Two floors above a record shop called Intoxica on West London's bustling Portobello Road, the two men behind one of the UK's oldest independent record labels are easing into a day's work in a cluttered office lined with shelves heaving with books, comics, videos, and kung fu movie ephemera. "As you can see," says James Dyer, the label manager of DC Recordings, surveying his empire, "This is the throbbing epicenter."
Joke he may, but after 11 years in business, DC Recordings is entering its prime. Over the past few years, a series of choice releases by out-there artists such as The Emperor Machine, Padded Cell, and Kelpe have cemented the label's reputation as a leader in the field of oddball electronics and sci-fi disco. This comes at a time when the worldwide appetite for this kind of music–'70s-style cosmic synth jams and tripped-out, smacky electro–appears to be healthier than ever. But if modern-day disco dandies such as Lindstrøm, Daniel Wang, and Quiet Village (and labels like DFA, Rong, and Whatever We Want) push flower-powered pleasure funk, the DC boys offer something more volatile and uncontainable.
"You can sense that something's boiling, that something's happening around the label at the moment," admits DC's founder and galvanizing force Jonathan Kane (a.k.a. J Saul Kane, Depth Charge). A stocky, stubbled, easygoing Londoner in his late 30s, Kane began producing and DJing crunchy hip-hop in his teens while addicted to Marley Marl, kung fu flicks, and Lee "Scratch" Perry. He's seen most trends in dance come and go and views them with suspicion.
In 1987, Kane co-founded the Vinyl Solution label in the same building where DC now resides, and enjoyed considerable success releasing rave outfit Bizarre Inc., whose 1991 hit "Playing With Knives" was an international smash. "I'm not saying we're going to get in the charts this time but there's a similar atmosphere around the [DC] records," he says, more realist than pessimist. "You can never tell. You can have the best record in the world and sell 20 copies. You can have the worst record and sell loads."
Annoyed by the number of dodgy house tracks and garage mixes Vinyl Solution was releasing, Kane dissolved the label in 1995 and immediately started DC. In one guise or another, he's responsible for most of its early output. As the kung fu-fixated Depth Charge, Kane's "Legend of the Golden Snake," "Disko Airlines," and "Blue Lipps" singles and his albums–Nine Deadly Venoms and Lust–provided some seriously wayward entertainment, while pioneering the fusion of hip-hop breaks with house and experimental electronics. Though often mentioned as a pioneer in the same breath as Bomb The Bass and Renegade Soundwave, Kane demurs. "I don't even remember most of my records once I've finished with them," he says. "I'm on to the next one. I don't hark on the past too much; no point."
As it happens, DC's 12" singles and albums generally sell between 2,000 and 4,000 copies. Like Rephlex or Clone, it's one of those leftfield labels with distinctive packaging and a strong personality that both inquisitive music fans and purists feel they can trust. Any record from DC's 70-strong catalog pretty much guarantees a strangely rewarding listen, as their debut label compilation proves. Featuring a dozen sharp avant-pop shocks from Kelpe, The Orichalc Phase, White Light Circus, Emperor Machine, and Padded Cell, the collection is unified by the rather old-fashioned and peculiarly British spirit of unhinged adventure. From bleepy Krautrock to thrusting hip-hop, dubbed-out disco to reissues of cult soundtracks, Death Before Distemper finds DC further defining its own style of outsider electronics.
"DC has got a certain sound; all its artists make a similar but totally different [type of music]," says Andy Meecham, The Emperor Machine's vintage synth sorcerer. "I see it as a really exciting futuristic record label, and I suppose, consciously or subconsciously, I may have geared Emperor Machine to the DC sound so I could work with James and Jonathan." Meecham and Kane have history: Meecham was one half of Bizarre Inc. with Dean Meredith (now of White Light Circus and Chicken Lips). As Big 200, the pair returned to work with Kane and released the hugely underrated Your Personal Filth album on DC in 2002, an LP ripe for revival.
"If it wasn't for [Kane], the Chemical Brothers wouldn't exist. He's a genius, totally out there on his own," raves DJ Richard Sen of London's fast-rising psycho-disco duo Padded Cell, one of DC's inspired additions. "It's because of [Kane] that DC has survived for so long. They don't follow trends and have never been in or out of fashion. He was doing dark disco and electro 10 years before everyone else."
It is one thing to be ahead of your time, however, and quite another to be of it. After more than a decade, it seems everyone else has finally caught up with DC.
Pieces of Eight
The many sides of the Octagon Man.
Like Aphex Twin, Jonathan Saul Kane has used a number of aliases to express himself over the years. You may know him best as disco deity Depth Charge, but who else is he?
"When I started out many moons ago' wanted to have one character with many different facets," says Kane. " Octagon Man was the first and Depth Charge was part of that." As the schizophrenic Octagon Man, Kane has peddled strange, gnarly electro since 1989.
Key release: Itô Calculus LP (DC, 2000)
"This was a DJ name I had when I was scratching and DJing hip-hop in the late '80s. I'd DJ at the Mudd club in Soho four times a week," says Kane, who devised the name in 1983 and used it for his first remixes, including Bomb The Bass's 1988 hit "Megablast." Grimm Death died when Depth Charge took off.
Key release: "Too Tuff To Rip" (Vinyl Solution, 1988)
Unveiled in 1989 with the mighty "Bounty Killer" track, Kane's influential, kung fu-obsessed, disco-hip-hop alias Depth Charge has been the one constant in his career–he DJs as Depth Charge today. Recent works reveal a freakier, more experimental bent.
Key release: "Blue Lipps" and LustM LP (DC, 1998 and 1999, respectively)
Alexander's Dark Band
"I made Alexander's Dark Band to fill the gap left by Depth Charge, which had taken a new direction," says Kane of his more avant-garde project. "But I still wanted to make that kind of horrible, nasty, grungy hip-hop."
Key release: Dobutsu Bancho LP (DC, 2005)
"I was with Eon [Ian Loveday, Kane's early co-producer] and decided to make a funny rave record 'round his house."
Key release: "Help" (Vinyl Solution, 1991)
"This was another off-the-cuff, crazy idea."
Key release: "Mr. Selfish" (Vinyl Solution, 1991)
One of Kane's short-lived disco-ish projects. "I'm doing another T.E.T. album next," he says, "Been planning that for about 25 years."
Key release: "Burning Paradise" (Vinyl Solution, 1994)
J Saul Kane
His real name, and one he used for a handful of scratch remixes for Bomb The Bass in the late '80s.
Key releases: "Beat Dat (Freestyle Scratch Mix)" from Bomb The Bass' Into the Dragon LP (Rhythm King, 1988) and Eon's "Spice (J Saul Kane Mix)" (Vinyl Solution, 1990)