Vinyl Junkie Interviews - TOP DRAWER DIGITAL

Vinyl Junkie Interviews - TOP DRAWER DIGITAL

I caught up with my good friend and fellow label boss Lucas as he prepares to drop the amazing ABSTRACTIONS 3 album, which I have to say is one of my favourite albums of 2023. Its also the final release from the awesome Top Drawer Digital label... With a 100 releases under his belt Lucas has decided to call it a day.... Find out why below... 

Hi Mate. How’s things and what have you been up to this week??

Hi John, I’m cool. Thanks for inviting me to do this. Much appreciated.

I’m just really excited to get this release out there, been a long time in the works. When I’ve not been at work, I’ve spent most of my time this week making videos of the tracks. Managed to get to an Old Skool House Rave in Birmingham at the weekend though, aching a bit, the 50-year-old body can’t handle the dancing like it used to.

Can you give me a brief bit of background on yourself. Where you were born, where you grew up, what school you went to etc…

I was actually born in Cheltenham, didn’t stay there long mind. I’m probably the most Brummie non Brummie you’ll ever meet. Spent all my life in Birmingham.

Didn’t really get on with school, it bored the life out of me. I had much more interesting stuff to do. I didn’t go very much at all, didn’t do any exams but it was a different era back then you could get away with it and still make sommat of yourself in life without the qualifications. I’m a mechanic by trade and work for a large 4x4 company helping develop future models, it’s a great job that I’ve been able to travel the world doing it.

I’m blessed to have a good family around me 2 kids (adults now mind), a very tolerant Wife and a very special unit of close friends.

So musically, let’s start right at the beginning… Going way back, before raves… Before Top Drawer Digital and all that good stuff… What is your very earliest musical memory?

Jumping round to a track called Hocus Pocus by Focus like a loony when I was a kid. It’s a rock song, it’s fuckin’ nuts though, still blows me away when I listen now, really you should check it out. I’m a massive fan of music that doesn’t conform.

When you were growing up, what music was likely to being played in your house? In other words… What was the soundtrack to your youth? And how did this music effect your future?

I wasn’t at home much, was out and about all the time as a lad.  The Specials, The Beat, The Selector are the bands I remember listening mostly at a young age but was also listening to the 80’s electronic stuff. I hung around with lads a lot older than myself when I was young and when the Electro stuff stated coming through everyone was Breaking , Walking round with ghetto blasters and a roll of lino , as I was a lot smaller than them so they used to do tricks like spinning me on their heads which more often than not didn’t quite go to plan. That stuff really hit me…like this is it, this is what music is all about, then about 87 I reckon I got a few early house tapes and was like…WOW, would have been 14 then.

What was the first rave you ever went to? And how did affect your life!!

My Mom took me and my best mate to Ibiza in 89 and we found out what it was all about, I was 16 and it was my first experience of Acid House on a proper Sound System, pretty sure it was a club called Xtasis. French Kiss was theme tune of those 2 weeks, it was played everywhere, we did Es Paradis too amongst other places, I think that Holiday really made me realise this was for me. Had to wait till I was 18 in the UK to get going properly. My first all-nighter back home was Dance 91 at Villa Leisure Centre, now that night really changed my life, my perception of the whole scene and everything, there was no looking back from that point, I worked all week with the sole focus of paying for the next rave. As soon as one of the lads got transport, we were off all over the place every weekend for the next few years. More locally we did Pandemonium at JJ’s on a Friday then Quest in Wolverhampton on a Saturday if we could afford both or we’d venture to Shelly’s or Kinetic if there were no big all nighters happening. After we’d travel back to “The Cage” Carpark in Birmingham which was the main post rave meet up place in Birmingham, you’d have car sound systems playing and MCs like Robbie D MCing in the car park, it was quite a magical time.

What DJ really blew your mind back then?

In the beginning it was Sasha and Grooverider  and although very different these guys were still playing the same raves at that point and took you on proper journeys ,moving on I think  Ratty was my of  favourites from that era moving from 92/93 his sound worked for me along with Top Buzz those darker Jungle Techno Vibes really excited me , Quest epitomised that sound and attitude , was one of my favourite places in the world to be at that time .

How & when did your musical career start?

