Continuing our exploration of some of the world's most innovative and diverse dance music labels, this week we catch up with Kevin Griffiths to talk about his Tsuba imprint.
A relative newcomer to the game, Tsuba has established itself as one of the UK's key deep house players, and has served as a platform for founder and A&R man Kevin Griffiths to release his own material as well as tracks from producers like Steve Lawler, Milton Jackson and Peace Division. We caught up with him to discuss current projects, the UK's musical heritage and to lay a certain rumour to rest...
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do…
I’m Kevin Griffiths and Tsuba is my label. The first release was in January 2006 and since then the label has gone from strength to strength and is one of the UKs key imprints for underground house, but then I would say that!
Tsuba has become a fairly established label in a relatively short space of time…what makes you stand out from the pack?
It probably sounds obvious but I try to focus on high quality releases that will hopefully still sound good in 10 years. There is a lot of throwaway stuff around, especially since the advent of the digital-only label. I've also re-ignited my passion for vinyl this year so have made more of an effort with that, starting the 'Tsuba Colours' series of coloured 12"s and doing some full sleeves with beautiful artwork. That’s a really important part of Tsuba and adds to the vibe of the label.
What is the A&R policy at Tsuba?
There's a variety of factors involved when deciding on a signing, but fundamentally the music needs to excite me and stand out from the pack. I don't want to be tied down to one particular genre either. I mean Tsuba is in a certain area musically and there's a common thread that runs through the releases, but I love the deeper stuff and more energetic stuff so want to release both. I did toy with the idea of starting another label so I could split the sound, but I then I thought that would just dilute what I do. I'm much happier having one really strong label with a bit of variety. I'm able to do a deep house release like Moodymanc as well as a Peace Division 12" so it makes sense. Quality is the key!
Tell us about some of the key artists the label’s been working with recently.
Moodymanc is someone I've started working with recently so I have a follow up to 'Seedz' coming in December and I'm sure some more singles next year. The guy is super talented! Okain is really developing as an artist and it’s nice to be part of that having released one of his first records. I’ve got another really strong EP from him after the summer. Then there's Federico Molinari, who has a single coming which all stemmed from a remix I got from him last year. We stayed in touch and he's now on the label.
Now peace division have split, Justin Drake is doing his debut EP later this year which is an absolute killer. Bearweasel and Eric Borgo are working on follow up singles and I have some other newer people doing releases who I'm very excited about as well as a couple of bigger artists who are working on releases which is top secret right now!! I like to work with people who are easy to get along with and who don't take themselves too seriously – it’s important to have some fun. There are some real egos in this business. Come on people, it’s just dance music!
Personally, what’s going happening on the production/remix front at the moment?
Just signed an EP to Four:Twenty which includes one original from me (Simon Baker is also doing a remix) and two tracks I've done with Okain. It’s called 'Journey to Jah EP’ and should be out in by November. I'm also just finishing my next Tsuba EP that should be out in September. I would be nice to do some more releases for other labels so I'll just keep beavering away on new tracks and see what happens. I do really enjoy creating music, but finding the time is the hard bit.
Ha ha! I couldn't possibly comment, other than to say the majority of great dance music is sample based. It’s the way that u use the sample that counts!
Why do you think the UK has such a strong history of producing stand-out house labels?
I guess the UK has real heritage and dance music history so maybe that's why. You're not going to get rich doing this so you need to have a genuine passion for it. I'm sure that's another factor.
Where would you ideally like the see the label in 5 years time?
Maintaining the quality on the release front is a must. I've done a few Tsuba parties but need to do more label events to help build the fanbase and provide a platform for newer artists. I've started Tsuba Publishing with Bucks music which is geared towards syncs for games, TV shows. films etc so I'd like to have made some inroads in that area. An agency is a possibility as well. It’s an exciting time!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about..?
Check out the new release 'Return of the Samurai' Parts One & Two with ltd edition Japanese artwork on the 12" and new exclusive tracks from Rozzo, Nima Gorji, Two Armadillos and David Pher. It’s a killer!
'Return of the Samurai' is available to download now from Beatport