"The below is a list of songs and artists who have greatly influenced me and put me on the path to doing what I do," Kasra offered us, prefixing his choices ahead of his label's upcoming Room Two takeover this Friday night. "For me the thing that binds all these tracks is that sense of outsider spirit; the DIY ethics, the youthful joy of making a noise and the energy that that joy encapsulates. The vision to try something different, to innovate and to basically make something that means so much to people without any desire to seek adulation. I suppose one thing this shows is that I didn’t come round to drum & bass in the usual mixtape, hip hop way. I was and am still to this day a huge fan of alternative underground guitar music and those DIY ethics that are shared across the world of independent, underdog music: make a record, press it yourselves, put it out and see what happens."
"You have these people to blame for me making a racket in club and running a label."
John Peel - FABRICLIVE 07
Kasra: He wasn't technically an artist but was such a profound influence on me that I have to include John Peel in this list in some way and his FABRICLIVE 07 mix seems fitting. As a DJ, Peel had such a deep effect on my musical tastes. It’s safe to say without him I wouldn't be involved in music the way I am today.
Nirvana - Aneursym
This band changed my life. They made me sit up and take notice of music in a completely different way. From here I went from grunge to punk to drum & bass and everything in between. They opened my mind and ears to an exciting underground of punk and guitar music in general. The legacy of Kurt Cobain has been tarnished and the bands value argued to death but one thing other than the incredible incendiary music they made that I’ll always be grateful for was Kurt's championing of the underground and how he always used his platform to support music.
Do you think listening to a band like Nirvana has shaped the way you run the label? Or even the way you listen to and approach music in general?
It’s hard to explain but in a way I think it’s the kind of spirit of what they did in terms of not willing to compromise and put out music regardless of commercial success. Nirvana was this huge band that signed to a major label but if you listen back, a lot of the music is really quite caustic (especially on In Utero). Yet somehow that noisy, horrible punk sound didn’t stop them becoming one of the biggest forces in music ever.
You know, I want the label to be recognised as much as possible; at good shows, festivals and on the radio but I don’t want to put music out that goes against our ethos. I want to build a foundation for the music and artists so that they can be highly successful without ever having to compromise.
Drive Like Jehu - Bullet Train To Vegas
Bear with me if I go into a nerd like state but this is one side of quite possibly the perfect 7” single. Released on Merge Records from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I picked this up because John Peel played it to death and to this day I still regularly have to put it on (or play it on Spotify - don’t judge me). I became obsessed with buying 7"s and love the idea of creating timeless succinct documents and capturing a moment where a group or individual are at the peak of their powers.
Goldie - Sea Of Tears
Beautiful, emotive and haunting in equal measure. In the same way Nirvana opened my mind to new guitar and an underground of excitement, this was the gateway record to my love and obsession with d&b. I could have chosen anything from the album but this, like the previous choice, perfectly encapsulates a time and place but it still resonates today.
You talk a lot about music that’s timeless – what is it about the music and artists that you feel makes it timeless? Is it the production or do you think it’s their ability to create something that seems to push the envelope?
It definitely feels to me like tracks like these capture a moment, which I suppose could be seen as contradictory. Timeless music still sounds as vital and exciting as the first time you heard it but also takes you back to that first time you experienced it.
Who would you say is doing something similar now? Critical? Do you think there’s enough labels and artists out there willing to break new ground?
In terms of breaking new ground, I think trying to do so in drum & bass can be difficult. It’s a genre that can be very much confined to rules and structures, for example; the tempo being confined to 170bpm, so sometimes it’s hard to be able to create something truly innovative and exciting. Though I do think the half time sound is evolving in a really exciting way. Artists like Fracture and Sam Binga taking elements of jungle, footwork and hip hop and fusing them together and then there’s people like Hyroglifics and Ivy Lab with their 20/20 LDN project. I think that’s been the most exciting development as of late – taking things and opening up some space.
In terms of Critical, it’s not really my place to say whether we are breaking new ground. I think we just try to push things as much as possible both sonically and creatively.
Boymerang - Still
Boymerang was the short-lived and much missed project from a producer called Graham Sutton who was in a post rock group called Bark Psychosis. When I first heard this I knew it wasn’t a record by someone from the drum & bass scene, I suppose that rock lineage really resonated with me and my background. I don’t think anyone today could make this tune, or indeed would try. It’s frozen in time.
It’s also fucking amazing.
What was it about John Peel and Nirvana that really resonated with you? How did you come to listen to those guys rather than, let's say, hip hop artists?
When I was a kid in the ‘90s, there was a lot of exciting music. You had the whole alternative movement with bands like Nirvana leading the charge and the rave movement with jungle and hardcore etc. The main thing about John Peel was that he would play Nirvana and then Source Direct and then Sonic Youth and then some crazy world music record – that kind of variety was inspiring! Back then it was all about being in different camps. What music you liked was your identity and though that remains true in a way, now we’re more likely to listen to a variety of music.
The kind of diversity of music John Peel was presenting resonated with me, especially as I had friends who separated into these camps of either liking Nirvana or rave music. To me, the energy of what was happening in drum & bass is similar to what I felt when listening to guitar music so it seemed like a natural progression to go from listening to Nirvana to listening to drum & bass.
Jonny L - See Red
Does this tune make sense? I don’t know, it sounded like nothing else then and it still sounds like nothing else today. If you ever lose sight just put some Jonny L on. You still won’t have a clue what’s going on but you won’t care anymore.
Dom Optical & Fierce (Outfit) - New York
It’s so hard to choose key drum & bass tracks as there’s been so many. This is a weird one, and that’s the reason why I love it so much. If you listen, it feels so raw, so rough round the edges but that’s what makes it so perfect. The bassline in this tune is horrible in every sense of the word and every time I listen to it, it reminds me why I love this music.
MIST - How You Make Me Feel
31 as a label was always a huge inspiration for me - a label that released a diverse range of styles but was always 31 and always excellent. This track is the pinnacle for me. And indeed the other side ‘Neptune’ is also an understated classic from a time where everything MIST touched turned into pure gold. Not the first 'liquid' tune by any means but one of the greatest ever.
Noisia - Hand Gestures
I couldn’t do a list without including something from these guys. They’re a huge influence. Their approach to the music, the scene, their attitude to new artists and their overall ethics are a benchmark. At the top of their game without compromise. I could have chosen dozens of their tracks but I wanted to go with ‘Hand Gestures’. No one does a banger like Noisia but also, no one does subdued quite like them. When I talk to artists about trying something different this is the tune I reference. The drums make me feel like I’m losing my shit.
You spoke about DIY ethics and the importance of innovation - would you say this is what defines Critical Music?
I think those DIY ethics run through every independent label, you aren’t this huge machine that has power in the industry but you have the ability to be agile and innovative. I'm often asked about the labels ethos and I just like to put out music I love by good people trying something a little different.
Kemal and Rob Data - Gene Sequence
Almost mythical, I never saw them DJ and that hurts. Critical is a label that releases all across the genre and if MIST are the reason I love the deeper sound then these guys are the reason I love head-banging-against-the-wall tech roll outs.
Photo: Sarah Ginn