Like many before and since, Lawson and Finlow had dreamed of having a vehicle to release the music they were making; deep house, Detroit techno influenced future jams and their own particular take on Chicago jack. It's a story often heard in dance music circles: DJ and producer set up label. Yet the music they were making—and would go onto release in future years—was far from ordinary.
Their first release, "Space Groover" by Wulf n Bear—a collaboration between Lawson, Finlow and DJ Huggy—was a statement of intent. A chugging deep house bumper, it was a modest success for the fledgling imprint. But it was their third release, another Wulf n Bear cut called "Raptures of the Deep," that really put 2020Vision on the map.
A fusion of heavyweight, floor-friendly house beats and Detroit techno influenced keys and strings, it was something of a breakthrough record for a genre that would soon be dubbed "tech-house." Alongside fellow pioneers like Paper Recordings, Soma and Wiggle, the farmhouse-based 2020Vision crew would go on to become hugely important in the development of tech-house.
15 years on, the label's influence is still strong. This summer, they've captured the dance floor zeitgeist with Johnny D's ubiquitous remix of 2020Soundsystem's "Sliding Away"—a record that has sold over 5000 copies and spawned countless imitations. In the 15 years between "Space Groover" and "Sliding Away," 2020Vision has been responsible for some era-defining underground club records; "Erotic Discourse," Soldiers Of Twilight's "Believe," David Duriez "Get On Down" and hundreds of lost gems like Bobby Peru's fusion "For My Bleeps" or the body-shaking early morning throb of Dano, Chus & Ceballos's "Deep Architecture."
Of course, the label has never just been about deep and tech-house. A quick glance through 2020Vision's near 200 releases uncovers everything from squidgy synth-funk and slick nu-disco to ice-cold electronica, jazzy hip-hop and even one all-time downtempo classic (the Deadbeats' brilliant Lounging LP). The last couple of years they've also branched out into live performance with Crazy P and 2020Soundsystem, genuinely club-friendly live bands fusing house, techno, punk-funk, new wave, hip-hop and disco.
But that's not all. Over the years, 2020Vision has helped launched the careers of Random Factor, Paul Woolford, Fred Everything, Audiojack, Simon Baker, D'Julz, Burnski and Inland Knights. And their keen ears are also responsible for debut UK releases for Stacey Pullen, Chez Damier & Ron Trent, Ivan Smaghhe, Playhouse, Alton Miller, Ame, DJ T. and Get Physical and Motor City Drum Ensemble.
With the label's 15th anniversary due in August and a spate of big releases on the cards, I caught up with label lynchpin Ralph Lawson... - Matt Anniss
2020Vision's Slices label profile
We're doing a couple of things. The first is Stacey Pullen's 2020Vision mix. I was very clear with him that we didn't just want nostalgia—we really wanted to show the new face of the label as well, so he included the Johnny D Mix of "Sliding Away" and the Julien Chaptal mix of Simon Baker. He also included unreleased Art Of Tones stuff. It was really important to me that it showed where we are now as well as where we've come from.
What was the idea behind getting Stacey Pullen to mix the 15th anniversary compilation?
It's very, very personal. Basically after Greg Wilson did the last 2020Vision mix I was really racking my brains to think of who would be the right DJ. I found it wasn't coming for a while and I was really struggling to think who the right person would be. Then Stacey popped into my head. Stacey sent us a faxed reaction to "Raptures Of The Deep." That was such a massive inspiration for us at the time. We were the new kids trying to make our way and to have a DJ reaction back from someone like Stacey Pullen, who we had so much respect for and was very much an established player, was a huge thing for us.
We asked him to remix "Raptures Of The Deep," which he did, and then I asked him to DJ at Back To Basics. He stayed at the farmhouse and hung out, and I got to know him and DJ with him. We just became friends, basically. I went out to play in Detroit and we hooked up again. I didn't actually see him for years and then this idea popped into my head. As soon as I asked him, he was really happy to do it. It's very much a historical, personal decision.
It certainly gives the mix a resonance that it may not have had otherwise.
