UK Garage has seen a resurgence in recent years, however there are still many who were and still are working hard since the birth of the genre.
For my first interview of 2023, I catch up with one of those people who has stayed true to their passion since the beginning
Krystal: Please introduce yourself… Who are you, where are you and what do you do?
Owain: My name is Owain, and I used to run a house label called 124 Recordings which I started in 2012. In 2017 I released two 12”’s called the 124 Dubplate series and this reignited my passion for UK Garage.
I felt around this time that house had become a little too stale, and many of the labels who had started around the same time that I respected such as Music is Love, Deep Down Slam, Vibes and Pepper had stopped making records, so in 2020 I started Puresa Records. The name comes from Spanish meaning ‘purity’.
I wanted to get back to basics, hand stamped dubs, no digital, to promote and showcase the many up and coming producers out there who were making great garage/jungle tracks. I have always been DJ’in since the 90’s and I am lucky to be asked to play at great club/parties in Paris, Berlin, and Ibiza.
99% of what I play is still on wax, but certain promo tracks are only via digital. I don’t believe in the elitism that you can only play one format. Good music is good music whether it’s on a 12”, 10”, 7”, digital or Tape.
Krystal: You’ve just dropped a new mix on Puresa, how did you go about preparing for this mix?
Owain: Yeah, I have just recorded the new Puresa Sessions mix. This is a monthly mix I do, sometimes I am joined by guest selectors such as Vibesey, Dr Shemp and Berlin’s finest L&F.
This mix is a great reflection of how strong the scene is and is always growing. So there is new music from Thunderkatz, Sky Joose, Jay Ward and Highrise from new label Reptile Mob, then fresh dub plates from Dmize, who is making some amazing tracks, into Puresa Records with current and future bits from Mikki Funk, Dr Shemp, SLR8 and L&F.
Krystal: Nice, I am loving this new mix. Ok, so what would be the ideal setting to listen to the new mix?
Owain: Ideally in a low ceiling very dark club with a loud soundsytem and subs that would blow your brains out. Or you could just listen to it on headphones at home!
Krystal: Haha! Where do you record your mixes and what is your preferred set-up?
Owain: I have recorded live mixes but mainly they are recorded at home on my beloved Technics 1200’s, two Pioneer CDJ’s and a basic two-channel mixer. I can’t be f*cked being all technical with a mixer that can do a load of tricks, give me a crossfader and a two channel with high, mids and bass and that is it. It’s recorded in one take and it always comes out sounding raw and natural.
Krystal: For musical reasons or otherwise, who are some of your biggest DJ role models/Producers and why?
Owain: First of all, I have to give a massive shout out to Danny Taurus. Having played so many of his productions in the 90’s and then being lucky to get to know him over the years. He and Mark Archer ran Dansa Records which for me along with Nice ‘N’ Ripe and DIY’s label were the most important UK based underground house labels out there. He has been so supportive of 124 and Puresa, he tells me when something is good or when it’s shit and he masters all of the Puresa releases. He is one of the nicest people and humble. To me he is a legend. I did a mix of the Dansa Records back catalogue.
Dan DNR has also been a great influence on me. His knowledge of music is unreal and he has been a big part in the 124 Dubplate series being so successful for me and all Puresa Records releases are always with him because of the opportunities he gave me.
My DJ heroes are Jeremy Underground and Nick V from Paris.
I have been blessed to play with both and the track selections are always on point. I also think Ricardo Da Rhythm from Grant Nelson’s Deep Radio is a great DJ. Then Perception is a boss with his garage mixes, Marc Cotterell deserves a lot of respect for his Plastik People & Rhythm N Vibe labels. He has never followed trends, just stuck to the music he loves.
Mikhail I have know for a long time through his GLBDOM label and he has the same love for house music that I have. Producer wise there are so many – Dr Shemp is a fucking Don (Edward Bate to his mum). I don’t think he has ever made a bad track, he can do House, Garage, Jungle. It’s mad.
Then there is Birmingham’s finest- Jason Ward and Jay Ward, Enrico Dragoni is such a talented producer, Max Wo I have known since 124 Recordings is another great artist – he makes jungle tracks that sound like they were made on an Atari or Cubase in the mid 90’s! When I first heard his remix of Warwick’s ‘Flow’ it blew my head off how good it sounded.
