It won't be long, Ruskin assures us. In 2009, the London-based DJ/producer relaunched the imprint after a short hiatus. Since then, Blueprint has been releasing work at a breakneck pace. Four whole 12-inches in 12 months. Perhaps most surprising of all, the output came from names—O/V/R, Valmay, Mark Broom—never associated with Blueprint before. "The original idea for the label was a vehicle for Richard [Polson] and I," Ruskin says. "What we were trying to achieve was very specific. We got sent a lot of demos—we got sent good demos—but they didn't necessarily fit. Blueprint wasn't about releasing music for the sake of releasing music. That's why it remained around the core of people that were there at the beginning."
Ruskin, Polson and Oliver Ho were the trio of producers that formed said core for much of Blueprint's early history. And if it hadn't been for an unsuccessful live show, Ho might have never joined the label at all. "Oliver was doing something with a friend, very rudimentary. It didn't go overly well, but I heard something in what he was trying to create with the sounds—and the manipulations of those sounds. I asked if he had some material that he was working on for this label we were starting up, and that was it basically."
With Ruskin and Polson teaming up in the studio under the name Outline, and Oliver Ho releasing under his own name, Blueprint soon had that aforementioned specific sound. "Could I put what that is into words? Probably not. But I can hear it. If I hear a track that I like but isn't quite right for the label, I couldn't necessarily tell you what's missing....When it gets me, it gets me. And that's that."
That thing in the mid- to late-'90s for Ruskin and Polson was raw techno. Ho's sound was "spikier, more dry" and the Outline releases were more "rounded-off," claims the producer, but there was a clear throughline. It was a sensibility, but it was also a function of the machines that were used as well. The label began at an opportune moment for budding producers: The first wave of electronic music producers were getting rid of their machines, trading them in for newer gear. This meant that, if you looked hard enough, there were pieces of equipment starting to find their way into secondhand shops across the country.
"We had an incredibly limited amount of gear at home. An Akai S950, a very cheap effects unit and an old drum machine. That was literally it. We paid about 600 pounds for this sampler, which at the time was a big deal to us. We immersed ourselves in creating as much as we could at home, though, because we didn't want to go in and rent studio time." It was time well spent. When Ruskin and Polson did the test pressings for the first Blueprint release, they sent the results to Surgeon. A few days later, they received a call from the Birmingham DJ. He wanted to come down to London and stay for a while, to find out more about this similar aesthetic emerging in the capital city.
The Birmingham connection is an important one. Indeed, many people called the type of techno that emerged at the time "The Birmingham Sound." There were enormous parties all throughout the UK, however, that began to cater to the appetite for the more aggressive side of things. London had Lost, Liverpool had Voodoo, Leeds had The Orbit. Birmingham's taste for the stuff led to both House Of God and Atomic Jam. "It snowballed really quickly. We were embraced by the people that really enjoyed that kind of sound," recalls Ruskin.
Soon, continental Europe found itself just as interested. Surgeon gained a residency at Berlin's Tresor club, a tacit acknowledgment that there was techno emerging from places outside of Detroit that seemed just as vibrant. Ruskin often traveled to play with Surgeon there, and soon had his own relationship with the club and, perhaps just as importantly, the imprint of the same name. Ruskin ended up putting out a trio of full-lengths across the course of the '00s.
The final album, The Dash, was released in 2008. It stands as perhaps his most diverse work, reflecting both a change in working methods and his outlook on life. Outline production partner and label co-manager Richard Polson left Blueprint in 1999, but the duo remained good friends until Polson tragically died in 2006. In an interview with Test last year, Ruskin admitted that the full-length was "created for Richard. I don't like to use the word tribute as I don't really know if that is the right way of describing it. It was definitely a process and a focus for me after he passed away and that helped me to deal with things."
