From humble beginnings as a birthday event to achieving Juno number ones, two million Soundcloud streams and stages at the biggest festivals in Wales lined up for later this year; the rise of PullUp Recordings has been nothing short of remarkable.
However, it’s important to note from the off that this rapid progress is far from a fluke. Instead, it’s down to the tireless workrate of head honchos Sam Southan and John Lewis.
From John dedicating almost every waking hour to either working in his events management role or PullUp, to Sam turning down the chance to move to Australia and instead taking a job in Cardiff to be closer to the label, the Cardiff-based duo are now reaping the rewards of their consistent hard work.
They also pay homage to the team that surrounds them, whom they now view as a family brought together by the label. As well as the behind the scene team, PullUp has become the home to some of the scene’s most exciting newcomers such as Bennie, SMG, BSEARL, Arkala Dre, and Kippo, whose growth has coincided with that of PullUp Recordings.
Firmly at the forefront of a burgeoning Welsh drum and bass scene that has seen a host of producers and labels grow exponentially in recent years, Sam and John’s ambitions are limitless and show no sign of slowing down anytime soon. We caught up with the pair of them to delve into the past, present… And the sparkling future of PullUp.
Alright guys. Two years on from the label’s debut release in 2020… It’s crazy how all of this has evolved from you not being able to put on events!
Sam: Originally, we planned on rebranding the entirety of PullUp and starting a record label alongside the established events just before the new year going into 2020, but it never fully materialised. We weren’t sure about names etc.
John: Some of the names were shite…. (laughs)
What sort of names did you come up with?
Sam: Roadblock Records was one.
John: You really loved that one. Sam was really pushing for it but I was just like no haha. I always liked PullUp and now it’s stuck.
Sam: Before Covid struck, we had our biggest show yet in Clwb Ifor Bach coming up with Pick n Mix. We were super excited about it, the lineup was sick. But we went into lockdown, had to cancel the event, and refunded the tickets. It was gutting because it would’ve been our biggest show to date, but obviously that led to us speeding up our plans with releasing music so I guess for us it luckily all worked out.
I can remember that huge Soundcloud boom. So many brands became labels and used the time to put out music.
John: Yeah it was lucky we had started to get the ball rolling on a label long before covid, which really put us ahead.
Sam: Yeah, definitely have Oli from Kingpin to thank for helping us with this. They’d been putting out music for a few months before. I knew him from living in Reading, so he helped us out at the start.
I bet there’s some nice competition between you and Kingpin.
Sam: 100%. It does get competitive haha. there’s a lot of love between the labels that emerged with us as well like Encrypted, No More Parties, Kingpin and Faded Audio.
John: It’s a friendly competition. The whole industry is competing across the board, it even gets competitive between Sam and I.
It’s great to see how much good emerged in the drum and bass scene when no one was able to throw events. You look at how far you’ve come as well, with 2 million plays on Soundcloud alone now.
Sam: We’re so happy with the streaming numbers. We’ve had SMG’s Temple EP and Bennie’s No Better EP both go to number one on the Juno charts as well. The biggest achievement for me now is seeing how far the boys that we work with have come.
John: When we started, Bennie was just getting started as well. He was our first resident and now he’s getting international bookings and has well over 10,000 followers on Soundcloud.
What I like a lot is that PullUp and the artists you’ve worked with have grown together. Do you find a struggle in balancing the label and events side now though?
John: The balance is a difficult one to stay on top of, for sure. It’s just a matter of juggling it all because you set out a nice plan for the year, but your priorities constantly shift as time progresses. PullUp and work is 80% of our lives.
Sam: I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made a plan and it hasn’t gone fully to plan because life happens. We’re so busy, I don’t even have any mates anymore…
Not even John?
Sam: No, not at all hahah….
Haha. How have things changed for you with the landscape of Cardiff’s club scene changing as well? The city has lost quite a few clubs in recent years.
John: When Undertone closed, it was a bit of a struggle at first, but it pushed us onto bigger venues so it worked out for the best in our case.
Sam: I actually failed my economics exam when I was in Switzerland because Undertone closed. I found out our night was getting cancelled and I thought one exam, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t that important. I failed the exam badly haha, but we managed to get a new venue in Loco’s at the time and double the capacity of the event.
What are you two aspiring to in terms of venues now?
Sam: Printworks, that’s the dream. Or the Vaults in Cardiff as something to aim for sooner.
John: Realistically, Tramshed is the next club to build ourselves up to in Cardiff, aside from the festivals we’ve got planned. To go from Undertone to Tramshed in under three years, considering we couldn’t throw an event for 18 months, would be a crazy thought.
It definitely would be. If we take a step back from the future, let’s talk about how PullUp was actually started?
Sam: Basically, it came from my 19th birthday party. My housemates wouldn’t let me have a party in the house, so I ended up booking out Undertone. My mates from back home and I all DJed, so we made some branding, came up with the name PullUp and put on this night. It was the busiest Thursday night I’ve ever seen there haha. The events came from that, but we still hadn’t done much marketing, so John came in and scaled us up. I almost see PullUp as firstly the ‘birthday parties’ and then John came in and we became a brand.
From the roots of the brand too, there has always seemed to be an emphasis on bringing Welsh talent through as well.
John: It’s very important to support Welsh artists. From the start, we’ve always wanted to bring people on this journey with us, giving them opportunities that they maybe wouldn’t have otherwise got. To be able to offer that platform for DJs and producers is very important to us.
With the likes of Bennie, it’s so exciting to see how far they can go. Especially seeing as your brands have grown together.
John: Bennie is a different class. He’ll do very well for himself. He loves releasing with us and it’s great that his most successful releases have been on PullUp. He’s got a lot of exciting stuff to come with some much bigger brands so we’re so excited to see him spread his wings as well.
He certainly does. You seem to generally have a really good team surrounding you at PullUp.
John: We have a great team around us. They’re very strong and loyal and it’s a really tight circle, obviously people like Gibbo get stuck in with us as well, which makes it all possible. There are loads of people helping us to push it forward and some have become best mates in the process.
Sam: It’s become a little family now. We even went on holiday together.
John: It’s a group of people that would have never met without PullUp, yet it’s formed a team of friends that support each other. It’s just like a friendship group, Sam’s only friendship group haha.
Sam: I promise I do have friends haha. You can clickbait this as ‘Lonely Man Runs Drum & Bass Label Now’.
Haha. So what are PullUp’s plans for 2022? I know you’ve got a stage at In It Together, Wales’ new biggest festival!
Sam: Yeah, so we’re hosting that stage at In It Together and we’ve got a stage at and we have a stage at Inside Out Festival this weekend in Cardiff! We’re playing the main stage at Escaped Festival in Swansea and we’ve had a set in Prague with Dazed this month too. Bennie was out there with us as well. Those are our big ones announced so far.
John: We’ve got another secret location event being lined up too!
A proper secret?
John: Haha, it is. We didn’t even tell the boys in the team anything about the last one. It was so secretive and this is as well.
What about on the music side of things?
Sam: We’ve got EPs lined up for the year, the next one is going to be from BSEARL. We’ve also got a dancefloor EP from Feenix coming up and an awesome debut EP from new duo Paleblu & Kray.
John: We’ve got loads of sick remixes coming as well. Personally, I love the idea of putting out music from our core producers at the label and then getting really good remixes from producers we don’t work with as often. Of course, we’ll always be looking to work with other producers as well though.
Sam: Then it’ll get to freshers and we’ll have loads more planned for them as well!