Since Kevin Griffiths’ 2012 Tsuba Records tour is just a couple of weeks away, Metric caught up with the label boss himself for a bit of a chin-wag…

Hi Kevin, thanks for taking the time out to have a chat with us. Your Australian Tsuba Records tour is coming up this month, with appearances in Brisbane, Sydney & Melbourne. This is now your fifth tour to Australia, what do you enjoy most about coming back to Oz?

I do love the place there’s no question & my wife is Australian so there’s always been a real connection. The scene is smaller but the enthusiasm more than makes up for it so I really look forward to each tour.  Some of the best music around is coming out of Australia at the moment too with the likes of Mic Newman, Tornado Wallace, Nil by Mouth and The Carter Bros. Musically Tsuba seems to fit really well and matches the sunshine vibe I think. London can be a bit jaded at times and even though everyone raves about Berlin, I could never live there and genuinely have had better gigs down under.

What are some of the high-points of the times you’ve spent down-under so far?

Brisbane is always fantastic for me and the date I usually look forward to the most. Can’t wait for the boat party this time, which is always something a bit different and exciting. Sydney is always fun and this time I’m playing at the new One 22 club and then a Sunday party which I hear great things about. In Melbourne I’m playing alongside Mic Newman so its a real Tsuba affair. This time around i’m not making it to Adelaide which is shame as I love playing Sugar, the only club I know with a Bozak mixer.

We’d like to think it’s Brisbane… but where’s your top spot to play in Oz?

It is! This will be my fourth time back at Bar Soma so I’m practically a resident ;-). Adam and Rikki are fantastic hosts and there’s usually many laughs to be had, as well as some of the biggest steaks I’ve ever seen!

We’re all pretty familiar with your exploits with Tsuba Records, which hits 6 years running this year, but we’d like to know more about where it all came from, how did you get into it originally?

I’ve always been a record collector and a DJ, but my entry into the industry was from the business side of things and I’ve got many years experience in running labels and music distribution. I was head of label management at Amato for a few years, at the time the largest distributor of vinyl in the UK, and looked after labels including Freerange and 20:20 vision, before going on to run Fine Records (Tiefschwarz label) and then starting Tsuba. The industry has totally changed in that time and vinyl sales are a fraction of what they used to be. Bigger labels would regularly sell 20,000 but now its mostly 500 runs, so its actually a bit of a cottage industry now for most labels. I have an office at home and practically do everything myself so my overheads are very low, which is the only way its a viable business.

Who & what sounds inspired you in your early days? Do you feel these influences come though in your productions and selections for the label?

I went through a big Sasha and Digweed phase going to all the Bedrock parties (and Babelicious which was the night preceeding Bedrock) and Renaissance in Derby. At the time they were streets ahead of anyone in terms of mixing ability and skill, it was literally 2 decks and a mixer, not like now where technology has made it possible for anyone to DJ. They would hold mixes for several minutes and create a unique vibe in the process so it was quite a magical time in that respect. I challenge DJ’s now to try that on vinyl! In those days they were playing lots of US house from labels like Tribal and in the UK Weatherall’s Sabres Of Paradise & Guerilla so it was amazing music, but the breakdown’s started to get longer and the music quite grandiose which really turned me off. In search of something less dramatic I really got into Nuphonic, Soma, Paper Recordings and Classic which is the sound I’ve stayed with ever since really – emphasis on groove and melody with a timeless feel. When producing I try and follow that path and my next musical project is something much slower and not so clubby along those lines.

Can you tell us a little about your label offshoots – Tsuba Colours & Tsuba Limited?

Tsuba Colours has more of a classic deep house vibe with each one on coloured vinyl with matching sleeves and shrinkwrapped. I’m coming up to number 10 now and will be doing a retrospective comp in January next year. Looking back I’m really proud of the catalogue which includes some real classics – mixes from Larry Heard, Steffi and Sashca Dive and some timeless originals. Sascha is doing number 10 which includes two incredible mixes from Merwyn Virgo Four that I’m more than a little excited about. Tsuba Limited is my vinyl only label, which is a definite labour of love as they make little money. Musically its a bit more underground and covers techno, jackin’ house tracks and some deep house. They are all numbered and handstamped so are hopefully a bit more collectable & generally speaking I find these releases easier to do as I don’t need to think about the more unpredictable digital market. Milton Jackson is the next one with 3 really great trax, then its Creative Swing Alliance and a 4 track V/A EP, so again the catalogue is building really nicely.

The label has had a bit of an image refresh of late – what inspired this and does it have a connection with the name ‘Tsuba’?

Yeah I got a bit tired with the old look so the logo was tweaked slightly and i started working with a new designer who introduced some amazing sleeves based around vibrant colour and geometric design. This co-incided with a new website including a shop based around this design so overall I’m really happy with how Tsuba is now presented. The update is not so much connected to the name Tsuba, but design is increasingly important for me and it feels like there’s a strong theme and direction to follow for the next few years. Having the shop has been a revelation and I was really surprised by how many people want to buy vinyl direct and support the label.

What can we look forward to from Tsuba over the next year?

On the big Tsuba there’s new EPs from Okain (with a killer Gerd mix!), Quell, Hector and the next Tsuba Samurai EP with two killer tracks from JMX and Moodtrap confirmed so far. Moodrap is a project from two established producers which is exclusive to Tsuba and there will be another single from them after the summer. Putting projects together exclusively for the label is something I’ll be doing more of in the future. Huxley is having a fantastic year and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, and he’s currently working on another EP. Add in the Tsuba Colours and Limited releases and 2012 is another busy one.

You’ve started a series of secret warehouse parties in London this year, already hosting friends of yours like Spencer Parker and Sascha Dive… What plans have you got for these, & do you enjoy running parties like this as much as running the label?

I used to be a promoter about 5 years ago & had a night called ‘issst’ which was originally with Tiefschwarz, so did many warehouse parties which in the end was quite stressful. It made me realise I didn’t want to be a promoter on that scale, but I’m back doing it again! Its different this time around as there will be less events, based around getting the right acts rather than being committed to doing a party every month.  The first party was a real success with over 600 people in the freezing feb weather (it was -8 outside!) and on 12th May Steffi and Huxley are the guests so thats sure to be another good one. As a serious label these days you need to do parties, but to answer your question I much prefer running the label.

Thanks for having a chat – we’re looking forward to your appearances in Brisbane on Saturday April 28. Enjoy the tour and see you then!

Very excited to be playing for you and looking forward to a cold one (or two ;-)).

Subtrakt and Metric have joined forces to host Kevin Griffiths on Saturday 28th April. Boat Party boards at South Bank 12pm, and the club after-party hits Barsoma from 9pm.