Hype Label of the Month: Onyx Recordings

We speak with Chris Wickens to learn more about his explosive drum & bass label Onyx Recordings, and UK heavyweight 107 serves an exclusive mix.

9 min
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Oct 14, 2021
Cameron Holbrook

Coming at us straight out of Brighton, forward-thinking drum & bass music label Onyx Recordings has been on a serious run since 2020, hitting the global D&B community with guaranteed, gun-finger slammers from a roster of some of the scene’s most exciting new names.

The UK imprint first appeared in 2018 — a final university project turned next-level music label after its founder, Chris Wickens, graduated from Solent University in Southampton with a degree in Music Business. Offering free SoundCloud downloads and local showcases beefed up their street cred, and in no time Onyx Recordings gained a reputation as one of the best new D&B labels around.

While 2020 was without a doubt detrimental to many music labels across the dance music spectrum, Onyx Recordings and Wickens rose to the lockdown challenge by organising a three-day drum & bass livestream called Stay At Home Festival that raised over £30,000 for the NHS and had upwards of three million viewers. As a result, they earned a nomination for Best Virtual Festival in DJ Mag’s Best of British Awards and second place in Drum&BassArena’s 2020 award for Best Newcomer Label.

Pushing out hard-hitting releases from acts like Jam Thieves, Thread, Kontakt, Hoax, Trex, DJ Gaw and more, Onyx Recordings is nurturing the type of community that will help define the sound throughout the next decade.

We caught up with Wickens to learn more about his imprint, and one of D&B’s best up and comers, 107, whipped up an exclusive mix that properly shows off the Onyx Recordings’ sound.

Check out the interview below and listen to the mix in the player above. Check out the interview below and listen to the mix in the player above.

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Thanks for joining us, Chris! How was your summer of 2021?

Thanks for having me! This summer’s been great! As you know, the UK has been back at the event scene in full force, so it’s been amazing to hear our music being tested in its rightful battlegrounds!

How and when did you first get into drum & bass? What were some early records that captured your imagination?

What a great question. Some of the defining tracks that got me into drum & bass were back when I was 15-years-old when I heard Hazards’ “Killer’s Don’t Die” and “Machete.” I used to listen to these when playing video games as a kid as they just really fit the mood I needed. After that, I somewhat fell off for a while until I got back into D&B when I was 16, listening to old jump-up records like “Liquid Sword” and more. The rest is history.

How did you come up with the concept of Onyx Recordings? What are some key releases, events, factors, etc., that helped your record label gain a loyal following in the drum & bass community?

Right! So Onyx was the result of a very complicated and overthought final project for my Music Business degree at Solent University in Southampton. The original idea of our three-man team was to each have a record label representing and releasing the music we loved. After a while, the other guys I worked with left their labels behind so we could all double down on Onyx after I’d made some good progress with it.

Key releases, it’s got to be our first more significant release that took on SoundCloud from Vital, and then what really helped us get going was our first release from AC13. That release really put us both up there in terms of notoriety. In terms of a loyal following, we were one of the first labels to push a free download model before launching into paid, so we could foster a community before selling records. That helped heaps, and it’s now one of the go-to models if you’re not already a big DJ/producer starting a label.

You co-founded the virtual D&B festival Stay At Home in 2020. What was it like putting that event together, how much money did you end up raising for the NHS, and what was the turnout like?

Yeah! Crazy one that one. It all started from a phone call I had with Goat Shed owner Adam Slevin about shutting down a remote stream series we were working on due to COVID. After we put down the phones, I had a sudden idea like, ‘Why can’t we just have a bunch of DJs just stream themselves to the Internet, better yet one location, and better yet, why not three days worth of DJs from 10 AM – 2 AM each taking an hour each?!’ So we ended up raising with gift aid as well, north of £30,000. A proud moment indeed.

The turnout was crazy. 10 AM the first day we had 800-900 people in our first stream, which hardly faltered the whole way through, tipping the 3,000 people mark for T>I b2b Upgrade. In terms of raw numbers, it was north of 3,000,000 views over three days.

Back in June, Onyx became the first ever UK D&B label to put collectible NFTs on the market. Can you tell us about that endeavor and if you plan to follow it up with more?

Absolutely! I’m a huge fan of the crypto space and truly believe in its future to give artists a wider revenue stream and the ability to connect to their audiences. Putting it together was much easier than most people think. In terms of more, we’ve got a bunch lined up for 2022 to support our releases. These will be treated like collectibles with exclusive benefits such as VIP tickets to tours, exclusive songs and more.

What are three Onyx tracks that hold a special significance in your heart?

Firstly, it’s got to be “Parting Ways” by Muted Hue & Bazil MC. It’s close to my heart because I A&R’d Muted Hue years ago, and before he put any music out at all, he joined our Onyx team as a team member doing marketing, design and more. It was a joy to finally get his music out two years later.

Next up is “Dexter” by Jam Thieves. This one’s special because it was our first number one on Beatport. That’s just an amazing feeling in its own right. But secondly, being fans of Jam Thieves for years, this was an honour to put out.

Lastly, it was our recent and first LP, Tokyo Nights, from one of our earliest artists, DJ Gaw. George (Gaw) poured his heart and soul into this LP, and it really shows.

What does Onyx Recordings have in store for later this year and 2022?

We’ve got some amazing releases, events and other, very secret and very special things to announce that I won’t be able to speak about just yet!

Can you tell us a little bit about the mix Operate put together for us today?

Operate’s going to be taking us through a journey’s mix of Onyx, old, and new! Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s North American Editor. Find him on Twitter.

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