London label Rebel Music might have only been in operation since January 2019 but the label’s ethos, spirit and roots can be traced back to some of the deepest foundations in drum & bass jungle. This is evident in Rebel Music’s crew mentality, their sonic thirst for futurism and high levels of friendly competition with their Dub Wars tournaments.
But most of all it can be traced back through its founder Ben OB1, a man lost in drum & bass since his teens in the 90s. Throwing himself into scene in every capacity he could, his past CV includes working with Virus, Prototype and Valve, label and tour managing Metalheadz and assisting some of the biggest distributors that have pushed this music and its culture across the world. Rebel Music is the manifestation of everything he’s come from and what he wants to see in the world.
Having introduced us to a great selection of new-gen artists like Creatures, Hadley and Confusious and giving an essential spotlight on scene soldiers like Kolectiv, Taelimb, Skuff and Dark Ops (to name but a few), Rebel Music has become an exciting community of artists and ideas and an exciting go-to for forward-thinking underground D&B. Some of their most recent actions include a range of NFTs with RCRDSHP and, a few weeks ago, a free event at Lightbox London as a way of saying thanks to the community who have supported them so far.
With a slew of big releases lined up over the coming months, we check in with OB1 to get the Rebel story so far…
Take us back to your roots and your way into all of this…
I was a young teenager who was absolutely obsessed with drum & bass. It actually kept me out a lot of trouble at the time. My past wasn’t the easiest. But I found the music through working at a record shop and a representative for SRD distribution said he’d give me a full time job. They distributed a great deal of drum & bass and jungle at the time and that put me in the thick of things. I worked there for a year or so and then a representative of Reinforced and Metalheadz came in. A press officer called Zara who played a test press of an Alpha Omega album. We had a chat and she offered me a job. I’d seen her at Sunday Sessions regularly anyway and when she left she said, ‘You’re never paying to get into a Metalheadz event ever again.’
That was the best thing ever. Like a golden ticket. I went for an interview the next week, met Goldie’s manager at the time – Trenton Harrison – and was being interviewed to work for his management company which looked after Virus, Valve, Infrared, Prototype, Metalheadz.
The labels with the blueprints!
You know it. As a kid into this music, DJing every day, working in a record shop, totally immersed in it. To be offered a job working in an office on six of my favourite labels who all happened to be at the top of the pyramid was fantastic. I had access to promos, I was writing press releases, I was working in the club. Soaking it all up like a sponge. It was incredible. And that’s when I said to myself, ‘One day I’ll have a label and I’ll call it Rebel Music.’
Wow that early on!
Yeah. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. I’m a huge reggae fan. Bob Marley was a big musical influence of mine at a younger age and Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock) had a big influence on me. The idea of this being rebel music really stuck with me. It’s all very non-conformist music, it was rebellious; you had to do a lot of digging and scratch the surface to really access it. That had such an effect on me and is now the foundation of Rebel Music.
It’s the foundation. But you also seem to celebrate the future, which is another important tradition of drum & bass culture…
Yeah. We have a foot in the past and have respect for everything this comes from and we’re excited about what’s going to happen in the future. But we also live in the moment and live and breathe what we’re doing today. I think that helps us keep moving forward. Futurism is part of rebellion for me because it’s about not accepting the norm and pushing for something better. For progress.
How much of that exists in drum & bass for you now?
There are scenes within the scene if you know what I mean. Not everything is pushing for something better, no. But I can only speak about Rebel Music and we are no gimmicks, upfront with a bit of that rebellious spirit. Things have got more commercial now, drum & bass has got a bigger fanbase and audience. We’re not the only label out there pushing for innovation and change and we do attract like minds. The landscape has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, though, and it’s changed into much more of a business now.
But the music should still be the focus. That’s why we’re called Rebel Music, not Rebel Business. It’s about the music and the artists making it. That’s why the artists get a 60% share of any sales. I want them to have more of the lion share of the label. If they all ganged up on me, they could very easily overpower me and that’s very important. Without artists a label is nothing. It’s about trying to help people and create opportunities for them. I think that showing artists they can have more of the value of the music than the label is a really good starting place for artists to know how a label values them.
I love that. I guess that helps with artist retention? People seem to stick with you for more than one release and seem part of what you do…
Yeah it’s about crew mentality which links back to all the most important musical movements and artforms over the years. There are so many different shades of sounds that are amazing and that I want to push, and I’m so grateful to be working with these inspiring people. Especially the people who came through early doors. Like Creatures, Skuff, Science Of Man, Kolectiv. They always come back and want to work with Rebel again and that’s a huge complement to me. We’ve got a really strong roster of artists now and we’re getting to the point where each artist is releasing an EP a year. It’s really nice to have releases that are at least four tracks and give artists a chance to showcase more of themselves artistically. They can show more sides to their production. It’s been nice to build such a big catalogue and there are so many artists we work with on the regular. Guys like RMS, Taelimb, Creatures. Actually I can tell you this… We’ve got a new LP from him which will be 2023.
Yeah. Creatures has been creating mad waves. He’s been a big part of Rebel Music and Dub Wars. He was the driving force behind that. He told me I needed to do it and every season he’s sculpted that.
Yeah Dub Wars represents a lot of the strengths of Rebel Music and, again, highlights really important aspects of the culture…
Even the friendly competition. And the time constraints – having to get the tune done in a certain time. We have these amazing progressions in technology now but we can still tap back to that original energy of not overthinking aspects of the tune and just getting involved in the process. The sampling is a big part, too. Getting everyone working with samples we’ve been given from an amazing array of the scene from guys like Ulterior Motive and Total Science.
