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Kelvin 373 delves into his journey and 2020

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As we move into winter, it goes without saying summer 2020 was an absolute horror show… With incomes cut, nightclubs struggling to survive and festivals a distant mirage, artists within the music industry have been left in a state of limbo – reflecting on a summer that promised so much. Kelvin 373 knows this just as much as anyone.

As a familiar face on the festival circuit, Kelvin 373 would normally be preparing to power up for his winter shows after a mammoth summer schedule consisting of non-stop festival performances. Instead, he has had to keep himself occupied by playing a sprinkling of socially distanced sit down raves.

This all comes as a bitter pill to swallow for Kelvin, considering 2020 was supposed to be the year he really made his mark on the D&B scene. From Born on Road being booked to play their biggest events to date, to Kelvin leaving his full-time job in order to focus on his music career.

It has been a very difficult period, but one that has given Kelvin time to reflect on his career and smile at what he has achieved. A journey that started aged 14-years-old on the free party scene in Spain, but one that has seen him and Born on Road skyrocket from a name on the fringes to the label everyone is talking about. It’s a wicked story, and one all D&B heads need to listen to.

Data Transmission sat down with Kelvin to delve deep into his journey with Born on Road and reflect on the year that promised so much for the label.

2020… the year that promised so much…

I know… 2019 was an immense year and I think it’s probably the healthiest I’ve seen the D&B scene since early 2000’s. So 2020 felt like the year that would seal it all. Everyone I know was planning their biggest moves this year and it was supposed to be a game changer for a lot of us. It’s hard to accept. Financially we’ve all taken a hit, but it has also been tough mentally.

Especially from your perspective, 2020 felt like the year you’d been building towards.

Definitely. It has felt like a long journey for me to get to where I am in my music career. I have been DJing all over the world in the underground rave scene for around 18 years. It wasn’t until 2013 that doors started to open in the commercial club scene. That same year the label was born and I started to really see a future in music. I set myself a five year plan; including quitting my full-time office job. For years I’ve worked full-time alongside managing the label/DJ bookings. It has been killer! 

My five year plan took seven years, but finally in January 2020 I quit my job. Never in a million years could I have imagined what was to come… To work so hard and reach a long-term goal, but within months have everything stripped away was painful. The journey continues though!

It must be crushing, considering Born on Road had some serious festival performances planned this year.

Yeah we did. In April we were meant to host our first label event in London at Lightbox. That was a big milestone for us being based in Bristol. We were also due to perform at Hospitality on The Beach, which has been on my hit list of gigs to play. They would have been huge moments for the label. To add to that, we were going to open Boomtown’s Relic stage on the Friday, which is pretty much the biggest stage for D&B in the world. That would‘ve been a massive achievement for us. We’ve always been quite lucky in that we’ve been well received at every stage we’ve played on at Boomtown, but the ultimate goal has always been to play on the Relic stage, so it was gutting the festival didn’t happen this year.  

I imagine the Boomtown cancellation was particularly hard to take as the festival has been an integral part of your journey.

Massively. Boomtown is probably my favourite place in the world. I’ve been lucky enough to play there every year since it started, so it holds many special memories for me. The festival has been a huge part of mine and Born on Road’s growth. But it’s not just playing at the festival I miss, it’s the energy and the vibe of the place. There’s something powerful about 70k like-minded people in a field having fun together. It’s indescribable. I feed off that energy in the same way I feed off the crowd’s reactions during my sets. Not having that release has taken its toll on me. 

Aries b2b Kelvin 373 Boomtown 2019 from Jake Hirst on Vimeo.

Amazing. Festivals have been a big part of your life since a very early age haven’t they?

Yeah I am a second generation rave child born off the back of the rave scene and traveller movement in the late 80’s. My Mum used to put on parties in the South West back then with a crew called Tribal Dance, so I was always around the free party scene growing up. When she wasn’t running the event she would take a stall to sell stuff at the festivals. I was always at parties such as Glastonbury, Castlemorton and lots of the early Exodus raves.

You were only five-years-old when you attended Castlemorton. That must have been a crazy experience!

Yeah haha! Castlemorton was one of the biggest free festivals to happen back in the day. Unfortunately the police shut it down. I don’t really remember it, but I do recall running around loads of free parties as a kid always on some hustle trying to make money. The road has always been a big part of my life. A lot of where I get my influence from is being a part of that rave culture growing up.

I imagine there was a lot of uncertainty at the free parties you attended because you never knew when the police were going to shut them down.

That was always part of the excitement to be honest – scouting the police and getting set up with rigs going and enough people on the dancefloor, so that when the police did show up there were too many people there for them to manage. Or if you showed up late to a party it was exciting trying to find ways to into it around the police. 

Did you have any run ins with the police?

Loads to be honest… I remember one time in Spain I was playing in a big building in the middle of Granada and the police cut the power to the building, kicked in the door and raided the place. They took the speakers, cables, decks, my records, and then tried to arrest us! It was pretty crazy. 

