticence to put out his own material on the label. He’s not driven by or filled with an overwhelming sense of creative hubris simply because he’s the boss. “The problem I have is that the artists on the label are too good. So if I make something it’ll have to be pretty fucking amazing to stand up to what they’re doing!” he laughs.
He’s not wrong either. Enei, Emperor, Foreign Concept, Mefjus, Ivy Lab and Sam Binga all turn in top-notch contributions to Underground Sonics. Add to that a sprinkling of Dub Phizix, Phace, Noisia and The Upbeats as just a few of the guests helping to play a role in shaping the albums cohesive and coherent musical direction. The various artists format is an area Kasra has more than a little expertise in, All Sounds Electric and Critical Sound being previous incarnations. “The compilation album, especially in electronic music, is an art form. For me some of the most formative drum & bass albums were compilations. The Platinum Breaks series for example. Those kinds of things were just amazing. I think for some people it might be easier to put lesser material on a compilation but those ones really set the standard. If you want to compete you’ve got to put out the best music.”
“I don’t have the time sometimes. Between running a label, DJing and everything else it’s really hard. I enjoy collaborating more than I do making stuff on my own. It’s something I’d like to change but it’s difficult.”
His keen A&R sense has been instrumental in moulding Critical into the label it’s become today. As he explains, Underground Sonics is a vehicle for the clutch of talented producers he’s exclusively chosen to surround himself with first and foremost. “I wanted to make sure it was a showcase for the core artists signed to the label. The main bulk of the album is about the Critical acts. The artists I work with are great, they’re so talented and they write brilliant music. A problem I face more often than not is choosing what music to put out rather than having music to put out.” Not only able to get the best music out of those closest to him, there’s also a unique knack of getting something different from the albums supporting cast. Repentance by Mefjus & Inside Info is one example. Another is the Noisia & The Upbeats’ collaboration Little Fling that, for anyone familiar with either of their work, is a unique change of pace from what they’re normally capable of. “I emailed them (Noisia) when I started to put the album together. They’ve always been friends of the label. They’ve always been supportive of me; the music and they’d always threatened to do something. They said they had a tune they were doing with The Upbeats and I really like them too. I play a lot of the rowdier music they both make. But when I got Little Fling I loved it for many reasons. One of them being that Noisia aren’t known by the majority for making music like that.”
“Everyone on the album really wanted to be involved and was into the idea of doing it.”
At nearly 9 months in the making, Underground Sonics is another musical labour of love from Kasra in his quest to consistently push the best music the genre has to offer. His status as a tastemaker, along with being one of the hardest working guys in the scene, should have already been certified. If it hasn’t, then this album and its contents will certainly go a long way to cementing that reputation. “Everyone on the album really wanted to be involved and was into the idea of doing it. I started taking to all the artists over the weeks and months about putting together the best music we possibly could. It’s getting increasingly harder to sell records so we had to make sure each record we press and put out is the strongest it can be. For me it’s all about balance of sounds and vibes for want of a better word.”
Kasra and his Critical Music seem to have struck the right chord over the last few years. It’s ethos for quality extending far beyond the music. From the sleeve design to it’s overall uniformed look and feel. 2012 saw the label reach a decade releasing music, a feat few can attest to in the fickle world of dance music. I ask if he envisaged still being here 12 years later as a pivotal figurehead within drum & bass. Modestly, he doesn’t see himself as such. “I wouldn’t class myself as pivotal but thank you!” he replies. “When I first started the label I didn’t think it would last a year. I didn’t even think we’d put our first record out. After our third release our distributor went bust. I was always ambitious but in no way did I think we’d being doing what we’re doing now, which is amazing. I’m really proud of it. Proud of the artists, proud of the music we put out. We never compromise and we only release the music we believe in. Never chased Radio 1, never put out any bollocks…”
Critically and sonically, that’s something to be proud of.