The building blocks of what was to become Hessle started to come together nearly three years ago, when label co-founder David Kennedy (AKA Ramadanman) took his first trip to the seminal FWD>> club night at London's Plastic People. "I'd been into dubstep for a few months, and then I decided to go down to FWD>> because that seemed to be the place to go," Kennedy explains. "Back then I was still 17, and FWD>> was on Thursdays, so I could only really go at half-term or on the holidays. I finally managed to get down there in April 2006." It was there that he befriended fellow label co-founder Ben Thomson (known on the scene as Ben UFO), whom he met for the first time whilst waiting in the queue. "Ben was more immersed into the scene than I was at that point, so when N-Type was playing he was telling me about these new tunes that he was playing which were by Caspa, and I don't think anyone at the time knew who Caspa was. It was all quite exciting."
By the end of 2006, Kennedy had already launched his Ramadanman moniker with a self-financed digital release as well as an appearance on the Bare Dubs label, and Thomson and McAuley were both DJing the sound locally in Leeds. From here it seemed only natural for them to come together and start a proper vinyl label, although it was a Romanian producer that provided the catalyst for the decision. "The three of us were just beginning our radio shows on Sub FM," McAuley explains, "and Dave had the TRG beats and suggested releasing them and starting a label. Ben and I were up for the idea so we all put in the £300 odd quid each we needed and away we went."
Taking a punt on the then-unknown TRG paid off, with the dystopian futuristic garage of "Broken Heart" and "Put You Down" clearly a step ahead of the glut of mediocre halfstep being released at the time. It was a conscious decision, and is something that continues to inform the Hessle manifesto. "We're not really interested in disposable music. What we'd like to put out is just stuff that you're still going to be listening to in ten years time—stuff that doesn't really sound like anything else," says Kennedy. "Looking back on our catalogue, I don't think that any of it really sounds like anything else that's been released. With number one, for example, I don't really think anyone even now, apart from another TRG tune, has really done that kind of updated garage thing like him. We just want to put out stuff that you're not going to stop playing after a few months because it's been rinsed—I think that's my interpretation of what the label's about. I think there's a lot of good music out there, but not a lot of really good music, and I think that sometimes not every tune has to come out just for the sake of it."
By the time the TRG record finally hit shops in the middle of '07, McAuley had finished what would become his debut release as Pangaea. Having produced his own material for his own amusement for quite a few years, he found that his ongoing love affair with dubstep provided him with a renewed "inspiration and focus" to make records that he could play in his own DJ sets. The fruits of his revitalised passion for production came in the form of the "Coiled" 12-inch, which combined the minimalist aesthetics of Loefah with cold 2-step garage and a hint of ambient music.
When asked if pioneering dubstep producers like El-B and Horsepower Productions inspired his take on the darker side of 2-step, McAuley is quick to credit a much more household name. "I can't claim I was 'listening to dark garage before it was called dubstep' and stuff like that, as I was following the sound from that mid-2005 period onward. I'd say Burial's South London Boroughs EP switched me on to dark garage beats more than Horsepower and the like." Whilst a futurist UK garage theme was present on the first two releases, the third jettisoned any accusations that Hessle were singularly focused in their sound. London producer Jack Dunning (AKA Untold) was the third to unveil his debut release on the label, which showcased his unique and unpredictable sound. After listening to the otherworldly halfstep of "Kingdom," or the flailing bassline and hyper-percussion of "Purify," it's pretty easy to agree with Kennedy's assertions about the uniqueness of the label's output.
Five Hessle Anthems
Pangaea - Router
The yearning time-stretched vocal of "Router" may bring obvious comparisons to Burial's sound, but its frenetic swinging percussion and warm delayed synths elevate it above any accusations of plagiarism. It's also the first Hessle release to be mastered at Berlin's Dubplates & Mastering, and one of the finest sounding dubstep records you'll find.
Ramadanman - Blimey
Comprising of little more than a stop/start tribal beat, subdued melancholic chords and a sample of children playing, "Blimey" ekes out maximum effect from its minimal elements. One of those records that sounds like nothing else around.
TRG - Broken Heart (Martyn's DCM Remix)
Dutchman Martijn Deykers' delay unit gets worked to the bone on his lush broken beat-esque version of TRG's "Broken Heart", which reached #7 in RA's remixes of 2008 poll. Featured on Appleblim's Dubstep Allstars Vol. 6, the track has become somewhat of a torch song for DJs treading the line between techno and dubstep.
Untold - Test Signal
The first time you hear "Test Signal", you'll find it impossible to predict where it will go next. Sporadic bursts of instrumentation appear over the constantly evolving percussion, whilst the divebombing bassline and modulated arpeggio really need to be heard to be believed.
Pangaea – Coiled
The second release on the label marked the debut release for Pangaea, as he took the dark garage sound and turned it on its head. Eerie drifting synths collide with spring-loaded bass shocks on this minimalist 2-step bomb, which is one of David "Ramadanman" Kennedy's favourite Hessle Audio releases.
As a fan of both house and techno himself, Kennedy finds it "flattering that techno fans are embracing our stuff," though he's reticent to pin his hopes on a crossover. "I think that at the moment there's a lot of middle-of-the-road dubby techno that doesn't really do a lot, and whilst you might describe it as dubsteppy techno, it's not what I'm really into. I prefer stuff that maybe takes a few different influences, like Pangaea's "Router" which borrows from quite a few different genres and creates something new rather than a Basic Channel rehash at 140 BPM." The spectral garage of "Router" features on the most recent Hessle 12-inch—a release that marked a change in the label's standard procedure, as they eschewed their usual mastering house to plump for the expert knowledge of Berlin's revered Dubplates & Mastering.
All of imprint's previous output had been mastered at London's Transition studios, which has become the de facto shop for dubstep labels due to its early involvement with imprints such as DMZ, Big Apple and Tempa. So why the change? "I'd cut some dubs there with Ben beforehand, and we were just really impressed by them," enthuses Kennedy. "Transition are fantastic and did our first five releases, which sounded very good... but you've just got to see what else is out there and if you only use one place, then you don't know what the others are like. We thought like maybe having a little change and we were amazed at the results. It's just one of the best sounding records that I've heard as far as quality is concerned."
With the popularity of the label at an all-time high, a lot of eyes in both the techno and dubstep communities are on Hessle Audio to see what they'll do next. "With our label, it was the first release for TRG, the first release for Pangaea, the first release for Untold, and I think that we're going to do quite a bit more of that and bring some new names in with some fresh stuff," Kennedy explains. A mysterious producer named Joe is next in line to make his name via the label, and the shuffling tribal drums and lush synth washes of "Grimelight" may just find its way into sets of Ricardo Villalobos following his support of previous releases that were similarly percussive.
Whatever the label's future intentions past the Joe release, Kennedy is eager to stress that he doesn't want to end up pigeonholing the label stylistically. "I'm not really interested in trying to categorise ourselves off into some little sub-corner, saying 'We're Hessle Audio and we do experimental, deep dubstep.' When I got into dubstep a few years ago, I think that most people would agree that as a genre it was really open, and I'd like to think that we're carrying that way of thinking on."