The South East London area has been associated with some very interesting musical breakthroughs indeed over the past decade or so. An area consistently contrasting poverty with affluence and bringing together cultures from every corner of the planet (even thought the planet doesn’t technically have corners) to shop in the same Costcutters and visit the same cinemas, the SE postcode doesn’t just mean south of the river, to most inhabitants it marks a subtle difference in the way things are done. It’s not as trendy or cutthroat as the East, it’s not as hectic or brash as the North West...and it’s certainly not as well-to-do as the outskirts. It houses some of the most intrinsically “London” areas on the map – have you ever visited the City without finding yourself lost in Elephant & Castle before?
– And yet it somehow feels a bit out of the way. We’re left to our own devices down here in this fold of the map. It feels sort of creatively cosy.
As if to actively ruin this nice idea of an area ripe for creativity though, West Norwood Cassette Library reckons inspirations come from elsewhere. “Norwood is as inspiring or uninspiring as anywhere else in the world really... Who knows where ideas come from? If I knew, I probably wouldn't be able to articulate it very well anyway. And if I could articulate it, I'm sure it would sound horribly pretentious.” Oh, right then. “The reality is that I'm sat in a back room, glued to a computer, hoping for the best” So West Norwood, despite his name, isn’t a place specifically helpful to any musical endeavours? “It’s going to come in handy when I finally get round to doing my quadruple vinyl concept album on fried chicken.” Now there’s a point.
He’s a busy man at the moment, is our WNCL – known to friends as Bob Bhamra. Despite this though he was happy to catch up and have a bit of a chat about his upcoming...well, everythings. “I’m a bit knackered, honestly. I'm getting over the rush of last year's releases on the label and, right now, I'm in the middle of a bunch of DJ gigs which are nerve wracking but fun.” Smack bang in the middle of producing work for the WNCL label as well as other too, Bob’s certainly not making things easy for himself, especially when everything he produces has its own sense of unique style. “For the WNCL Recordings label, every release feels like a detour in a way so it's business as usual. WNCL010 will be a track from me called "Coming On Strong", produced by UK house legend and personal hero, Chris Simmonds. I’m not sure what the B side will be yet but this record will be the last of the 10" vinyl releases. Then I'm going to switch to 12" EPs, kicking off with a Various Artists collection showcasing 4 cuts by 4 producers from the WNCL stable.”
The methods to his madness though are “nothing much to write home about” – or so he says. “”Coming On Stong” was recorded at the Cross Section Records studio, so if this one gets described as "dusty", then I'm obviously just cursed! For some people, gear is everything and that's fair enough - I just don't have a big interest in it. I admire producers who know their craft inside out and I like hearing about how other people make their tracks, but when it gets technical, after a certain point, I don't really know what anyone's talking about. The stuff I've got is a means to an end and that's good enough for me at the moment.”< /br> br> This idea of musty-dustiness seems to be one that hounds WNCL rather than actually describe his sound accurately. Although the words “Cassette Library” do conjure up images of immaculately-labelled yet somewhat-forgotten shelves of ageing tapes, this imagery can be taken a little too literally. It would appear that most listeners are pulled into this quiet world of dust motes in shafts of light before they even listen to the music – something Bob B is keen to dispense with.
“It's very nice that anybody wants to talk about West Norwood Cassette Library at all and I appreciate that having some sort of angle might make reading about it more interesting but I think this whole "dusty" thing is getting a little overplayed now! None of its intentional - it is what it is and it turns out I like it that way, which is lucky.” Apologies! There’s a lot to be said for the romance in a nostalgic name. We’ll try harder to make up our own imagery from now on...
In the past two years, as well as having “Blonde on Blonde” signed to Teal with that cracking Pearson Sound remix on the flip (“a real thrill for me”) WNCL released “Get Lifted” to much buzz and acclaim, which so happened to have a remix on the B side by Karenn – the dual project of bass music dahlings, Pariah and Blawan. “It all came about very naturally. I got to know Pariah and Blawan individually over the last couple of years from being a fan of their music and crossing paths here and there.”
“I put forward the idea of a remix to Pariah. At the time, he just so happened to be starting the Karenn project with Blawan and so they worked on the remix of "Get Lifted" together. It was an exciting prospect for the label to act as a launch pad for their first collaborative output but, more than that, it was a lot of fun working with them both.”
So what next? Outside of the label WNCL’s been working on a collaboration with Jon Chambers (Sunray) called Data70 as well as contributing to another project for the Front & Follow label called “Collision / Detection”. br> br> “Jon and I will be releasing "Space Loops Volume 3" - the last in a series of 1 minute loops - on Enraptured Records in March. It’s 24 loops spread over two slabs of 7" white vinyl, housed in a gatefold sleeve. It looks delicious.” “The “Collision / Detection” project is interesting because of its format - They asked a bunch of producers to submit samples into a collective pot and then to go away and each make a 4 track EP using those sounds. The first version is by Psychological Strategy Board (Jonny Mugump and The Time Attendant) and I'm supplying the follow up in April. My four contributions include a house track called "Collision Bump", a drum and bass track called "What's Going On? (Stuff Is Happening)" and a couple of short collage pieces to bookend it.” And which track is he most proud of? “None of them and all of them, really. I'm still full of doubt whenever I finish anything, but ultimately I wouldn't go to the trouble of pressing up a track and expecting you to listen to it if I wasn't completely pleased with it myself. How's that for a wooly answer?”
You can catch West Norwood Cassette Library playing out in March at the following locations:
MAR 10: Array, Medicine Bar, Middlesbrough
MAR 17: Them, Corsica Studios, London (with 2562, Pinch, Pariah and Dark Sky)
MAR 24: Vitamins, La Cheetah, Glasgow
Top 3 Tracks in the West Norwood Cassette Library Record Bag
DON FROTH "Liftin' Weights" (WNCL Recordings)
“This will be coming out on the aforementioned Various Artists EP. It's unashamedly drum-heavy and fresh. A really exciting track. Strictly for dancers.”
LD "Fibre Optics" (Ringo)
“I've been waiting an age for this one to drop. It feels like there's less and less 140 stuff that I want to buy these days so it feels good to be excited about the release of a new dubstep record again. LD cuts a mean dubplate down at Transition Studios and it had become customary for me to beg him to let me have this tune every time I went down there. Quite rightly, he kept tight on it but I'm glad to finally have a vinyl copy in my collection. This is the highlight of the double pack for me.”
PANGAEA "Fatalist" (Hemlock)
“Alright, listen, listen, listen. The B side wins again - although I was so fixated on the A side, "Hex", for ages that I almost missed this one. Now it never leaves the bag.”