Firecracker Recordings

If only there there could be a new Firecracker Recordings record each week. Alas, with the time and care they put in to making each release such a high standard, we’re not sure if they’ll ever be able to break free of their “about one a year” release schedule.

Firecracker dropped their seventh release this week; produced by Fudge Fingas and including a remix from Ukranian don Vakula, What Matters EP is a stunning record. It also seemed a good idea to throw-up the original and full length article that was then edited down to a reasonable size for printing in The Great British Issue of Shook magazine last year. The article was written from conversations with the three core members, including an extensive session with label head Lindsay Todd aka House Of Traps which was downright inspiring.

Below is the unedited draft, written before Lindsay launched the Unthank offshoot (now two releases deep), from chats we had around September / October last year.

“I’ve been through a lot of things in my life that have come and gone. House is the only thing that’s remained there for any length of time. It’s made me a living, let me see the world and I have to respect that. House will always be there…it’s a natural music.”

Listening to Lindsay Todd aka House Of Traps talk about house music is to watch the genre take on an identifiable, godly form of it’s own. The label manager for Firecracker Records who – along with Linkwood and Fudge Fingas – makes up one-third of the UK’s top house music collective, respected worldwide for their work together as well as individual artists and DJs.

Through the weight of their words and the natural refusal to answer questions in a clichéd manner, it’s only too easy to visualise a world of arts where house music is the defining constant. And it’s also clear that the high life in the spotlight isn’t the driving force at work.

“None of us have ever had a plan or a career path for this…it’s basically just similar minds and attitudes that come together to do a project and release a record once a year,” shares Fudge Fingas aka Gavin Sutherland. A multi-instrumentalist who originally met Lindsay through Joseph Malik in Edinburgh, it was years later when Linkwood aka Nick Moore moved his equipment in to Lindsay’s spare room that things started to fall in place.

Pushed to define the shared traits that brought them together, Gav doesn’t even touch on musical influences. For him, it’s, “grumpiness, stubbornness, a shared sense of humour…and a hatred of dull shit.”

Officially launching in 2004, opening Firecracker 1 EP with the now defunct Linkwood Family moniker (“it was just another way of saying Linkwood-featuring”), Firecracker has averaged only one release a year since. In their wake though, they have developed a worldwide reputation for quality, and pushing the boundaries of conventional label attitudes. In the way that the Atkins, May and Saunderson (originator, elevator, innovator) have been seen to embody techno, Firecracker represents the benchmark for the modern house scene. The scary part is that it’s all happened seemingly effortlessly, each person playing their part in defining the Firecracker sound.

Asked about his role as the label manager, overseeing the releases and bringing ideas to the other two in the studio, Lindsay echoes Gavin’s views on it’s natural workings.

‘To become generic it’s not what the label’s about. It’s always been quite an organic experience. I never knew how to run a record label and just picked it up on the fly as we went along. It’s the same with the designs; it’s the same with the music. If something fits then it fits.”

In addition to their 10” format and the identifiable graphics, the level of care that goes in to each record from design to delivery is vast.

“There’s a lot of love that goes in to it. That’s why we take our time to put things out. Hopefully in ten-to-twenty years from now it’ll be stuff that people will cherish, as opposed to kicking around in sale bins.”

Having tried the computer route and returning to working on analogue, a lot of what they do hinges around Linkwood’s studio, still based in Edinburgh. A perfectionist for what he creates and self-confessed synthesiser addict, it’s the end result of a lifetime invested in to building up a huge collection of quality gear, and time taken to learn them inside out.

“I’ve been buying bits since I was a teenager, and had to sell quite a few bits too when I’ve been short of money. I miss them, but my set up now is relatively minimal, and somehow better than it’s ever been.” I’m assured by another source that “minimal” is a hideous understatement.

“I’m always buying more but it comes and goes. Half the gear I end up using is probably considered rubbish, but it works for me. There is always the MPC and SP though, you can’t skimp on replacing them”.

