“Art is the escape from personality”, T.S Eliot once said. A quote that Paul Rose – known to most as Scuba, producer and head of the Hotflush Recordings label – likely didn’t bear in mind when naming his latest album. When questioned about the intentions behind the music on “ Personality” during a recent phone conversation ahead of its release this week, Rose admits that honesty perhaps best defines what he wanted to do with this third opus. “Honest is a good word. That’s what the music on there is, not an attempt to sell records. I just wanted to put myself in the studio.” Listening to the album while going over the notes and transcript from our conversation, honesty does indeed seem to best encompass what Rose tried to achieve thus making it more a case of art as honest representation of the creator’s personality rather than an escape from it. Sorry T.S.
Having relocated from his hometown of London to Berlin in 2007, Rose hasn’t yet lost all of his London twang, and still seems somewhat a little uncomfortable with the need for publicity, in line with his previously admitted lack of sociability. “Personality” is Scuba’s third solo album in four years, marking him as the only artist I can think of from dubstep’s original days to have released that many full lengths, Skream being a potential exception if you include the Magnetic Man album. Hotflush was founded in 2003 and despite its recent moves towards being “more of a house label than anything else” as Rose himself admits, it remains – for some at least – one of the five key labels from dubstep’s foundation years alongside Hyperdub, Tempa, Big Apple and DMZ. Let’s be clear though, every album since his 2008 debut “A Mutual Antipathy” has clearly marked Rose as much more than a just a dubstep artist. Each full length release has seen him move towards his own admitted first musical loves and influences such as techno and electro and on this latest offering 80s pop and 90s dance music. We’re no longer dealing with a dubstep artist – not that we really ever were in the first place – yet Scuba’s never really shaken the original affiliation to that genre.
As for the new album, the music and its intent I wondered if perhaps the choice of title was an attempt to indicate it as being a personal piece of art that Rose was putting forward? “That’s one side to it. In the last few weeks I’ve had a few people tell me that I want to go commercial and be really big as a result of this album,” he says, unable to suppress a chuckle immediately after telling me this, “which isn’t really how I was thinking about it when making it at all. It might sound like bullshit to a lot people – and let’s face it, it will anyways – but I certainly didn’t sit down and think of it like that. I was just trying to let influences come through that I hadn’t allowed to before, such as 90s dance music and 80s pop stuff.” Listen to the album’s 11 tracks with this in mind and those influences are clearly apparent at times. “With my previous releases I didn’t allow these influences to have any impact at all on what I was doing. I was overthinking stuff a lot more than was healthy. When I was finishing ‘Triangulation’ [ed note: his second album] that was the first time I felt really confident in the studio from a technical point of view. One potential result of which is that you give yourself more freedom and that is definitely what I took from it. I felt like I could do what I wanted and it wouldn’t really matter. So this new album is just much more me in terms of the influences that went into it compared to my previous output, which isn’t to say that the last two albums were dishonest. Personality is I think ultimately more me.”
An unfortunate by-product of honesty in music today, or as Rose puts it releasing something that an artist feels represents them more than anything before, is that people – and thus fans – are potentially more likely to misunderstand the intention behind it and the music itself. Comparing Rose’s admission that honesty defined the music on “Personality” with some of its public reception so far, including claims of selling out or being uninteresting, certainly gives some weight to this idea. Being established as an artist can also play a part in this as Rose further explains that “there are different ways you can react to being established. After ‘Triangulation’ came out I felt it was the first time people were actually going to pay attention to what I did next. And you can react to that in a number of ways. I think some people react to these expectations by just trying to do what they did again while others go completely the other way, reacting against it. For me it was trying to find a spot in the middle of those two. I didn’t want to completely break from what I’d done, and I feel there is a lot more continuation between ‘Triangulation’ and this record than people seem to be saying. There are other influences and styles, as I said, but it’s still a continuation.”
Rose’s mention of balancing continuation with moving forward reminded me of Kuedo’s recent explanation that too often fans can carry expectations from one artistic vision to another even when these no longer apply. “I think there is a fair amount of predictable ‘why doesn’t this sound like Triangulation?’” Rose concurs with a laugh. “I also had that with the ‘Adrenalin EP’, in fact maybe even more, even though I’ve publicly said that ‘Adrenalin’ was tongue in cheek. It wasn’t serious, it was a fun project. There are elements of that in the new album too, such as the lyrics in ‘Hope’. I think you can have a sense of humour about something serious without making it into a farce.” This is perhaps best exemplified in the album’s introductory 20 seconds as Rose asks to no one in particular whether or not we are all unique before claiming that “most people are fucking boring to be honest.” Back to the subject of expectations, Rose is quite conscious that there is “going to be a lot of bitching. It’s never nice to be dismissed by people who liked your previous output but you’ve got to deal with it if you want to carry on. It sounds pretentious but I know I can’t and don’t want to do the same thing twice. There’s going to be continuity in the music because it’s me but I just can’t do the same things over and over again – it’s bullshit and boring.”
