“I can’t stand generic paint-by-numbers music; I’m around it all too often. That’s not what appeals to me. It has to almost be the imperfection in what someone’s doing, the naivety or just the honesty of it.” – dBridge
Some record labels can go years being locked in the redundancy of the same groove, sleepwalking their way to success on an unchanging plateau. Exit Records is a stark, inspiring contrast to the average run. Breeding a malleable, ever-changing sound, label A&R dBridge has a rare ability to ﬁnd musicians and sounds that tread the ﬁne lines in-between, or cross boundaries completely.
In 2003, just after his split from the pioneering D&B outﬁt Bad Company, dBridge opened a new chapter with his ﬁrst solo release being the ﬁrst release on his freshly launched Exit Records, ‘Libra b/w The Bride.’ From there, he explains, his focus remained at the heart of production, opting to study the art of music instead of adding underdeveloped ideas to his imprint: “From 2003 up until 2006, there wasn’t a great deal of releases coming out on the label. I was just getting my name out there again. I really took my time with Exit.”
These days, Exit Records stands tall as far more than an outlet for dBridge’s own music, though his solo material has been integral to the label’s breadth and evolution (especially with his debut album ‘The Gemini Principle’ in 2008). In addition to his own work, Exit has been the force behind scene-altering releases from pioneers such as Break, Calibre, Instra:mental, Code, Digital, Scuba, Synkro and System. The label even encompasses his creative partnership with his brother Steve (the divine vocalist behind experimental electronic outﬁt Spacek), which comes in the shape of a beat-exploring project called Black Pocket.
“Black Pocket was, for me, was the ﬁrst step of the label going down a different route. My label is still ﬁnding it’s feet with its direction, but my main goal with the label is to be a strong independent. I’d love to someday put out bands or acoustic music; I’ve got a real love for music of all sorts.”
Setting his sights high, Exit Records has indeed become the fruition of a lifetime goal, slowly and organically developing to encompass styles far beyond strictly drum & bass, and ﬁnding different ways to creatively expand the electronic platform. Exit Versus plays host to dBridge’s collaborations with other artists; the ﬁrst three singles saw him cross swords with the likes of Commix, Concord Dawn, A.I. and Fierce. By contrast, Exit Aptitude focuses on individual artists (with the key focus being on their actual individuality), and includes specially commissioned artwork in a limited edition vinyl package. Previous volumes have included luminaries such as Calibre, Survival, Ruﬁge Kru and Instra:mental, each providing music with integrity and longevity.
“I always had aspirations for the label to be something diverse. Even from the BC days, we always wanted it to be a strong independent, similar to labels like XL Recordings, Ninja Tune, Talking Loud. For me, those kind of labels are my benchmarks in some ways – who I look to, and who I aspire to be. I’m not going to rush it,but I’d like to build a strong catalogue of music.”
In 2011, dBridge has returned his focus to the label’s output, with the stunning ‘Mosaic Vol. 1’ compilation taking lead, and an inspired list of artist albums lined up for release next. As an A&R, dBridge has not only become integral to uncovering hidden talent (New Zealand’s ‘Burial of Drum & Bass’ Consequence being a case in point), but also has granted under-appreciated producers complete creative freedom to build a full artist album of their own vision.
“There was the Black Pocket, there was the Survival album, and now I’ve got They Live. This year is all about getting my album together and also, as a label, putting out other artists’ albums. What I’m really interested in is ﬁnding new artists and asking them to write me an album.
You can’t really get a sense of a person just from singles. I love the fact within a CD you’ve got 72 minutes to ﬁll the space with whatever your heart desires. I don’t tell artists what to make; I love what they do, so I tell them to write the album that they want to make. As a result, I feel like I’m getting the best out of them that way. Because I’m a producer myself, I have the hindsight of knowing what it’s like to have someone try to steer your album in a different direction than what you set out with.
In some cases, there may be some mistakes on the album, but if that’s what the artist wants it to be
and they’re totally happy with it, then you can’t go wrong.”
In-between dBridge’s many creative endeavours, which include his dedicated hours in the studio and DJing around the world, he’s most recently fallen into the limelight with his collaborative projects with the likeminded duo Instra:mental. Off the back of their wildly successful Autonomic podcasts, their Autonomic Records imprint seemed like a natural next step. But – with releases from Riya, Distance, ASC and of course Plus Ultra (the trio’s shared moniker) – how does he keep his Autonomic head separate from his decisions as the Exit boss?
“I suppose in some ways it’s not that dissimilar. If you look at, say, Nonplus+ and the direction that they’re going in as a label, and then compare the direction that I’m going with Exit, Autonomic is where we meet in the middle.
I deﬁnitely still have a lot of love for Drum & Bass; it’s looked after me for so long. There are certain sides to D&B that wouldn’t really work within the conﬁnes of Autonomic, but I still love it – so that’s where Exit comes in. Autonomic is there for the music that we were ﬁnding for the podcasts, and it’s also there for other people to join; we’re not closed off about it. It’s for whatever we feel ﬁts the bill – whether it be 100 BPM all the way up to 170.”
As the future builds, he plans to create a family around his wonderfully varied set of artists, supporting their every creative venture and bringing back the ‘camp mentality’ that once held music strong.
“With early days of D&B, you had the Reinforced camp, or the Metalheadz camp, No-U-Turn camp, Full Cycle camp – and they were all spurring each other on, all pushing each other collectively. All of those individuals were working together with their own little crews, but collectively pushing the whole scene forward as well.
In some ways now, just because of the nature of the scene, and the state of music – as in you’re not actually going to make that much money off of records…in some ways it’s bringing that camp mentality back around again. You’ve got Scuba and his crew, the Applepips family, all of these crews are building up again. It’s been happeningquite naturally.
I like the idea of Exit becoming that, too.”