James Ruskin and The Hydra Open Up About Two Decades of Blueprint, Parties and UK Techno
Tough talking with a trio of UK techno luminaries ahead of what's sure to be a legendary party.
Twenty years ago now, DJ and producer James Ruskin, alongside Richard Polson, established an imprint that went on to shape the landscape of a genre that's shown no signs of slowing down. Blueprint and UK techno are synonymous with one another, and over the years Ruskin and a whole host of other Blueprint acts—ranging from Surgeon to Oliver Ho, Lakker to Samuel Kerridge—have firmly plonked themselves in the upper echelons of the UK's underground scene.
Next month sees the label celebrate an important birthday and rather than just nipping down the pub on a Wednesday night for four pints and a batch of BBQ wings huffed down on the top duck of a 171 headed for Catford bus garage like the rest of us, they've decided to throw a proper party. And Ruskin knew exactly who to ask to give him a helping hand with the whole shebang: enter The Hydra.
Dolan Bergin and Ajay Jayaram have been throwing some of the city's biggest and best parties since 2012, and their Blueprint bash is set to be another absolute barnstormer. Housed in their usual—and usually very hot and incredibly sweaty—Studio Spaces venue in Wapping, they've booked one hell of a line up for a night that looks utterly essential for anyone with even the vaguest interest in techno.
Alongside birthday boy Ruskin, there'll be sets from Jeff Mills, Ben Klock, Regis, DVS1, Silent Servant, Lakker, Broken English Club, Rumah * Progression, and Rommek. Basically, there's something for everyone to enjoy, and we reckon it'll be even more fun than going bowling with some people you met in halls and still haven't shaken off yet despite the fact you can't stand them. Trust us on that.
Last week, we pinged ourselves into a three way Skype call with James, Ajay and Dolan, to have a quick chat about all things UK techno.
THUMP: Can you tell us a little about the techno landscape in Britain before you started Blueprint?
James Ruskin: It was very, very different to what we have now. There were significantly fewer outlets to get your music out in. There were a core of labels but not a huge amount. There weren't many clubs either. There were a few nights where you'd hear a new strain of techno with an underlying industrial element to it. There was very little happening and this was an age where you had to go to clubs and shops to find the music. There wasn't the easy access of today.
Was there a moment when you thought that you needed to start your own thing? Was there a niche you felt like you could work within?
James: I never looked at it from a business point of view like that. I never thought about niches and markets. What happened was that we released a record with a label on the Isle of White. They had a distribution company, and because we wanted to be self-sufficient, we got offered a P&D deal. It was a way of not having a regulation on what we could and couldn't release.
Dolan, Ajay, what were your early experiences with the label?
Ajay Jayaram: I listened to some of the early releases and what I thought was cool about what James and the guys were doing was this sort of UK Underground Resistance thing you had going on. UR were heroes for lots of techno fans at the time so that definitely resonated with me.
James: It's interesting you say that, Ajay. It's something that stems for that punk attitude of, "we can do this ourselves, so why not do it ourselves," and that was an attitude that shook up the music industry. We didn't need to work within their constraints any more.
Ajay: That was in an era, a time, and a climate when it was difficult to do that off your own back.
James: You had to have a level of investment and a level of belief. You had to invest in prohibitively expensive equipment, and it was hard to get the money together for that stuff. Now the entire studio is in a computer. Which is fantastic because it takes away the elitism and restraints that can stifle creativity.
Dolan Begin: I first went out in the 90s. The main players back then are still the main players now.
James: Why do you think that is, Dolan? Nostalgia?
Dolan: There's definitely some of that, fond memories of seeing Jeff Mills way back when etc. You've also got a newer breed who are as respected. Blawan is a good example of that. The Ostgut Ton lot. They kind of bred a new version of techno over the last decade.
Ajay: The essence of those early records are still heard in contemporary ones. There are definitely artists from back then who's sound has changed, but I'm not sure a lot of people's outlook has changed. And that's kept them in good stead.
Dolan: Audiences are definitely nostalgic. At Dimensions last year UR did a talk, and there were 18 year olds who'd heard of this mysterious group and it gave the whole thing a real edge...
James: Mystery is such an important thing. Back before we could go online and learn everything straight away, someone like Mike Banks was this mysterious character. Jeff Mills was the same. There's an information overload now. Do you think that sense of mystery has carried the older artists through the last few years?
Dolan: I think so.
Ajay: It's proof that everything's cyclical, whatever genre you might be talking. Jeff Mills used to wear a ski mask. SBTRKT wears one now. It's very telling to me that you, James, can play records pressed in the 90s that seamlessly slide into contemporary sets. They just work.
James: They do, almost unbelievably so. It breathes new life into them. I do believe that the newer generation who're entering into this music and this sound can find out the old pivotal, still-relevant records.
What kind of crowd are you expecting at the party?
Dolan: A mixed one for sure. James' events always get a huge reaction. The line-ups happen because of his experience. I see the die hard fans and loads of younger clubbers too. It'll be hot and sweaty, but great. There'll be all ages.
Ajay: You've got the techno dads who've got a babysitter in, music savvy kids ready to see DJs they've been following for a while in the flesh, and everything in between.
James: I believe that we draw a crowd who are largely there for this music. It's not about the typical clubbing experience. It's about combining my generation with the next breed of people embracing this sort of music. And to do that is fantastic.
Finally, what is it about techno that still draws people in three decades on from it's original conception?
James: For me, techno is not about a 4/4 beat and this narrow window of what can be achieved with it. It embraces so much of electronic music. It stands over everything.