A Critical Conversation With Kasra

The living room: where dinner is served, family arguments are had and mediocre Christmas Day films are watched

Oh, and also where Critical Recordings was conceived.

Now in its 13th year, Critical has become one of the most successful independent record labels in the UK and one of the most pivotal imprints in D&B.

You only need to take a quick peek at its back catalogue to get an understanding of the label’s vast significance to the scene. From the likes of Calibre, Breakage and Spectrasoul through to today’s equally impressive roster, it’s a head-nodding, toe-tapping journey through the genre.

The man behind the label and the man still very much at the helm? Kasra. Visionary, tastemaker, pioneer… whatever you want to call him, he’s a D&B don and a very important figure.

And his dedication to the scene hasn’t gone unnoticed – he’s been nominated for a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at this year’s Bass Music Awards.

“I didn’t think I was old enough to fall into this category to be honest, maybe it’s more of an insult than an accolade!?” he laughs. “It makes it sound like I’m at the end of my career, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. But still, it’s always nice to be recognised and acknowledged.”

Award hype aside, we tracked down one of the busiest men in D&B to discuss all things Critical.

How are you?

Hi! I’m all good thanks, but I’ve got a day of emails and other boring stuff lined up.

How much of your time is spent sending emails and doing admin stuff?

Too much… I’m constantly emailing these days, which can make a creative person feel quite braindead; it’s not exactly a very creative way to work. Good ideas come from stepping away from the computer and having a good think or chat with someone. These days we spend all of our time emailing people about meetings and meeting people about emails!

How are you counteracting that?

I’m trying to walk a lot at the moment because a lot of what I do is quite close within a two or three mile radius and I don’t have a bike because I’m pretty terrified of London roads… So my new strategy is to leave an hour before I have to be anywhere instead of ten minutes and make phone calls on the way.

After spending fifteen minutes on a Boris Bike, I can relate to that!

Haha, yeah man, scary stuff.

Let’s get to business. What’s your main consideration before putting something new out on Critical?

There’s no agenda with what music we put out, I don’t ever think “oh no that’s too deep”, for example. If I like the music, I want to release it. Simple.

What’s one of the most important things to consider as a label boss?

I think it’s really important to have lots of different styles on a label. If you look at someone like Sam (Binga) and compare him to Mefjus, they’re both musically very different but there’s no reason they can’t live together on the same label. All of my favourite labels don’t just put out one style of music; XL Records has put out hardcore records as well as Adele records, for example. You have to evolve and keep things interesting.

Are there any other reasons behind bringing this ‘new sound’ to Critical?

One of my main aims over the last few years was to be able to put on a night where all of us can play without having to rely on guest artists to make it diverse. There’s a real cross-section of all things exciting in D&B on the label at the moment. I still love getting guests like Ed Rush and Spectrasoul over to the nights but they’re more of a luxury than a necessity.

I guess that diversity ties in with the Binary series, right?

Yeah, I guess. The Binary series is about doing new things and working with new artists. Selling physical records is a large part of what we do but it’s also nice being able to put out digital releases quickly and Binary provides that opportunity. It also gives us a great opportunity to test the water and bring new artists through, like Signal from Holland, who recently featured on it. Overall it’s just a way to be more agile.

Touching on Signal – would you say unearthing new talent is one of your strongest points?

That’s really something for someone else to say, but I’m extremely proud of all the music we put out, be it from established or new producers. I think we provide a great platform for people to release really great music and do good things at Critical.

What else do you pride yourself on?

Being professional and running the label how it should be run, which involves keeping the artists completely informed of what’s going on, giving them good feedback and letting them know the statuses of their releases so they can plan tours around it. If you’re earning money and you’re in a good situation, it gives you more freedom to be creative in the studio because you’re not under so much pressure wondering how you’re going to pay the rent or when your next DJ gig is.

Do you have to be conscious about how much music you release?

Yeah definitely; it’s nice to focus on a release and give it the attention it deserves. It doesn’t do the music justice if you put one release out and then put another one out a week later, because people need time to get their head around a release before focussing on the next one. We used to leave about twelve weeks in between releases, but now it’s about four or six, because people move on far quicker these days. Each release should feel like a bit of an event I think.

Have you got your eyes, or ears, on any new producers you’d like to have on Critical?

I’m always keeping an eye on stuff and keeping an ear out for new sounds. There are some kids nobody has heard of yet making good stuff and a few more experienced names, but I’m really happy with the group of guys we’ve currently got. There are about eight or nine people listening out for new music all the time, in fact, Foreign Concept just tipped me off about an upcoming producer I’m currently having talks with…

Have you noticed anything about producers change since you started?

Yup, they’re getting younger! Producers like Emperor and Hyroglifics are in their early twenties and even Mefjus is only twenty-five, which is crazy for someone so technically skilled. Years ago, for someone to achieve that kind of production standard, they would need to have been producing for decades!! I remember asking Emperor how he was able to make music like he did when he was nineteen, and he replied by saying he started when he was only eleven. Mental. All you need is a laptop, or even just an iPad, and you’re ready to start knocking some beats up.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The best part of what I do is definitely hearing artists’ new music. When someone comes to me saying they’ve been working on something for ages and they’re really happy with it I get a real buzz. It’s a bit of a cliche but it really is all about the music for me.

Is there a release on Critical that really stands out to you in particular, and what’s coming next?

Every release is special to me but one that really stands out is Rockafella by Calibre, as it really made people stand up and take notice of the label. The music we’ve got coming up over the next few months is probably some of the best ever on the label; we’ve got Enei’s second album dropping in December, a Phace and Friends EP and a few other bits I’m gonna keep hidden for now.

The Bass Music Awards take place at Ministry of Sound on November 12. 
Vote here: Bass Music Awards 2015 Nominations