15 Years Of Underground Sonics… And counting.
Critical are celebrating a major anniversary milestone this year. First came their now-legendary event at Brixton Electric, now their 15-track heavy album featuring some of the label’s most respected affiliates and friends old and new. From Break to Current Value, The Upbeats to Enei, Sam Binga to Emperor the heavyweight cast set the label’s broadest parameters and represent everything the label has been about, is about and will be in the future.
“If I was just putting out rollers for 15 years I’d get bored,” admits label founder Kasra. “To me that would feel like just going through the motions. With a wider breadth of artists you can do things differently. You can look at things differently. It feels more rounded and the spread of identity has its own identity.”
As Kasra delves deep into each year of operations and picks a highlight from each year, it’s clear that spread of identity was evident from the very beginning. Even if it was unwitting at first. From stone cold timeless bangers from the likes of Calibre and Breakage to the development of careers such as Emperor and Mefjus, every year has been a vintage for Critical. Here are 15 reminders why…
2002: Dphie – Five Faces
AKA Jonathan Stanley who is now Cyantific. We met on Dogs On Acid and went to Metalheadz together at Limelight – these weren’t the Blue Note days, I won’t profess to being there every weekend, I was too young. Jon was making what at the time felt like pretty experimental stuff and had a label called Replicant Audio. We were both into similar artists and sounds so I asked if I could put a record out and that’s when Critical began. I had no idea what it would to but to my suprise, the first run of copies sold out.
2003: Calibre – Rockafella
This release put us on the map. To have an artist like him affiliate with the label was a real stamp of approval. Being able to send out a Calibre single was great. People knew we weren’t messing around. It still sounds great now. It’s also unlike any other Calibre record which I’m really proud of. This was a huge deal for Critical. I still remember when he said he was up for it – I nearly fell out of my chair.
2004: Silent Witness & Break – Dialling Out
By now the label had picked up. We were getting more support and I felt things were moving nicely in the right direction. I was still a day job in the industry so it didn’t have my full 24/7 attention but things were heading that way. This particular release sums up my excitement at the time. Charlie Break had done some bits on A-Sides label and they’d just launched the DNAudio collective which I was really feeling. It reminded me a lot of the No U-Turn crew and what they’d been doing 10-12 years before. We struck a rapport and this single was the result. It’s got a special place for me, I’ve been really proud of supporting people from an early stage of their career. It’s funny – Break still feels like a new producer now, which is testament to how good his music is.
2005: Breakage – Staggered Dub
This was a huge record for us. Drum & bass is massive globally now but back then it was still a lot smaller and we still had the regular nights a lot of us would go to. Nights like Swerve and Hospitality at Herbal. They were scene gatherings where we’d invariably end up if we weren’t working ourselves. That’s where I met Breakage and this came to be. Such a raw record. It still does damage now and that vocal is so distinctive. I’m very lucky to have had James on the label at this stage of his career.
2006: Bungle – Too Late
I’ve got a funny story about this… I was talking to Bungle about a release and he sent me Human Poison which became the b-side and still sounds sick today. We needed another track and he sent me this. I was like ‘this is brilliant!’ He said he had it for a few months and sent it around but no one picked it up. I thought ‘really?! This is amazing’ Then he told me that he’d called the tune ‘Bullshit’. He’d only changed it to Too Late because he’d missed his bus! Andy started playing it and licenced it to his Nightlife 3 mix. It took on a life of its own from there and was a really nice moment for us because we were still a tiny label with largely unknown artists run by a guy with a weird name who no one had ever heard of!
2007: Lomax – Innocent X
This was a little while before Nick Lomax started working with Gav Xample and Nick was crazy prolific. A lot of his tunes didn’t come out, which was mad because they were so good! Most of it remained on dub but I managed to get this, which I still love today. I wanted to sign Nick and we were talking about him starting to write an album but then he started to work with Gav Xample and the rest is history.
2008: Icicle – Lost Hours
Icicle has been smashing it since day one in my opinion and I’m really proud to have released some of his earliest work. This was the second single we did with Icicle in 2008 and I still play this now – so minimal and groovy. Production-wise it still sounds incredible. You can hear how he was influenced by Jonny L.