Career, that’s an interesting way of putting it. makes it sound like I’ve made some sort of living at it.  Music is a massive part of my life yea , but by the time I started producing it was too risky for me to dedicate myself to it completely, that I believe is what you “HAVE” to do if your ever gonna make a career of it and I have upmost respect for those that do. It’s been more like a rather large hobby to me in reality. Got my first Synth a Roland XP50 around 1997 as I remember.

When did you first start learning to produce and are you self-taught or did you go to college…

Completely self-taught… When I got that XP50, what a mission it was. As a workstation you could program stuff in the little LCD window, it had great sounds, but I never had a clue and actually got really frustrated with it in the beginning, didn’t have YouTube tutorial videos back then, the struggle was real. I expanded it with a Techno Expansion Card and little Akai s20 sampler that I used the XP50 to trigger. It was tough. I had a Roland MC 505 for a while that was easier to put tracks together in but getting my first PC was the turning point.

I got a Cubase VST 32 / Halion package and although that took a while to get to grips with too once I did, I started to become much happier with my output. I was making mainly house / techno stuff for years…badly to be honest. I stumbled on J-Tek around 2008 and it reignited my love of the sounds of my youth. I’d stepped away from the hardcore / Jungle scene when it got really moody and the MC’s started thinking it was all about them and went back to house / techno clubs. I missed the whole development of DnB if I’m honest, I’ve always preferred slightly lower tempos. Well making J-Tek at 140-50bpm with old skool sounds just worked for me, everything clicked into place, it just felt right, like I’d found my calling in life.

What artists / producers do you see as your main Influences and why?

I don’t really have specific artists or producers that spring to mind, I love good music and just try to be the best version of me that I can production wise. I listen to a lot of music, mainly electronic yes but from a wide spread of genres, I try not to be too structured in how I produce music, I’m quite erratic and draw influences from many different sources. DM used to tell me off all the time for making non-DJ friendly intros, but I make music for me as a rule, try and tell a story. Think I’ve got a bit better over the years.  I am inspired by the people around me that are doing well for themselves musically too, producers that aren’t afraid to push the envelope and try new things and strive to better themselves with each release.

Can you remember the first time you heard one of your tunes played at a rave / club? Who was the DJ and how did it make you feel seeing people dancing to something you had made?

I went to a J-Tek night in Birmingham run by Jay Tee from Konflict radio, pretty sure it was called REFRESH, He had been championing my Antichrist track on his radio shows and that night Pilgrim played it. It was quite a surreal feeling, as you know John, I like a dance but whenever I hear one of my own tracks played, I tend to stop and just watch everyone else in a trance like state. It’s an awesome feeling.

Back in 2009, you launched Top Drawer Digital. Was there a specific thing that inspired you to start the label?

There weren’t many labels at that time releasing the music we were producing / playing we were getting sent so many dubs weekly, there was a buzz around the “J-Tek” sound. It just felt like the right thing to do. Not just for releasing my own stuff but to rep the whole sound.

You had a long running Radio show with Digitally Mashed as the official DJ. How did this all come about and how did you guys meet?

We had both stumbled on the J-Tek sound around the same time (2008) and were in the same Radio chat rooms of other DJ’s playing stuff as well as his own shows. Pilgrim, Jay Tee and Glen Aston were all championing the sound. From memory the stations were DnBMidlands, Konflict Radio DoubleD. We met some great people via those shows and when I decided to start the label it was the logical thing to do it with DM. I’m not a DJ and a label needs one, we’ve been a great team. He sorts out the mixes, does the radio shows, plays the clubs which leaves me to do the other stuff. Pretty sure the first Top Drawer Digital Show was on Nu-Rave.Com, Kidson ran the station and gave us loads of support. We spent a few great years there, a few hours a week and if DM ever had to miss a show, we had a roster of artists more than willing to step in. Need to mention Big Will and SS Taggart at this point, they were pretty much non official TDD members, it was so exciting back then a real buzz getting sent dubs minutes before the shows sometimes. We eventually moved on and spent many years with NSB Radio which has sadly gone now. Me and DM don’t actually meet up in person often but that’s never mattered we just clicked, we’re on the same level, have the same ethos, it just worked. I couldn’t have done it without him.

How did you find artists to sign in the very early days?

There was so much unsigned music around us it was easy; we could be very selective right from the off then there were a few you had to put the effort in to make sure they knew although we were a new label, we planned on doing things properly. over time we developed a good backbone of regulars some of which stayed with us for the whole journey, the likes of Strange Rollers, Pressa, Sanxion, Beagle, Bojcot, Gav Ley, Radiokillaz, The Rumblist, Beagle, Schoco and yourself have been putting stuff out with us for a long time now. Swankout joined us a bit further into the journey and although he might not have been around quite as long as some definitely left his mark on the TDD sound too. We’ve always tried to break new artists as well; the albums were great for that they give you a bit of breathing room.