Absolutely. Everyone knows it's my label and I could mix my own label, but I've already done it twice. This is more interesting. It's great to hear how someone like Stacey views our work. I think he's done a phenomenal job. It's so interesting to see what other people pick out. Weirdly, he picked out many of my favourites.
There's quite a mix of old and new stuff on there, which we guess is what you wanted…
Yes. It's quite mixed in that there's old and new material but it's not mixed in terms of the sounds and styles on there. It's very much a house mix, a DJ's vision of more of the club stuff that we do. That's what I like about having these label compilations. Previously we did one with Greg Wilson, who managed to find enough electrofunk and disco on the label to make a great album. Then when I give it to Stacey there's enough tech-house, house and techno to make a great selection. It'll be interesting to see where we go next. I've already got a few ideas.
The stylistic approach of the label has changed over the years. When you started you were very much known for a particularly British—and some would say Northern—strain of deep and tech house. These days the label is far more diverse in its approach—although you still release strong dance floor records, you're able to release disco and electrofunk as well as electronica, techno and house. Has your ethos changed in 15 years?
To be honest from the start we always wanted to be diverse. That's where the name came from. The name 2020Vision we took to mean having perfect sight towards music, to not think about things in terms of genre, fashion or trends. What I saw 2020Vision as was having a totally perfect vision of music, and music is many, many things—it's not just deep house, it's not just techno, it's not just house.
Even within the first five releases there was strong divergence. You see a very deep house track on number one called "Space Groover," then very much a Detroit-based work from Chez Damier on number two. By the third release, you see one of the first tech-house releases in "Raptures of the Deep." Remember this is the time when there was no genre called "tech-house." This was a new thing.
We were influenced by American dance music across the board, and we took the bits that we liked. So we really liked the strings and musical side of things from Detroit, and their futuristic imagery. But we were playing in clubs and needed strong beats, so we really liked the house music beats coming out of Chicago and New York—NYC had more swing on the beats, Chicago was more jackin'. We kind of put the two things together, and you get something like "Raptures of the Deep," which is for sure one of the first tech-house records.
Tech-house is now a huge thing in dance music—maybe even the dominant style of underground house music. Yet where it is now in the post-minimal age is very different—the techno influences now are different from those that first influenced you 15 years ago. Do you think it's important to educate some of the kids about where tech-house first came from?
I don't want to ram it down people's throats, but if I was a young kid playing this music now I'd want to know the history and where it came from. I think it's good for them to know what's what and discover these amazing records. If I can point them in the direction of some incredible new music instead of whatever the top 10 of Beatport is that week, then I'm happy.
15 years of 2020Vision
A digitally re-mastered collection, compiled and selected by Ralph Lawson and Andy Whittaker, will be released in August featuring the following tracks from the 2020Vision vaults.
Wulf n Bear - Spacegroover (1994)
This first ever 2020 release still sounds fresh
Soldiers Of Twilight - Believe (2002)
Deep, vocal house perfection from DJ Rork, Demon Ritchie and Ladybird
UNI - Soul Searcher (1997)
Superb US garage from Mark Pomeroy and Brian Tappert
Fred Everything - Without (1997)
Another classic early 2020 moment that still lights up modern dance floors
Lawson, Finlow & Cappello - Shielded (1995)
Recently featured on Giles Smith’s sceretsundaze compilation
Wulf n Flow - World Service (1996)
An unreleased Lawson and Finlow jam we found buried deep in the vaults
Jesper Dahlback - Pianomadness (2003)
Jesper was a real influence with his productions on the classic Svek label, this was his only single on 2020
David Duriez - Get On Down (2002)
David's finest moment, an awesome sleazy house joint punctuated by a jazzy live sax
Bobby Peru - For My Bleeps (2004)
One of Paul Woolford’s more overlooked moments, but definitely a classic piece of leftfield house
Fred Everything - For Your Pleasure (2003)
Just one of the very best deep, vocal house records ever
D'Julz - Ze Theme (2003)
A deep house bomb, from our long time man in Paris, it's all about the strings
Wulf n Bear - Raptures Of The Deep (1995)
A bonafide tech house classic that put the label on the map and still sounds original all these years on
Random Factor - Broken Mirror (1998)
A really special moment for the label and a classic piece of electro pop
Dano, Chus & Ceballos - Deep Architecture (2002)
A Spanish/American collaboration of hypnotic, drum heavy house that sold by the bucketload
Random Factor - Reversal Input (1995)
An overlooked very early Carl Finlow production. Eleven minutes of progressive, spacey, hypnotic electronica that the likes of Lindstrom would be proud of
I'm really happy to have some new areas open up, let's just put it that way. Everyone owes a massive debt to German electronic music, from day one—Kraftwerk are a German band of course. But in all honesty I didn't like a lot of the minimal music that came out of Germany in recent years.
