Dexta's London-based label have been championing the experimental side of drum & bass for a full 10 years now
Diffrent by name, different by nature: no label is pushing bass music in quite the same way as this South London collective. Fronted by its signature pink giraffe logo and characterised by an air of serious unpredictability, Diffrent has become a consistent and vital beacon on the furthest frontiers of the drum & bass landscape, with sounds ranging from unapologetic, rusty jungle bashment to dark, twisted ambient explorations and many experimental shades, styles and sounds between.
“There’s never been a policy, luckily! All tempos are welcome, no restrictions on sound palette either – simply good music that resonates with myself and the team,” explains Dexta, label founder and DJ and artist in his own right. He’s something of an entrepreneur, too; Diffrent and its two sub labels Sweetbox and A.W.R.A are just part of his multifarious missions.
Seemingly on a constant bid for ‘hardest working man in the scene’ award, Dexta [he's the one in the white T-shirt, above] is also the co-founder of new dubplate cutting house 1 800 Dubplate and the south London record store Disc World. Until the label closed its doors, he also played a prominent role at Med School, Hospital Records’ now defunct experimental sub-label. It was his work and reputation with Diffrent Music that landed him the role.
“The only thing I’d add is that the vision and aim is still the same as 2010: music that’s experimental,” he continues. “Not something that’s been done a million times over by everyone else. It should drawing inspiration from outside the D&B scene…”
Currently 82 releases deep – not including their guerrilla-style Bandcamp 24-hour exclusive albums that will never be released again, and other specials and freebies – Diffrent Music still lives up to his original vision. Home to acts such as Lakeway, BrandNewTrumpets [she's the one in the flowered dress, below], Maouq, Sense MC and Fearful, its ‘expect the unexpected’ reputation has never been stronger. Currently working on a 10-year album that should be released before 2020 is out, among many other projects and plans, the label explain they’re just warming up and it feels like that from the releases, too.
Diffrent by name, exciting by nature, we called up Dexta to find out more.
Let’s back-track a bit… when was the label set up, and why?
"We launched in March 2010 as a space to explore and put out music that didn’t fit the D&B template. My business partner at the time Jamie Hunchbak and I both wanted to get our vision out there, via the label and podcast. The reception went very well, as we were one of the very few labels pushing the more experimental side of D&B at the time."
How many people are involved in running the label today?
"Currently it’s Ben Funks, Hillah, Rob Vanden and myself covering all aspects of the operation. I owe a lot of thanks to the several interns who’ve offered up their time in the past to get some inside info and helping me keep things running – also the people volunteering their skills in the world of internet coding and helping at events, etc. And never to forget Jamie Hunchbak who started the label with me many moons ago, I hope you’re well and maybe one day we can reconnect!"
How have you marked your 10-year milestone? It pretty much happened on the eve of lockdown!
"Yeah, it’s a mad thought that 10 years have flown by so fast. So much has happened! We’re just finalising a huge label album with many faces old and new, featuring original tracks and remixes of Diffrent classics, plus a track from a remix competition we’re about to launch. We plan to release it before the year is out if the manufacturing plants are able, but it will happen at some point regardless.
"I feel Covid-19 has given us all a bit of extra time to put into this project and think the fruits will be great for all. We’ve also put more effort into making the schedule more consistent and balanced, and trying to engage more with the people and fans out there – in a bid to bring the community vibe back!"
What did 2010 Dexta think 2020 would be like? Do you forecast the future in your head a lot or are you more the type of person to focus on the now?
"Nah, in 2010, I didn’t even know there would be a 2020, I always live in the moment, but dream big! A lot of my (sometimes unrealistic) ideas and efforts fall flat, but some of them stick around and stand the test of time. I am proud of that, and giving things a chance for the love of a challenge and desire to move things forward! 2030 though, we’re driving fast cars and living in mansions with holiday homes in paradise islands, surrounded by mini giraffes and fresh cocktails… mark my words!"
Well, you’ve got a good track record of future forecasting with your support of acts very early on in their careers. Arkaik, Lakeway, Joe Syntax, Fearful, Frederic Robinson…
"Ahh yeah, that was never the plan. If a big name dropped a load of demos on my lap and said they’d love to work with Diffrent, I’d be all over it! But this does not happen regularly, so you gotta go out there and hunt talent, and try them out, see if they are really as talented as you think they are!
"In retrospect, it’s crazy to see how many ‘unsigned’ and ‘artist debuts’ we’re responsible for – but ultimately we want to be the starting point and end-game, not just a platform to get your musical career off to a start, no matter how fun that may sound! But there’s a lot of work to be done before we become that stable, I think. We’re just getting warmed up now."
Give us a personal highlight…
"I feel every moment is a huge highlight. This is a small, very part-time operation and every opportunity that presents itself to any of the label camp is always considered and talked about and highly respected and appreciated.