Compilation albums have always been a BIG feature of the label. Was there a concept for each album series or an overall theme?

In the beginning it was a great way to showcase what we were about, the Back & Forth series highlighted our “No Rules” mentality, just good Old Skool Vibed music that crossed genres. DM’s sets always tried to encompass the full spectrum of the sound and that’s what we wanted to be as a label too. Also, it was a good way to get new producers involved whilst keeping our artist roster backbone. The Future Jungle Expeditions series maybe narrowed that field a bit, but we still tried to capture the extremities within that sound. I’m very proud of those albums, think they really capture a moment in time. I’ve also always tried to curate our albums as if they were an artist album rather than a standard compilation. I’ve always tried to make them flow, take you on a journey. The 10 Year album was a celebration of our sound a 20 tracker and was a lot of work pulling it together but well worth it., pretty sure that’s the only album we did that didn’t bring someone new into the fold. The Abstractions series was getting us back to that full breadth of sounds telling stories of what TDD is all about. I think if you listen to any of the Abstractions Albums it’ll give you a pretty good indicator as to what we’re about. As I knew this last one was gonna be our final release and our 100th, It had to be pretty spectacular. If I’m honest it took me a lot longer to get sorted than I ever imagined but I think the final product tells how much effort was put in by all involved. I loved the USB release Jay Cunning had done with Kniteforce and knew I had to do the same for this one. Chris gave me the details of where they got them done and I got straight on the case, The USBs are amazing, one of the best things we’ve put together. Mr Bunter saying that it was his release of the year really touched me too, you know when your peers show their appreciation of sommat you’ve put your heart and soul into …. That hits hard.

From 2009 to 2023, is there a favourite year of yours in TDD history?

Had great times in every year but being put on the spot, probably 2011, winning the Nu-Rave Awards Best label category really meant a lot, I had no idea, I was there and was shell shocked when they said who’d won. You were there mate, think you won best album for Future Rave Anthems? Me and DM also came down for Bunter’s Future Jungle Special on Kool with, You, Sanxion, Kid C and Strange Rollers that year too, Electrux didn’t make it in body, proper character there that was a big part of the TDD journey too... Great times.

A firm favourite of many is Sub Fusion - Psychotic Bleeps. I understand it has a bit of a history and took some time to sign to the label. Could you share the story?

It’s one of my favourites too, it was a bit of a J-Tek anthem back in 2009/10 everyone was playing it, but it wasn’t released. In vibe it sort of reminds me of Earth Leakage Trip: No Idea, just has sommat about it so special, the tip of darkness / mystery. Think I tried to sign it for our first album, Back & Forth Volume 1 but we were a new entity, an unknown quantity and I get why they didn’t go for it. A few years later and it’s still getting played everywhere but still not signed so I reapproached them and they gave me a 4 track EP, not only that but they’ve stuck around with us too. Sub Fusion is DJ Vapour and Skink, they’ve both done tracks for us with their individual alias’s too other than Sub Fusion and even after having stuff out on Metalheadz they’ve still found time to give us music.

Of all your own personal productions for TDD, which is your favourite and why?

As a final product it’s Probably a remix if I’m honest. of dYstance: Keep in Mind. put my heart and soul into it, I don’t believe in lazy remixes and think I did a good job on this one, keeping the original recognisable but stamping myself all over it. The rest of my original stuff, I generally don’t have favourites, they all represent where I’m at the time of producing them. I think my production may have got better over the years but some of the earlier stuff was more experimental, moving forward I want to give myself a bit of room to experiment more and find that balance.

So… Abstractions Vol 3… TDD100… which is sadly the final TDD release – Tell us a bit about the album and what made you decide it to end it here?

