Sticking to their musical guns has served the London crew well
Every genre of music has its iconic record labels. If we're talking techno you might think of Transmat, Rising High, R&S or Tresor, for instance; if we're talking D&B then names like Metalheadz, Moving Shadow, RAM Records or V Recordings might spring to mind – just as you could go all the way back to the blues and jazz days, and talk about Chess Records or Blue Note.
This applies to UK garage, too. Early UKG releases on iconic labels like 4 Liberty, Confetti and Nice N' Ripe can trade hands for serious money these days. But there's one label that stands out from the rest, if only because they're still here proudly flying the UKG flag in 2021, and indeed are currently celebrating their 25th anniversary.
We're talking, of course, about Locked On, who launched out of London's Pure Groove record store in 1996 and have never looked back since. Still a fiercely independent concern run by an in-house team of three people, the label spent the latter part of the 90s releasing tune after tune that would go on to become acknowledged classics of the genre – Dem 2's Destiny, Somore's I Refuse, Todd Edwards' Saved My Life, Zed Bias's Neighbourhood, Cloud 9's Do You Want Me, and the list goes on.
As the 90s turned to the 00s, the label achieved even greater commercial success thanks to the likes of Artful Dodger and The Streets. When UKG began to fall from favour in the mid-00s, the release schedule inevitably slowed down considerably – but the label never went way entirely and the last few years have seen a resurgence of activity as the genre has undergone something of a revival. Locked On have been re-issuing some of their classic tracks with new mixes by the cream of today's UKG talent, and most recently launched a brand new merchandise and clothing line.
Which was enough excuse, we figured, to contact label founder Tarik Nashnush to find out more…
When was the label set up, and why?
“1996 – initially to put out a compilation of tracks that formed the beginnings of the UK garage scene. It was called Locked On: Inside The Mix and was mixed by Todd Edwards.”
Describe the label's music policy:
“Anything that excited us in the garage world.”
Congratulations on reaching your 25th anniversary… did you ever dream, back in the early days, that you'd be doing this for this long?
“Absolutely not. Mainly because other people kept saying it was a short-term phase.”
What's been the secret to your longevity, do you think?
“Starting young. And those doubters being wrong!”
You've always stuck by your guns musically, whereas a lot of labels very much “move with the times” stylistically. In the long run, that seems to have paid off – but have there been moments where you doubted yourselves on that front?
“No. Brand identity was always a major factor. We were always independent so never felt the pressure to change stylistically. Plus we were always involved in other projects away form Locked On, so didn’t need to feel the urge to merge anything that didn’t fit into the ethos.”
Your sleeves are quite iconic… how important has that strong branding been in your success?
“Since we also ran a record shop, we had some idea at how to make the records stand out among the large number of releases. Once we had our original branding and font it, we have only made minimal changes along the way.”
My favourite Locked On tracks would be Spend The Night by Danny J Lewis and Anytime by Nu Birth. But what are yours?
“Somore – I Refuse as it was our first ever release and still played today. And Wideboys ft Dennis G – Sambucca was a lot of fun and is also still getting a lot of play.”
UK garage seems to be in a very healthy place again right now – discuss.
“It's great to hear UK garage sounds and beats in so much of the charts, and throughout all different genres. Some of the biggest tracks this year from Rudimental, and Aitch + Morrison have used samples from some our classic Locked On tracks.”
“We have also just put out a new remix of Antonio’s Hyperfunk with the amazing Bklava. She has such fresh take on UK garage, DJing and producing . She’s a real talent and the rework is an instant garage classic. Over the summer we saw loads of talented young people putting on some really well curated UK garage nights, and opening up the genre: there’s a young DJ and producer called Izco who does an amazing live set.”
The industry has changed a lot over the past 25 years… is it still possible for a little independent starting out today to “make it big” as you did, do you think?
“Yes, definitely. It's a whole different playing field but attention to detail with great music music and branding will always shine though. Some patience and belief that you are dong the right thing are important traits.”
Over the past 25 years, what's been the biggest mistake you ever made – and what was your most genius move? If you could offer your 25-years-younger self ONE piece of advice, what would it be?
“The mistakes are always the records that got away. The genius move was signing The Streets. It enabled us to work with album releases – an area we wanted to explore but hadn’t found the right artist until then.
“The one piece of advice would be that the records would be as popular today as they were 25 years ago!”
Finally, what's going on/coming up for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“Locked On Records has started to move into a new clothing era. The fashions that surrounded UK garage in the 90s/00s have really come back on trend, and Locked On being the true backbone of UK garage has meant some really cool designers have wanted to collaborate with us on pieces of clothing. The gravitas and history of the label has inspiring some really cool pieces.
“We're excited to share them, and it's been cool to see how quickly it's started growing, and all really naturally.”
Words: Russell Deeks
Check out Locked On's new range ot t-shirts, hoodies and totes here