Last week Upgrade officially launched First Request Records. But if you’re expecting the standard ‘artist launches own label’ announcement, you’ve come to the wrong place… This is so much more than a label.
Named after Upgrade’s Serial Killaz EP last year, First Request is a totally unique, handmade soundsystem and a platform for ideas that could range from the nerdiest of coding solutions to the craziest of parties, but bottom line – it’s a collective. On side with Upgrade is ideas powerhouse and technical wizard DJ Ketley, photographer and designer Ash, fellow vibesmith and talent scout Scudd and good friend Georgia on all things comms.
The label side launched on August 13, Upgrade’s birthday, with Sprayed. Plenty more can be expected in the near future including cuts from close allies such as Gino, DJ Profile, DJ Limited and many more. In the meantime the crew are working on the soundsystem, tweaking, priming and tuning it for its maiden voyage later this year. But don’t hold your breath for a rave quite yet – they’re not planning any outing with the rig yet until they’re 100% happy with the tuning.
If you follow Upgrade on Instagram, you may have already seen the lengths and levels they’ve gone to in order to make sure First Request is the best possible system they can build. It’s the same ethos behind the label, the collective and everything else they do.
Last time we spoke to Sam Upgrade it was about him influencing KFC to return to their classic fries recipe. Nearly three years later, these moves are even more legendary and tasty. We called up the First Request collective to find out more and spoke to Upgrade, DJ Ketley and Ash…
This is a proper collective situation!
Upgrade: And the best thig is, it’s just for fun! I’ve had offers to start labels loads of times, but having just a label didn’t interest me at all. But what does interest me is having a soundsystem. That, for me, is a huge part of the culture.
DJ Ketley: It’s a great promo tool as well.
Upgrade: I just love the science behind it. We’ve spent two years fucking around and learning.
DJ Ketley: We’re trying to get everything right then the pandemic hit and it was a nightmare.
Ketley, I know you make light boxes. Did you build the speakers, too?
DJ Ketlley: I built the mid boxes, I built one of the scoops but we’re not using any of them.
Upgrade: He’s a craftsman but, the amount of time to build them, and the amount of soundsystem we want, it just didn’t make sense. I asked Shakedown Audio to build them, a crew who I’ve worked with for years in different capacities. We gave them the parameters involved. It’s not just a simple as building a speaker. We wanted to do better. We sourced the most powerful drivers, we spoke to an engineer for advice – how big does it need to be? How do we need to do it?
With that level of detail in mind, we passed on the responsibility of woodwork to the professionals. We’ve all had a hand in it, though. It’s been a bunch of pals getting involved and getting stuck in. Last night I was sitting on top of the speakers in a homemade gazebo putting together a compression driver on a horn! That’s what I wanted to do. I love it. It’s kept me busy, it’s kept Rhys busy, it’s kept us all busy.
Was all this a product of lockdown?
Upgrade: We were talking about it before then but it came together during the last year or so. We were all running out of money and wondering what can we do, so we thought we’d go out with a bang. We’ve made the best of the best and hopefully that will be proof as things continue to open up again. We want to give people the opportunity to play on a proper rig because I don’t think that side of the culture is at its best right now.
You get the odd rig like Elektrical Soundsystem don’t you?
Upgrade: You get the odd one yeah but generally soundsystems have been neglected in the culture. Hats off to Sinai, Electrikal, RC1, Valve. All these guys pioneered soundsystem culture in D&B and they all come from the same place as us. Pure passion for the craft. The system is in our backyard bro, it’s as simple as that. It’s not 50 professionals in a lab trying to get the best thing in the world. Just a bunch of mates trying to do something cool.
How big is the system?
Upgrade: The maths is a bit hairy, because we’re still deciding on components, but we’ve gone for a classic design of the original reggae scoop soundsystem style. We got six scoops, two G-Subs for mids, two MT121s for the tops. We’re looking to expand that next months to eight or sixteen and it will grow from there. Every bit of money the label makes will go into paying everyone in the crew and developing the soundsystem.
When are you taking it out for its first outing?
DJ Ketley: We want to tune it proper and only then we’ll take it out.
Upgrade: We don’t want it to be another brick in the wall. We want to do something really special
You’ve been documenting it on your Instagram, it’s been great watching it develop…
Upgrade: We wanted it to be a visual experience as well as an audio experience in everything we do so yeah it’s been fun doing the live videos on Instagram and seeing people get involved and keep up to date. From my point of view, I just want to make sure people know how real it all is and where we’re coming from with it. And the same goes for the label with the visual side of things. We’ve got Ash on the team who’s an incredible photographer and artist who will be working on all the releases to make sure there’s a visual consistency to everything we do.
Ash: I want to make sure we’re pushing the artists as much as we can and there’s a consistency in what we’re putting out in the artwork, the merch, the visuals at events, everything.
Amazing and it all launched last week…
Upgrade: On my birthday! The first release was my own track Sprayed but I’m doing this to create a platform for everyone around me. We got Gino on the label, we got Profile, we got we got Limited, we got so much more coming up. Basically if it sounds good, we’ll bang it out and each bit of music will give us a different vibe. We just want to do cool shit! The main vibe is us sitting here, chatting crazy ideas and trying them out. Not just music related but anything. Literally anything. We did some First Request classes at 25 a time on software that Rhys had developed himself.
Wow. Ketley, tell us more…
DJ Ketley: Well, it’s hard to teach music on a DAW online. The audio is heavily compressed across the stream and it can be a challenge getting all the audio drivers to work. So I designed something that would send the audio directly from the user to us and allow them to send files or put their hand up with a question and things.
That sounds quite revolutionary!
Upgrade: It meant we could lower the prices for people and make it more accessible. We’d love to give Rhys’s system to someone who could benefit from it. Universities or schools could use it. That, for now, is on the backburner. And to be honest mate, that’s touching the surface of what Rhys is capable of. Every time we’ve worked together it’s paid off. He’s also developed copyright protection to track a tune down to the first person we sent it to.
Wow. You wonderful wonderful nerds!
DJ Ketley: I’m a bit lazy if I’m honest.
Upgrade: And it’s very boring. We bore ourselves with it. Me and Rhys fire out ideas every week. Hundreds of them. We get stuff done. It might not be done in the technically textbook way but we get it done and get results.
And First Request Records is the latest manifestation of that!
Upgrade: Exactly and we hope people are interested enough to see it on the road. This is only the beginning…