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» News and Features » London Elektricity: Chief consultant of Hospital Records speaks
London Elektricity: Chief consultant of Hospital Records speaks
Hospital Records and London Elektricity's Tony Colman spoke with Marko Kutlesa about the seminal record label, the Big Band project and much more.
Last updated: 27th Mar 2018. Originally published: 15th Mar 2018
Image: London Elektricity (Credit: Hanamakova)
Tony Colman already had experience in running record labels when he set up Hospital Records in 1996 with partner Chris Goss. But it would be with this drum n' bass label where he would find huge success.
More than two decades later, Hospital Records is one of the biggest and most consistent drum n' bass labels ever and their much loved Hospitality events and club nights have assisted in gaining the brand a worldwide following.
The label's first releases were also produced by Colman and Goss, at first using several aliases, but it was their London Elektricity alias with which they scored big, firstly in 1998 with the release of' 'Song In The Key Of Knife' single. Since then London Elektricity have become Colman's solo concern and have made seven artist albums, plus several remix collections and a live album of their original performance band which toured for several years around a decade ago.
In 2018 London Elektricity return as a live band, although this time in a completely different format. The brass-heavy London Elektricity Big Band was originally put together to perform at Hospitality In The Park, but proved so successful that repeat performances are set for this year including at Highest Point Festival in Lancaster on 18 May.
Prior to such dates, Marko Kutlesa caught up with Tony Colman to ask about London Elektricity's new live incarnation and about Hospital Records.
When you announced that the version of the band who recorded the Live Gravy DVD would not be playing again, I think a lot of people thought we'd not see London Elektricity again as a live act. Why did you decide to stop performing with that band and what changed your mind about playing as an ensemble?
With the original live project, that was originally put together in 2003 for one tour, to support the 'Billion Dollar Gravy' album. We never intended it to be an ongoing thing. But, it was so good and everyone in the band enjoyed it so much, that everyone wanted to go on doing it. Everyone in the band were solo artists in their own right but everyone put that on hold in order to concentrate on London Elektricity live. We ended up doing it for two and a half years.
We decided to wrap it up when we were at our peak. If you're going to stop doing something, do it when you're at the top. That band was entirely different from the Big Band. It was six people performing, with a lot of samples being triggered by myself and Landslide. Fast forward 12 years and when we looking to put Hospitality In The Park I was thinking about something extra that I could bring to the table. It had been in the back of my mind that it would be really fun, and maybe also really stupid, to do a big band. I mean, who does a drum n' bass big band? It's nonsense!
But I thought it would be amazing because there are so few instruments that can truly convey the power of dn'b, the sheer force of it. Brass instruments are one way of doing it.
I'd met Steve Pycroft, who was running the Kaleidoscope Orchestra. They'd been doing a Pendulum suite and a Netsky suite. He also runs Riot Jazz, who we'd booked a few times. They're an amazing New Orleans style brass band and they've covered some of our tunes already.
So, I called Steve and asked him what he thought. He is an absolute genius. He was the boots on the ground, he wrote all the arrangements, then he booked the studios and I just turned up and played bass. So, it's poles apart from the original band. I wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been incredibly different.
Another route you could have gone is Classical London Elektricity, which would have been moving with the trends of the times in dance music. Haha! Is that something you would consider having already undertaken this effort with so many musicians?
Ahahaha. No. I don't think so. I've never really liked live strings in dance music. It's been done The only one I really enjoyed was Goldie's, because I love Goldie's music.
You're doing the first full Hospitality festival this year, in Croatia. What made you all decide to host something over several days?
We like to switch things up every year. Hospitality In The Park was a one day festival that felt like it should have been a five day festival. But it's in Finsbury Park. Nobody wants to go to Finsbury Park for five days. We've been researching beach sites over the last two or three years and Tisno became the obvious choice. Quite a few brilliant events have been there, but there's never been a drum n' bass beach festival quite like this.
You don't know if something's going to work. You just feel it. We know that our fanbase loves something new, something different. As soon as we said Hospitality On The Beach, we could see it all. It makes complete sense. The line up is insane and the pre sale of tickets has been absolutely ridiculous. They were nearly all gone having only been on sale for a week. It's going to be amazing. I'm so happy because I can bring my kids as well. I can't wait.
2018 also sees the return of Sick Music. Why now?
I've been gagging to bring Sick Music back for ages because it's been by far and away our best compilation series. Up until last year we were doing these sort of really big compilations, sometimes as many as seventy tracks, but now times have changed. Streaming services have made compilations of stuff that's already come out completely redundant.
So, we went back to the drawing board and we decided that we weren't going to do compilations where we were going to license anyone's tunes any more. So, we decided to go back to our flagship original music collections. They're very different from compilations because basically you're reaching out to artists and asking them to make a brilliant piece of music for a specific project. It's more like a multi artist album than a regular compilation.