"But the point where we went from being a super-small, under-the-radar digital label was Frederic Robinson’s Laughing At Clouds. It was a special moment, our 10th release, so we agreed to put out a 10-inch record. People loved it, it got signed to compilations, grew our following tenfold and laid the foundation for the future, I think. It was a pivotal moment in the history of the label that will never be forgotten."
Is it fair to say you’re beginning to have more of a presence on the label as an artist yourself? And – with a dubplate cutting service, a record shop and about 50 sub-labels and projects and series – where do you find the time?
"Brother, you know my mind is all over the place! I luckily have a very supportive wife at home who tells me everything will be all right.
"The shop is my main focus as you can imagine – it needs to work really. I’m up early, and working late a lot of the time, notice the cracks in my skin and the bags under my eyes! Diffrent and the sub-labels are run by the boys. I do the A&R, artwork and attend the hangouts to keep things in check, but they do a superb job and they are only finding their feet, 2021 will be their time to shine!
"As an artist, I don’t find much time, no, and most of what is coming out now was made a couple years back. Since living in my current home in Forest Hill, I don’t think I’ve written and finished a track yet… I'm very close though, ha ha!"
Your last release was the Are We Really Alone series, which is blatantly your most experimental output so far. What sparked this particular project?
"I remember being in my old flat, quite hungover, drowning myself in water… I was sat on the sofa with my laptop, and watching some UFO documentaries (we’ve all been there, right?) and I took a screenshot of one scene as it was the classic flying saucer over a field jobby. I opened up Photoshop, distorted it and put the slogan A.W.R.A under it… then asked my mates, “Shall we all make some mad unclassifiable music and set up a label called Are We Really Alone?’
"But it never happened! Not for a year or so, anyways… until music came in from Still and Amir De Bois. After falling in love with the sounds I knew this was the start of A.W.R.A! My outing on there was just me grabbing some old stems from jam sessions, adding in some heavy kicks and distortion (that’s most of the basslines) and crunking it up loud. I made them to play at Rob Vanden’s One.Seventy event, then we agreed to put them out!"
Do you think we’ll hear more dystopic, dark, provocative music as a result of this year’s events? Or do you think isolation and club/festival closure will inspire a more positive, hopeful sound?
"I certainly hope so, but the problem is that the sun is out, ain’t it? So it’s gonna be all summery, light stuff we hear anyway. But yes, we want more darkside! I’m very early stages of a new project of absolute dark, distorted music, so hold tight. That said, I do love a bit of sunshine!"
What about Diffrent’s future sound in general?
"I think what you’re gonna see on the main label is a development and melting pot of different styles from the core signed artists (BrandNewTrumpets, Lakeway and myself). I’m working on a couple more, but it needs to be natural and not rushed. We’re all so different from one another as people and musically, but all share the common thread of pushing outside your box every time. There will, and should never be, a ‘Diffrent sound’– it’s just ‘Diffrent music’!"
Has there ever been a moment over the last 10 years where you felt there wouldn’t be any Diffrent Music in 2020?
"Let’s put it this way: whether or not I rise or fall as an artist, or the label grows or sinks, I do not see a future without both Dexta and Diffrent Music in them. Firstly it’s a hobby, a love, a craft – the business and public side of it are really just a bi-product of the creativity. I know and work with so many artists out there and we are mainly in it for the love and to keep us from being boring old people… let’s see what happens this decade, I say!"
You have very open ears: I suspect you don’t let a demo go by without one of the team checking it. Am I right? And what’s the best way to get a Dexta’s attention when it comes to submitting music to you?
"Yes, we are very slow on demos, due to the nature of our independent lives and priorities, but they do get at least two pairs of ears so stuff doesn’t slip the net – a lot of the time we miss out, being so slow haha. Right now we're trying to get a regular demo podcast on the go, to show off the unsung talents sat in the inbox and as a bid to sign more new talent, so don’t be put off by the slowness! People can send demos via www.diffrentmusic.com/demos or send me an email – email@example.com."
Finally, it’s the first rave post-lockdown. You’re going to go ballistic. Which three DJs do want playing at the night?
"Firstly, dBridge: his two-hour set at Hospitality On The Beach 2019 took me places. No holding back, no warm-up, just full-on… more of that please, Mr Bridge! Then Nina Kraviz: she's an amazing DJ, I love her label’s output and I've been loving her livestreams during lockdown. But I’ve never seen her live, so let’s have it! And finally Paul Ibiza: one of my finest memories of Rupture earlier this year. Old school, hardcore and rave! I also request DJ Stretch AKO by my side for the dance move jokes!
Words: Dave Jenkins
Tags: Diffrent, D&B, DnB, drum & bass, drum n bass, Dexta, BrandNewTrumpets, Lakeway, Maouq, Sense MC, Fearful, A.W.R.A, Sweetbox, Med School, Disc World, 1 800 Dubplate, Ben Funks, Hillah, Rob Vanden, Still, Amir De Bois