Interview: West Norwood Cassette Library

We love West Norwood Cassette Library. The London-based producer and DJ grata who goes by the name of Bob Bhamra has had a lot on his dubplate this year, mainly keeping himself busy with his own imprint (West Norwood Cassette Library Recordings) putting out releases by Ultramarine, Milyoo, Don Froth and himself – and soon, mid-December, Knowing Looks will return with another release. West Norwood Cassette Library’s latest release, “Say What?“, came out earlier this month through the label New Kanada, ran by the one and only Adam Marshall, and currently he’s focusing on a track that’s set out for release next year on Front & Follow. On top of all of this he’s done a couple of incredible mixes over the year as well, such as the sonic pièce de résistance for Modifyer which you can listen to here and a Mood II Swing themed mix for Boiler Room, that goes by the befitting “Feelin’ Moody” title, which you can listen to here. We had the honour to have West Norwood Cassette Library playing our first party in the land of the Angles last week at Corsica Studios, where he served the crowd over an hour of lovely music – strictly vinyl and vibes that were evidently felt by every dancing audience member present and kicking in the room that night. We hope to see Bob play again soon. If you’re in London next week you’re in luck as he’s playing in Brixton on December 2th, alongside Sigha, Owen Howells and others (details here). As a memento of a fantastic night we had a little chat with Bob where he speaks about his label, how the Ultramarine release came about, his future endeavors in sixties dance and a lot more!

Say What? [snippet] by New Kanada

Hello Bob, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! “It’s a pleasure.” First off, can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve been working on lately? “It’s all go at  the moment, The label has just released Don Froth’s “Balboa” / “Von” (WNCL007) and, by the time you read this Ultramarine’s “Acid” / “Butch” (WNCL008) will be in the shops. Hot on it’s heels will be Knowing Looks second release for the label, “Listen to My 45” / “Ghost Baby” (WNCL009). Trust me, it’s a treat. You’ll have that before Christmas with a bonus download freebie.

Adam Marshall has just put out my “Say What?” EP on his New Kanada label and, right now, I’m working on a project for the Front & Follow label that’s due for digital release in the New Year. That should be interesting – they’ve asked 9 artists to contribute 60 seconds worth of samples, pooled them all and the idea is to create 4 trax utilising all the sounds. It’s an open brief and I have no idea what I’m going to do yet! I’ve been DJing a bit here and there but I’m being very picky with the gigs mainly due to lack of time and energy but also because I get so nervous beforehand.
On top of all that, my day job in production at Verso Books is also keeping me on my toes. Watch out for Paul Mason’s “Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere”. He’s got the answer.”

You had been making electronic music under various guises (Data 70, No. 1 Astronaut and The Bob Bhamra Project, among others) for years before founding WNCL Recordings. With such a deep catalogue of releases already, what prompted the idea to switch things up and start your own label? “For me, all of that past stuff doesn’t constitute a solid body of releases. It’s not like any of them are classics. Some are better than others but it feels messy. I wanted a fresh start and so West Norwood Cassette Library / WNCL Recordings is like drawing a line under all of that. It’s an opportunity for me to present and release records in the way that I think they should be done.”

How has your vision for WNCL Recordings changed, if at all, since you founded it? “I don’t think I ever had a vision beyond putting out records that I have fallen in love with and making them look as beautiful as they sound.”

So far, your production work has been featured on four of the seven releases on WNCL (three original singles and one remix). Has it been your intent from the start to use the label as a platform for your own productions as much as other artists’  music, and why? “Yes, the initial idea was to use it as a platform just for my trax but I’m glad things naturally evolved to include other artists and remixers. So far, every release has been a new and interesting experience, often an education, always a lot of fun. It’s been a bonus that everyone I’ve been involved with have been the nicest people you could hope to meet. It’s been worth it for that alone.”

Was there any particular thought process or intent behind using West Norwood Cassette Library for both your production moniker and your label name? “That was a bit of a mistake, a lack of foresight. I didn’t think I’d get any further than putting out 2 of my own releases.”

Looking back at the progression of WNCL releases, it’s clear that you don’t choose artists based on any specific prototype or model but rather recruit artists from different genres, camps, and even times. Could you explain what goes into the artist selection process for a WNCL release? “This isn’t a deliberate tactic. In fact, being deliberately eclectic leaves me cold. I wish I was more of a purist and a tempo Nazi but I’ve tried it and it’s too boring. I’m not looking for tracks to fit a mould, I prefer to be surprised.”

The next new WNCL release consists of two original productions, Acid and Butch, from UK House legends Ultramarine. Considering they haven’t released new music since 2003, what was it about them that made you think “I have to sign them for a release?” “There’s something about Ultramarine that brings out the kleptomaniac in me. I got to know Paul Hammond around 1994 when I was working with his girlfriend at a Children’s Books publishing house. As soon as I found out who her boyfriend was, I got her nick to me an “Every Man and Woman is a Star” t-shirt. Years later, he played at one of my “Rock La Bibliotek” nights. I asked him to showcase his Real Soon record label and then stole all the records after his set. Sorry, Paul. It was only natural that I should swipe “Acid” and “Butch” on first hearing – they were irresistible.”

