Andy Lysandrou on the relaunch of UK garage label Ice Cream Records
In the mid to late nineties Ice Cream Records was one of the most popular garage labels. With hits like Double 99’s infamous Ripgroove under their belt, they helped to push garage through into the mainstream while maintaining a very underground sound and retaining credibility, which is no mean feat. As most genres do, garage lost its popularity after a few years, but recently there has been quite a big resurgence in the sound, buoyed by younger producers filtering its influence into their music.
Ice Cream Records re-released their entire back catalogue not too long ago and now look set to push forward with lots of new music. I spoke to one of the men behind the label Andy Lysandrou.
What initiated the relaunch of Ice Cream Records?
We’d never put out any of our stuff digitally. We stuck with vinyl for years and we’d always get people asking, “When are you gonna re-release some of your back catalogue digitally?” DJs, distributors and so on, so I sat down with the guys and said, “There’s no point just re-releasing everything through a distributor. If we’re going to do it we might as well relaunch the label and do it properly”. So we decided to relaunch it. First we re-released the back catalogue and then we started on putting out new records. It’s not like it used to be back in the day, but it’s still fun.
What would you say are the main differences between then and now?
There’s a big difference. Gone are the days of the record stores, the days when you could give a DJ, or a few DJs, an exclusive – nowadays, you send out an exclusive to a few DJs, within a week the links get shared. You can’t keep a tab on your promos. Years ago we could control what went out to who, we could release 500 limited pressings, they would sell out, we’d do another 500 and by the end, we’d sold 10,000 vinyl. Nowadays, you’ve got to release the record. You can’t do exclusives anymore, you have to give them to all the download stores at the same time. It’s a completely different ball game. The way producers and artists send you their music, it’s all MP3s. You get bombarded with stuff every day – it’s not a bad thing though, people can contact you a lot more easily and instantaneously.
So, between Ice Cream having a break and the relaunch, what were you doing?
I was doing a lot of consultancy for artists, major and independent record labels, getting involved in promo projects, so, it’s always been music 100%. I set up a label called AT Records with Tim Deluxe, and ran that for about two and a half years. It’s never been a case where I closed a label down and went and started working in the City.
How did it all start in the first place?
It all came together in ‘95, at the time I was running a jungle/drum ‘n bass label called Boogie Beat Records. I’d known Tim Deluxe since around ‘92, and Omar (DJ Omar) since a year or so after that, and I had an idea to move away from drum ‘n bass but keep some of the elements and set up a new label, create a new sound using some of those elements. When we set up in ‘95, there wasn’t really anyone around apart from Nice ‘N’ Ripe – those guys were also involved with Boogie Beat. George Power worked alongside me on the business side of things and Grant Nelson (who he ran Nice ‘N’ Ripe with) recorded for us under the artist name, Wishdokta. So those guys did the Nice ‘N’ Ripe thing and about six months later, we came with the Ice Cream brand. I used to see Tim Deluxe every other day when he was working at the Time Is Right record shop in Chapel Market, Omar was in there most evenings and we could all see that something was happening – we could see what the Americans were doing, what imports were popular and so we took some ideas from here, a bit of this from there and thought, “Let’s see what we can come up with.” And hence, we did Double 99 – Ripgroove. We had a bit of jungle influence on that, with the reverse hoover bass, all the time-stretching and the reggae vocals. We experimented with different sounds and styles of music and came out with that Ice Cream sound.
And that sound seemed to be very influential.
Yeah and we could see everything growing. I remember Back To The Manor in Manor House, it started out with 200 people one week, the next you’d see 400 people, then 800, then it would move to a bigger venue – the Camden Palais. When we had the Double 99 hit, it opened up the scene a lot because we got the front page of DJ Mag, Mixmag – that opened up the doors a lot for the scene.
What was it like for you being involved in that movement?