And the vocals. I always think of the round where they used some amazing bars by Sense MC.
Absolutely. We’ve had Visionobi, Collette Warren, Joe Raygun, Codebreaker, Ben Verse, Sense MC. MC culture is a big part of Rebel Music too. I love MCs, without them the scene would never be the same. I think people undervalue the power of MCs and I’m lucky to work with some of the best.
Actually, on the topic of MCs, we’ve got another really interesting project coming up. Thanks to Creatures again. He did a remix of Mouse Outfit and their manager looks after Sonnyjim from Birmingham, who I’m a huge fan of. Harvey (Creatures) said they wanted to do a load of remixes from his album which was produced by New York producer Buckwild. He’s a 90s legend. I was already a fan anyway so we jumped at the chance so we put together a crew of remixers – Revan, Hadley, Molecular, Rizzle and Creatures – who’ve all done a remix of the Coke La Roc album which will be out September 9
Sick! That’s joining serious dots! D&B and jungle have always been the UK’s version of hip-hop. The full culture, it’s not just about the music but a lot of different artforms and disciplines coming together.
Totally! It includes everything from clothes and sneakers to the way you talk. D&B owes a lot to hip-hop, among other movements. There’s that Fabio and Grooverider video recently where they explain about flipping a hip-hop record from 33 to 45 and the breakbeats speeding up and giving them a real ‘hello!’ moment. That’s jungle. And those breaks are still used to this day.
Give me a ‘hello!’ moment for Rebel Music
As a label, I think after the first year, putting out 10 releases and starting to see consistency. That was a moment. I’ve always said to every artist it’s about consistency. I want people to see that and to know that’s what we’re doing. Putting out releases every month, always being present, always having something to say, never having a gap and sticking to that.
After the first year we started doing events and the numbers were starting to build up. Real life things really help. Premiers are great and anything online. But nothing beats seeing 600 people in a club kicking off at your party. Your artist is playing, you’ve represented their music and now they’re in a club and people are dancing and loving it. That’s special.
There’s been other big moments like DJs supporting us. DJs I’ve really respected. I’ve been lucky from the jump with that. Randall was early on support. Marky’s a huge supporter. Fabio’s always been on side. Shout out Bukem, too. He hit me up and has taken a real liking to certain artists and he’s now chatting to hem direct. That’s amazing for me to see – Rebel Music isn’t just about releasing music but it’s about providing a platform for artists to develop and create opportunities for them, getting them in the right spaces and making things happen. I want to help my artists out and show their music to other labels and link them with people who can help them. That’s what music should be about.
So take Skuff. He’s just posted in the group today that he’s signed something with V Recordings. When he came into things I asked him who his favourite DJ is and his favourite label. Skuff said Bukem was his favourite DJ and V was his favourite label. Bukem is a big fan and regularly asks him for dubs. And now he’s signed something with Bryan, so that’s a great feeling to have helped. I want to see my artists flourish and shine. I don’t hold anyone to exclusive contracts, I’ll always keep the door open. I guess it’s a bit like having kids – there’s always a room for them to sleep in, no matter what.
Giving them roots and wings!
Exactly. And if something comes up, and they’ve got to commit to someone else and can’t work with Rebel for a bit, no problem. They know that can come back any time. There’s always a bed at home.
Love that. Speaking of home your Rebel Alliance series is very important, isn’t it?
Yeah totally. It’s all about the crew mentality and bringing everyone up together, so every 10 releases we do a Rebel Alliance collection. They’re just a great way of bringing together a collection of artists, showcasing some artists who’ve had releases, bringing in new faces and giving fresh artists a new opportunity and be surrounded by some of their peers. I love doing these collections and I love mixing up the sounds. We have a really diverse range of sounds on the label with all artists releasing these exciting EPs. The Rebel Alliance albums give us a chance to showcase the full sound and breadth of the label.
A collage of vibes!
Exactly that! And it’s great to go back over each Rebel Alliance and get a snapshot of where the label is at in that moment. They come thick and fast because we release pretty much every month. Sometimes more often than that. We’ve just had a really nice moment with NC-17. He was the first ever release on the label and now we’ve had a remix EP of that release.
And after that we’ve got our first ever single, as opposed to an EP. That’s from Section and a singer called Laura Vane. That took my breath away the first time I heard that. I rang him and said I’d sign it in a heartbeat. It’s still got that Rebel energy to it but also has an amazing vocalist on it. Laura can light a room up with her vocals, she works regularly in a band and does things across a lot of genres and she’s got this beautiful tones that sit on top of things so nicely. Her harmonies. She makes an amazing team with Section. Watch out for more stuff from them.
What follows that? You’ve got the Sonnyjim release…
There’s a Whycheck release, then the Sonnyjim remixes. Following that is an eight-track EP from Skuff who doesn’t do things in half measures.
He’s a machine!
He really is. He’s one of those guys who needs to make music, you know. A lot of people are like that on the label.
Having your head down and being creative helps you make sense of the world and this weird thing called life…
That’s right. For me that outlet comes from arranging releases, artwork, events, promotional materials. I’m blessed to be able to do that. D&B is the most constant thing I know! It sounds super cliché but, hand on my heart, Rebel Music has actually given me a new family. That is what I always want it to be. Working at Metalheadz at the time I did, it was a real family. That crew mentality doesn’t just come from our music; it’s being part of something, when you’ve got a good group of like minded people all bringing something special to the table…
That’s when the magic happens!
It does. New ventures happen. Just seeing the amount of collabs that come from our Rebel WhatsApp group is inspiring. The support and love for each other. Seeing that and being able to encourage that culture and that sense of community… It’s a real honour.