Few label stories document and capture the development and transition from where drum & bass was in the early 2010s to where it is now better than that of Born On Road.
A Bristol-based collective headed up in late 2012 – a year when drum & bass was at its most EDM-ified with its first number one hits and growing wave of commercial sounds and attitudes – Born On Road came from the deepest of foundations. Founded by Kelvin 373 who was a then-burgeoning young talent who’d grown up on the free party circuit, and seasoned jungle veteran Aries, the label stood for roots that had been overlooked for some years yet were defiantly celebrating the new generation of artists.
Forecasting the fusion of jungle and rollers, and big champions of MC culture, long before these dynamics became particularly prominent dynamics that have characterised drum & bass in the last half decade, within a few years of establishing themselves (notably in the west country, at free parties and at festivals like Boomtown) Kelvin, Aries and their growing crew were at the forefront of a new wave of D&B.
Bringing through and/or backing acts like Selecta J Man, AC13, Crossy, Bish, Gray, Lupo, Jappa, Gold Dubs and Euphonique both in their parties and their releases, Born On Road continue to represent and embody the new energy and sense of rootsical renaissance drum & bass jungle has needed to thrive in the new decade.
Now about to approach their 10th anniversary but still fizzing with that new energy and focus on the future, UKF called up Kelvin and Aries for the first ever Born On Road editorial feature. It’s about time!
So this is the first ever feature on Born On Road?! What the hell!?
Aries: Yeah! We’ve never really chased it, though. We’ve just been getting things done, doing what we love. We’ve been busy on the underground and we’ve not been thinking in much of a promotional way. It’s only recently when we’ve started to think about things like this.
Trying to think when Born On Road came on my radar. It was probably around 2016. I’ve been listening to those early releases lately. You came about in a very commercial time. Born On Road was a knee jerk to the cheese happening at the time!
Aries: We love a lot of different types of things but yeah, the label has been about the music we want to DJ. If we heard stuff we loved and couldn’t see out anywhere else, we’d release it.
Kelvin 373: We were really into ragga jungle – still are of course – and there just weren’t many labels on that sound maybe except for Digital Soundboy. So that’s why we set it up. It was a bit of a joke to be honest. It kinda spiralled.
Kelvin 373: Yeah! Aries was playing Moiton, I was backstage, drinking his rider gassing to a guy. He asked what I do, I said I was a DJ and was going to set up a label with Aries. The next day that guy rang us up – it was Lewis at Cygnus Distribution. He’s like, ‘So you’re setting up a label? Let us help you.’ They got us in for a meeting and we thought, ‘Okay, it’s kinda happening now.’
Aries: I knew Dan Callide from Cygnus anyway and he was out that night, probably on the line-up. We all got chatting. That was the link.
How do you two link, though?
Aries: We met on a beach in Spain at 5am at a rave.
Kelvin 373: I used to live in Spain from the age 13 to the age of 24. Dubstep was really big and I was booking a lot of big dubstep DJs for raves and mixing a lot of jungle with that. Jacky Murda lived in Barcelona and he’d come over, usually with Tuffest, and one time Aries came over.
Aries: I remember it well. I’d planned to go out for a week but stayed for five weeks. In that time Tuffest said he was going to Malaga and asked if I wanted to hang out. I came with him and played on this mad beach rave.
Kelvin 373: It was the maddest rave. It was full of Spanish gypsies going crazy to breakbeat! We met and hung out a bit.
Were you living on a traveller site at the time?
Kelvin 373: Yeah it was Orgiva, the home of the Dragon Festival, which was one of the last free festivals in Europe. I was doing that and doing a lot of raves. I would have been like 17 or 18. Then I moved back to the UK and we linked up at a show that was run by a mate who was part of a dancehall collective called Heatwave.
Aries: That was our first hang out wasn’t it? You said you wanted to write a tune with me
Kelvin 373: And you told me I had to come with an idea and samples and everything.
Aries: If someone says they want to write a tune and they come over and I can see they’re driven and really want to put the effort in then full respect and full support from me. Same thing happened with Gold Dubs and you definitely had that energy and vision.
