Chris Royle AKA Dexta is the man behind Diffrent Music, an imprint that thrives on the edges of drum & bass, skirting around run-of-the-mill sounds and releasing music that’s, well…different. By his own admission he’s “never released a drum & bass record”, yet the London-based artist and label manager’s talent for purveying high-quality, forward-thinking sonics has drawn praise from every corner of the drum n bass scene.
When you listen to music from Diffrent, from artists such as Lakeway, Crypticz, Sense MC and Jekyll, you get the sense that even those responsible for it aren’t quite sure what it is. It’s just… Art. It’s pure creativity channelled through low frequencies and pink Giraffes. In a scene that’s become increasingly stratified, labels such as Diffrent Music don’t just strive to cross sub-genre boundaries, they stroll past the very idea of boundaries and tell them to fuck off as they do it.
2017 has seen Diffrent Music’s first every full-length album release courtesy of Sense MC and his eye-wateringly good Elephant In The Room, which features a range of producers and an even wider range of tempos and styles. With upcoming releases from Crypticz, Danny Scrilla and the man himself, we caught up with Dexta to get an inside look into how one of drum & bass music’s most individualistic label had its beginnings, and how Diffrent Music got to where it is today…
Let’s begin with why you started the label…
In 2010 I was DJing on a radio station and Jamie Hunchbak, who was called JnrBlue back then and was releasing music on a few different labels on more of a bassy, jump up kind of tip.
I was unemployed for a little while and I got sent on a Job Centre skillset course, where luckily I got to pick a music studio in West London. The guy there asked me if there was any other area I’d like to explore in the music industry, due to already knowing hiow to make music myself, and I mentioned I’d been thinking about getting involved in publishing or releasing records.
He ended up mentoring me for about half a year, during the period of time I was in touch with Jamie a lot at the time, and he’d been sending me tunes. So naturally, in my head I was thinking about taking this music and pushing it via a record label, along with other unsigned talent that we were interested in at the time, like Arkaik, Jekyll, and Shaded so it all ended up happening really organically.
Was it daunting when you first started?
It was just fun, y’know? We didn’t have a game-plan, we just had some music that we really believed in and was music that went against the grain – it was unlike anything we’d heard before. It wasn’t daunting, in fact it’s more daunting now trying to stay ahead of the curve… Is there even a curve? So no, it wasn’t scary man it was just really fun; vibing, making tunes, doing podcasts and putting out good music.
Were there any moments that didn’t seem significant at the time, but looking back now turned out to be really pivotal?
The 10th release back in 2011, a year or so after we launched, I put my balls on the line and suggested that as it was our 10th release, we should do a 10” vinyl with a guy called Frederic Robinson, who was unsigned and quite unknown at that time.
People started paying attention to us because there were physical products in the shops, the music was very different, it even caught Tony Colman, Hospital Records’s ear, who’s since supported us a lot on his podcasts and whatnot – big up Tony!
You have a sub-label called GiraffeStep. How’s that different and what place does it hold within the Diffrent Music family?
Giraffestep came at a point where I wanted to toy with the idea of a sub-label, start from scratch. I was also looking at new artists, so it was about building a new platform, whilst giving space for our established artists on the main label. Nowadays, Giraffestep is a series of digital-only singles that fill in the gaps between the physical products, be it CD or vinyl, rather than a sub-label.
How does Leonard the pink giraffe fit into that story?
The whole thing about the pink giraffe was that he stood out, he was the different one. He’s the giraffe who’s peering over the tree to see what else is going on, then doing his own thing.
He had to have a name really and without boring you too much, ‘The Len’, was a local legend where I grew up in North London, in LEN11. I don’t know where the connection came from, but it just stuck. [laughs]
How do you think the music has gone this year?
It’s been a bit of a mad year and if all goes to plan then we’ll have had 14 releases in 2017. Even our first ever artist album ‘The Elephant In The Room’ by Sense MC. there’s been loads of new talent pushing through the GiraffeStep series and we’ve had a few CDs and USB releases too – it’s been crazy.
Is there anything specifically ‘Diffrent’ that you look for when signing music?
Like I said right at the beginning there was no plan, there was no original aim with Diffrent so no I’m not ‘looking’ for anything specific.
Basically, if I hear a tune that someone’s sent me, and it really connects with me, something that’s in a direction we haven’t gone before – something totally fresh, then I’m down! Whether it’s already out there, deep in the Savannah and I just haven’t heard it yet, is irrelevant, as long as it’s still different to me and this little scene we’re building, then that’s what matters.
Also, I’m a big fan of B-sides. the tune labels thought wouldn’t do very well but for me it’s the flip that I tend to prefer, in terms of a connection, and vibes.