WNCL008B: ULTRAMARINE_Butch by WNCL Recordings

Knowing Looks will be the fourth WNCL release in four five months—not too shabby considering you’ve also been keeping busy with DJing and production work! Can fans expect this paced output to continue? “No! I’m knackered. I just happened to have hit upon a good run of quality release-worthy trax . There’s no guarantee that will happen consistently and I’m certainly not interested in just putting any old thing out there to fill a gap or keep a label profile. It’s quality or nothing. “

What other kinds of developments or plans can we expect in the coming months? “Me and Milyoo have established the Go-Go Disco Dance Squadron – the first dress rehearsals are next week. “

Pariah and Blawan debuted their new collaborative outfit, Karenn, with a stomping remix of your track “Get Lifted.” How did the idea for the project evolve, and what was it like having these producers come together around your track and on your label? “Mary Anne Hobbs played cupid here. Towards the end of her time at Radio 1, she was broadcasting a series of mini-mixes by 3 different artists each week. She put me and Arthur (Pariah) on the same week, with Joe (Hessle Audio). The next day, we wrote to each other to say well done, swapped trax, went for a drink, became friends etc.
Arthur mentioned that he’d been starting his sets off with “Get Lifted” so it seemed like an interesting idea to ask him if he’d be interested in remixing it. Around the same time, I’d been getting to know Jamie (Blawan) and asked him if he would remix Don Froth’s “Von” track. I didn’t realise the two of them had started a project together until Arthur called to tell me about the Karenn project and would I mind if they both worked on the “Get Lifted” remix as a joint project. Would I mind? Funny…
They’re the most down to earth people I’ve met in a long time – although it’s fair to say that, as a record buying punter, I’m a massive fan of all their work, to an obsessive and embarrassing degree.”

WNCL006B: WEST NORWOOD CASSETTE LIBRARY_Get Lifted (Karenn Remix) by WNCL Recordings

Up until this point, WNCL Recordings has followed the strict model of only releasing two-track EPs, with 10” vinyls being the only physical format available. First, is there any deliberate intention behind this model for releases? “It is deliberate. 10” vinyl, one track per side, cut at 45rpm for maximum volume. But the pedant in me wants to point out that these are singles not EP’s. When I buy an EP, I expect 3, ideally 4 trax. Sorry – this is the sort of rubbish that keeps me awake at night. Don’t get me started on one sided vinyl or we’ll be here all day.”

Also, given the current renaissance of outstanding albums and near full-length EPs from electronic artists, do you have any plans to dive into the world of lengthier releases? “I’m a trackhead and make no apologies for it. I’m in no hurry to put an album out. I don’t necessarily see putting out an album as a progression. More often than not, it’s a disappointment.
The 10” format is crippling financially and, while such things shouldn’t get in the way of putting out good music, it would be nice to give the artists some money one day. So, in that respect, I’m thinking about where to take the label. 12” EP’s (proper EP’s!) maybe. But albums don’t excite me right now.”

It seems that WNCL is one of the labels at the forefront of the current house ‘revival’ (also seen on labels like 100% Silk and Long Island Electrical System) and all of the releases have been really on point. What is it about these classic house styles, in your opinion, that’s attracting so much attention these days? And also, to what would you accredit the development of this new school of production that sounds so effortlessly vintage but so uniquely modern and genre-shy?
“If you listen carefully you can almost hear the sound of an entire (House) nation groaning and rolling its eyes to heaven. There is no House Music revival! It never went away, did it?
There may be some producers right now who are bored with what they’re known for and trying their hand at something different (for them) – all good but to call it a revival is a little far fetched, I think.

Between new tunes from Ultramine, your recent Mood II Swing-themed mix for Boiler Room’s Nothing New series, and influences in your own productions, you seem to have not only a deep passion of classic house but also an encyclopedic knowledge of it. “Hmmm. That’s a bold claim that I don’t think I could live up to. I know my record collection inside out but that’s because I need to get out more. Every producer I speak to seems to have a wealth of musical knowledge and I don’t seem to have heard of half of what they’re talking about!”

If you could recruit one artist—from the past or present—to put together a release for WNCL, who would you pick and why? “Well, I nearly had my dream release come true. I got friendly with Edzy from the legendary Unique 3 and begged him to dig out the master files for “Reality” (a track from their 1990 debut LP “Jus Unique”). We were both going to do a remix of it and put it out as WNCL010. I would have been happy putting that out and shutting the label down as a mission accomplished. But he couldn’t find the files…
So, I think I’d plump for Hyper-On Experience – my favourite producers from the golden age of hardcore. For me, they were Moving Shadow’s finest and most bonkers act.”

Finally, when was the last time you danced? “The last time I bought a ticket and queued up outside a club with the sole intention of dancing all night was at the end of the summer – Kerri Chandler in the basement of East Village. The System “You’re In My System (KC Remix)” is still going round in my head.”

Written by: Sam Billetdeaux and Immy Soraya

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