As the legendary Paper Recordings turn 25 years old, we catch up with label co-founder Ben Davis, AKA Flash Atkins, to discuss their new compilation album and more
Paper Recordings was set up in autumn 1994 by Ben Davis [AKA Flash Atkins, pictured], Pete Jenkinson, Miles Holloway, Elliot Eastwick and others, and has gone on to release music by Crazy P, Salt City Orchestra, Those Norwegians, Kenny Hawkes, Julius Papp, Uschi Classen, Problem Kids, Hot Toddy and lots more.
Initially planning to release 100 singles, Paper did so between 1993 and 2003, before crashing out due to financial problems – another victim of the great label die-off of the mid-00s, when digital downloads took over from vinyl as the dance music buyer's format of choice. However, Ben and Pete worked away behind the scenes to pay off their debts, and Paper rose like a 4/4 phoenix from the flames in 2009 as a digital label, putting out brand new music from artists including Ralph Myerz, 2 Billion Beats, Jamie L, Havana Candy, Daco, Neil Diablo, Sleazy McQueen, and Mr Flash Atkins too.
Paper was always a label with a reputation for forward-thinking and original house music. Indeed, as Ben points out, the words 'look forward not back' were written on the label's first-ever release. But they’re making an exception for their 25th anniversary, and have produced an excellent compilation that showcases the genuine eclecticism that characterised the label.
We got Ben on the phone to find out more…
So tell, us about the new album!
“Paper’s co-owner Pete and I had long talks about how best to do an album that covers 25 years with over 2,000 tracks to choose from, which is virtually impossible. So rather than do a big ‘definitive’compilation, we decided to go down a more personal route. Crazy P [pictured below] were the obvious choice to cover the label's early days and as I do the A&R myself as Flash Atkins, I would do the later years. It’s meant that quite a few of our bigger tracks didn’t make the cut, but it’s a more curated collection.”
Putting the compilation together must involve some degree of re-evaluation of the label. Looking back, what do you feel about Paper Recordings now?
“It’s definitely been a game of two halves, Brian! The early days were so special and we started in exactly the right time and place. Miles and Elliot had a big profile and the records they produced are timeless. But the whole music business has moved so far from when we started, that those early days seem like an eternity away. It can be a bit frustrating when people just associate the label with the old days, because the music we put out now today is as good as it’s ever been”.
It’s interesting you say that. Speaking to iDJ about the back catalogue in 2016, you said: “If you listen to a lot of the 90s material, most of it hasn’t aged well. I think the music we’re putting out now is much better.” Do you still think this is the case?
“I do, though it's not all the older stuff – some of it sounds super fresh! But for starters, the older catalogue is generally around the 125/128 BPM mark, and it’s a lot slower these days. I recently played Problem Kids' Our Sunshine Suite which is an absolute banger, but it sounds pretty 'woolly' sonically. The general standard of production is a lot better than it used to be. We are talking music from two decades ago, so you would hope that things have moved on some”.
You and Pete worked for years to pay off the label’s debts and then relaunched it. So what does Paper mean to you?
“Ha, now there’s a question! It’s because we love it. We both had some time away from the label and without really meaning to, got drawn back in. We look at it now as a hub to hang other stuff off, like Paper Vision Films and, for myself, Flash Atkins and Stubb studio productions. It’s a really good outlet to do all sorts of different creative things, musically and visually. I
"I look back on it now, and Paper has been my life… when we went effectively bankrupt, it was undoubtedly very difficult and a bit heartbreaking. So it was lucky that Pete and I had the time and space to haul it out”.
Apart from the album, what else is Paper up to at the moment?
“We’re going great guns! We recently launched sub-label Paper Wave for more left-of-centre, Balearic releases and I’m super happy with the music it’s releasing. We’ve got an album coming from Popsneon, who is Simon White and used to be in Neon Heights. It's electronic with a 90s indie feel and is absolutely brilliant.
"I’ve also got a Stubb long-player ready to go that is downtempo and psychedelic. There are also releases from Cal Gibson, The Telemark Express, Daco, James Rod, The Tromsø Collective, a poet called Sirius Rush, Trash The Wax, James Rod, The Wild Army and lots more”.
It’s noticeable that the label is releasing a broader range of music these days. Was it a conscious decision to take the label in a different direction or did it just happen organically?
"Well, I listen to a wide range of music, so I guess it happened organically. I don’t play out or go clubbing so much these days, so I think more musical stuff appeals rather than bangers that don’t do a whole lot”.
Obviously, the drop in vinyl sales affected Paper, but now that you’re back, how does a record label successfully navigate the new digital landscape?
“There are pluses and minuses. Organising vinyl manufacturing is a lot of work but there is something to be said for having a physical product in your hand. Things were certainly simpler back in the day.
"In the age of digital, getting your music heard amongst all the noise is not easy but it’s simple to put releases together. It's much easier to promote but you can feel like you spend all your time social networking, which can be a bit soul-destroying”.
So what other plans have you got for Paper in the coming years?
“We’d like to be putting out less releases, because we’ve got a new film to get on and produce, but when brilliant music drops in your inbox it’s difficult to say no! Just this morning I got a fantastic demo from a young chap in South Africa, but he’s got just 30 followers on Soundcloud and zero online profile – from a business point of view we shouldn’t release it, but I can’t resist”.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell us that we haven't touched on?
“We’re just grateful to the people who support us by listening to our music as without them we wouldn’t be here. Also, watch out for the next film!”
Words: Harold Heath
25 Years Of Paper Recordings is out now
Tags: Paper Recordings, Ben Davis, Pete Jenkinson, Miles Holloway, Elliot Eastwick, Flash Atkins, Crazy P, Salt City Orchestra, Those Norwegians, Kenny Hawkes, Julius Papp, Uschi Classen, Problem Kids, Hot Toddy, Ralph Myerz, 2 Billion Beats, Jamie L, Havana Candy, Daco, Neil Diablo, Sleazy McQueen