Interview: Donky Pitch

Matthew Bayfield chats to the founders of Brighton based label Donky Pitch

Posted on Mar 11th, 2013 in Features and Interviews / By Matthew Bayfield
Interview: Donky Pitch Bearded recently saddled up, braved the abysmal state of public transport, obligatory terrible weather and some "small areas of localised flooding" to travel down to Brighton to meet up with Donky Pitch founders Dave Grinnell and Pete Taylor to talk about running one of the UK's most idiosyncratic labels, their future plans and the long term benefits of investing in 4% Stella.

Bearded: This past 12 months you've had some really lovely releases with things like The Range & 813 records, I also clocked the Keyboard Kid 206 piece in Guardian too and now the Lockah release has been featured. Seems like things are going fairly well?

P - Yep the Lockah release got on the Guardian website, I'm not sure it got in the paper. I think they pick one a week for the paper.

G - I think it's normally the Friday one makes print. I think Bobby Tank was in this week but you never know, they might have featured the Lockah one... We should probably buy it. It is Friday?

P - Yeah it is.

G - The Keyboard Kid one was kind of random actually. We didn't know about that before hand or pester them so that was pretty cool really.

How did you first get talking with Keyboard Kid then? I'd heard of him through his Lil B productions but it seems mad to think his first physical release came off a label from Brighton you know?

G - Yeah, I think one of us picked up a beat tape off the back of a something online?

P - Yeah along with all those people like Clams Casino. People making interesting hip-hop basically.

G - I think it was the Based In The Rain tape I picked up first and really loved some of the tracks off that and just thought 'fuck it' and sent an email off. I didn't get a reply for ages and thought no more of it...

P - Yeah it was about four or five months...

G - Then we just got a reply one day saying "yeah I've just seen this, let's do it" and it went from there.

Do you normally do it that way, and just get at people you like or aim for a certain style? All your releases are fairly genre-less.

G - Recently we've been looking at doing a few more upfront dance cuts... In saying that a lot of people we've been speaking with aren't in that vein at all.

P - There's no agenda to it really. We find artists we like and approach them, they won't necessarily be the next thing we release, it could be maybe four or five months down the line as in Keyboard's situation or even longer. We just show our interest and wait for a reply.

You started as a club night rather than a label right?

P - Yep, started as a club night. First one was in June 2009. That was with Slugabed, Gemmy and Rekordah who now runs the Astro:Dynamics label. We were in a small venue on a midweek night. Which was a conscious decision, partly because it's cheaper to book acts on a midweek night but mainly because we thought if it was a midweek night people would actually make the effort to come and be more into the music rather than just out for the night.

G - Exactly that. Rather than book a seafront venue on a weekend and end up with a club full of people who don't know the style of music so you accidentally end up with your night getting a bad rep. Whereas if you put it in a interesting little venue off the beaten track on a Thursday you know people have come just to find your night.

P - So initially there was no intention to start the label, just to put on parties.

How did that then develop into the label?

P - Slugabed had been sending us things he'd been doing, and Ghost Mutt. He'd come to our first party then started playing them regularly. He had great stuff up on his Myspace so we just thought 'Fuck it' and decided to release some. We didn't really know what we were doing at that point, we just got the tracks and started hitting up distributors.

Have you got some LPs planned yet or are you sticking to the 12's for the moment?

G - We've got an album coming from Friendzone which is being mastered at the moment.

P - That'll be coming out on cassette.

G - Yeah we're kind of moving away from vinyl as it is difficult with the sort of music we release to manage.

P - We release some fairly odd stuff and it doesn't have the market on vinyl that things like house & techno do so we've had to move into digital releases more. For some of our full lengths we will do tapes & CD's. We still want to try and find a way of making it physical rather than just a standard digital bundle but vinyl is a very heavy outlay in terms of both time and finance for us.

G - It wasn't a decision we took lightly. It was a pretty difficult to be honest but the risk has started to outweigh having the actual product.

P - We've got so much great stuff we want to start putting out there at the moment and if we continue to press vinyl we just won't be able to put it all out. There's definitely a perception thing to it though. We'll probably have more success if we put the same time and care into a cassette or download release, with packaging and press and so on, than if we went out did the same and sold 200 vinyl, but outwardly people seem to think that is a better thing.

G - There's a definite perception thing with vinyl. It's a decision we definitely took a long time over but ultimately if we want to keep releasing music we need to find other ways.

P - There will potentially be some vinyl releases in the future.

G - It's not a "never say never" situation, we just want to tailor each project to the right sort of audience, the right format etc. So the Friendzone album will come out on tape, we don't have a release date just yet but hopefully June time... We're pretty excited about that one, they're two guys from the States. It was a similar situation to Keyboard Kid really. Kind of just found them through their productions for different hip-hop acts that I was following quite... obsessively. We hit them up, they were quite keen on the idea and so we took it from there. Initially it was going to be just an EP but they came with just so many tracks for us and we've managed to whittle it down into a really strong album now. Really strong... I've had to stop listening to it. When it's ready I want to make sure I have that same excitement I have for it now.