If Diffrent music is different that implies a normal or a norm – what do you see that as being?
The Beatport top 100 [laughs]. The tunes that you hear day in and day out, like The Nine and stuff like that. I mean when The Nine came out it was way ahead of its time, but there’s still people out there making stuff like it now, which is cool if they like it but that’s not what we do.
Your upcoming releases are DIFF034 and DIFF035, an EP from Crypticz and then a single by yourself and Crypticz with remixes from Danny Scrilla. The Crypticz EP is definitely different, what does this release mean to you?
Crypticz’s first released with us in 2015 on Giraffestep 005 with his Contact EP, which I love, and ever since then he’s just been developing his sound.
His new EP is a beautiful piece of music was going to be on CD, because that’s how we tend to do EPs nowadays, but I thought the music was so good, and it’s like a mini album, 8 tunes, flowing soncially, so I thought it’d make a really nice 12”.
They’re by no means dancefloor tunes. I heard the phrase ‘music to meditate to’ once and with this record, it really resonated. The music is quite calm, there are loads of layers and depth. People don’t always buy records to spin it in the club, or to play on their radio show, they buy them because they love the music and the connection they have to it and I think that’s why we work as a record label.
DIFF035 then… Danny Scrilla. This one’s been in the works for a long time, why the hold up?
Yeah, we made that one just before Christmas in 2014 believe it or not. One of us played it online once and an unnamed label immediately asked us what it was and whether it was available, they wanted to sign it and get some remixes, so they asked us who we’d like to remix it and we agreed Danny Scrilla would be good as we’re both big fans.
Unfortunately, they never released the tracks, so I bit the bullet and decided to do it myself as a 12” because the tunes are just banging, I think the remixes really complement the original and they’re all really different from one another.
Cool! I wanted to pick out one artist on your roster who I personally really like and is also different – Lakeway. Tell me about how your relationship with Lakeway came about, as I hear you had some competition from Med School?
[laughs]. Lakeway came about through a collaboration he did on Crypticz’s Contact EP, and ever since then he’s just constantly sent me music, it’s great, the music, and our relationship is brilliant. We stay in touch a lot and have subsequently got a lot of work to do with him and his hoard of dubplates!
Regarding Med School, summer last year, while I was on my honeymoon, Liam called me up asking for advice. Saying that they showed a keen interest in signing him, I said go with your heart, and in the end he didn’t want to put all his eggs in one basket – which I thought was fair enough!
There seems to be a pattern here of you snatching up wicked, different sounding artists before Med School does, because Frederic Robinson is in that camp now as well…
[laughs] We can seem a bit like a feeder label, but it doesn’t matter. I’m putting out music that I love and if these guys are getting fed into bigger labels then great because they get to follow their dreams too – the label isn’t for my own ego, I just run it. Maybe in the future someone else will run it and I’ll hand it down, maybe Lakeway will be the CEO of Diffrent Music – you never know!
Maybe at that stage in the labels lifespan he’ll have a company car and an expense account…
[laughs]. Yeah right! A company oystercard maybe…
There seems to be a big family feeling in Diffrent, is that right?
Well, historically we’ve always been quite a London-centric label, we hang around in London and we DJ at similar nights, so it’s enabled us to get together every few months to do podcasts, get drunk, get stoned, play some tunes and get to know each other. Mauoq was even a best man at my wedding, we’ve become very close friends through this label and it is becoming a bit of a family network, I think it’d be boring without the social interaction.
That’s sick! Sense MC said in an interview that “you’re never going to get a more DIY ethos than Diffrent”, can you elaborate on that?
I can’t speak for Sense, but I can only assume he’s reinforcing the fact that we’re literally hands on, and do everything within the label, within reason – We’re in the garden painting record sleeves, posting orders from the shop, we’re painting props for the parties, we’re handmaking CD covers, stickering record sleeves, we’ve done makeshift livestreaming studios and the reason we do that is because we love it, and we’re nerds!
He knows this first hand as we were up late the night before his album was posted out, packaging them all up in the living room, and getting paper cuts – it was mental.
What’s something that you don’t think anyone knows about Diffrent? A little fact or nugget.
I’ve been covertly running a sister label with a bunch of new talent which I’ll be officially announcing some point next year, other than that… No! I have no secrets, I wear my heart on my sleeve [laughs].
Are there any last things you want people to know about?
Fearful’s going to drop his album in the first half of next year which i am very excited about, we’ve got the monthly radio show (next one 7th November, 6pm UK on Radar Radio), new single from Lakeway, and an EP from D’TCH all coming before the year is out!
You can pick up all of Diffrent’s physical and digital products from their website