Then there are those who deserve a mention for pushing Puresa and promoting it – Paul Starey who used to do Ugly House back in the day. His record knowledge and collection is next level and there is a very positive community feel about his Instagram ‘UKGarageClassics‘.
Krystal: Where’s your favourite place to buy records & why?
Owain: When I started 124 I had a pressing and distribution deal with Juno Records. Jim Dosa used to work there and they always had the best house/deep house records, disco edits – I used to spend a bloody fortune.
Physical Record shops are getting fewer sadly but DnR Vinyl in Croydon is essential, Eastern Bloc in Manchester and Phonica in London, 60Waves in Berlin, Syncrophone in Paris.
Krystal: You are a DJ and label owner, which came first and how did you get started?
Owain: I started DJ’ing in the 90’s in Birmingham. I was playing 4 or 5 nights a week and travelling all over the country to different clubs. Then, when all the hard house and trance came in, I just couldn’t play that kind of music, so I stopped.
Then, in 2012, Jeremy Underground and Brawther started to make waves in Paris playing the house music I loved again. My Love Is Underground started putting out great music, and this whole scene started up. I would go over to Paris and really get into it all – the crowds were amazing, and there were no phones. People were there to just dance and enjoy themselves. I came back and decided to set up 124 Recordings (the name came about after a discussion with some DJs about whether house music is best played at 124 bpm and shouldn’t be played any faster). I had no clue how to get the lacquers cut, then mastering and pressing records; it was just me, and I had to learn fast.
The first release got the attention of Glasgow’s Rubadub, who distributed the very first 124 release with Chicago legend Joey Kay and a remix from then up and coming producer Washerman. Then the next release, ‘Underground Frequencies,” caught Juno’s attention, and after the follow-up, “Dubble Dubs,” wanted to do a pressing and distribution deal with the label. And it all kind of went from there. I started playing again, travelling to Paris, Lyon, Berlin, and Ibiza as Owain 124 in tandem with promoting and releasing 124 records.
Krystal: Back to Puresa, you have had some stomper releases and talented artists on the label, what and who is next up on the label this year?
Owain: This year has already started strong for Puresa with the ‘Lovedust’ release getting a lot of love and the test pressings selling out in just a few hours. I keep to the same principles of finding producers who are making new garage or jungle and releasing their work, usually on a four-track V/A.
The next one in the pipeline is something I’m very excited about. It’s called the ‘Bassbin’ EP and as the title suggests, it’s going to be heavy on the bass/sub. It will feature a great producer called L&F with his track ‘Backstep’, which has such a heavy breakbeat behind it, and then two bass warpers from Dr Shemp. Then there will be a house producer called Chris Fry who started making jungle music around a year ago. He has delivered a great track for me.
Krystal: What is your process for signing new music to the label and how do you prefer to receive demos?
Owain: It’s really simple.
People send me tracks, and I will know in the first 30 seconds if it’s something for the label. Then I will try and get a good balance on the EP by getting each track to make up the whole, meaning not selecting four tracks that sound all the same. People who buy records deserve to get value for money. It’s bloody expensive, so I try and give them that.
Krystal: What advice would you give to someone looking to start a label?
- Don’t expect it to make you a millionaire
- Be realistic with your goals – Don’t go pressing 800 copies on your first release. Start on a small scale and let it grow organically.
- Be true to how you want the label to sound. Dont let current trends/fads affect things because it will affect the identity of the label.
- Great mastering is key to how good the record sounds. I used to let the mastering be in-house with the company that would arrange the pressing. A lot of the early 124 masters were not great and the gain on the mixer usually had to be turned up.
- Running a label is stressful but is also the most rewarding. When people buy a record and are so positive about it, its the greatest feeling there is. It never leaves you.
Krystal:And before you go, where do you see the UK Garage scene and sound in five years?
Owain: There will always be bandwagon jumpers and people raping the scene for their own advantage, but I have seen it get stronger and stronger each year. The list of labels making great music goes on and on: Shuffle ‘n’ Swing, Fresh Milk, Pirate Cutz, +98 – the list goes on and on. And that’s not including all the limited 7″ lathe cuts and 10″ white label dubplates that are in circulation that you spend weeks tracking down because only a handful were pressed. The buzz will just keep getting bigger.
To keep up to date with Owain and Puresa, click here.