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2020 Vision

Leeds-based Ralph Lawson's electronic label preps new and established talents for summer parties across the globe

Home to the likes of Crazy P, Motor City Drum Ensemble, and DJ T, Leeds' finest electronic label has been around for a long while now helping to establish some of the biggest names around in dance music. Founded by one part of 2020 Soundsystem's Ralph Lawson, 2020 Vision Recordings has always focused on trying something new after a saturation of the same old techno. Now set to play live shows at festivals worldwide such as Sonar and The Garden Festival, they've made a name for themselves founding a deeper and groovier take on house with legends like Mark Broom and Paul Woolford. We speak to their signing Audiojack and Mr Lawson himself about what's to come from 2020 in 2010...

Dazed Digital: How do you find and/or pick your artists?
Ralph Lawson: I quite often approach artists when I’ve heard their work already. Trawling the demo pile can be totally soul destroying although you have to do it as there can be rare finds. I found my current band members Silver City in the demo drawer! But I would say by far the most common way is to find acts that have already had stuff out on perhaps a smaller label. I much prefer to meet people so acts that pass me a demo at a gig and stop for a chat are much more likely to get a listen. I can tell from meeting them much more easily if I’m going to like them as I need to get on with them personally as well.  
DD: Is there something in common that runs through all your signings or a sound you’re looking for?
Ralph Lawson: I never sign on sound. The whole starting point of 2020Vision was that we wanted people to have ‘perfect sight’ to music. Don’t be blinkered by looking into just one style or sound. I always look to the artist first and they fit into the label if they are doing their thing uniquely whatever it may be stylistically. Quite often I have artists ringing me up saying ‘ but there’s no one doing what I do at the label, or, I don’t like that act you signed’. I tell them to concentrate on their music and let us run the label. Somehow we have managed to forge a certain quality to the label that runs through everything we do that I think people recognize. When I say ‘We’ it is not the royal ‘We’ but includes Andy Whittaker who runs the label with me and also brings a lot of A/R input. He works closely with Crazy P and had found an exciting new act called Debukas.

DD: Why did you start 2020 Vision?
Ralph Lawson: I was living out in a farm outside Leeds and DJ-ing every Saturday at Back to Basics club. We started to dabble in making music and setup a studio with Carl Finlow at the controls. He was so a real musician that massively helped out all the thick DJs that wanted to get in on the action. There were many international guests coming through the club to play and we would kidnap them and take them back to the farm and force them to make tracks with us. I remember Derrick Carter, Stacey Pullen, Josh Wink, Mr C, Gemini, Alton Miller all coming through. But the ones we really clicked with were Chez Damier & Ron Trent and their Prescription Underground imprint. We ended up doing four EPs with them and learnt loads! We sent the music out to labels but they didn’t really get it and told us there was no market for it so in the time honoured DIY tradition of House Music we did it ourselves. 

DD: Do you primarily see yourself as a DJ or a producer?
Ralph Lawson: Definitely as a DJ. I never saw myself as a solo artist or producer, I have always worked with other people and enjoy being part of a team. I have ideas and some drum programming and arrangement skills but still don’t really play a note!  I love DJ-ing and feel it is my thing.  It’s a shame that these days you have to be a producer to be a DJ as they are different skills and even with the technology available today I am amazed at how bad some big names are at the noble art!   Conversely there are many amazing DJs who have fallen by the wayside as they didn’t take to production. There are a few who are great at both (the bastards!)
DD: How do you feel your sound in 2020 Soundsystem has changed or progressed over time?
Ralph Lawson: At first it was a jam around records so very different. I would find dubs and drum tracks so the guys had space to play and we then did our own edits and finally our own tracks out of the jams. I think that’s a great starting point and somewhere in the middle we lost that and became too structured and pushed toward doing songs as it was an ‘album’.  I am pleased that now I think we have found the good path again and  a happy place between tracks songs and live performance. I am just back from Sonar, Croatia and London and I’m really happy with how we played
DD: What do you think of the current UK electronic music scene?
Ralph Lawson: Well it's all about the press in this country. It's all build it up bash it down isn’t it? I suppose dubstep was the latest thing so its hyped and everyone jumps on it for a while. We are very good at inventing new genres of dance aren’t we? What’s next Intelligent Grimecore?
DD: Why do you think about this issue of superclubs dying?
Ralph Lawson: Well surely that was about ten years ago now in this country? But aren’t they still here in a new form? Surely Cocoon is one of the biggest superclubs ever to have existed and much bigger international brand than most of the UK ones ever were. Last time I looked MOS was still alive in every continent as well, did they die? 