Sick Music is such a strong thing. It says who we are, it says what we do and it says a lot about about the people who love what we do. As soon as we decided to do it again we were having so much fun, last summer and autumn, people getting tunes in, getting concepts and ideas. What we've ended up with, well, it's the best Sick Music we've done.
We've hit the beginning of this year sprinting as a result. It's been amazing. So many tunes off it have had massive support. It feels like the old days. I don't know if that makes sense but, you know. Back when tunes really mattered. When people really cared about individual tunes in a big way. It feels like that.
With the podcast, DJing and London Elektricty recordings and touring presumably taking up quite a bit of time, what is your specific role at Hospital, Hospitality events and Med School?
I'm the CEO of the Hospital group, which doesn't mean I just arrive in a Lamborghini and shout at people, because actually I drive an eleven year old Audi. I'm not a materialistic person at all. I don't give a fuck about status. Or Chase ahahahahaha. No, just kidding, I didn't say that.
No, I'm very involved with everything we do, the concepts, the direction, the creative branding, the recruitment of staff. It's really important that our artists have by far the best team at their disposal. I put a lot of effort into human resources. Never been taught, just taught myself. But it's all common sense, really. We're 22 years old now and it's all been about building a family. That applies to the 20 odd staff we have, all the amazing artists we have and to our fans as well.
Since you started the label and London Elektricity your approach has changed, partially as you've learned as you've been learning as you've gone along and also in response to a changing industry. At what point in the life of Hospital did you become aware that you were actually building a brand, not just a running a record label and how important to have built that brand has that been to your survival?
Really good questions! Before we were running Hospital I was running a label called Tongue and Groove. Chris Goss started off as the graphic designer and I asked him if he wanted to run the label with me. But then acid jazz kinda went down the toilet and I got into early jungle.
We spent around a year and a half making absolute shit jungle tunes in the studio that no one's ever going to hear. Then we kind of hit upon this formula of lounge core, which we knew had something. That's when we knew we needed a label. We spent weeks in the pub trying to come up with a concept.
My grandfather was a GP and the name Hospital kept coming back to me. We ended up going for it and the reason we did was because we could see it in three dimensional terms. We could see the H. We could see that it had departments. We could see it as a building. We could see that we could have a lot of fun with it. Word play.
We didn't realise at that exact point that we were constructing the key foundations for a successful brand, but we were. It's only in retrospect that we've realised we did. The H sign is used all over the world. It's a symbol that everyone understands, it resonates within them. It means healing. Of course we didn't know all that. But we kinda felt it.
So, it has become a brand. But I think the strong thing about it is that we've let it grow slowly and organically. And we've never put the brand before the music. We never will. It's only as good as it is because of the amazing artists who make the music which we release, because of the amazing people who keep coming to our shows and because of the amazing people who work here and keep it like that. The brand itself would be meaningless without all of these people.
You said choosing the name Hospital left you with a lot of room to manoeuvre in terms of wordplay and ideas. Did you ever play any shows wearing surgical attire?
Oh, I've done that loads of times ahahaha. I did it in the early days quite a lot. In 2000 we started Hospitality at Herbal, this tiny little club in Hoxton. We were there for about three or four years and then we moved to Heaven. We were advised against going there, people said we'd lose a load of money, but it sold out every time. There was a time from about 2005 – 2008 when it was the done thing for some people to come to our shows in doctors coats and nurse outfits. It was fun.
Remaining on a hospital theme, what opinions do you have about Donald Trump's relatively recent disparaging comments about the UK's NHS and widespread speculation that the upcoming US trade deal, the first in line to take place after Brexit, may open up our healthcare market to competitive American healthcare businesses?
Well, in typical Donald Trump fashion, he'd seen the NHS marches on Fox News and thought they were anti-NHS demonstrations. I don't know if you know that?
Actually I didn't!
Yeah, he did. You know he doesn't read? So, he started Tweeting about it. He assumed the British people were rising up against the NHS. Have you seen Jonathan Pie's response? Check it out, it's brilliant. He says it far better than I ever could. And with more expletives than I would use in an interview, ha!
As for the free trade deal, well, the privatisation of the NHS is already happening. Parts of it are already being sold off. Obviously the last place I would like it to end up is in the hands of some of those big American health insurers. We've got a lot of fans in America, we've made some really amazing friends out there, but no, I'm not sure I'd want their healthcare system here. I don't trust some of those big American corporations.
Brexit is the single biggest embarrassment to have happened to this country in my lifetime. I'm thoroughly ashamed of it.
Do you think Brexit might have any effect on your business in terms of your artists and events touring?
We don't know yet. We just don't know. We haven't got a clue exactly what's going to happen. Nobody knows. If there is a hard Brexit and the EU want to punish us, which may well happen, we may have to get visas in future to come to places like Croatia. We might need one for every country in Europe. That could hurt the UK music industry and the European one.