Straight Up Breakbeat

Over the course of my interview with Fanu at the end of last year, I struck up an ongoing conversation with Juha Ponteva (a.k.a. ODJ Dizzy), owner of Straight Up Breakbeat. Since then we’ve been discussing the label’s ambitious schedule as well as Juha’s ongoing passion for many different sorts of music.

You have made some recent digital releases from a couple of Sonic Nutrition favourites…

Yes, Out of Fuel’s ‘Complex Channel’ came out on February the 14th and Fanu’s ‘Aura Eleven’ is out on the 21st. Not forgetting our recent DDOG/Infader split release!

Complex Channel is a dubby technoid thing and maybe a bit smoother than the label sound so far. There’s just something very addictive with that track and it has been getting a lot of attention. The Fanu track is one of my all time favourites by him – it’s slow for a dnb track but that only adds to the groove. Somehow it manages to be really heavy and atmospheric at the same time.

This flurry of activity is building to a climax…

Yep, the tracks are all part of YEAR ZERO compilation. It will feature all the brand new cuts listed above plus a track or two from each of the releases of the past 12 months. 2019 was the first year since the rebirth of Straight Up Breakbeat and pretty busy as well! We clocked 6 vinyl & 4 digital releases by established artists like Fanu & Resound, up & coming producers such as Aeon Four and Esc, as well as newcomers like DDOG and Hmr. To celebrate all this we’re releasing this compilation which also serves as an introduction to the label. Available on vinyl EP, digital album release and an exclusive Bandcamp bundle.

Of the releases that you’ve done thus far, is there one that hasn’t got as much attention as it deserves?

Guess “Resound presents Rhytual” EP could fall into that category. He had been pretty quiet on the release front due to other commitments and the release came out in the middle of the festival season in Europe. It’s such a special and beautiful release and I just had to get it out! But being so experimental I kind of knew it was hard to tell how it was going to be received. As it turned out, the reviews were great, it got lots of love from DJs as varied as Om Unit and Noisia and has become the one that’s constantly winning new friends even six months after release.

If I understand the catalogue properly, you’ve got a couple of strands to your releases. Could you clarify?

Straight Up Breakbeat’s main thing is, and will be, forward looking jungle and drum & bass but yeah, there’s a few strands running underneath. 

Releases branded with SUBB1996 are our take on the original jungle sound but with a modern twist – this can range from hardcore rave sounds to more hiphop or ragga flavoured cuts. The next one will be “Silence EP” by Aeon Four out in March/April.

Another thing that could develop into a series is vintage releases – in-demand tracks from the past that somehow missed an official release, roughly speaking from the millennium onwards. “New Age” by Loxy & Resound is one of those. All happened very naturally with that, I just asked them if the time would be right and they said yes! I do have a set of tracks discovered that I’d like to release but the next one in this area will be a special one and there’s a lot of work with that.

Picking up on the Vintage Series, I believe you have a second compilation planned for that.

Yes, there’s a compilation in the works called “NORTHSIDE” documenting the first wave of drum&bass in Finland from 1995 to around 2006. Classic unreleased dubs from Muffler, Fanu, Resound (Ghetto Funk anyone ??!!), together with some true pioneers of the local scene such as Samuel & Nasley and Champagne. I’m in a nice position to do this as I got sent so much material by the guys for my radio show over the years. I’ve gone thru more than 1000 tracks for this and selected about 20 of them for the release. Some of the tracks I’ve wanted to release for more than 20 years! Just finishing a crowdfunding / presales campaign for the Finland crew on this and once all is clear will have more details on the dates etc.

Here’s a bit of a preview:

Now, that list of artists reads like a who’s who of Finnish dnb…

There hasn’t been any deliberate attempt to make it a “Finnish” label with local artists only. So far it’s just been the most natural thing to do as I personally know the artists and they know what I’m looking for. Plus, they are simply some of the most original producers I can think of. So I’m extremely happy and proud to release so many talented people coming from my country. There are talks with people from other parts of the world – maybe they should have a bit of that Finnish weirdness in them in order to join the roster haha!!

I don’t want to have too strict a formula for the label but at the same time acknowledge that it helps to have a certain style the diggers can look for. Attention to breaks definitely, a hint of the classic jungle & dnb sounds coupled with something fresh & unique. I guess the biggest thing I’m looking for, especially with the vinyl, is a certain timeless quality; releasing songs that you’d want to listen from beginning to end, as opposed to being just DJ “tracks”.

I’ve been taking a look at your Youtube playlist, where I see some rather fetching videos. What’s the story there?

Always been into visual design as well and really happy to have Tom Backström designing the sleeves & identity. Also, whenever there’s a chance I’m trying to have an accompanying visualisation for the releases, not a music video as such but more like a well produced VJ-version of the track. First three were produced by O Samuli A, who’s also an electronic artist himself and for Rhytual we had Trisector (1/2 of Out Of Fuel) with his partner in crime Pekka.