DD: What’s next from 2020 Vision?
Ralph Lawson: We always keep hitting DJ record boxes as that is where we come from and we will never stop supplying beats to the streets ;) On 12”  There is a new Audiojack,  Simon Baker – The Trick, and I signed these Spanish guys Javi Bora & Mehloman.  2020Soundsystem – Ocean (Ray Mang mixes) are out now too. On album we are working with Crazy P, Simon Baker and have nearly signed a newbie I can’t tell you about yet.


Dazed Digital: Your tracks tend to be very housey and upbeat - how do you keep them from sounding the same?
Audiojack: Our tracks have been housey of late because we got bored to death with the same techno that was getting churned out day in day out by two bit producers that were all trying to copycat the latest big record. Unfortunately though, in this digital age where anyone can set up a record label at no cost, it’s so easy for any Tom, Dick or Harry to get their music out there on sale and it means that you have to wade through tonnes of crap to find decent music when buying digital.
Going back to our sound being housey, we had been to some after parties in Leeds (our home town) where lots of young talent and some headliners that were playing in the city were playing music and there was some real quality house going around which still had the energy to entice us in. We were so bored with the techno that was knocking around that we started getting into house. Our music production has always been influenced by what we’re listening to and playing at the time so with our new love of the housier sound, our records followed.
DD: What influences your music, there seems to be a lot of Chicago sounds in there?
Audiojack: As in the previous question, we are influenced by the music we’re playing which is in turn influenced by the kind of stuff we’re hearing around Leeds . Funnily enough last time we were playing in Chicago they said that the typical Chicago house sound wasn’t as prominent any more in Chicago , it was much more electronic. Funny things can influence your music though without you even realising it, a film you’re watching, a video game or something else can plant little ideas in your head that will come out in your music.
DD: Are you listening to a lot of old music or new stuff / like to mix it up?
Audiojack: We pretty much try to keep our sets upfront so in terms of what music we’re listening to to buy and play it’s generally new stuff. We do tend to drop one or two classics in our sets too though.  As for music to listen to for pleasure we listen to all kinds of stuff from all kinds of genres and time periods. Rock, Hip Hop, Indie, Electronic, Classical, all sorts.
DD: What's your relationship like with 2020 Vision? Do you see them as a big label or a little one?
Audiojack: 2020 have been a really big help with integrating into the industry as we were pretty wet behind the ears when we joined the ranks. We saw them as an ideal label for us to join at the time as we had massive respect for them and their releases and of course they were Leeds based which made face to face contact easy. We still consider them to be a big player amongst labels and are happy to have them as our home label.

DD: How do you think your sound has changed over time, if it has?
Audiojack: When we started out our sound was influenced by the Electro/Techno sound that was popular in 2004 / 2005 and artists like Paul Woolford, Tiefschwarz and Switch were setting the scene for us. Then as we moved into 2007 / 2008 we started making more four to the floor techno records that would always work well in clubs. Then after getting bored of the generic techno that was flooding the market we started getting into house. Now we’re enjoying electronic stuff again as you’ll see from on of our forthcoming releases on 2020 Vision, Motion Sickness.
DD: Where do you want to be in 5 years time?
Audiojack: Well at the moment we’re working on a live show which we intend to have ready for trial later in the year so hopefully in 5 years we’ll be rocking some big festivals with a really aurally and visually pleasing show. We’ve also been exploring a little of the music for TV & film avenue, so to have a little work in that area would be nice too.