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15 Years Deep: The Vandal Records Story With SKS

Toulouse massive: no other French city has had quite as much of an impact on drum & bass.

First generation talents to emerge from Toulouse include Lutin, the ex-Signs member who’s largely recognised as France’s first D&B DJ, Redeyes, who spent most of the 2000s on labels such as Bingo Beats, Innerground, Trouble On Vinyl and Spearhead and is now doing serious bits on The North Quarter, and SKS – another one of France’s earliest drum & bass DJs and one of Toulouse’s key promoters.

Everything is centred around the city’s famous Le Bikini club, a venue which isn’t just regularly rated by touring DJs as one of their favourite places to play around the world but also has its own swimming pool and restaurant. Since the early foundations were dug in the late 90s / early 2000s the scene has continued to flourish and now boasts the likes of Monty, Redpill, The Clamps, Bl4ck Owlz, Opsen, Trail and more.

For the last 15 years Toulouse has also been home to Vandal Records. What began as an imprint to support local talent, it’s become a much wider platform featuring a whole range of international artists from S.P.Y to Zero T to Nickbee.

By label founder SKS’s admission it’s had its sleepy moments, but right now Vandal appears to be  firing on all cylinders. It has been for the last five years with a whole series of releases placing the label in a sweet venn overlap between minimal, soulful, deep and halftime.

But the best could still be to come; SKS tells us this month’s Fifteen Years Of Vandal compilation is his proudest label moment yet. With a rollcall ranging from established and super respected heads like Nymfo, Fre4knc and Arkaik to some of the most exciting new-gen statesmen to emerge in recent years such as Monty, Rizzle, Kiril, The Outsiders and Ill Truth (to name a few) it’s not hard to see why SKS (real name Julien) feels this way.

We called him up to find out more about France’s most longstanding drum & bass label, its roots in the free party movement and how club culture runs through Julien’s family DNA…

Original French D&B representing… I think you’re one of the earliest D&B DJs alongside Lionel Lutin, right?  

He was there at the start and I am the second generation… Me and my friends were doing rave parties at the very end of the 90s. We had some hardtek DJs and we wanted some drum & bass so we asked D&B DJs of the city like Eskimo and Le Lutin. This was at the start of this music in France. Like 97 to 2000. That was when any type of French drum & bass scene began. In England you’d had it for so long, you had ATM magazine and things like that. For us it was dream and we wanted to create that here. We had a nice club to do it here; Le Bikini. It still exists today and it’s been the centre of our community for people to DJ, make music, promote parties and anything creative around it.

There was no internet back then so can you remember the first time you heard it. How did D&B infiltrate your life?

Through Lionel. He was playing in it at a techno party, I really liked it so asked him what it was. We became friends then he had to go to London to Notting Hill Carnival where he played for Renegade Hardware. I was in London to visit friends and do my first Notting Hill Carnival too so we meet up, we went to Blackmarket and picked up loads of promos. I went to the Renegade Carnival block party then I went to Fabric’s Playaz night with my friends. That was my introduction.

Nice. Direct to the source. Did you come over a lot after that?

Not as much as I would like but we had a good record shop here. They’d get one promo from each of the big labels and we’d wait outside the shop every Tuesday to be first for the promos. It was like the sneaker game. Some sometimes one of us would get the Ram one or I’d get the Hospital one or we’d trade them. It meant we met up every week without fail. We would always meet and chat about music.

When did the idea of a label come to you? 2004 was quite early on in this. But there was a gap between the early releases…

Yeah I was in a free Party crew called Kimyst and we were very close with the Fox Tanz and Spiral Tribe do you know them?

Yeah man legendary free party crew

Well Fox Tanz guys bought a nightclub that once belonged to my family. They turned into this space with studios and where you could have parties so whenever Spiral Tribe came they would have somewhere to stay in South France . It became one of the main meeting places for the rave community in France. At one point during this I spoke to the man who brought the nightclub (Loul) and he said he wanted to launch a label, a drum & bass one. So it began when he invested in it and I ran it, found the artists and managed it all.

Did this dude buy the club directly off your family?

No there was about 10 years in between, they sold it when I was a young kid.

But nightlife and club culture is in your DNA

Yes definitely. And what’s funny is that all of my family met in that club. It’s a very historic place for me.

Wow that’s awesome. Take me back to that first release. Yourself and an act called Shadow 1…

Yes he only did this release It’s the guy who taught me a lot about production and we did this track, the B-side was by Youthman and Brooxs two producers from Toulouse

It’s got a proper 2004 sound to it hasn’t it?