I think the world owes a huge debt to Villalobos and Luciano for referencing house music again. I think they're largely responsible for the current wave of house music sweeping the board. I don't think it's particularly healthy to have all the music coming out of one country, but it's always been like that. For a time all the music was coming from America, then in the early '90s all the house music was coming out of Italy; around the time of Daft Punk all the music was coming out of France.
I'm very interested in the Dutch scene coming out of the Hague and Amsterdam at the minute—the Remote Area/100% Pure sound led by 2000 and One which obviously has Julien Chaptal, Lauhaus, Boris Verner, Shinidoe, Bart Skillz all attached to it. That's probably the biggest sound at Basics at the moment, and we're mixing that with the UK sounds—I'm thinking very much of Simple, Rekids, Tsuba, James Priestley and the Secretsundaze crew, 2020 Vision and Freerange. I think it's a very healthy time for UK house music.
You mentioned Back To Basics there. How important has the club been to the 2020Vision story?
The club has been very, very important to the 2020Vision story. It's always mentioned in my opening paragraph whenever I talk about the label. When we started 2020, Basics was very much the focal point of the week. It was also where we met a lot of the international DJs, who would guest at the club and then stay a couple of days and come into the studio. That happened with Chez Damier, Alton Miller, Josh Wink, Derrick Carter, Mr C, Layo & Bushwacka, Stacey Pullen, all these people would come from the club and party at the farm straight after. Wanting to make something that would sound good on a Saturday night at Basics influenced a lot of the music. In the early days and even now. It's an important place.
It must have been pretty inspirational for you as young DJs and producers to meet these people and have them stay in your house-cum-studio?
Absolutely. Meeting these guys was really great. They were usually really fun guys as well so we definitely had a good time!
In the early days of the label, everything was run from the farmhouse where you lived and had the 2020Vision studio. How come you ended up on a farm?
It was just one of those "eureka" moments. I was walking down the street, homeless at the time, picked up a Yorkshire Evening Post and went straight to the accommodation pages. That was the first thing I saw top left—Hopefield Farm, Rothwell, £400 a month. It was a cheap rent for the three of us and we could have a studio there. I wasn't looking for a farmhouse—the ad just hit me. We just went and grabbed it.
Would it have been harder for you to develop as producers and for the label to grow had it not been for those early days on the farm?
I think for sure it gave us the unique sound because we were doing our own thing from our own club, inviting our influences to DJ, making music together away from everyone else. I think it's what made us unique and differentiated us from the crowd. If we'd been in London I'd have been hanging out with the same people in the same record stores. We'd have been a much more run-of-the-mill affair. There was definitely a unique series of events that led to 2020 being what it became.
Looking back 15 years on, what are your 2020 highlights?
We've just been working on this. We're going to do a digital-only album in August with some of our highlights. It's going to come out more or less 15 years to the day from the first 12-inch single. It's been a hard selection. We've tried to stick to the older stuff actually, of 15 of our most important tracks. That will give people a chance to get hold of some of the tracks that have been deleted or out of issue or are not on Beatport. We're going to digitally re-master them.
The only thing that is not on there is "Erotic Discourse," because we feel that it's been on so many compilations that anyone who needs to know about that record already does. Soldiers Of Twilight's "Believe" was also a big record for us. Some of the 2020 Vision remixes were big moments for me as well. They weren't on the label, but they were important. The 2020Vision remix of Blaze's "Lovelee Dae" on Playhouse is one of the best things we've done, for sure. We did a lot of remixes under the name 2020Vision. Listening back to them I'm pretty proud of most of them.
