|Label of the month: Futureboogie Recordings
Ryan Keeling meets the multitasking duo behind the party-starting Bristol imprint.
It's funny how closely Futureboogie Recordings resembles its owners, Dave Harvey and Steve Nickolls. The pair, who sometimes refer to themselves as an "old married couple," are two very different people, but Futureboogie is an embodiment of them both. Like the music they release on the label, Harvey is approachable and unpretentious. Nickolls has a similarly relaxed vibe, but he's known as the suave one, which is reflected in the label's polished visual aesthetic and the sleek lines of its music. Spending time with them is like watching a buddy film. Harvey laughs about how bad he thinks he looks in photos, while giving Nickolls shit for how well groomed he always looks. They often reinforce the idea of playing opposing characters.
A similar push-pull effect has coloured the label they started together in 2011: Futureboogie has consistently hit a sweet spot between restraint and all-out partying. Vocals, basslines and melodies feature prominently in the label's music, but they're always executed with subtlety. Ron Basejam's remix of The White Lamp's "It's You" (a track Harvey and Nickolls describe as the most important they've released) is a good illustration of this. Its appeal is its drop, but the payoff is a balmy chord progression that's set to a chugging, beach house-style beat. In another context, it could be lounge music.
Futureboogie's sound is the product of a musical and personal evolution that began in 1996. The pair met in Leicester, a small middle-English city, where Harvey went to university and Nickolls was running a night called Peak. "I used to go along to it and try and talk to the DJs, and Steve was pretty terrified of me in those days," Harvey laughs. "I was quite lairy, so it was quite an odd fit for a friendship."
They started putting on parties together in the city, but the tiny scene there meant they quickly "hit a brick wall." Both had been enjoying spending time in Bristol, attending the influential Ashton Court Festival and absorbing the city's music and arts, so it felt like a natural decision when they relocated there in 2001. Drum & bass and hip-hop ruled Bristol at the time, so Harvey and Nickolls' ambition to start a party based on the eclectic style of UK DJ Gilles Peterson made them something of a novelty. They almost immediately secured a spot at a popular club called Level. "The first one was rammed," says Nickolls. "We were just totally lucky."
They spent three years running a monthly event at the club, and became known for pushing broken beat, the syncopated style of jazz fusion-influenced dance music, which was popularised by acts like IG Culture out of West London. The genre faded as the 2000s wore on, and Harvey and Nickolls increasingly became excited by house and disco; aside from a party called Fruity Antics, though, Harvey says that back then the representation for those styles in Bristol was "terrible."
In 2011, RA visited Bristol for our first Real Scenes film, and things could not have been more different. House music was rampantly cross-pollinating with the dubstep sound that had dominated for years, and new artists like Julio Bashmore were getting international recognition. We interviewed Harvey and Nickolls for the film, asking them to summarise Futureboogie. "Well, it's a lot of things isn't it, really?" Nickolls said. "It's a club night, it's a booking agency, it's a management company." They both reflected on this for a moment, and looked surprised at how just much things had grown since putting on their first parties. Ditching the name Seen and adopting Futureboogie (a term a friend used to describe the broken beat records they played), they put on events throughout the '00s as their operation rapidly expanded around them.
A regular radio show on internet station Samurai FM took their name to an international audience. They were among the first people to host an online mix series, gaining a following through the Futureboogie website before the term podcast was even popularized. Nickolls agreed to look after bookings for UK act Quantic, despite having no direct experience in the field. "It just went from there," he says, "and then it became a thing in the same way, I suppose, the management side of things has become a thing." (The agency, which is looked after by Nickolls, now has over 20 artists on its books.)
Harvey, meanwhile, started programming and running festivals. He has a longstanding involvement with Glastonbury, and, along with his business partner Tom Paine, is an assistant programmer for Silver Hayes, the latest incarnation of the festival's Dance Village. Together, the two also run Love Saves The Day, an inner city festival in Bristol, which staged its second edition this summer. Harvey and Nickolls have, in addition, been the chief bookers for The Garden Festival in Croatia for five years, an event they speak of lovingly, describing it as their favourite week of the year.
Harvey and Nickolls define these projects as a natural by-product of their long-term involvement with dance music—and the same is true of their record label. "It was something we'd talked about for ages," Nickolls says. "But the catalyst was 'Father Father,' which was Matt Bashmore's track. And then it was literally a case of, 'This is amazing, this is the sort of music we'd want to put out as a record label.'"