It's clear that, despite the fact that Polson neither DJ'd nor had much interest in learning the nuts and bolts of production, that he had an enormous impact on the direction of Blueprint in its early days and UK techno in general. "Richard was very much the behind-the-scenes guy. He was very much about creating the vibe, he kept the feel of the project on target. It worked out really well. But then my schedule as a DJ started to take off and it became harder and harder to find the time."
The distance gave time to Ruskin to reassess, to ensure that the music that came out under his own name—and under the Blueprint banner—wasn't a mere product. Last year, the label reemerged with an EP from O/V/R, the first release of the new project from Ruskin and Birmingham techno producer Karl O'Connor (AKA Regis). It seemed like an obvious move. The duo had been working on the tracks for years together, and the music scene at the time was finally coming back to techno in a major way due to the work of labels like Ostgut Ton and Sandwell District, the latter of which O'Connor also records on regularly.
"I think there's a wave of music being made at the moment that has a depth, a grit, a raw organic feel that wasn't around for a few years. The sonic qualities of the stuff that is coming out on Ostgut, for instance, is really interesting to me." The same goes for Valmay's Radiated Future which emerged last year, perhaps the finest moment of Blueprint Mk. II. UK techno vet Paul Mac's release fit neatly into the zeitgeist and yet stood eerily outside of it, sampling Charles Bukowski's haunting, drunken poetry to frightening effect on the title track and finding room for expression in tempos slower than are traditionally associated with the imprint's fast-paced textured techno on "Old Dog."
Valmay will return in 2010 if all goes according to plan, as will O/V/R. Robert Hood, too, will make his Blueprint debut with a remix later in the year. And Ruskin is set to keep busy outside of Blueprint as well, with material forthcoming on Ostgut Ton and an upcoming remix of Planetary Assault Systems. Like those heady days in the mid- to late-'90s, there seems to be a self-sustaining scene forming around this type of techno once again. When the ebb inevitably happens again a few years down the road, though, your best bet will be to keep an ear open to Blueprint. Ruskin may have a tough time explaining what it's composed of, but he knows quality when he hears it.
Download: RA Label of the Month 1004 Mix: Blueprint (right click + save target as)
Filesize: 115.4MB Length: 01:40:15
01. Unique 3 - Theme (Autechre Mix)
02. Silent Servant - Noise Modulation
03. Valmay - Distrust
04. Bauhaus - Bauhaus
05. Saint Etienne - Your Head My Voice (Aphex Twin Mix)
06. Vex'd - 3rd Choice
07. Marcel Dettman - Shift (Norman Nodge Remix)
08. Surgeon & James Ruskin - Sound Pressure
09. James Ruskin - Massk
10. James Ruskin - Graphic
11. James Ruskin - Lahaine (O/V/R Mix)
12. Gary Beck - Limehouse
13. Deadbeat / Fenin - Teach the Devil's Son
14. Shlomi Aber - Create Balance
15. Autechre - Second Peng
16. Delta Funktionen - Silhouette (Marcel Dettman Remix)
17. DVS 1 - Departure
18. Polson & Ruskin - Institute for the Future
19. Planetary Assault System - GT (James Ruskin Remix)
20. Valmay - Old Dog
21. Portion Reform - Reduction
22. O/V/R - Fallen Night Renew
23. Marcel Dettmann - Unrest (Norman Nodge Remix)
24. Autechre - os veix3
25. Deepbass - Blackout
26. Lee Holman - Kawl
27. James Ruskin - Work (BP Mix)
28. Valmay - Radiated Future
29. James Ruskin - Sabre
30. Mark Broom & James Ruskin - Hostage
31. Lucy - Gmork (Luke Slater Remix)
32. Mark Broom & James Ruskin - The Metal Man
33. Sandwell District - LTD
34. Peter Van Hoesen - Terminal
35. Surgeon - The Crawling Frog Is Torn and Smiles
36. James Ruskin - Solution
37. O/V/R - Interior
38. James Ruskin - The Outsider (Luke Slater's ME Remix)