I’ve been toying with the idea of finishing TDD for a while , It’s been a good run , it’s a hard slog running a label and I just think it’s time to concentrate on myself a bit , DM has took a bit of a step back DJing wise over the past few years for his own reasons so the radio shows etc stopped but the main reason is that the one main thing that has suffered trying to fit everything in amongst work , family , label , music production is me making music and that’s where I’m happiest , creating. I don’t regret any of it, it’s just I’ve struggled with time for a while but could see the 100th release not too far in the distance and though it was achievable and would be the perfect end point. We were obviously gonna make a big deal of it and as I thought the Abstractions series so far was really representing the full spectrum of what we do that that would be a good ending. I tried to get as many of the artists we’ve dealt with in the past involved and sort of gave them free reign on where to take their track within our sound. It was apparent quite soon that it was gonna be a massive release, it’s a 36-track journey through what we are all about, really think it encapsulates our essence. We also stayed true to our ethos and pulled in some new blood, I’ve always loved getting new producers involved and then generally they stick around and bolster your squad. Getting Outrage to do a track for it meant a lot to me too, If I hadn’t have stumbled upon J-Tek Records back then TDD probably wouldn’t be in existence, so it feels like we’ve gone full circle. I’ve made so many good friends via TDD, people I’ll probably deal with for the rest of my life.

So, this is the end of the road for TDD… But what about Lucas the producer. Will you continue to make music?

I can’t ever see myself not making music. I’m lucky that I’ve got a lot of good people around me that I’ve met during my time running TDD that will put some bits and bobs out for me and I’m not saying there won’t be another label in the future, time will sort that out. We had a side project called Bass Elements that I might use to self-release a few bits if required, I’m just gonna take some time to work it all out.

So, keeping with the production theme now… What DAW do you use and have you always used that one? Have you tried any of the others?

I’m 100 % Cubase, have been since that first copy of VST 32 I brought. It does everything I need a DAW to do and I’m only scratching the surface, I’m sure. I’m on 12 at the moment with Halion 6 but think a 13 / 7 upgrade will be my Christmas present to myself.

There are a few little things that I’ve seen that Ableton does that I like but not enough for me to move over. I’m pretty much all in the box these days too. I’ve got a little half rack JV1010 that has all my old XP50 sounds in as well as my Techno Card and I’ve got a Behringer TD-3 and a Polyend Tracker but that’s it. The TD-3 is a bit of a toy really, a bit of fun, it sounds good but it’s just not any good for my workflow. I tend to use the ABL3 plug in instead. The Polyend Tracker is fun to use, and I’ll occasionally throw something together in there, it can capture that old skool vibe very well but then I’ll bounce the stems and rebuild it all in Cubase. My “Studio” is actually a section of the family living room, so compromises have had to happen obviously. I make 90% of my music on headphones, My DT770’s have served me well over many years, I use Sonarworx to correct them a bit too. My monitors are little KRK Rokit 5’s , they get some stick for sound quality but I only use them for over checking stuff , I can’t warrant getting better monitors in an untreated room, I have a Subpac for monitoring low end , that’s a game changer and I recommend them to anyone who can’t produce using a sub woofer. I’ve literally just took delivery of some shiny new Beyer DT1770’s too, hopefully they’ll serve me as well as the 770’s have.

What one plug-in could you not live without? Tell us why? 

Output – Thermal, I use it on multiple tracks / groups in everything I produce sometimes hardly noticeably but it adds such a warmth to tracks and then if you want to push it, it can be quite aggressive too but with a great tone. I own all the Output VST’s and love em, they’re all awesome.

So… Vinyl Junkie UK is a record store, so we always like to talk about vinyl a bit… So please tell us… what was the first record you ever bought and how old were you?

Ian Dury: Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick is the first one I remember buying, No Idea how old I would have been but very young.

Top Drawer never ventured into the vinyl realm… Is there a reason for this?

I think the main reason is that as I’ve never been a DJ, I just don’t have that same affinity for Vinyl that others from that era do. The lead times for getting stuff out there are much longer, with digital we could get the tracks out quick and without the outlay of vinyl, which is a massive risk in our scene, I have upmost respect for all those that take that risk but for me it didn’t make sense. I’m sure DM would have loved a few TDD Vinyl releases, maybe sometime in the future there might be a Top-Drawer Vinyl release, never say never.

I think with digital there is more freedom to experiment, take a risk on some more niche stuff. Some of my favourite TDD tracks have bombed sales wise but even knowing that I’d still release them, they helped shape our sound. Art is subjective, sales don’t make art any better or worse just more popular to your current audience at that given time.

There has been a massive resurgence in vinyl sales lately with loads of old classics being remastered and repressed. Is this a good thing and why? Discuss….

