It's no secret that English garage producer Zed Bias has a skilled touch in the studio. The Streets, Whitney Houston and even Destiny's Child have tapped him to remix their music. But these days, even if a diva like Beyoncé stopped by the studio, Zed might not have the time to lay down her vocals. That's because the production whiz isn't merely making his tracks. Along with production partner Injekta, the other half of Phuturistix, he's trying to sculpt the new sound of their burgeoning Phuture Lounge label.
"The whole concept is more organic now," says Zed, who also records as Maddslinky. "When we started making music together, we weren't able to achieve what we wanted to in a technical sense. Now we know."
The new imprint gives the music mavens a chance to add their signature touch–tweaked two-step that's full, atmospheric and refined–to a wide range of releases. Coupled with Breathe Some Light, the sophomore release from Phuturistix is set to drop in England early this year and Zed and Injekta are positioned to experience quite a payoff in 2006.
The duo began working together in 1998, dropping a dark, edgy single called "Crazy," the first of many collaborations that skirted the boundaries of contemporary club music. "We weren't the same as other people making two-step at the time," said Zed. "We were a little different. A lot of our sounds and style sounded a lot like American house. We brought in a bit of darkness."
While they continued to record individually, the Phuturistix project began to build steam and attract attention, especially after two EPs and the 2003 release of their debut album, Feel It Out (Hospital). The record reinforced the duo's reputation for focusing on moving music forward, as opposed to the scene's obsession with pomp and posing. "We still don't believe in all the flashiness," said Injekta. "We're all about the music. People were all about the style or the clothes in the club and we had our minds on other things."
That included their relationship with their label. Feeling confident in their abilities and slightly discouraged by the lack of complete freedom that any label deal entails, the duo decided they had had enough. "It was a case of going to the shop and buying all your food and having someone else cook it up," Zed explains. "We were getting really good reviews and everyone was buzzing about our music but we weren't getting the sales figures we felt we deserved. We thought we should just take it all on board ourselves."
Phuture Lounge was borne of their desire to control their own future. Zed and Injekta already had a functioning studio in Manchester, and immediately began attracting a diverse roster, including soulful UK vocalist Vaceo and Michelle Amador, a San-Francisco-based, classically-trained pianist who has since drifted towards more jazzy compositions. Everybody has a personal style, according to Zed, but all share a similar musical background and can appreciate each other's record collections. "They're like long lost cousins," said Injekta. "They're part of the family. And we think we have to keep the family entertained."
They also keep the family busy. Phuture Lounge released three singles in 2005, including a track by the Manchester funk band LTA and "Comin' For Ya" by songstress Mpho Skeef; the latter was nominated by Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Show for song of the year, but that's merely a prelude. Albums by Amador, Vaceo and Turkish/German songwriter Oezlem are all in the queue for 2006.
Breathe Some Light itself deserves attention as a showcase of the label's depth. Featuring plenty of cameos along with their own slick production, it shines light on the direction of the label and the duo's maturing studio skills. "When we first made music we were adding a more deep, gritty vibe to two-step," says Zed. "Now, perhaps, we've mellowed a bit. Now we can record live instruments and singers and use large harmony sections."
This new, larger sound–which incorporates Phuturistix's love of classic soul and the smooth synth sounds of early jungle–is a perfect platform for label vocalists to utilize. "Fly Away," featuring the fluttering vocals of Fyza, is a swirling soul workout, buoyed by tightly-wound drumbeats. Tracks like "Cohiba" and "Hurt U Twice" have a propulsive feel that clearly paints the group as Bugz in the Attic contemporaries.
Injekta and Zed hope buzz for the album and the label spreads overseas, and want to see a domestic U.S. release of Breathe Some Light by mid-year. "We've got a lot of respect for American artists like the Platinum Pied Pipers and Sa-Ra," Zed offers. "We're ready to go to America and work. We want to get the word out."