In Depth: James Ruskin Plots The Construction Lines Of His Blueprint Label
It's actually impossible to understate the importance of what James Ruskin has accomplished with his techno imprint Blueprint over the 20 years that it's been running. First founded in 1996 alongside his studio partner Richard Polson to house their production under their Outline alias, the label came at a real time of emergence for the UK's techno scene. Blueprint was born from the club community that was so prolifically nurtured by Steve Bicknell and Sheree Rashit's infamous LOST events - happenings that are cited repeatedly for their influence on an entire generation of artists. At the outset Blueprint was a home for Polson and Ruskin's own output where they quickly impressed their own unique constructions until a meeting with Oliver Ho quickly inspired them to bring him into the fold and collaborate more with friends like Mark Broom and Surgeon who have found their way onto the catalogue. Unconcerned with any kind of release schedule other than ‘it’ll come out when it’s ready’ Blueprint has always homed a decisive quality of techno and its long held a reputation as such. After a hiatus following the sad passing of Polson in 2006, Ruskin only began releasing again with his Regis collaboration O/V/R in 2009 which marked a new chapter for the label. It was then that they looked further outside of their close knit circle of peers and collaborators towards newer talents and picking up on people like Lakker (before they were picked up by R&S), Sigha and Samuel Kerridge. It was also around this time that the Blueprint parties launched at London's Cable, a series of parties which instantly captured the capital's enthusiasm for the scene by drawing on old and new talents alike. It stands to reason that Blueprint is an event we're very proud to be hosting in Room Two this coming Saturday night as the label sets out on its 20th anniversary year. All throughout those 20 years Ruskin has been an artist who has consistently presented a sound he believes in; a sound that he has always evolved and pushed the envelope of, so we’d like to take this opportunity to tip our hats to Ruskin for all he has given as we engage in a rather in depth chat. To begin, do you think you could give us a snapshot of what was going on around you when you were starting the label? It was a time when techno was really in it’s embryonic stages... James Ruskin: That period of time in the early to mid ‘90s was a very transitional time for techno. There wasn't the kind of weight of music coming out that we see these days. It was a much smaller scene that gravitated towards clubs like LOST with Steve Bicknell and there were only a handful of labels in the UK that were pushing that sound forwards - people like Downwards. It was a very interesting time to start a label and to progress the sound that we wanted to hear and the sound that we wanted to play. It really feels like there was a strong, small community then and the artists that were part of that seem to now be the ones that are most established and looked up to, such as yourself and Regis and Surgeon. Have you always been connected to them and had relationships that have helped each other along the way? Very much so. I met up with Tony as soon as we got a promo of our first Blueprint release. We sent a copy to Surgeon with a phone number on the label and he called up on the day that he received it. I think we met up the following weekend and we've been friends ever since. I then met Karl shortly after that. I think we went up to a House of God night in Birmingham where they were both playing - this would have been early ’96 - and the relationship has always been there since then. We've always tried to support what each other's been doing from that time. There definitely was a tight sense of community in the scene around that time that's carried through for the last 20 years. I find it quite telling of the time you were coming into it, a time when techno wasn't such an established form… before it you experienced sounds like ska and electro being more prominent. Do you think not having such a straight techno background to work from has helped you have a back catalogue that is quite varied and distinctive? I think everybody comes to techno from a different angle and other producer’s musical upbringing should be considerably different to mine. I think you absorb the sounds you're brought up with and the music that you listen to. I have a brother that is considerably older than me and he was bringing home a lot of different music - pre-electronic - and for me all these elements come together to create who you are and what you're trying to achieve. I think everybody that makes music should have a different story about their influences and it's these influences and these differences that seep into what you make now. It can be completely sub-conscious but your musical journey is who you end up being in terms of your sound. Going back to the label, what would you say your approach has been with Blueprint? It seems that you weren’t that concerned with having the quantity out there but more of an emphasis on quality.. Quantity was never the idea. The label came together because myself and Richard Polson were making music for several years prior to this; we had put a couple of releases out with other labels and realised fairly quickly that the best way to be fully in control of what we were envisaging was to do it all ourselves. The people that were involved in one of the first records we released had their own distribution company and we were offered a P&D deal with them which meant that we could put things in place to start Blueprint, which was around mid ‘95. The idea originally was for it just to be a vehicle for our music but Oliver Ho came on board fairly quickly after a chance meeting. What we liked was that we were dealing with everything ourselves. I guess to some extent it was slightly insular. It didn't feel like there was any need to be releasing every month it might take 6 months, it might take a year, but when it felt right that's when the record came out. And then you did go on to incorporate and release music from some of your peers and your collaborators as well. I mean, Mark Broom is someone who's featured quite heavily on the label. Is that how you went about bringing more people in from the people you were around and it came about quite naturally? Definitely. The first time we looked outside of the core of people who were involved was when myself and Richard had done some collaborations with Surgeon, but it still went back to me making the majority of music. Richard went off to start Surface and I still just saw it as an outlet for what we were doing at the time, but after the label had a break for a while, when we came back it felt like the right time to expand what we were releasing. The first release after the break came about because I had been in the studio with Regis and we'd come up with the O/V/R project. After that it felt right to expand Blueprint with people I'd worked with over the years, so yes Mark came on board fairly quickly and that's been an ongoing project. The transition with Mark has become something completely different with The Fear Ratio project but it was all part of a process that began with straight up techno records and we've now moved into a completely different field. All these things grow and mutate all the time.