It’s been nice for me to pick up a couple of things that I didn’t have on repress and if it’s giving some of those artists an extra payday and the opportunity for people who didn’t have the originals a chance to get their hands on them then fair play. I bet it’s hit the price of some of the originals though? Bet some collectors aren’t so happy?

Do you think the vinyl thing will grow or fizzle out? Discuss your reasoning…

I think it’s probably peaked, there will always be a hardcore following but the world just aint that way inclined anymore as I see it and as the younger generation comes through interest will drop off, I think.

Are you a record collector yourself, if so, how many records do you have??

I’m not a collector, as such, no I used to buy records before mixtapes came along just so I could listen to the music but as I’m not a DJ the mixtapes were much more cost effective at the time. Then some tracks you just can’t get digitally and there’s a few I just like to have a vinyl copy of. We’re talking amounts I own as in a few hundred. I’ll support the people around me too, I have records I’ve never played that I’ve only brought to support the artist. If I’ve got a digital copy, why would I put a record on?

What are your 3 most treasured records (give a little bit of info on each one why they are so special to you)

This is hard…. I reckon it changes all the time.

At this moment right now thinking about it: my copy of the first crucial electro, that reminds me so much of me finding electronic music. Man Parish “Hip Hop Be Bop”, Hashim “Al Naafish” and Cybertron “Clear” take me right back every time.

Then it’s a couple of 12” that took me a while to find out what they even where and I only got them in the past few years.

Lex Loofah “Freaky Deaky” on WARP and Channel “Dubious Kettle (Acid Over Hornchurch Mix)” on Loud & Proud.

Both those tracks are a bit of me and the sort of stuff I was into around 93/94 when I started stepping away from the hardcore / jungle scene.

Also need to mention that I’m pretty stoked that Shilton put a track of mine on Vinyl for Something System Records a year or so ago, great label with a great attitude.

What record is top of your wants list?

Don’t have one tbh , I see the odd thing here and there and buy it , got the Acen , Shades of Rhythm and N-Joy boxed sets over the last few years and also picked up Earth Leakage Trip – No Idea on Re-release recently and The Sub Focus 3 x Disc Album just to get Last Jungle on vinyl.

The sound of the early 90’s hardcore and jungle has come full circle with lots of young people, who were not even born first time round, adopting this sound, buying records and even producing music in this style… It’s amazing… whats your thoughts on this and how is it going to affect the future of the scene?

It’s great aint it and it will be those young talents who are the most creative, they’ll take the sound to the next level do sommat new with it, keep it alive.

How does the newly produced hardcore / jungle compare to the original stuff in your opinion?

A lot of it is much better produced, I’m a fan of the stuff that isn’t afraid to evolve, keep those vibes / sensibilities but move the sound forward. I do like polished music but sometimes that Old Skool grittiness is needed too, it’s a fine balance.

Any final words or shouts??

There are so many people, I could mention, just too many, there’s some great people in our scene. All the artists who let us put their music out on TDD and helped us shape the TDD sound, All the DJ’s that have played our tracks, anyone that’s ever brought our music, anyone who’s wrote a blog or magazine article, everyone who’s helped me with advice / guidance over the years. You all know who you are, and it’s greatly appreciated.

Obviously, my right-hand man Digitally Mashed, we’ve been a good team and have to mention Ritchie K (Strange Rollers) who in my opinion is as much a part of TDD as me and DM. He has helped my development massively over the years and had a huge impact on the TDD sound. Eddie Voyager, he did all our mastering for years and without him I doubt we wouldn’t have done those early albums. Tariq needs a shout too, proper unsung hero of our scene. Then my Wife for putting up with my music obsession for all these years.

A final word.

Thanks for having us 😊

We have a great scene here around us and if you can, help support the artists / labels you love.

If you can afford it buy their physical items, vinyl, cd’s, usb’s, merchandise or digital downloads from them directly via websites or Bandcamp so the funds get straight to them and enable them to keep doing what they do. There are a lot of costs, time and effort required to get good music to your ears and streaming it doesn’t really help them at all.

If you can’t afford it, a like or repost on social media can go a long way too and costs nothing.

Take care of the underground sounds.

The amazing Abstractions 3 album is available to buy now as a USB or digital download. The triple CD version has already sold out.

Grab your copy from the Top Drawer Digital Bandcamp

Catch Digitally Mashed doing his TDD history mix today at 10am on the Vinyl Junkie Show... ERUPTION RADIO. YOU CAN TUNE IN HERE



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