So, that’s plenty to keep you out of mischief, then.

Well, there’s also a second label cooking. The name & visuals are not there yet but it will have a bit more varied approach to tempos & styles. The first releases are signed including a single by Askel.

On the radio tip I will keep on doing the podcasts whenever the time seems right and with guest and artist mixtapes there’s something fresh to check out every month.

Phew! I think I’d like to know where this voracious appetite for music comes from.

I’ve always been into many different types of music ranging from rap, house, techno, soul, jazz, latin all the way to rock & thrash metal… the late 80’s & early 90’s was such a great time for music in general and then this thing called jungle happened! So much energy, no limits as to where the sound could go and the best elements from my favourite genres were fused into one – it just clicked and I was instantly hooked. 

I had started out DJing in the early 90’s in Helsinki; playing mainly funk, dancefloor jazz & rap but really got carried away with jungle in 1995. Together with people like Alimo, Boke, KenOne, Mekaanikko etc. we were the first ones to really push the sound in Helsinki and eventually I set up the first regular jungle & dnb clubnight over here. Also promoted the first big jungle-only raves in Finland with UK headliners like Krust, Roni Size, Zinc… this was when Straight Up Breakbeat was conceived.

Here’s Krust at one of our events during those early years:

The discussion above was about the current incarnation of the label. However, it’s past goes back a bit further than the last year.

I moved to London for work in 1999 for a few years and initially launched the label there in 2000. The first release was a split 12” with local talent Dice (better known for his dubstep work as Tes La Rok) and Dharma who also released on Moving Shadow, Formation and Hospital. However, running into distribution trouble I had to put the label on hold after just 2 releases. It has taken a bit longer than I planned to re-activate it 😉

And you were involved in another project around this time.

Around the same time together with two friends of mine, Nenis and Goose we launched another label. nine2five recordings was operating on the broken beat & dancefloor jazz side of things and we released quite a few classics in that scene such as “Belong” by Dharma, “Left Hand Jazz” by Infekto and “Marathon” by Track N Field. All big favourites with Gilles Peterson, Jazzanova, Mr. Scruff and the likes.

The singles are collected together in this Spotify playlist. 

With nine2five we went on to play quite a lot in UK & Europe, including a label showcase at the legendary Sonar Festival in Barcelona.

And back home in Finland?

All this time I DJd jungle & drum ‘n’ bass. Around the mid 90’s I’d been invited to host a dnb show for RadioMafia (later rebranded to YleX, the popular music channel of the national public broadcaster, kind of our Radio 1). The show went on for well over a decade and many of the local producers like Fanu & Resound got their dnb fix from those shows – we’re talking about a time before YouTube, Spotify or even online radio, so FM radio was an important outlet for hearing new music.

But you took a pause for a while, is that right?

Around 10 years ago many things happened at the same time…YleX cut all the specialist shows off the air, we decided to close down nine2five and my daytime job started to get fairly demanding, leaving very little time to do anything else. Also met my wife back then. 😉

And, to be honest, I also lost a bit of interest in drum&bass for a few years… maybe the quality control of the labels was lost with the transition from vinyl to digital. Or maybe it was just the evolution of the genre. But, after the totally mind blowing era of the mid-to-late 90’s, it felt as if the only progress was happening in tempos getting higher and producers competing who could come up with “harder” basslines – effectively killing the vibe. And I’ve never been too much into neuro either. Each to their own and there’s definitely a place for those sounds but I was just not feeling it. Need to have soul & funk and elements of danger & surprise in there! 

Plus there seemed to be so much more exciting stuff happening in other fields…be it dubstep, indie, electronica, hiphop – and none of these were areas I had qualifications or felt the desire to DJ. So I just enjoyed music in general as a fan for a few years.

But you came back from this wilderness… 

After a while I did return with a show on Bassoradio and began playing gigs again but I guess I wanted to find a way to be more involved. About a year ago things had progressed to a point where the first 3-4 Straight Up Breakbeat releases had been signed and since then things have moved on pretty quickly.

All of which loops back nicely to where the interview begins. Which makes this a nice place to wrap up the interview. Do you have anyone that you want to give a special mention to?

Big up to everyone keeping the original sound alive and taking it to new paths. There’s too many to mention but labels & artists like Rupture, AKO, Sully, Dead Man’s Chest, Coco Bryce, J:Kenzo, Fracture, Om Unit etc. have done brilliant work cultivating the sound throughout the years. And of course, cannot thank enough all the producers on the label – a special thanks going to Fanu who’s also mastering most of the releases!

Keep up to date with Straight Up Breakbeat at the website or Facebook. Catch previews on SoundCloud, mixes on Mixcloud and, if you like what you hear, you can give some support with a bit of hard earned cash at bandcamp. And if that’s not enough there’s always the instagrams for the label and ODJ Dizzy.

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