Unfortunately for the gear geeks, it’s a set-up between these three friends the details of which isn’t open to the public. Again with the mantra, let the music speak for itself.

Last year’s Systems LP on Prime Numbers did exactly that. Hailed as one of the most accomplished house albums to ever been released, the lead-up and aftermath has instantly made him one of the most name-dropped producers in music. There’s been enough written about the deep analogue-tech sounds that formed the album, laced with the unique style suggesting that it will stand the test of time. I will add this though; the sounds on it are distinctly Linkwood, a unique interpretation of the music that moves him.

“I don’t really read about it or any of the press, because the hype makes me cringe. I don’t really promote myself so I find it weird after the release when I’m gigging a bit and people know me, my early releases and all the tracks, as I don’t follow it at all. I don’t make music for that reason.”

As someone who’s constantly recording ideas and sketches to be reworked later – by which time he considers them old – Linkwood’s amassed countless unfinished projects. The launch of his own Electronic Sounds label in the coming months is a vehicle that will see him turning more of these in to finished products.

For him, early influences came from his brother, a member of Sublove with Jody Wisternoff in the thriving Bristol club scene. Linkwood made the initial move to Scotland following his dad’s naval transfer to Scotland when he was 16. Soon after he returned to Bristol, and a few years later a brief trip back for a friends wedding turned in to a permanent move to the north, at least for the last seven years.

On the opposite hand, for Gav and Lindsay growing up in the 90’s they talk of an influential Edinburgh scene that’s unrecognisable from what it is today. Common practice up until 2000 – when of the last clubs of the time burnt down – was for the Detroit DJs travelling over to play Pure, and the Chicago DJs heading out to play Tribal Function. Funnily enough, these are the events Linkwood recalls during his first time move to Scotland.

“Edinburgh did have it’s scene,” explains Lindsay, “and there’s still little pockets of resistance doing good nights, people passionate about the music. But Edinburgh won’t support these people because of the corrupt council and because of inadequate venues and sound systems.

“Venues don’t get behind promoters and councils don’t get behind venues.”

From sneaking out on school nights in the early 90’s to see the names play to Linkwood buying up classic gear from a young age, it all contributed to them coming together and the release of Firecracker 1 from tunes they believed in that, as Lindsay puts it keeping in ethos of the label, “just seemed to fit.”

“The first release was a real gamble. And then all the distributors who promised to pick up the release fell through. I’m not going to name names, but yeah…we pressed it up and then they went back on their word so we had to go around to all the stores and do it the old-fashioned way.”

The end result for the first few releases were exclusive dealings with JP in record exchange Vinyl Junkies, to take the entire stock for sale in London and low-level distribution worldwide. Since then, there’s been brief workings with Goya during their collapse and ended with a longstanding relationship with Rub-A-Dub distribution in Glasgow.

As attention grew around them it was only a matter of time before they started being sourced for projects in the downtime between records. Looking back it seems a logical conclusion that Trus’me’s Prime Numbers label would be a second launch point for the two studio heads. In addition to System LP, they recently released the ‘About Time’ EP from Fudge Fingas to wide acclaim.

“Trus’me just came to us with an idea to do a release. Obviously we’ll work with anyone. We’re not out to conquer the world. If someone wants to work with and their good people in the same frame of mind then of course we’ll want to work with them”.

Jokingly suggesting there may not be enough of those people out there the response is one of faith in a faltering scene. “I used to think the same way…but as you release more stuff and expand it attracts like minded people, people who respond to what you do. I’ve come to realise there’s a lot of good people out there.”

Although now considered the owners of the ideal business model for labels starting out – selling out their limited presses worldwide whilst waylaying tour offers, remix opportunities and bespoke releases on other labels, Firecracker still assures of no easy way in to the game. Unknown artists on an unfamiliar format from an unknown Scottish label came good simply through the quality of the tunes.