P - We've also just sorted another release with The Range.

Ahhh wonderful! That last Range record disk is probably my favourite release you've put out so far. Never heard anything quite like that.

G - His new EP will be out in April.

P - With looks to do a full length before the end of the year.

G - Yeah there'll definitely be a full length too.

P - From the moment we first started speaking with him we definitely felt his productions would work amazingly as an album. There's so many different strands of dance in there like jungle, a bit of footwork so I think a long player will really work well for him. We haven't got the tracks together yet but that should really take shape in the next few months or so.

You've recently re-started Donky Pitch Radio on Sub.FM, but it was on a different station before wasn't it?

P - Yep we used to run on a Bristol based station called Hivemind for about two years and then that kind of died... Without telling us. We just went to broadcast one day and it wasn't there.

Sub.FM is really doing well again, there's some really good shows on there at present.

P - It was particularly popular in the dubstep era, as that was first becoming popular, so a lot of the shows are leaning that way much more, which I think is good for us because we're comparatively a bit weird and we've got a really loyal little group of people that listen and it's great to be on such a well rounded station.

What sort of stuff do you play as a consumer at the moment? The Donky sound seems to draw bits from almost everywhere across the board.

G - I'm really biased, I just listen to stuff we're releasing, associated artists... You know all the people they're working with. Haha.

P - It's actually really tough to have a broad scope sometimes. You're either listening to stuff you're putting out, listening to demos you've got in or stuff you are thinking about putting in to the next radio show...

It's probably not a bad thing though. Not sure it's a good sign if you don't personally want to keep spinning the stuff you're putting out.

P - It's almost to the detriment of being aware of other stuff I suppose. Before I ran the label I'd say I bought a far wider palette of music, whereas now I'm more focused on the label orientated stuff. Mainly the stuff I listen to is by American artists it seems. Perhaps because electronic music has become much more popular over there, in a mainstream sense, kids or students who would have got in bands are playing around with electronic music, making slightly weirder stuff.

I've completely lost my way with US hip-hop at the moment. I have almost no idea what's going on. I just don't really have time to dig into it like I used to. I just hear the word 'Trap' and think... Nah. It's no crunk.

G - Haha, yeah the trap thing is really weird... because there is SO much shit, but if you really sift through it there's about 5% that is amazing. There's stuff where people have clipped little bits of it and taken elements...

P - ... and put it with maybe soul, or some footwork....

G - ... Or just given it really a nice melody. Basically taken all the "womp womp" out of it.

Now you're making me feel ignorant. I'm still lying to myself about the "crunk" heyday... I'm stuck in 2003. With Pitbull... Who's now a millionaire haha.

G - My knowledge of hip-hop... I didn't really know any of the crunk stuff. I never got into that, it wasn't something I really picked up on. I'm more intrigued by groups like Main Attrakionz. More the "cloud" sound or whatever tag you call it.

P - Yeah I really was into hip-hop around uni, which was a long time ago. That was mainly boom-bap, nineties style stuff... A few of the rougher bits. Things like Clipse, but more for the production style, not the vocals so much.

G - Up until about 18 months ago I hadn't found a vocal hip-hop track I liked in a long time. All the stuff we'd been putting out on the label and playing at the clubs nights has been mainly instrumental stuff but the vocals are slowly creeping back in there. I'm still very fussy. I don't think I'd actually class myself as a hip-hop fan. I don't think...

So what sort of stuff were you looking at before that then? The label has such a unique take on hip-hop I assumed that was your main thing really.

G - Previously to the club night? I was mostly listening to things like Animal Collective. Up until about 2004 / 2005 I was going to a lot of jungle & techno parties. Then I just sort of gave up listening to dance music. I stop picking up as much stuff, it didn't have that same effect. I just started listening to a lot more indie stuff, the weirder end of it, never really "guitar" bands or however you want to phrase it. Then I just found this instrumental hip-hop thing around 2008 / 2009...

P - And at that point the newer more modern sound hadn't really been going on a great deal of time. Not things like Prefuse 73 or the more electronica style Warp was putting out four or five years previous. I was always into more leftfield electronic stuff, more alien sounding stuff. Dubstep around 2005 / 2006, things like Skull Disco.

G - When I bought my first pair of turntables in about 2000 I was buying odd old techno records and weird house. None of it was really club based. It was more the stuff you put on after you got home. Stuff my friends would ask me to turn off because it was making them feel weird. I always found it really pleasant and involving but... it didn't seem to work for everyone else.

P - Yeah I've never really regarded the music I listen to or the stuff Donky Pitch put out as weird but a lot of people tell me that our stuff is quite different or leftfield.

I think I recall you mentioning on the last Sub.FM show you had some Lil Texas bits coming too this year?

P - Yep we do. We found out about a group called M.O.D, maybe mid way through last year?

