O’Flynn – Tyrion was the anthem of 2015, and the majority of 2016, too. It had the ubiquity of a Bieber single being pushed by a multi-million pound marketing teach across all possible mainstream music channels – yet it was produced by an unknown artist on an unknown label. Luckily for this label, it was probably the most ID’d track of those two years, too. Blip Discs became a household name in the dance music underground. It’s the afro-percussion-sampling-bangers label we’ve all been waiting for. Or is it?
Tom Blip is doing a stellar job of settling down into the running of the label after his astronomical success. He is taking its sound ( as well as his own productions) in a new direction entirely. We phoned up the Leeds affiliate to find out where exactly this is. Truth is, though, he doesn’t know either, and doesn’t want to know…
What is your link with Leeds? What did you do when you were here?
“So I studied at the college of music, and I stayed around for a year after my degree just DJing at various bars and living the high life. You can get by on so little money up there, it’s brilliant. It’s still a big part of my life. It sounds quite stupid but my hairdresser is there, and I still go and get my hair cut by him because we are such close friends now. His name is Benny. He used to work next door to Outlaws but he’s got his own salon called Black Heart and Co now. I also go to the Cosmic Slop night wherever possible, too.”
Did you enjoy your time at the college?
“Yeah. I think it’s a bit like learning to drive. You don’t really learn very much when you’re on the course itself, but I think what you manage to achieve once you’re on your own feet is where I flourished really. The course didn’t teach me all that much, but it certainly put me in the position where I was able to meet the guys who I started the label with and produced on it, like O’Flynn. When you do a creative degree, it’s what you do outside of it that is most important.”
What was hot in music when you were in Leeds? What club nights were popular?
“One Night With was really really great. The one with Floating Points. Those nights were really cool. I suppose the other night that I used to go to all the time was Cosmic Slop. George the doorman used to take the piss out of me every time I went there because I would turn up by myself all the time. He’d say “oh, here’s billy no mates again” and things like that. I often couldn’t find anyone to go to the night with. But that was the night I went to because it was really important.”
How are you feeling about playing on a Monday night to a student crowd at Brotherhood?
“Yeah, quite apprehensive. But, having said that, I don’t really think I have enough of a name behind me just yet to really play to much more than a student crowd who on the off chance go to bars and hear some decent music. To be honest with you, I am looking forward to it in many respects. Usually I just like to have a really good time playing and dip into genres that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get away with at a different kind of night. I can think “what UK Funky can I play?” or “what hip-hop can I play?”. It’s great when people have no idea who you are or what to expect. It’s kind of nicer than people going to a night thinking “this is the guy who runs Blip Discs, he’ll be playing a load of afro bangers for two hours”, and to have a clean slate where I can think about the tunes I can have fun with. Obviously it poses challenges as well because I don’t have a name and a reputation behind me that back you up. However having cut my teeth playing in bars, I’m actually ok at giving people what they want.”
It’s interesting that you say you want to explore more genres and have more fun with the set, because your latest release is a Baltimore club tune [listen here]. What’s the story behind that?
“So I started buying a lot more baltimore club records back when I was starting my label because Pearson Sound was dropping them in a lot of his mixes. And then actually, I’m not sure if you remember, but there was a release on Numbers, Jackmaster’s label called Bring in the cat, and that was kind of a nod to Baltimore Club. I made that tune and I just wanted to have fun with it really. It just came together quite quickly and had a great beat, and I wasn’t really thinking of putting it out but O’Flynn said he was playing it everywhere and it was going off.”
Didn’t it exist as a dub plate for a bit?
“Yeah. One of FYI Chris, who run West Friends, picked up one of the dub plates and said he wanted to release it on their label. I had no plans to release it on Blip Discs because it had no place there at all. So I just said yeah, let’s do it. I’m excited to play it out. I have a guilty attraction to ghettoey tracks – I just love playing stuff that makes you want to get low haha!”
Was it nice to have a release on a label other than your own? I saw an interview with O’Flynn which suggested that your quality control is quite strict.
