Wax Works

18 April 2012 | 12:20 pm | Cyclone Wehner

Nowadays a credible DJ/producer needs a credible boutique label. Brit Kevin Griffiths has an especially cool one in Tsuba Records, specialising in deep house and soulful techno, at a time when running labels is no longer a money-spinner. “Yes, it's definitely a labour of love – and also an addiction,” Griffiths says freely. “My friend Nick [Harris] at NRK [Sound Division] summed it up rather well when he said that these days running and owning a label is more of a lifestyle choice.” Regardless, Griffiths is less a 'DJ' than an ambassador for Tsuba – and the underground.

Most dance types go through a series of phases before settling on a direction. Some are old heavy metallers, others b-boys. Griffiths was an indie kid. “I was heavily into the whole 'Madchester' thing,” he divulges, reminiscing about the many iconic bands he caught live, including Happy Mondays. “I had the dodgy indie haircut, flares and generally a baggy vibe going on! At that time dance music producers like [Andrew] Weatherall and [Paul] Oakenfold started working with bands. So [for me] it was a gradual move from being an indie kid to a raver.” The DJ loves his warehousey sounds to this day. “I recently found a mix I did from 2002 and, actually, I still have the same vibe now as I did then – quite deep and musical with the odd classic thrown in. My tastes do ebb and flow, to a degree, but it's always at the deeper end of the spectrum, with emphasis on great melodies and a strong groove. There's such a huge volume of music released these days – I spend a lot of time searching for the gems, which invariably are on vinyl. Anyone can start a digital label but, if you're doing vinyl, the music must be of a certain standard or it won't sell at all – so a lot of the best tracks are on wax.”

Griffiths worked in music distribution and minded labels prior to founding Tsuba in early 2006. “I've always been an avid collector of vinyl, but it was when I started Tsuba that I began to take DJing a bit more seriously.” Knowing today's indies can't rely on music sales, Griffiths has ensured that Tsuba remains viable by throwing label parties – and touring solidly. (He's played as exotic destinations as the Canary Islands!) Griffiths lately relaunched Tsuba's website, with a shop selling vinyl and downloads. “I was pleasantly surprised by how many people want to buy direct and support the label.” Griffiths' efforts have paid off. Tsuba is among Resident Advisor's most charted labels. The company has recently issued its first 'artist' album – by Montreal's Tazz. Tsuba even has a Melbourne signing in Mic Newman. “Mic has huge talent and really stands out for his musicality,” Griffiths enthuses. “Mic's latest track for Tsuba, Knickerbocker, is a future classic in my opinion!” Tsuba also exists as an outlet for Griffiths' own music – with his 2009 Cantona Kung Fu number two on Beatport's Deep House Chart for a month. The Tunbridge Wells man admits to being “a slow producer” because of his label commitments. However, he's just completed an EP with mate (and Clive Henry's sometime Peace Division cohort) Justin Drake.

Though Griffiths champions underground music, he does have his guilty pop pleasures. “My daughter is five and is hugely into pop music, so I listen to a lot of it. Cee-Lo Green is a fave and [The Lady Killer] is a great album. Just don't get me started on One Direction!” Indeed. 

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Griffiths, a fan of Coopers beer, is now a regular visitor to Australia. “I've been a few times and it gets better each time. There's always great enthusiasm from the crowd and smiling faces and, musically, the sound of the label seems to work really well down under.” He'll guest at Friday's Fluidlife Lunar with Newman. Expect to hear fresh Tsuba tracks from artists like Frankfurt's Sascha Dive – plus hot remixes. Says Griffiths, “I'm fortunate enough to have an arsenal of tracks no one else has – which is important these days as a DJ.”