Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
The enigmatic London record label Unknown to the Unknown emerged in its current form in March 2011, with the release of its first 12” ‘Assassin’, confusingly released under the artist name Unknown to the Unknown. This name was the alias of the anonymous label head, who is perhaps better known as DJ Haus. However, the Unknown to the Unknown name had been kicking around for a bit longer, first being used as the name of Haus’s Youtube channel, which still exists today as the first port of call (although there’s a new Tumblr page too) for videos and radio rips of the UTTU label’s releases. The channel started off as a way for Haus to share the tracks he was coming into contact with – often sent to him by friends – but which otherwise weren’t going to see the light of day.
The label, which has released some of the most exciting records of the last year or two from all over the bass, house and garage spectrum, wears its informal Youtube origins on its sleeve with its haphazard release schedule and commitment to a striking visual aesthetic. Many of its releases are accompanied by in-house videos, which often use rave-era found footage to invoke a link with the energy of the ‘Ardkore era. There is indeed an analogue between the cut-and-paste, flyers and cassettes aesthetic of that era and the ephemeral nature of the online video promos that UTTU favors. However, this doesn’t mean the label is interested in looking back at that era with blunt nostalgia, and in the Q&A below DJ Haus briefly discusses his intense interest in the new possibilities offered to music distribution in the digital era.
In the space of two years, UTTU has assembled one of the most geographically and genre-diverse rosters in dance music – one that is certainly facilitated by the unlikely connections of likeminded individuals the internet enables. Aside from releasing the boss’s own stuff as DJ Haus, the label also boasts releases from Bassline legend DJ Q, the manic footwork filtered through Detroit techno of DJ Stingray, Palace’s twisted UKG, and recent Stateside figures in bass music, such as Dubbel Dutch and LOL Boys.
“Starting a label is kind of the next step on from collecting records I guess. You want to get more involved with the whole process” – DJ Haus
It can be difficult to find out much official information about UTTU and, lacking a proper website and with such a prodigious output from its Youtube channel, it can be hard to figure out what’s an “official” release and what isn’t. In light of this, following the short Q&A below is a five release primer of the most essential Unknown to the Unknown releases, the ones you should check out before immediately rushing to get everything else.
DJ Haus – Unknown to the Unknown 2013 label mix.
Can you talk about the impetus to start UTTU?
DJ Haus: “Starting a label is kind of the next step on from collecting records I guess. You want to get more involved with the whole process, you know, and you want to do art and get a cool logo done and get this cool DJ to do a remix… And I really enjoy it.”
The label has always had a striking visual component, I guess due to its roots as a Youtube channel. Are all your music videos done in-house?
DJ Haus: “Most of them are done by me, but the ones that are actually quite good aren’t done by me.”
What are the inspirations for the label, both in terms of its sound and the way it operates?
DJ Haus: “I try not to over think any of it, it’s a pretty loose operation as you can probably tell. It’s basically using what’s around to do some cool shit so is kind of inspired by whoever is involved I guess.”
“I’m a fan boy, you know, I find something on Soundcloud or get a DJ promo and I’m listening to it for ages going this tune is so sick!! And then it ends up I can actually put it out, and I’m thinking, ‘No fucking way!!!! This is too sick is this actually happening’” – DJ Haus
There’s a bit of a trend for recent underground dance music to look back to rave culture for inspiration right now – with rawer production, adopting the imagery, and mixing up different sounds & time periods. UTTU mixes up a lot of genres, do you see the label as tapping into the energy and feel of rave culture in this way?
DJ Haus: “Not really, it’s definitely not looking back. I’d like to think I’m doing something pretty new, utilizing platforms like Tumblr and Youtube to post cool shit I dig. I mean in the scale of a couple of years that’s nothing new, and everyone is already doing it, but in a standard label format I think it’s a pretty new way of working. For me I put as much effort into giving away a free track as I do a vinyl release – there are so many different ways to get the vibes out there, I’m just using as much of it as I can.”
There are some unlikely names on your roster, how did it come about that you’re releasing records by older school garage/bassline guys like DJ Q along with newer American bass music producers like Dubbel Dutch and 5kinandbone5?
