Almost every release of this British cottage label, be it a 12-inch or an entry in the Originals series (now at volume 4 and counting), imparts a distinct feeling of environment, of ease, of vacationing in beatific climes. That same sumptuous beachcomber vision might be conjured by Claremont catalog number C56012, the slow-building "Coaster" single from Portuguese producers Pedro Alcada and Tiago Miranda. Or the delicate and dubby "Tanglewood," a cut from the label's first long player, Blue River. Or Mudd and frequent collaborator Benjamin James Smith's 2007 single as Smith & Mudd, "Vegetable Square." Flip that 12-inch over for the "Version Idjut - Pab's Got A Big One Mix" and immerse yourself in an ever-drifting and expanding ocean of sound that would make "Blue Room"-era Orb proud. The music that Claremont 56 releases, meticulously designed and often coming in hand-numbered editions, conjures laconic equatorial latitudes and the gaseous regions of outer space, no matter where your physical location might be.
"I finished the first single for Claremont 56, 'Villa Stavros,'" in a remote rustic villa in Goa," recalls Murphy via email. "'Villa Stavros' was giving me a real headache back home in the UK. I just couldn't get it right. But it all seemed to happen quite naturally out there in the middle of nowhere." He admits that he hadn't made any new music the past couple of months and it was only with a winter holiday spent in the Philippines that he could hit the mental reset button. "As soon as I got back, I was desperate to get back into it. I have to remind myself that I'm not a computer and I can't force myself to make music day in day out. It has to happen naturally."
"Natural" is a good descriptor for the way the Claremont 56 catalog sounds. There's an ease and sense of beauty to the productions, be they from Mudd or high caliber-remixers (and mates) like the aforementioned Idjuts, Mark E. or Ray Mang, that underpin the beats and give the melodies room to breathe. It's beautiful music, one infused with sincerity and depth yet free from melodrama. And when the music isn't evoking an exotic locale, it's invoking a location closer to home, maybe even home itself. The label's name comes from Mudd's childhood address, "where I grew up and where Akwaaba (Mudd's late '90s group with Smith and Chicken Lips/ Afrobutt producer Steve Kotey) made their first album. A special place for me."
Goa and Bricket Wood: Two major sources of inspiration for Claremont 56.
Early singles began to appear on Bear Funk and the Idjut Boys' Noid label. For his first single on New York's scruffy and offbeat Rong label, "Adventures in Bricket Wood," Mudd namechecked his hometown in Hertfordshire county. "Bricket Wood was an amazing place to grow up as we had free run of the extensive woodland so we explored, camped and built BMX tracks," Murphy remembers, noting that today it's home to a collection of Wiccan covens and nudist clubs. "The whole town is surrounded by woodland and it has about three parks. When I was a kid there were lots of green areas within the town. One bit especially appealed to us, as it had three air raid shelters in amongst the trees. These became the venues for our breakdancing so we graffitied them up, stuck a lino down and got busy!"
Murphy and his friends embraced American hip-hop culture and all its facets: buying records, writing graffiti, breakdancing and the fashion. "With hip-hop, I really felt I was part of something at the time," he fondly recalls. "And with so much info coming in all of the different areas, it was very exciting: making tapes of early electro must have helped get me into DJing as I made the tapes to go with our dance routines. It was definitely one of the best times in my life." Murphy cut his teeth on Afrika Bambaataa, Tommy Boy 12-inches, and most crucially, Eric B. and Rakim. Looking for the perfect beat exposed Murphy to soul, disco and funk, while "going to concerts to see Public Enemy brought me to London for the first time which led me to nightclubs and raves with early house music."
It was through house music that Mudd found his calling, poring over mixes for mates and digging for records. Inspired by labels like Nu Groove, Bottom Line, U Star, and Nuphonic, he started up his own imprint. And while Mudd admits to house music being his main love, a Claremont 56 single seems better suited as a mood-enhancer, a space expander, an early evening or early morning clarifier, not necessarily a peak-hour performer. "I love house music as much today as I did then, but I'm not very good at making it," Murphy confesses. "I just can't leave it alone and will try to add all sorts of instruments over it. Good house music is simple and for some reason that doesn't work with my producing brain."
More often than not, Mudd collaborates with Ben Smith or Kevin Pollard (as Mudd & Pollard) to realize what he hears in his head: "Ben comes from a band perspective with folk and rock influences whereas I come from a more electronic background with a bit of disco and soul thrown in, but over time we've got a balance where it really is our music and our sound collectively. Kevin comes more from a similar background to me and the keyboard is his main instrument, so we're working on mainly dance music."
Two months after my live show in London's Roundhouse, Paul Murphy sent an email asking to release one piece of music he had heard in the show (an excerpt from Czukay's massive "Ode to Perfume" that was left on the cutting room floor). Well, I had some doubts about releasing something on a more or less private and unknown label, but my partner Ursa Major had exactly the opposite opinion after checking the site of Claremont 56: All of the designs of the label had convinced her spontaneously. We both agreed on getting a before unknown part of "Ode to Perfume" on vinyl (CR56014) which instantly was sold out. Following that, my double album A Good Morning Story was sold out within a few hours, right after my former and insolvent record company SPV had fired me with the argument that my music wouldn't sell!Claremont has future Czukay releases to come, with both a new Bison single and even new versions of Czukay's Balearic cut "Cool in the Pool" on the way. And following on the heels of their first Czukay release, the label also released no-wave/ disco-not-disco legend Sal Principato's post-Liquid Liquid project, Fist of Facts, the first time those tapes had been heard since they were recorded in a New York City practice space more than 25 years ago.
While it's nice to prove that there's still a market for Czukay and Principato's music, Murphy hardly perceives Claremont 56 in that manner: "I don't want to keep to a schedule. That's treating it like a business and I didn't want to do that. I also wanted it to be a lot more personal. I think a lot of labels start off with the best intentions but get a bit lost along the way, whether [by] changing the design or releasing too much or letting the quality slip. I think the last one is the hardest: if you release quality music then people expect nothing less and it's quite a lot of pressure to keep it up. It was a proud day when I was told in [London record store] Sounds of the Universe that a lot of people just buy the releases without hearing them."
Download: RA Label of the Month 1005 Mix: Claremont 56 (right click + save target as)
Filesize: 64.3MB Length: 01:10:14
01. Holger Czukay - Ode to Perfume
02. Bison - Soup Fiction
03. Mudd & Pollard - Vincent (Mark E remix)
04. Mudd & Pollard - Scaffold
05. Mudd & Ahmed Fakroun - Drago (Mudd's Teriwala mix)
06. Smith & Mudd - Shulme
07. Smith & Mudd - Enos
08. Bison - Way to LA (Day)
09. Icasol - Ongou (Idjut Boys mix)
10. Mudd & Pollard - Vincent
11. Smith & Mudd - 24/7 (Recloose mix)