Looking over both Rose’s discography and that of his label, it would be hard to take that last claim away from him. The fact that “Personality” takes this idea much closer to what Rose relates to musically is perhaps what makes most people uncomfortable about it. You don’t have to be a devout fan of his music to be able to appreciate the honesty, humour and attempts to push forward musically (while looking back) that are to be found on the album. It’s never been easier publicly to dismiss something as unworthy or irrelevant because we don’t like it thanks to the internet’s free-for-all soap box mentality. That’s something which we’ve all indulged in and which Rose himself hasn’t been a stranger to either, yet the value in engaging with those feelings beyond mere dismissal is still there. As Rose put it when I asked what his biggest hope for the album was, “I hope people don’t take it the wrong way really.”
When I last interviewed Rose in 2008 for his debut album, shortly after he’d relocated to the German capital, he was keen to point out that the debut had been written primarily in London and so Berlin, and its affiliation with techno, had played little part in the music. Five years and two albums later – both of which have obvious references to the city’s most popular music scene – what influences if any did Berlin have on Scuba’s “Personality”? “It’s difficult to say. I think the Panorama Bar has been really influential on me, more than Berghain. PanoramaBar has had a more profound effect on me because I spend a lot of time there just as a punter. After I moved to Berlin the first time I went to Panorama was the first time in ages that I thought to myself ‘I want to play here’” he reminisces. “What I started doing with my SCB alias was a direct result of that, of me thinking I’d love to play here. So I started messing with tunes in the studio with an eye on having them played in there, whether by me or someone else.” As it turns out this would be realised in the form of a fanboy moment. “One of the best musical memories of my life was hearing Marcel Dettman playing one of my early techno tracks in Panorama Bar. It was sort of like hearing Hatcha playing my first dubstep tune.” Ultimately, though, Rose admits that the city itself has perhaps had little effect on him and whatever effect it has had is difficult to pin down. The city’s techno heritage –exemplified by two of Rose’s hangouts Berghain and the Hard Wax record shop – has undeniably magnified his own love for the music, in turn impacting his productions and the label’s direction over the last few years, though he’s keen to stress that it would have still gone that way regardless of his physical location and surroundings.
As we move the discussion to the label, Rose’s tone gets more upbeat. In 2008, five years after Hotflush’s inception and two years after dubstep gatecrashed into the worldwide dance music community, Rose had told me that he felt a new found clarity with where he wanted to take things. A year shy of hitting the big ten, that clarity seems to have borne some fruits as Rose is “very happy with how things have gone over the last two/three years. What I wanted to do since the start is for the Hotflush logo to become a seal of quality rather than an indication of what the records would sound like. That in itself is quite a big aspiration for a label as there aren’t many that can claim to be like that”, he explains before pausing and clarifying that “I don’t think we’re necessarily there yet. If you listen to the last ten releases we’re more of a house label than anything else but nobody calls us that” he jokingly remarks. “We’ve got some great guys associated with the label now and that’s also what I wanted to do: build up artists rather than just put out constant 12”s. I wanted people to associate with Hotflush and develop with it over time moving on to album projects and the like. That’s happened with people like Mount Kimbie and Sepalcure as well as others like Sigha. Jimmy Edgar has just come on board too, though obviously he needs less help in that regard. I’m really happy with it to be honest, I think what we’ve done is release really good music which is what we always wanted to do”, he concludes before adding “and, you know, sell a few copies along the way as well.”
Adding to what could be considered an already full plate as producer and label head is Rose’s position as curator for the Sub:stance parties at Berghain, a residency that in recent years has put forward some fascinating line ups in what is admittedly Berlin’s techno cathedral. It’s brought artists such as Kuedo, Dillinja, FaltyDL and Sepalcure to the main room playing everything from techno to jungle and dubstep. Taking into consideration what’s already been said about honesty and trying to push things forward with regards to his latest album, Sub:stance seems like the perfect continuation of this. “It’s been really good. All the parties we’ve done have been great. There was a big risk when we did the first one, both for us as promoters and the venue. The response from everyone was great and it’s a pleasure to be doing it there.”
With another four interviews lined up for the day, time runs out and I find myself left with only one question: what’s the best and worst thing about Twitter and social networks? To which Rose seems unable to suppress yet another bout of laughter before telling me that “the best thing is having a soap box from which to shout from. And the worst is that people actually read it and respond to it.” Now consider the next ten seconds of speech in the album’s intro I mentioned earlier which includes Scuba asking “why should I bother to listen when you stand up and speak?”