It was an amazing experience because, one minute you’re selling records from the boot of your car up and down the country and the next minute you’re sitting there with the majors and they’re asking you what deal you would like for your new sound. They liked the way that we were putting our music out – vinyl, 500 pressings – they liked what we were doing and they gave us a deal in ‘97, BMG, right up until 2002. We were left to do our own thing. They helped out with marketing but that was as far as it went. When we got involved with Speed Garage Anthems: Volume 1. We didn’t want that title, but because it was all over the press Global Television (the label) thought it would work, so we had to go with that name – but the compilation went really really well and that opened up the garage compilation market. We tested the market with Speed Garage Anthems: Volume 1 and that’s when you had Ministry, EMI and so on, all start putting out Garage comps. We started it, I think there were 30 tracks on there and 18 of them were ours.
It seems like there’s been a mini-revival with garage recently, a lot of young producers have that influence in their sound…
Oh yeah, big time. I see a lot of it happening, I mean that’s where grime came from. If you look at the stations that were playing grime, Rinse, Deja Vu, they were playing garage to begin with. I come across a lot of grime artists who say they used to listen to a lot of garage, but it’s a shame they don’t mention it when they cross over!
Why do you think garage became so popular? What did we in the UK add to the US garage sound that made it so popular?
Our sound was a lot more dirty. With us, we wouldn’t sit there and think, “We’ve got to make sure this is mastered right and make sure it’s polished.” We just did it rago style and put it out. If the vibe was right, if it sounded right… we didn’t even have proper speakers. If it sounded rough, rugged, pirate radio-style, it was like, “Let’s just put it out – bosh!”
Pirate radio was absolutely crucial to the whole phenomenon, too wasn’t it.
If it wasn’t for pirate radio the scene wouldn’t have been as big as it was because legal stations never stick their neck out for any new music.
Which brings me on to what’s going on now, because it seems as though good radio is really dying out…
It’s not what it used to be at all, you’ve still got Deja Vu, Pulse London, Kool, Shine, House and Flex still supporting. I listen to a lot of those stations and my background is pirate radio in the eighties, so I respect them a lot for what they’re doing. A lot of the kids on these stations were listening to what we were doing 15 years ago, which is cool because they know their shit. It’s not the same though, even listening to some garage shows on legal stations never sound real, because you know that it’s monitored, there’s a producer there, you have the adverts in and out. When you think of Freek FM or London Underground, they were real, raw garage shows. When you used to listen to EZ on Freek, he’s show was ahead of it’s time. So I agree, with the internet now and YouTube or online radio I guess the only time you listen to FM radio is when you’re in your car.
The other thing is, the way DJs mixed with garage was so dynamic and exciting – rewinds, teasing in tunes, dropping one track into the mix and so on…
That’s a really good point. You go to a club now, you’ll be lucky to see DJs using vinyl. I was around in the hip-hop days, in Tim Westwood’s pirate radio days and the Kiss pirate days, going out and watching Richie Rich DJ with Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson at the Electric Ballroom – those guys troubled the decks properly! Everyone’s a DJ now, you watch some of these guys play and it’s like ‘in and out’ – no passion like there used to be.
I guess we could sit here moaning all day about how it’s not the same anymore! What I wanted to close with is the direction Ice Cream Records is heading in. What does the future hold for the label?
New music. We’re after new talent and we don’t want to hold on to what we had. The back catalogue is online for people to purchase, but we want to expand. It doesn’t have to just be garage, you can’t run a label these days just putting out UK garage, that’s not going to happen. So, anything cool and urban is our remit: grime; hip-hop; RnB. We’ll always have garage versions, but we want other musical genres. Slowly but surely we want to make a transition, but we’ll always have garage mixes of the tracks we release regardless of genre. With our distribution deal we’ve got targets we need to hit and it’s not going to happen with just garage alone. You have to diversify a little bit, but as long as it’s cool and credible, we’re happy to put it out.
For more information on Ice Cream Records check out their website HERE.Tagged in: Andy Lysandrou, Ice Cream Records, uk garage
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