Retraflex, also known as Tom Bassi and Stephen Dampier, are a duo that I firmly believe have been incredibly influential over the past few years in drum and bass. This may not be entirely obvious on the surface, but I feel there are a layer of people involved with the genre more apparent in underground circles, that perhaps don’t get enough recognition for their role in influencing sounds coming out of the scene and pushing things forward.
Retraflexs’ involvement with drum and bass extends through various outlets; they both DJ and produce, they’re responsible for running nights that have gained a reputation as a staple for innovative beats and a line-up of the finest of up-coming DJ’s (the next is at Plan B – you would be crazy to miss it) and a fair few of Retraflex’s releases have been on their own imprint, the highly regarded Flexout Audio. Flexout is a label renowned for it’s catalogue of creative genius and technical savagery. The label outputs beats of varying style – perhaps perceived as primarily dark and techy, ‘Logarithmic’ the debut Flexout LP definitely illustrated variety. An album ranging from the spaced out completeness of facing Jinx’s ‘Intentions’ to the dark and lurking sounds of Need For Mirrors ‘Dead Wood’, this is a label that undeniably delves into varying styles to purvey the finest of up-coming beats.
Having recently celebrated ‘5 years of Flexout’ we were treated to 5 tunes, over 5 weeks, by 5 of our favourite Flexout artists. Needless to say, these five releases are unmissable, here’s what happened when we caught up with one half of Retraflex and Flexout, Tom Bassi:
Hello Tom, how are you? Congratulations on 5 years! I heard after the night you guys had a celebratory curry – hopefully Brick Lane curry lived up to the hype!!
Hello In-Reach, thank you for taking the time to talk to me about Flexout Audio and Retraflex! Yeah we did hire a curry house after the KMag party finished but there wasn’t a lot of eating happening, it was more like 10 pints of Cobra and 10 poppadoms please!’
Haha a curry did sound rather ambitious! So 5 years is definitely a milestone – how would you summarise Flexout at the 5-year mark? And have there been any big changes to the ethos or general mission of the label since first starting out?
Flexout at the 5 year mark, well… I hope right now we are seen as an exciting little label to keep an eye out for, we are definitely still growing and our roster of artists is organically forming into a tight-nip little family which has always been the plan. There definitely have been some big changes along the way, the death of Flexout co-founder DJ Apocalypse was definitely a point where the mission changed. Before Jon passed we were more focused on events and the idea of having a corresponding label was just one of Jon’s dreams originally. After Jon’s death myself and Steve formed ‘Retraflex’ and started the label on top of running club nights, the ethos has always been to showcase the full spectrum of drum and bass and to support aspiring artists. Even though we have been releasing a lot of deep minimal bits lately don’t pigeonhole us because next year we are going to be taking things in a more musical direction to keep things fresh.
How have you found running a drum and bass label? And what have been your favourite parts and the most difficult parts?
The most difficult part has to be making money / not losing any money, we are genuinely doing this purely off love and a want to give back to the scene. The best bits is when you sign tunes from artists nobody has ever heard of and send them to your favourite DJs and they get played at big events and festivals, that’s what makes it all worthwhile for me.
Releasing 5 singles over 5 weeks was a pretty great move– definitely keeping things interesting! What can you tell us about those releases?
Yeah I was really worried it might be a bit too much for people to keep up with but I think it has actually worked out really well in terms of giving exposure to the 5 artists involved in the project. With drum and bass especially the shelf life of tunes is so little now that as soon as tracks are released they are stale within a month. This is why we have put a lot of effort to increase the level of our output and hopefully people can see from these 5 releases that we have not let the quality control slip but still managed to increase the amount of music we are releasing. These 5 releases all work together as a series (I hope!) because they are tunes designed to destroy the dance floor. This series of releases definitely shows off the tech side to Flexout and has had support from some of my personal favourites including Breakage, Bredren, Amoss, Foreign Concept to Kenny Ken & London Elektricity.
You have core group of artists that are associated with the label – how important is it to you to create a label ‘sound’? And what would you say the sound/ style and vibe of the label is?
The core artists involved in Flexout at the moment are Ben Fawce, Philth, Static, Neve, PRTCL, Sweetpea, Rafiki & Draize but the core group of artists is always changing and still isn’t finalised – but again its something that I want to develop organically. It is very difficult being a small label and trying to lock down artists exclusively and we don’t want to deny artists a chance to progress by locking them down so we are just letting things develop naturally and I think next year you will see this develop further as we harness the Flexout sound. Its been hard developing the sound of the label when our ethos has simply been to be a platform for cutting edge, innovative drum and bass and we essentially just release the tunes that we play in our own DJ sets but overtime I think there has been a Flexout sound develop but I can’t really put it into words. I imagine if people look at the back-catalogue they will say its deep, techy drum and bass on the surface but I think if you look closer its more varied and exciting than that.
I’ve read that it all kicked off for you on the events side of things in Lincoln – can you give us a recent history, what’s been happening since you started Flexout as primarily a label? And has it made a huge difference relocating to London?
Yeah so we started putting on drum and bass in Lincoln where I went to University and we put on some sick parties but it only takes one bad event to cripple you as many promoters out there will tell you. We started putting on smaller events and started the label and I spent more time learning and listening to computer music. I think this has helped develop my ear for sound and improved our DJ sets no end and it has been a massive difference relocating to London and being surrounded by other people that live drum and bass because we don’t feel alone anymore and feel like our fingers are now firmly on the pulse!
I read that you got 5 grand from the government to set up a business which went into your Lincoln nights – looking back now, is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes, I should have taken the 5 grand and moved to London and started up Flexout @ Plan B from the start!
Would you say you learned a lot through running nights, that you were able to transfer into running a label?
Yeah just in terms of contracts and keeping things professional, book keeping and all the boring stuff that I hate but we have learned a lot more about the scene from running a label than from running a night for sure!
Which labels inspire you?
Metalheadz / Critical / Exit / Different / Peer Pressure / IM:LTD / Demand are the main labels that inspire us, myself and Steve have quite different tastes in drums he prefers rollers I prefer things a bit more experimental so it’s a nice balance.
How is it running a small/mid-size drum and bass label in the current economic climate –some of the bigger labels have moved into a commercial direction, do you think that this has opened it up a bit more for labels like Flexout?
I think there are so many other labels out there trying to do the same thing its really difficult to stand-out, your shit really has got to be proper next level otherwise you’ll just get lost amongst the other labels. I think with Flexout we are fairly future-proof because our ethos is kind of like we are literally just putting out whatever is fresh at the time and what we’d play as Retraflex so if the deeper darker side dies out and everything gets more musical for example we are going to be able to adapt quite easily I think.
Artists we need to watch out for?
PRTCL / Ben Fawce / KAI / Soligen / Transparent / Shiver / Hyroglifics / Sweetpea and DJ Lovely are the first few names that pop into my head!
What should we be looking out for in terms of Flexout happenings in the next few months?
Philth’s EP launch party at Plan B in Brixton on January 18th is the main thing we are concentrating on for the minute, that is going to be a really special night but in terms of releases the one to watch out for is the debut LP from Static dropping next Summer so keep an eye out for that and stay locked to www.flexoutaudio.co.uk also lastly can I do a shameless plug for my radio show on www.RudeFM.com every Wednesday 8-10PM if you like my mix you will like my show! Big up to everyone supporting especially everyone at In-Reach!!!
Retraflex Exclusive Guestmix