Label of the Month: RAM Records
Label of the Month: RAM RecordsJune 7, 2022
When Beatportal catches up with UK drum & bass legend Andy C, he’s just returned from a huge Australian tour. “The vibe out there was just insane. All five shows were so beautiful with the crowds and the reactions to the music.” Despite playing three-and-a-half-hour sets, he says that “the audiences were just as nutty at the end as they were at the start.”
Although he’s back in the thick of it post-pandemic and making up for lost time, Andy is just thrilled to be back out and DJing again. “Some weekends you can be playing in four countries in three days and then, at first, you feel like you want to rest after a tour.” But “you get really itchy feet,” he says.
These wide-ranging global bookings are emblematic of how massive a part Andy and his label RAM Records have played in the worldwide rise of the genre, even though he originally started the label for fun.
After attending his first rave, aged 13 (“my sister took me and it was in a barn”), the wheels were set in motion for what followed. “It blew my mind, then I went to school on Monday slightly obsessed with what I’d experienced at the weekend,” he laughs. Growing up, Andy also listened to pirate radio stations in Essex and cycled to his local record store in Romford after school. And Andy says it’s no exaggeration to say that he “camped” there. “I was there so much that they gave me a job.”
This 24/7 exposure to dance music was formative for Andy, and discovering music and buying records soon became an obsession. Naturally, after raiding his piggy bank and borrowing some money from his parents, he picked up a set of Audio-Technica Belt-Drive turntables. Soon he found Shut Up & Dance, the UK duo who combined hip-hop, house and hardcore. Inspired, Andy began making mixtapes for his friends at school, gravitating towards breakbeats that had funky beats and samples from old soul records. Jungle and drum & bass came along around the same time.
Photo by: Gavin Wallace
In 1992, when Andy finished school, his mum told him that he needed to get a job. “I remember, I was having dinner and my mum was like ‘right, you got to get a job, because this isn’t a summer holiday’,” he laughs, aged 16 at the time. “Back then, there wasn’t an option of going to college or university. It was just like going straight out of school and then into a job,” he adds. Luckily, Andy’s sister had an idea.
“She said to me, ‘why don’t you start a record label?’ so we looked into it there and then,” Andy remembers. Everything fell into place from that moment: his sister suggested the name, RAM Records, drew up the original logo in felt tip pen on a bit of scrap paper and Andy looked in the Yellow Pages to find a record label printing company. While he spoke on the phone with the printer, Andy boldly asked if they knew how to press records, and the printers hooked him up with someone who could help. With his sister’s design in the mail and ready for printing, Andy’s label was born.
By the time Andy returned from his first parent-free holiday to Magaluf that summer, the first RAM label pressing was there waiting for him. “My dad came and picked us up at the airport and in the boot of the car was the debut release,” he says.
The idea of running a label and “doing something that I love” excited Andy, because it meant he “wouldn’t need to get a proper job. It was like, ‘Well I’ll give this a go and see what happens’,” he says, having approached it as “an exciting adventure.”
Andy particularly enjoyed the DIY physicality of everything back then, especially because the community was based around record stores. “At the weekends, you’d go, and that’s how you’d get flyers to find out what events were on, and then hear new music”.
Because Andy had recently started producing, he initially envisioned RAM as a platform for his solo creations. But plans changed after his 1993 song “Valley of the Shadows” became an underground hit. Written as drum & bass duo Origin Unknown with friend Ant Miles, many of the track’s drum sounds were sampled from the free CD that came in the magazine sleeve of an early issue of the UK’s Future Magazine. Even more incredibly, the duo wrote the track, which was originally released as a B-side, in just four hours. It’s since become one of the label’s best-selling tracks, and one of its most recognizable.
As RAM gained traction, they brought friends like Shimon to the label. His 1994 track “Predator” became a RAM fan favourite. By 1997, the label released its first RAM Records compilation, with a second following a year later. The next three years saw Andy and his tight crew carry the RAM legacy into the new millennium, when they finally began bringing fresh talent into the fold, many of whom became international d&b scene leaders.
Andy recalls being handed a demo CD at a gig, which featured two tracks called “X-Ray” and “Scarecrow.” “I went home and listened to them a few days later and they absolutely blew my mind,” Andy recalls. They were early works by Nicolaas Douwma, who would later become Sub Focus.