2009: SpectraSoul – Alibi (Break Remix) / Organiser
It’s hard enough picking one release per year but there’s no way I could pick one tune from this single – such a killer double-A. I remember playing with Dave SpectraSoul in Flex club, Vienna. He played Organiser and I was like ‘what the fuck is this? Are you putting it out?’ He didn’t think Shogun wanted it so I asked for it. Then we asked Break to remix Alibi and he pimped it right out. I still play it regularly. This was a really big release for us.
2010: Sabre – A Wandering Journal
Our very first artist album. This set the template for the type of artist I want to work with. Gove (Sabre) has all the attributes I look for when working with people – good music, a good approach and attitude and having a vision in how he wants it presented. A label exists to offer support and do things that artists can’t do themselves. You don’t want to take the artists attention away from their music. He had that very clear vision and knew how he wanted it to be done and we went about it in a very particular way. I’m very inspired by artists like that who have that strong sense of identity musically and visually.
2011: Enei Eastcolors & Noel – Cracker
I’m shocked at how this didn’t get signed by anyone else. Everyone was battering it. A massive tune. A scene unifying record – it goes off, it’s deep, interesting, a little bit weird. You need those records. They’re the ones that become anthems. A really great dancefloor drum & bass record. This was the start of us working with Alex Enei as well, which makes this extra special.
2012: Sabre, Stray & Halogenix Feat Frank Carter – Oblique
This was another one of those records that I was so lucky to get. Obviously I’d been working with Gove a lot anyway but he sent me this and I sat it on it for almost too long… I got round to hearing it and thought ‘shit! This is beautiful!’ I rang Gove and asked him if it was still unsigned, which it was, even though he sent it to other labels. I was like ‘wow, why has no one signed this? It’s brilliant!’ The rest is history.
2013: Emperor – Begin
Conor had done a few things for us before this but I picked this release because it’s a particular favourite of mine. The two lead tracks on this EP are very musical and show a different side to the man who’s usually known for the heavier side of drum & bass. Of course he kills it with that side of drum & bass, but he’s just as good at the deeper side of the genre.
2014: Mefjus – Emulation LP
It was a real honour to put out Mefjus’s debut album. Again it’s all about working with people who are clear about what they want to do and it all comes together through the strength of their creative vision. This was a really interesting project and we had the opportunity to do different things like a live album play back and Q&A in Fabric. Martin’s since gone on to become one of the biggest acts in the scene now so it’s cool to have been there and help him build that up. This is another part of what being a label is about for me, it’s such a privilege.
2015: Ivy Lab – Sunday Crunk (Mefjus Remix)
This could still be selling on vinyl… But I made the decision to press it on 300 copy limited edition white label. Its our biggest selling release, without question. I like to think I’m business minded but not on this occasion. I totally fucked up. We sold all the white labels ourselves, didn’t give any to shops and it sold in 72 hours. It still sells on download now – it didn’t move from the Beatport top 100 for 15 months. A very important release and it’s great that Martin made this record, full stop. He came from a hip-hop background, so to make a halftime track like this made perfect sense. Sonically he pushed that sound to another level.
2016: Hyroglifics – All Talk
I thought I’d pick this because it’s a bit of a curveball but that sums up what we’re like. We might put out four or five traditional drum & bass records then suddenly drop this strange and wonky tune that doesn’t even sound like it’s at 170BPM and it still works. It doesn’t matter that it’s not a straight roller in the key of F. It’s great our fans can follow this and get behind it. I like that we can do those things and support artists like Hyroglifics.
2017: 15 Years LP
15 years later… Here we are. We hadn’t done a compilation for a few years so this was the perfect opportunity to get everyone involved and cover as much breadth as we could. I didn’t want to do a retrospective or remix album, I wanted to highlight what we’re about and where we’re going. My OCD was pretty happy, too, because I ended up with 15 tunes and between them they really cover every aspect of Critical. You’d have to ask everyone involved if they tailored their tunes specifically for the album but, in my opinion, everyone has given me their best music here…