“I see it all as a stream of vibes, a contumelious stream of rad shit” – DJ Haus
DJ Haus: “There is no agenda to do something, if I want to do something I try and make it happen. And if it happens, it happens, pure vibes. I’m a fan boy, you know, I find something on Soundcloud or get a DJ promo and I’m listening to it for ages going this tune is so sick!! And then it ends up I can actually put it out, and I’m thinking, ‘No fucking way!!!! This is too sick is this actually happening,’ type shit…”
What is your favorite UTTU release to date?
DJ Haus: “I see it all as a stream of vibes, a contumelious stream of rad shit… So I think they all are fucking great.”
Five essential UTTU releases (and one more new one):
Stingray – Enters the Unknown
Cat. Number: UTTU_005
Actually a collaboration between Drexciya associate DJ Stingray and DJ Haus, the relentless one-two punch of the A-sides conjures up a hybridized ghettotech, combining the insistent, syncopated bass hits of footwork and Detroit jit with otherworldly techno cityscapes. The remix from fellow Drexciya associate Heinrich Mueller is elongated, brittle and deep – honing in on those icy arpeggios for that after-hours vibe. And finally, London dark electro producer Cestrian’s remix rounds out the release in robust, classic-sounding style.
DJ Q – All Junglist
Cat. Number: UTTU_014_B
Straight on that vintage jungle tip, just like the title suggests, Radio 1Xtra’s DJ Q’s All Junglist combines crisp Amen breaks with some seriously transcendent hardcore stabs, as well as piano to fulfill that emotional trigger. And, of course, DJ Q’s background and expertise being in garage and bassline, the whole thing skips and hop along at a healthy pace, and with plenty of rolling sub-bass to keep things interesting. B-side Will I Ever Be Free is a classic cut of garage-y house, its insistent beat enriched by sumptuous strings, tinkling pianos and fantastically cut-up vocals.
DJ Haus – Needin’ U
Cat. Number: UTTU_1-UP
At first glance a throwback hardcore number (and the video doesn’t help), Needin’ U is a deceptively hybridized track. The skittering hi-hats in the intro establish a manic intensity that the track maintains throughout, which is only furthered by the almost hands-in-the-air bassline (!) that surfaces halfway through. The whole thing is marked by a stuttering, off-kilter sensibility, and is the opposite of what the flipside achieves, a slightly swung, almost tribal remix of the track from DFA-affiliated Capracara. There’s also an MK remix of this track floating around that’s well worth a listen.
Palace – Trust
Cat. Number: UTTU_26
Raw garage-meets-eski from young East London producer Palace – he is one of UTTU’s best recent discoveries and this is one of my favourite videos from last year. Trust is twisted and grime-y in its original form, with a 2-step beat holding things in place underneath a relentlessly bad-vibes lead. Relative newcomer Matrixxman turns in a slower, more spacious remix that’s remarkable in letting the core element of the track seemingly just hang there, while to round things out the remix from bassline-duo Mista Men is as fun a rendition as one could hope, with plenty of crisp bassline swing.
Legowelt – Star Gazing
Cat. Number: UTTU_LEGO
Legowelt needs no introduction, and it’s a testament to UTTU’s growing curatorial power that February saw the release of an EP from the Dutch producer on the label. ‘Star Gazing’ is three tracks of distinctly cerebral, acid-inflected house/techno that, to be honest, remind me a lot of the early Bleep records from Northern England. Visions in My Mind is the standout track, with its pensive, layered deep house giving way stylishly but dramatically part-way through to a much more robust beat, which kicks in with some classically chopped-up vocals.
And something new:
Slackk – Minor Triads
Cat. Number: UTTU_ICE_AGE
UK weirdo grime producer Slackk has returned to UTTU after a long absence for one of the strangest records in the label’s oeuvre. The record evidently takes inspiration from Eastern folk music, covering each slow-moving track in a discordant cradle of strings and flutes, in a way that’s both entrancing and beguiling. Blue Forest is perhaps the best distillation of this, with its skittering beats working around and with the slippery lute action.