G - Yeah it's a group of five lads

P - They had some releases on Bandcamp, were getting a little bit of heat but nothing major, and I just burnt a load of their stuff onto CD for a car journey, I think we were going to a festival.

G - Yeah think we were off to Secret Garden Party, and we just had this disc of about...

P - It was a lot of tracks...

G - It was about the time everyone started going "trap this & trap the other"... I didn't really know what it was. I just quickly learnt over the next few weeks there was a lot of crap...

P - Actually I think it was three volumes I did.

G - So we had about seventy tracks, and we went through them. Then when we went back through and checked them, all of the ones we rated the most were by this guy Lil Texas. So we just said let's get at him and see what happens.

P - Since then they've become a lot more popular too, they're getting booked for some quite big shows supporting people like Dillon Francis. But they're not really trap, they've moved quite far from that end of things. One of them Trap Arnold has changed his name to just Arnold, presumably to try and get away from that whole thing. The record we're putting out is more footwork I suppose, but it takes in elements from all the fringes of American dance music really.

G - Yeah they've got these massive soul samples in there... Well it's not really soul. I don't know what it is. What is it? That's your department Pete.

P - Yeah it's kind of soul... Soul-ish. It's just an amazing record I think.

So is your selection process fairly diplomatic or do you take it turns with releases, how does that work?

P - Well we've kind of hit a rich vein recently, there's just been loads more stuff that we've both been into and want to release.

G - There'll be times when we both send each other something and be like "don't like that" but we always have to meet in the middle somewhere. I think it's got to the point though where we both understand each other's taste to the point that we will meet in the middle.

P - You can always tell when someone is particularly feeling something. If one of us likes it that much more there'll be a gentle bit of persuasion like before Dave's checked it I've already sent him five emails telling him how great it and Dave will come back with "it's alright" so I just have to say "no. It's the shit mate. Come on."

G - At which point it gets dug back out and I re-listen to it. I honestly don't think we've ever released anything that neither of us really likes.

P - It's the same with the club nights.

The last one was Ryan Hemsworth wasn't it? Do they have a regular calendar?

G - No not any more. It's just an as and when basis. We've never ever run them for profit, it was always about putting on acts we want to see or haven't played before, rather than booking someone just because they will make back the money. That's not a slant on big names, it's just not as exciting for us as giving people we've just found the chance to come and play.

P - Yeah that's kind of a selfish booking policy; purely profit driven. Energy wise as well, we just can't do it as much anymore and we'd rather focus the time we do have on the label. There's no point putting loads of effort into your night and then having to book someone you aren't entirely happy with just to make money. We put loads of effort in, we know we're not going to make any real money, but that means we can always do a lineup of just what we want. You might get lucky but that's just a bonus.

G - Yeah like when we did the live skweee showcase. A lot of people came to that and we just couldn't believe it. The guys we got over were like "what the fuck?"

P - Even in Scandinavia, where skweee comes from, it's about fifty guys in the back of a pub, all of them produce and they all know each other...

G - ... And we had 170 - 200 people roll up on the night going absolutely mental.

P - It was the first skweee showcase in the UK ever... aaaand I think the last.

G - We cost everything so tightly, three guys flying over from Norway and three hotel rooms wasn't cheap. We hadn't agreed any money with them, we just said look if we make any profit we'll give you some money and we actually made money that night...

P - Even after paying to ship all their synths over.

G - We won't run a party that we haven't got our hearts in. Breaking even is always great and whenever we've made profit we've just rolled it over to stick on our next thing.

I guess it's that same old thing too that if you start out to make a profit then you have to move largely with prevailing trends.

G - Exactly, then you have to book certain acts and you lose control of what you created.

P - Yeah and because we now have a distinct little brand we're fairly self sustainable. We don't have to keep dipping into private funds. I think it's a massive help that we're careful with our money. Dave's pretty... Frugal.

G - Yeah I am. I'm well tight. I can't work with the mentality of going into something knowing we're going to lose money.

P - Yeah go into it knowing there's at least a chance you're not going to lose money. If someone said " let's put it on, we'll lose a couple of hundred..." Dave couldn't live with that.

G - No I'd be straight in with saving a fiver here on the posters... You always start by paying everyone exactly what you said you'd pay them, but everything else. I tighten all those extra costs... People end up with Stella 4% lager a lot of the time... We always end up talking about how tight fisted I am.

P - Yeah it does digress this way a lot...

G - ... I'm proud of that.

You can check out Grinnel's 'Bearded Mix By A Bearded Man' HERE. Whilst all the other fun future activities of the Donky Pitch family are listed below:

Upcoming parties
March 14th Lapalux @ Green Door Store, Brighton
March 15th Lockah EP Launch w/ Slugabed, Ghost Mutt, Bones & Money, Grinel @ Green Door Store, Brighton

Donky Pitch on Sub FM
March 20th w/ Soosh mixing live from the lounge

March 17th Lockah - Only Built 4 Neon Nites
April 22nd The Range - Seneca

Twitter: @Donkypitch
Facebook: DonkyPitch