Kelvin 373: I wanted to remix a band called The Drop. I hit them up, they sent the parts over and we put it out for a free download.
That wasn’t Born On Road 001 was it?
Kelvin 373: Nah nah, we put that out 2011. I was about 23/24 then and we started Born On Road when I was 25. I was cutting my teeth playing free parties around the south west then we got asked to play Lakota by a brand called Red Dread Audio (shout out Jack Wittz and Laurie!) We told them we had a record label and wanted to showcase it, it didn’t have a name or anything, but we were ready to go. They said wicked we got a date free and we got the showcase together. Me, Aries, Gold Dubs, Stivs. It was the four of us.
Aries: I was working heavily with a lot of vocalists so we got a lot of MCs involved. Kelvin’s always been massively into MCs as well
Kelvin 373: At the time I was really into hip-hop and was DJing for Buggsy and doing a lot of that. Our first show was with Buggsy, Stivs, David Boomah, C-Strike-Z, Aries and myself. We all went back to back and the MCs back to back. We didn’t have a name but said it might be Born On Road. Next thing we knew the flyers were printed with Born On Road. That was it.
Go on. Real formative time. Give us some of your favourite and most pivotal memories during these stages…
Kelvin 373: That show was one of them. It sold out, it was the first time I played the main room of Lakota. We hadn’t made any waves in Bristol but people turned out to support us. We were above guys like Mefjus. It was mad. Then another pivotal moment was being booked for Boomtown Sector 6, Sunday morning. We did it with Skibadee. It was real vibes. Our first time on a big stage as a crew. That went off. Then another one was Glastonbury 2017, a clash with Shadow Demon.
Aries: We took it!
Kelvin 373: We tore them apart. We annihiliated them with dubplates. Solo Banton, YT, Gardna and Skibadee. We went in and they weren’t quite ready for it at that time. It was real vibes on and off set before hand. Going into that it was a bit intense. Like, ‘Are we really going to tell Bassman what to do with his finger?’ Extra security had been called to the stage for that one.
Aries: But they were absolute gents.
Kelvin 373: During the show it was like, ‘Don’t step on our stage!’ But after the show it was all love and hugs. That was a real moment. They were guys we look up to and are huge inspirations. And to play at Glastonbury to 5/6000 people on the Void Incubus rig.
What a moment!
Aries: We clashed again and that was another big moment. Fabio & Grooverider’s team organised soundclash at printworks. They arranged a bunch of teams and we got an invite to go in with a team and we went in with Serial Killaz. We took the team, all five of us along with Solo Banton, Carasel and Gardna. They all repped. Loads of heads came down. Dub Shotta had a team, Shadow Demon and had a team and Jungle Warriors had a team. That was Kenny Ken, Potential Badboy, Remarc and Ragga Twins. They won the clash but it was so tight and so close. A lot of people in the scene and old jungle pioneers were there and they knew about Born On Road from that moment. That’s where we started building in different areas and making more of a name for ourselves outside of free parties and the west country.
Sick. So that was 2019 which was a big break out time. A lot of artists started coming through you guys around this time and a year or so before, artists like like Bish, Crossy, A Little Sound, Gray.
Kelvin 373: The first artist we brought through was Selecta J Man. He came through a similar time as me but with Run Tingz. We did our own thing for a while and then we started working with him properly.
Then fast forward a few years and we brought more artists through – AC13, then Ben Snow, then Gray. The sound was changing in drm & bass at the time. Serum, Voltage, Bladerunner were all doing things. It was just before Kings Of The Rollers set up but they were already having a big influence on the new artists coming through and that sound started becoming a lot moe popular. We were on that sound as well – off the back of old rollers, off the back of jungle. So all that was happening at time and I feel that inspired the new wave of younger producers, a lot of them who we were working with.
Aries: We loved that vibe and loved what they were playing. Everyone we ever signed was because they were making music we wanted to DJ with. That’s always been what Born On Road has been about. And some of them tunes are still in the bag today. They got shelflife, you know?
Totally! Give us some all time persies!