Andy immediately tried to call him, but one digit from the phone number Douwma had left on the CD was barely visible. So Andy did what any sane person would do in the age before social media existed: he guessed, trying variation after variation before finally dialing the right digits. Douma’s first release, X-Ray / Scarecrow, landed in 2005 on Frequency, the RAM sister label that Andy launched in 2002.
Around 2003, Andy was invited to host a RAM club night at The End in London. “To be asked to do a night there was just amazing,” he says. “I’ve got a few memories… and I’ve definitely got a few lost memories, too,” Andy laughs. “It was legendary. You can’t even express how important that was,” he adds, recalling the impressive sound system and the DJ booth placement, which was in the middle of the club, so he was surrounded by the crowd. RAM eventually threw parties there every two months.
The label was firing on all cylinders too. And Andy and his team were so inundated with demos that in 2012 they launched a second sister label, Program, as a place for more experimental takes on d&b. “It was about trying to bring through as many artists as possible,” he says.
Meanwhile, RAM artists kept on becoming household names, including Chase & Status and Wilkinson. “I remember meeting Chase & Status at a Chinese restaurant in Church End and them wanting to have big albums and sell out arenas. It was great to discover their vision and the hunger, and that to later manifest in albums. Their debut, More Than A Lot, was incredible.”
Andy also remembers being handed a demo CD of Wilkinson’s “massive tune” “Afterglow” and playing it in his kitchen for the first time. “I had just made a cup of tea and the track absolutely blew my mind. I could just tell that this guy was on completely the right track,” he says. The song showcased a sound and dynamic that he’d not heard before, and in the summer of its release in 2013, the track became a feature of the festival circuit.
Despite his initial excitement over “Afterglow,” Andy never imagined RAM would find such commercial crossover success. “You never start out with that aim,” he says. “It happened naturally.”
The first RAM Records track to hit the charts and get daytime radio play was “Body Rock,” Andy’s 2001 collaboration with Shimon. “It was very unexpected, yet took on a new lease of life,” he adds. To get such recognition, and later with other artists on the label, has been a “beautiful thing” for Andy. And while there isn’t a specific criteria he looks for when signing a track or artist, Andy suggests that it’s about “finding a moment that really talks to you, whether that’s a synth arrangement or chord sequence.”
That’s not to say Andy is completely hands-off during the production process, occasionally offering feedback and advice to younger artists. “That’s where I hopefully help new artists because you can hear great things in the demo. It might not be right for release, but it’s trying to give that artist the confidence in order to strive to get their tune to that place where it can be released.”
Due to the past few pandemic years, Andy and his team saved up plenty of tunesm, getting ready for the return of festivals and for clubs to reopen. “I was sort of not quite sure what to do. It felt like it didn’t make sense to release songs that are made for parties when people aren’t able to go out,” Andy says.
Instead, the label adapted by throwing a virtual party that was live-streamed to tens of thousands of people worldwide. “It was amazing, and actually ended up giving a real good exposure to the music because the tracklist was also shared online. It became a fantastic platform to expose new styles and new artists,” he says.
It also helped Andy personally, as it enabled him to feel a connection that had been missing through the Covid-19 lockdown. “The feeling of unity was beautiful because, as a person who has been DJing out every week for God knows how long, it left such a hole in my life. Before that, it was like I was constantly running — and then it just stopped.”
If one positive did come from the lockdown, though, Andy says it is that d&b is “having a bit of a moment.” Though he’s not entirely sure why that is, he believes “it’s the healthiest it’s been in years. And, at the same time, it feels like a whole new generation coming through and making tunes. It means that, if you’re at a festival, you’re going to have three decades’ worth of people enjoying d&b.”
Although Andy is the first to admit that he’s “biased, because it’s my life,” he thinks the recent popularity is going to result in a huge summer festival season. But, because so many new artists are coming through, he says “it’s hard to keep on top of the scene, but it feels like a lot of new people are going to get some fantastic exposure”.
When it comes to his own label, RAM remains the vanguard for UK drum & bass. Even after three decades of incredible releases and unforgettable parties, nobody does d&b quite like RAM.
Ben Jolley is a freelance journalist living in the UK. Find him on Twitter.