Another big project for you this year is the second 2020Soundsystem album, which is due for release in September. What can we expect from that?
With this album we really tried to concentrate on developing our sound. In a way you could look at the Soundsystem and say that it is the flagship act of the label and what we're trying to do, with a lot of different influences. A lot of time was spent on trying to consolidate all our influences. A lot of the time we're fighting—literally—over what each of us likes and dislikes in a track. Once people are given enough space in the project to represent themselves and the other people to fit in and do their thing, people start to have a role.
When it works, you can produce something unique. When it doesn't, you all just argue! This album was quite hard to be honest. It was very much the "difficult second album." It was all about marrying those influences into something we were all happy with and "our sound." That is something that I think we achieved with this album. It's all us now—there are no guest vocalists. Fernando handles all the vocals.
How far do you think you can go with the soundsystem?
We've got big ambitions. We're not looking to fit into what's played in a cool niche this month. We think it's an act that stands on its own two feet now. We've played to 25,000 people twice—we've played to 10,000 people five or more times. We're not scared of big crowds—when we're put on that stage we're absolutely confident that we'll smash the place to pieces. What we've done correctly is that we set out to have a live act, and then the tracks came after that.
Most dance acts have a hit and then the record company says "you've got to play live," but they've got no experience. We've cut our teeth as a live act. Over the last year we've been concentrating on America—we've been five times for a total of six or seven weeks and done 27 gigs in 16 cities. I've seen a lot of live bands and honestly, we're a lot better than most of them because we've worked hard on it. Really, we're aiming for the main stage.
Aside from the compilations and the 2020Soundsystem album, what else has the label got planned for 2009?
There's a new Mark Broom single with a Nick Curly remix. We're also doing Julien Chaptal's debut 2020 release with a Lauhaus remix. Ekkohaus we've just signed—his first single is out now. I'm really pleased with that. There's a Still Going remix of Crazy P's "Caught Out" due soon, which is great. We're also working on remixes of the 2020Soundsystem now and there is an Art Of Tones single featuring vocals from dOP and a remix from Motor City Drum Ensemble.
Buy Stacey Pullen's 2020Vision mix here
Stacey Pullen - 2020Vision Tracklist
01. Wulf & Bear - Needsy's Run
02. Inland Knights - After Me
03. Wulf n Bear - Body Music
04. Simon Baker - Out Of My Head (Julien Chaptal Remix)
05. 2020Soundsystem - Sliding Away (Johnny D Remix)
06. Mark Broom - Take Me Home (Mihalis Safras Remix)
07. Art Of Tones - Terres Conquises
08. Random Factor - Outlaw (John Tejada Remix)
09. Random Factor - Beaten (Art Of Tones Remix)
10. Crazy P - Stop, Space, Return (Roberto Rodriguez Remix)
11. Moodymanc - V8
12. 2020Soundsystem - Psycho
13. Mark Broom - Riddim
14. Volga Select - Les Annees Des Plomb (Joshua Mix)
Download: Ralph Lawson - 15 Years of 2020 Vision promo (right click + save link/target as)
Filesize: 150MB. Length: 01:44:19
Blaze - Lovelee Dae (2020Vision Accapella) / Playhouse
Ernesto Ferreya - Ground / lomidhigh
Jacoozi Boys - Boccadillos (Ekkohaus RMX) / Suara
Moritz Piske - Dirt Cabana / Salon
Loko - Scarlet House / Soulman
Bruno Gauthier - It's Love (Simon Baker remix) / Classic
Mark Broom - Life / 2020Vision
Lil Louis - I Called You / FFRR
Ekkohaus - Brian Said / 2020Vision
Saro & Black - We Were There / Shadowprint
Ricardo Villalobos - Easy Lee (Random Factor unreleased mix) / Playhouse
Gruber & Nurnberg - Traffic / Bloop
Salvatore Freda - Bombolone / Liebe Detail
TBD - What Is This ? / TBD
Basement Jaxx - Flylife / Atlantic Jaxx
Julien Chaptal - Collider / 2020Vision