“I have a somewhat loose vision for Blip Discs, and that probably stops me from putting my own tracks out on it. It took me two years between Wrong Quanco and the latest one to get another track out on my own label. Releasing on your own label is definitely really stressful because it’s all on you. It’s completely up to you to make the release successful. So it was really nice to quite light heartedly say to another label that they can do what they want. It’s a lot less stressful, and a bit of a treat. But also you need to trust the label that you are releasing on, and I trust FYI Chris. I think they are great, and all the releases they have been doing for West Friends have been great. I think they are super underrated. They embody the Rye Wax sound and have a great, punk-y attitude.”
Was it quite difficult to break out of the afro-influenced sound that Blip Discs had become known for? Your last couple of releases are not like that at all.
“Yes it was difficult but it was also a conscious decision. I knew it was going to be hard to get people to come round to it after setting ourselves up with that afro-sound. But having grown up with dance music, I think so many labels and producers pigeonhole stuff, and it becomes a bit of a trap, because the only way that you can beat your previous release is to do something bigger and harder of the same sound. And I didn’t want to get into a situation where I just wanted to top the last release. I want every release to stand up of its own accord. That’s why I made a conscious decision to go in the complete opposite direction, and to get rid of what people might expect from the label. The first release was so far beyond our expectations – now it’s about carving out a new identity for the label. I think people can see that. However, [aside] this is ridiculous, one of the comments that I saw on New Music Group under a post with the Spooky J record said: “yeah, but it’s not a banger like Tyrion, is it?” You can’t have people comparing new releases to the older ones. I’d rather not create a narrative with the tracks, but let them stand on their own.”
Starting up a label seems like such a big responsibility to me. Some friends and I have discussed it, but it seems like such an impossible task almost, so it is brave of you to do it.
“Yeah, you’re right. I am 24 now, so I was about 22 when I did the first release. I owe a lot to my tutors at the college. There was a guy who was head of enterprise who I used to meet up with every week, and he kind of became my counsellor in a way. I was just freaking out – I didn’t know what to do, what tracks to go for. I wanted it to be perfect. But you’ve just got to do it. There’s no point in trying to apply meaning to it now. Apply meaning to it years later when you have more idea about what you are doing. With the first release I had no idea what it was or what I wanted to do with it. There’s somewhat of an expectation that as an artist you have to have some kind of meaning behind what you are doing. But actually, I don’t think you do. I think if you just want to do something, you should just fucking do it, and apply meaning later. That’s what I’ve found with Tyrion and Wrong Guanco. The releases only start to have a life once they’re out there. And there’s not much you can do, pre-meditated, to have control over it.”
Sometimes imposing a meaning onto music can end up being pretentious and part of a club night or label’s “brand”, to use a business term.
“Yeah. It’s really hard in dance music to construct a meaning out of songs, and that’s because we often have no lyrics. So how are we supposed to convey meaning? It’s the same with record labels. They realise that people need a narrative to grab on to and connect with the artists. Sometimes labels need to create a brand in order to do this, but this can be superficial. I don’t want my record label to be a brand. It’s not a t-shirt company. I’d rather the releases exist on their own merit.”
You mentioned earlier about the strange comment on social media about a Blip Discs release. What do you think is the place of social media in the dance music community? Does it narrow or broaden our listening habits?
“I think social media is good, actually. It actually widens the playing field a little bit. It’s not certain labels dominating anymore – it’s more level. What I’ve learned from releasing records is that you are still going to get releases that go under the radar even if they are brilliant – that always happens in music – but it is easier now to get up there. I’ve certainly been a huge beneficiary of that. Just look at our start which absolutely came out of nowhere. A lot of people were talking about us on forums and the new music group were really behind our sound. I think generally [social media] is really great. A lot of time when you go on the Phonica charts or the Juno charts, the high charting records are from labels that I’ve never heard of. And that is really reassuring, because it shows that it doesn’t matter how much hype you have behind your label. The fact is that if you put out a good record, it can do well.”