And whilst the label’s never been short of supporters, having the chin-stroke massive on side from the beginning, the stereotype of their origins comes through in their hatred of being labelled. Early descriptions by lazy journalists putting them in the same box as Detroit and Moodyman as they carved out their own analogue house sound may have something to do with their dislike to playing the press and promotion game.

It’s a stance that every self-respecting artist should be able to take, but unfortunately in the modern age where artists spend hours bigging themselves up online to sell records, it’s a rare trait. It’s just important to remember that when it comes to the Firecracker family music is something that’s taken seriously and treated with the respect it deserves.

“I’m not a fan of today’s scene, game – all the crap, all the hype, all the charts all the bollocks. We don’t run with that at all. None of the artists do,” states Lindsay.

For those in doubt check DJ Israel talking at the start of Barely Eagle on Firecracker 4 EP, citing “house politics” as bullshit to be avoided.

Bringing this to a discussion of style, I’m stopped short as Lindsay adds his own comments on it. “You’ll hear influences from everything…but we make house. House is the bonding music between all of us”.

Building on this Gavin goes a little deeper in why they do what they do.

“It all comes back to house. You can have hip-hop, jazz, rock, disco, Detroit, Chicago…whatever influences you want. You can express it all through house.”

At some point, I put forward that labels are an essential part of everyday life. Stephen Fry once used the example that the reason we have the word ‘rock’ is so that we can communicate something without having to run outside and pick up a rock each time.

“You can’t define house, but it’s still an art form that’s got constraints,” adds Lindsay. “If you picture house music, you’re constrained by a time signature, a certain amount of length, a bpm, a beat pattern. It’s a linear art form. But the interesting artists are the people that are able to those constraints to their advantage.”

From an outsiders view, while the artists individually have grown and branched out to other labels, the label itself has evolved in it’s own. Ukranian artist, Vakula has been the first artist outside this crew to be released on the label, Firecracker 6 EP earlier this year.

Almost unsurprisingly they continue to move at their own pace, and drop some further information for a special project in the pipeline. A sub-label – sprouting very shortly under the name of Unthank – whose first release will welcome into the family a mysterious producer by the name of Bakey Ustl. As always, I’ve been promised it’ll be delivered with the same love, care and individuality that is the quality they work in.

It may seem that they’re keeping busy, but from their inside perspective it’s just another day doing what they do – paraphrasing Fudge Fingas – “working for the music.”

The following words were a small add on, originally designed for a separate page or breakout box, with Lindsay paying homage to and offering some insight in to the high-quality artwork that’s been present in the Firecracker releases from day one.

Firecracker releases are instantly recognisable through their 10” design and the quality non-digital print. You think hand-stamping is hard? Try asking your label manager to hand-screen print and stamp bespoke inner and outer sleeves on 1000 copies of a plate, as per Firecracker 5. Below Lindsay indulges a little more information on the history behind their design and graphics.

“At the time there wasn’t really anything out house-wise on a 10” format. I can count on one-hand the releases that were done on a 10” record. I remember picking up a Chris Energy record on Music Is in 2001/2002 and thinking it was a really cool format and it’d be great to combine a nice graphic with quality music and put it on this desirable format.

“Back when we started out I was working with Nick’s brother Tim … he’d do some great work putting together the images we selected and in crafting the labels identity … this in turn evolved to working with other local artists such as Zixiao Chang and Jamie Wilson (all three are still regular contributors) and then for me to immerse myself in the whole screen printing process … it’s just another way to get closer to the production and to be a control freak!

“Everyone our age grew up with comics. It was a big thing for me as a kid. And to package these records honestly and from the soul…it’s not about nicking artwork or whatever, it’s a nostalgia trip. It’s the way the comics smelt, or the way the ink was printed and when you enlarged it the way the dot matrix colours were.

“But after a certain time in the 80’s the way they printed comics changed. You won’t find that quality anymore. So for me it’s a very specific nostalgia trip.”