Interview With JC Unique of Unique2Rhythm

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You won’t find a house imprint the calibre of Unique2Rhythm either side of the Atlantic, the label is undoubtedly one of the best with a back cat that speaks for itself with an ethos that champions pristine production and melodic goodness first and foremost. We are very pleased to share this exclusive interview with label boss and producer JC Unique, read on for some pearls of wisdom for aspiring label owners and artists…

For those who don’t know, tell us a bit about Unique 2 Rhythm Records and how it began. How did you get into music production? What were the initial steps?

As a teenager in the late 80’s I was drawn into sound technology starting out with a mates Sequential Circuits Pro One synthesizer, a Tascam cassette portastudio and a Boss hand clapper stomp box. Probably the first tracks that blew me away and made me want to produce were driven by drum machines such as Cameo, the SOS Band, Prince, Chaka Khan in fact just about anything that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were involved with. I must have spent years trying to get record deals meeting up with A&R people and taking their ‘position of power’ attitude on the chin. None of it was particularly constructive and we all went through it, but in one such meeting, an A&R guy trying to sound clever actually provided a moment of clarity. He said “if you think your music is so effin’ good, why don’t you go and see your bank manager and put it out yourself?” – at the time I replied “You ARE the bank manager you smart-arse !” but it did make me explore the possibilities and by the late 90’s I was releasing white-labels on P&D deals and making the regular trips to Brick Lane.

For vinyl and the underground, the world collapsed with the fall of Amato Distribution, there were simply no more P&D deals and the independent record shops collapsed like dominoes outside of London. I was producing UKG both 4 to the floor and 2-step but MC’s started taking over and the uplifting sexy vibes turned violent, dark and dirty. Frankly I lost interest in auto-tuned rappers and the surge of ‘Urban’ cast me into a 12 year musical hibernation!

By 2014, the dust had settled and I was picking up on UKG making what sounded like a return from where I left off led by Disclosure. Turns out this was to be called ‘Deep House’ but I was none too bothered by what it was called, I just felt it might be fun to have a play with Ableton. Compared to what the hardware cost back in the day, the idea that £500 of software and a reasonable soundcard could replace my old £20,000 studio was something I had to try. For me there has to be a purpose or result to produce something, so to get going I entered a Beatport remix contest for Inner City’s ‘Good Life’ – It was a fascinating experience and managed to get into something like 16th position out of over 600 entries. The more important result was my connecting with the artists Jeremy Juno, OskiDJ and extraordinary vocalist, Tommie Cotton.

What was the turning point for you in light of such a massive shift in the underground house music scene?

Things really started to move when I sent Grant Nelson a demo of a track on which I used a riff from one of his sample libraries called ‘Need It’ – It was only a courtesy but he played it on his influential Housecall Radio show and it didn’t take long for the phone to start ringing ! There was clearly a demand for the track so I looked into setting up a label with an aggregator which gave me access to digital stores such as Traxsource and Beatport. Unique 2 Rhythm the label was born.

It was pretty clear a label with one artist wasn’t going to be taken very seriously, so I began recruiting artists and doing collaborations and with fortune smiling on the newly formed U2R, producers like Stereomasters and production friends from the early days such as Macca D, Jay Funk and Mindy were more than happy to jump aboard. We were off ! – Supporting Steve Watt’s Global House Session Radio Show, I connected with Kym Sims whose records I’d played hundreds of times as a commercial DJ in the 90’s. It resulted in a collaboration that really did awaken peoples curiosity with ‘Won’t Do That’ and opened many doors including working with AM2PM and subsequently releasing a track called ‘My Feeling’ – It took off and was ultimately licensed to Defected Records although my own mix was not included on the re-release which I have to admit was hugely disappointing.

For me it was my finest work so instead of ditching soulful house, I went the other way and made it my mission to sit alongside Defected releases in the charts without their marketing machine or budget and pretty much succeeded with a track I produced with long-time collaborator, Richard Kersey and the incredible singer that is Tommie Cotton on a track called ‘Tell Me’.

The Unique 2 Rhythm label started to develop a quality following which has been further enhanced by incredible producers including 86deep, Adam Hyjek, Lombard Street, Telmo Fernandez, Groove Tools, Thomas Frake, Bassick, Twism & B3rao, Wayne Dudley and Pasha NoFrost with more exciting signings on the way.

Who inspired/s you?
As a producer my inspirations have changed somewhat from the 90’s, but those that are still valid today include Masters at Work or perhaps more accurately Louie Vega but perhaps the most recognisable influence would be from Full Intention in their heyday and pretty much anything that could be found on Soulfuric Records. AM:PM Records in the UK were pretty decent at delivering inspiration too. Currently I find myself inspired more by the scene than specific artists – Labels such as Simma Black are simply amazing at dropping ‘bangers’ but far and away the biggest inspiration is the vibe created by the producers and artists in my immediate circle such as Neil Rumney, Mike Millrain and of course the community of DJ’s and listeners who I make the music for, yeah they inspire me more than anything else…

It must be very enjoyable to be able to promote such a wide spectrum of house music on U2R

I’m in a great position to be able to dive between the rough and the smooth as a producer, just one of the benefits of being a label owner is that I can release something soulful but follow it up with a minimal banger if I want to. One thing that I don’t feel the urge to do is fit in with a specific sub-genre within house and can’t honestly say I actively try to sound like anything. Actually, to start with, my sound was the result of failing miserably to sound like something else but people started to like the results !

What do you look for when listening to demos for the label?

As an A&R for the Unique 2 Rhythm label, I’m fortunate to be able to technically appraise demos for signing. I’ll pretty much know within seconds whether a track has the magic or what might be required to take it the last bit of the way. Equally I’m very aware if a track needs too much work doing and it’s often heartbreaking to be honest ! These days the correlation between a bad A&R choice and a hole in my wallet are only too apparent. On the whole, attention to detail shines through, as does originality. Things that really turn me off are vocals in the wrong key, poorly tuned or badly timed and masters smashed with maximisers. One thing that perhaps people might find surprising is that I really don’t care if the artist has X amount of likes – I don’t even look ! If you can’t judge a good track using your own ears then you’re in the wrong game.

Can you share with us any news on upcoming releases?

Just now I’m hugely excited to see the release of two tracks I’ve produced with vocals from Sheree Hicks, JC Unique ft. Sheree Hicks – You give me fever and the follow up piano monster that is ‘Temperature Rising’ which has picked up some wonderful reactions and picking up remixes from OskiDJ, Lamont Dex and Jaegerossa which I’m expecting to be my big release for this summer. In the pipeline are stunning tracks from 86deep and Lombard Street which just spine-tingling so 2016 is turning into another great year.

‘You Give Me Fever’ is due out by the end of this month, you can stream a clip here:

86deep & Tommie Cotton ‘Tommie Dubs’ is out now Buy It Here

Keep up to date with U2R via their Facebook page

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