"As soon as we had that one release and we'd told all our friends that we're starting a record label," says Harvey, "all of a sudden our friends who had been making music for ages were like, 'Ah! Well, I've got this…' And we were like, 'Fucking hell. These are really good.' Then that also spurred on our other friends who were tinkering around. It was a rocket up the arse for a lot of them."
To begin with, Matt Walker (Julio Bashmore) had a hand in running the label. He appeared on three of Futureboogie's first seven releases, but it eventually became clear he had ambitions beyond Bristol and the label. "It was a very loose arrangement," Nickolls says. "Then we started to think a little bit about what the arrangement was going be and how it should work, and I think it just became a case of Matt wanting to do his own thing. He wanted to go and do Broadwalk [Records] and all those things that he's doing, and I think that maybe he didn't feel that being involved in Futureboogie as a label was the right thing for him."
A pool of local talent began to coalesce around the label. Names like Christophe, Lukas, Waifs & Strays and Behling & Simpson became key Futureboogie artists, helping to establish a sound that Harvey describes as "good-time party music," and Nickolls speaks of in terms of "warmth" and "music that is meant for a dance floor." They didn't set out to push Bristol artists, but were being fed a rich supply of music from local producers. The abundant creativity and collaboration that was evident in the Real Scenes film was nourishing their new label.
"I think there's two key factors," says Harvey, referring to the abundance of artists in the city. "You can be earning not much money in Bristol and live quite well, which gives people the space to breathe and be creative. Secondly, geographically it's really small… there are all these people from disparate genres or subcultures that are all actually in the same place physically. You'll go to a pub in Stokes Croft, or one of the areas in Bristol, and you'll find dubstep kids, house kids, jungle kids all in the same place, all hanging out and going to each other's parties."
"There is genuinely a team spirit in Bristol," adds Nickolls. "I think people are happy to see other people doing well and they're happy to support them and be of assistance if they can."
Bristol producers have made up more than half of Futureboogie's 20-plus releases, but Harvey says they decide who to work with on loose terms: "It's people we want to go the pub with, as well as we like their music."
"A large amount of why we've got an Outboxx release coming up is because when we met them we were like, 'Mate, they're really sound,'" says Nickolls.
"We have quite low expectations. So when good stuff happens, we're genuinely surprised."
The Summer Riot Part II EP, which was released in June, sums up the flavour of their roster, and the styles of house music that sit well on Futureboogie. "Bound By Enchantment," from Bristol newcomer Thrilogy, opens with a piano-led number that has a soaring two-and-a-half minute breakdown, which leads to an exquisite bass-heavy drop. Leeds duo PBR Streetgang contributes a techno-influenced, vocal-infused deep house track. Bristol producer Lukas, a mainstay on the label, brings New Jersey-style organs to the party, while James Welsh drops the tempo to 114 BPM, matching a biting synth line with gentle chords.
If a pattern does exist in what Futureboogie does, though, Nickolls and Harvey will tell you that it's not by design. "It's only relatively recently that we've actually even started to talk to each other and go, 'What do we want with this label? What do we want it to be?'" says Harvey. "We've had an idea of what we wanted it to be, but it's not been rigid."
"We have quite low expectations, as well, of what's going to happen with it," says Nickolls. "So when good stuff happens, we're genuinely surprised and excited and a little bit bemused, and I think that's because we haven't got a plan."
"That's not to say that we don't believe in what we're doing," Harvey says. "Because we totally do. We're really passionate about it."
"We should probably plan a bit more, actually."
"Yeah, we probably should."
Ask any music industry professional about time management and they'll probably puff out their cheeks and tell you it's tough. But in the case of Nickolls and Harvey, with involvement in label management, festival programming, festival production, artist management, bookings and party promotion, this question has extra resonance. "It is a total nightmare. That's all only way to describe it," says Harvey.
"It's a struggle," Nickolls says. "I mean, this is a perfect example: we're doing this interview in London, rather than in Bristol. That sort of underlines exactly what it's like." He reflects on what he's said for a moment. "It's not a struggle. Struggle is too strong a word. It's the best job in the world. But it's not easy, and we can probably be better at it if we were a bit more on top of it."
"It is worth saying that it's fucking amazing," Harvey adds, warming to the theme. "We literally cannot believe what's going on, because like the stuff we're getting offered, the music we're putting out, the parties we're doing. It still takes us completely by surprise. I'm sure you get loads of people who do this in interviews, saying that, but it's like, we're constantly pinching ourselves. This is fucking brilliant."