Aries: For me, it’s a bit self indulgent but it’s Herb Smoke – the Benny Page remix. I put the original out on Co-Lab in 2005 and it got really big. Around 2017 I‘d been doing an album project Jungle Stylez and the concept was that I was traveling around linking up with friends I had musical relationships with. Me and all my mates, basically. Shortly afterwards I was doing a remix album and Benny said, ‘Send me the stems.’ Then one day I woke up and he’d sent over this massive remix of the classic that really brought me through in the first place.
Kelvin 373: That was a big turning point for the label! It should have gone out on Co-Lab but they blessed us with that. When I heard it I was like ‘bro!’ I knew it would change our trajectory. That was our first Beatport number one and remains our best selling track.
Aries: It was the fifth best-selling D&B track on Beatport that year
Kelvin 373: Numbers are nothing when you’re underground but it did really open our eyes to the business side of things. And for me, a personal favourite, is Gray’s Rub A Dub. It came around so organically. We just caught Gray at the right time, he had that sound that we loved, jungle but rollers.
Aries: He was young but he sounded seasoned. You could tell he’d been listening to the music for a long time and really got it. He was free partying as a teenager, you can tell.
Kelvin 373: And of course Selecta J Man’s Couple Guinness which has been another massive stand out. But we loved everything we put out on Born On Road. We A&R everything and if it’s not stuff we play now it’s something we love, we listen to or enjoy. A Little Sound’s EP is quite liquidy and quite dancefloory which is new for us but still fits in with what we do and what we love. Then on the other end of the spectrum we have Nick The Lot.
Aries: Bare flavours galore. We’re always expanding.
Bigger the crowds, the more of the following Born On Road has, the wider the picture you can paint…
Aries: Yeah. We’re all into a lot of different sounds as DJs. We all share the same passion and our tastes overlap
Kelvin 373: And we want to support as many people as we can and keep on expanding. There’s no criteria other than making good music and having good vibes. We want to get as many people along and smashing it really.
Amen! What’s next? How will Born On Road wrap up the year?
Kelvin 373: We’re gearing up to celebrate 10 years which starts at the end of January next year. Before that, for the rest of this year, we’ve releases from A Little Sound, Disrupta, Selecta J Man, Gray… We’ve got a release out every week for the rest of the year. Stuff with Mandidextrous, Limited, Martial Taktics and MC Det. We’re sitting on a lot of music and working on a lot of projects for next year.
Aries: We’re doing a lot of planning for next year right now too. There’s of tour scheduling, too. It still feels like we’re warming up…
It looks that way too! The Drum&BassArena Award second place for best label was a moment last year!
Kelvin 373: Actually yeah I was going to mention that as a pivotal moment, too. Obviously it’s not about awards for us, it’s about the music and culture but the Drum&BassArena Awards have been a thing since I was kid so it was nuts to see our names associated with them. I was on the forum back in the day!
Aries: The yellow and black forums and the regional forums – posting about Midland D&B. Good memories of those times. I think the lockdown helped around that time, too. We didn’t hold back and we saw a lot more people supporting us during that time. We didn’t turn down the output or the volume, you know?
Kelvin 373: That’s right. That whole period was a very scary time. I’d just gone full time music when that happened and it was a really scary concept. We had a meeting though didn’t we? We decided to go in like we would normally and I think that paid off.
I’ve said this in so many other interviews – it’s testament to how strong the sound and the movement is. What is meant as a sound for dancefloors stayed strong even when we couldn’t rave. Perhaps even stronger in a way.
Aries: Yeah massively and we came out of that in a very different time with a lot of new talent all making names for themselves.
Kelvin 373: That’s another thing we’ve taken pride on since day one. We’re fully behind new talent and want to see people fly and really take off. If we’re into what you do and you’re working with us, we’ll give you all the tools we can. Releases, promotion, sick bookings . Just go and do it, do it, do it. When I came through it felt like everything was a secret – samples, production tips, numbers of promoters or label contacts – literally nothing got shared. We’re the opposite. We want everyone to thrive. When they thrive, we thrive. It’s always going to be that way.