"It's about pressing vinyl and keeping this thing alive"This break you just mentioned, that was following the passing of Richard Polson when you began releasing again in 2009… Did this new period in time present any new challenges to you? Vinyl sales suffered a well reported decline around this time but did you find there was still the support there for what you were doing? The support seemed to be consistent, Blueprint was away for a fair period of time after Richard's passing as I had no real connection with the studio. It was a very difficult time and I didn't feel that anything that I could have done with the label would have been right, but once the conscious decision was made to continue the support didn't seem any different. In that period the business side of things had changed considerably. As you day vinyl sales dropped but it almost didn't make any difference to me from that point of view because for me it's about the physical product and what is contained on that record, It's about pressing vinyl and keeping this thing alive, so whether you sell 500 or 5000 records if your belief is what is on that vinyl that's all that matters. But I certainly didn't see any lack of interest when we came back but I don't know if that coincided with us going into a period where techno began to grab people's imaginations again… It wasn't until these more recent years that you started doing Blueprint nights. How did that come about? When we decided to relaunch the label, Cable, which is now closed, asked us to do a relaunch party. Running club nights was never a thing that I wanted to get involved with but we did this night, it went well and they asked us to do another one which then progressed into us doing four a year. After a few years Cable sadly closed and we got offered the opportunity to keep things going and to move into different venues so that we could build on what we achieved with the nights and it kind of felt wrong to walk away from it at that point. I don't see myself as a club promoter in any respect whatsoever but I enjoy the process of curating these nights and being able to have artists that I respect play for us. The curation of the lineups on these Blueprint nights has always struck a chord with the techno community in London. It seems like there's always real excitement whenever you announce party… A huge amount of consideration goes into the lineups and our aim is to cover every aspect of what we feel is exciting within techno. There's so much new talent out there so to bring this together with artists that have been instrumental in shaping the music is important to us. I hope we do strike a chord with people and that they are looking forward to seeing what's announced next because it's definitely a labour of love. I think that’s a pretty nice transition for us to talk about that you've got together for this event on Saturday. What do you think each artist is going to bring to this event? There's going to be a cross-section of styles there which I believe is important and I think everyone brings something markedly different to the table during the night. The change in pace, mood or pressure is important within the flow for me and hopefully people will enjoy the shift dynamically through the night. As you face your 20th year of the label what would you say has been your proudest moment to date? I'm incredibly proud to be going into our 20th year. I'm proud that we're still here, that people are still interested and more importantly that Richard's legacy is also kept alive. I'm proud that something we worked out over 20 years ago is still going strong. I believe in what we're doing. I believe in the music we're releasing and I'm hoping that people can see that, can relate to that and can enjoy the ride with us. Am I right in assuming you’ve got some pretty special bits lined up for the 20th year of Blueprint? I can't say a massive amount at the moment but the next release is from a new artist on the label, Rommek. That will be coming out next week. After that we've got an EP coming from Surgeon which is actually the first time we've had a solo record from Tony which I'm really happy about. We then have something else I'm really happy about… we've got Oliver Ho to come back out with his techno moniker for the first time in many years so we've just cut a 12" with him and it's just fantastic to come full circle with someone who's been involved since day one with Blueprint! Not only have we cut a new 12” of his but we've also re-mastered one of his early records. Then following that we have a new O/V/R record after a gap of quite a few years which myself and Regis have just finished. Then we'll have a fairly extensive compilation coming up with a slightly different angle to a retrospective. There will be an announcement for that very soon. Photo Credit: Nick Ensing
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