Yes it does. It sounds a bit English but still has a French rave touch. It was inspired by Renegade releases with those amazing intros and that sense of energy. It was a close nod to what we were hearing from the UK.

Then Redeyes came along…

Yeah with Skitty. The idea for the label was to support local and French talent. But Julien Redeyes was working with UK labels like Trouble On Vinyl and start to get contacts in the scene, so I thought I’d ask some International artists on the label . Redeyes was speaking with Skitty on aim and one of his tunes is my all time favourite D&B tune’s (Sweet Vibrations) so I ask redeyes to introduce him to me and asked him if he wanted a release on the label.

It was an interesting time in terms of drum & bass developing around the world. Did you feel you made a connection with the UK scene with the early releases?  

I think it took a few releases for us to get to the same level in terms of production and how things sounded but the second release with two upcoming talents in the UK scene like Redeyes and Skitty started to make people aware. Also it was before the internet was such a big thing so you never really knew how people played your music or what they did with it. You’d only know when you get the sales statement on how many records were sold or if you had the chance to see the artists playing or a friend telling you that an artists have played it at a party….

Give me some turning points where you could feel the label was developing…

At the start we release a vinyl a year from 2004 to 2010. Vinyl was a long process to enforce because I want everything was done like the UK labels but we were in France so take a bit of time. During this six years we had some great releases, like when S.P.Y remixed Redeyes’ My Valentine for us. That was a great moment. And then Redeyes played a much bigger role when he came onboard for the label and we relaunched it.

That was around 2013/14, right?

Yes. That was a big turning point and we started working with new artists, guys like Nickbee, Hyroglifics and Lockjaw to name a few…. That was a new burst of energy and now working with guys like Monty, Sustance ,Arkaik. We also  did some cool projects as halftime series  “Grand Royal” on Vandal sub-label Vandal Limited or our Modern Soul LP showcasing soulfull vibe. Now Julien Redeyes is not working anymore as he focuses on his own career. But This Fifteen Years album has been the biggest turning point for me. This is the most important thing i’ve done. It represents exactly from design to the music what I’m into, this album down to the very detail is my favourite release.

Like a new chapter…

Totally man. And it happened by surprise. I was focused with my parties and I didn’t even realise it was 15 years of the label until after last summer. It dawned on me and I thought ‘shit man, I need to celebrate this.’ So I emailed all my favourite artists, guys who have played at my party and people I love and asked them to represent and the album is what happened.

The Vandal party and other nights you promote have been the main thing for you consistently all along, hasn’t it?

I’ve been a promoter for 16 years, having done my first proper drum & bass party in 2003. As opposed to the raves I organised between 1999 and 2003. It’s quite a stressful occupation and sometimes a big risk but I enjoy it, I have had some amazing parties and I love bringing people together.

Monty told us he got into drum & bass through one of your nights!

He said the first night he went and heard some drum & bass was a party of mine called Dirty which represents all drum and bass spectrum. I think he was more into reggae and dub before this night…

Look at the monster you created!

Haha! His parents did that! I remember him catching me at the backstage then and asking for feedback about Soundcloud links he send. I was always checking it and giving any thoughts and feedback I could. It wasn’t quite finished but you could hear something big waiting to happen in it. I told Monty to finish it, take out less sounds, just trying to tell him what I feel when I listen to his music. He stopped asking for feedback and after a year he sent me an EP and I got nothing to say anymore. He’d come on so much.

There’s clearly a wicked community in Toulouse but I love how you’re all on totally different tips. Redeyes on a soul tip, Redpill on a heavy tip. Signs (RIP) on a freaky tip. Monty on a dark tech tip. How much do you collab or support when you’re all so sonically widespread?

It depends on the moments… We don’t have same ages and it’s different generations so it happens through meeting at parties and life. But we all love and appreciate what we do, whatever the style. We do support each other and there’s some exciting collaborations happening. Nico who was in Signs and The Clamps have combined to create something huge they both bring craziness in their own way. So that’s really exciting.

Proper community vibes!

For sure. It’s small here – everyone knows everyone and we go back for many years and now it’s great to have younger guys coming through like Opsen, Monty, Redpill… It’s inspiring to see this happening and travel the world representing Vandal; recently we played London, Amsterdam, Croatia. Monty is playing out of Toulouse very often, Redeyes has been for years. But we always touch base and try to see each other at least one day at my party. Even if they’re not playing, they come and hang and we all catch up with people. It’s always a good moment and it keeps the meeting point in real life. it’s another good reason to have this party running. I have no plans on stopping this…

15 Years Of Vandal is out now

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