There was another time when we couldn’t get into a rave so we had to borrow a boat that was tied up to the riverbank a half mile up stream and float down the river with a bit of wood as a paddle. We then had to climb up this bank, up a tree and over the fence into the rave. It was pretty mad, haha! 

Talk about dedication to the rave… It must have been special growing up in a time when rave culture was exploding.

Definitely man. That has always been a big part of my life as I come from the free party, traveller movement. Parts of my family are travellers and have always lived on road – my dad especially. A lot of my friends have been involved in putting on the biggest raves and free parties in the UK, helping to create the scene and culture. It has been a massive influence on my life and still is to this day.

Moving to Spain was also a big part of your musical upbringing, wasn’t it?

Yeah it was. At 14-years-old I was building a name for myself out there on the free party scene. There was a big underground festival called Dragon Festival, which was the largest free festival in Europe. You’d get about 50 to 80 trucks that would go and set up, which created about 20 to 30 stages along a dried up river bank. That’s where I started to cut my teeth and learn how to mix. Before I could even beat match I played that festival.  

That must have been difficult…

Exactly. That was my first big show as there were a couple thousand people there, along with a big Function One stack of about 50-60k, which was ridiculous! It was owned by my mate Lee Manic, and it was a techno sound system. Lee didn’t really like drum and bass, but because we’re like family I was able to blag my way onto it. I managed to play Saturday night peak time at the festival. I couldn’t really beat match. I was just waiting for the middle breakdown of a track and switching it over smoothly into the next tune so that no one would notice… 

That’s a lot of pressure for a 14-year-old!

Haha, that’s the way I’ve always done everything. That’s how we got into the label as well. We winged it. I started making tunes with Aries and needed somewhere to put those tunes out. We had a think about the labels we could send them to, but Aries came up with the idea of starting our own label. It was just a little idea to start with, but after speaking to someone at Cygnus Music, a week later we had a call from him asking us to meet with him about starting the label and distributing our music. That’s when Born on Road started.

Amazing. I like how organically the label has grown. It feels like you’re a group of friends who just love playing music together.

That’s exactly it. We are all one team who are doing things organically and unforced, which is an ethos of the label. A major factor helping our growth is teamwork – not just focusing on our individual games, but also trying to help everyone grow together without rushing it. 

It helps that the label shares a collective love for sound system culture. 

Yeah 100%. Sound system culture has drawn all of us together. Whether you talk about rave sound systems, free parties, or reggae sound systems, they are the foundations of Born on Road. We are all into reggae influenced music such as ragga jungle, dancehall and bashment.  

Cutting dubplates also seems to be a big part of what makes Born on Road special.

Dubplate culture has been really important for us. Getting invitations to do sound clashes got us into cutting dubplates for the sets, and that has been really special. I think from doing that we’ve inspired lots of people to do similar things. That has helped revive the culture because people stopped cutting dubplates after vinyl became less popular. It’s exciting being able to play a song with a little twist on it. It’s definitely one of our label’s USPs. 

Born on Road’s performance at Clash in the Capital last year is one of the best examples of that. Especially the Afterglow dub you did.

That was a crazy show man! Hats off to Jungle Warriors for winning that one. It was really exciting to be invited to play at Printworks as it’s an incredible venue. Going toe to toe with people you’ve grown up idolising was amazing. The energy from our set was like nothing we’ve experienced before. A lot of emotion and passion went into the preparation of it as we prepared for nearly a year. Even though we didn’t take the win we walked away with our heads held high. 

I imagine that event provided a special moment of reflection on how far the label has come in a short space of time.

That’s exactly it. It was amazing being there with so many incredible artists who have helped to create our scene and are still to this day absolutely owning it. Even just getting the invitation to be at an event curated by Fabio & Grooverider was special to be honest, let alone playing there. It was definitely an honour for the whole team. To be on that platform with all those big names, we definitely saw ourselves as the underdogs. To get the reception we did from our performance was just incredible. 

You deserve the praise! All Covid matters aside, the last year in particular has still given Born on Road a lot to smile about.

Definitely, it has been crazy. We’ve had some very exciting artists coming through. One of the best parts of running the label is finding new artists and working with them to get them to a stage where they’re ready to release music. This year has been very testing but nothing has changed for us at HQ. Music is more important now than ever, and providing a solid release platform is our priority. I’m so proud of every artist involved in the label and what we have managed to achieve collectively through difficult circumstances. We’ve put out some great music this year and have no plans to slow down… It’s only up from here!

Thanks to Kelvin 373 for taking the time to talk to us. To keep to date with all things Born on Road and Kelvin 373 follow them on their socials:

https://www.facebook.com/bornonroadrecords/

https://www.instagram.com/bornonroad/

https://www.facebook.com/bigkev373/

https://www.instagram.com/kelvin373/

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