In the last three years, legendary UK deep house imprint, Paper Recordings has been resurrected; releasing past classic with fresh remixes in digital format for the first time, while also signing and putting out productions by brand new artists. Current Paper artist, Norway’s Proviant Audio has compiled a mix for Pulse that combines old and new work from the label, so Colin Chapman caught up with one of its original founders, Ben Davis AKA Flash Atkins to find about the label- past, present and future.
Pulse: For those who don’t know, please can you tell us something about the first incarnation of Paper Recordings – how and when was the label established, which artists were on it and what type of music was released? Although it was known for deep house there were other styles that came out, weren’t there? Flash Atkins: Pete Jenkinson, Andy Gough, Miles Holloway, Elliot Eastwick and I all started Paper in 1994. Miles and Elliot were resident at the box fresh Hard Times and had just released Storm as Salt City Orchestra on Tribal Records which was the label’s first release by a UK artist. They’d written The Book that was supposed to be coming out on Hard Times’ new record label but it got knocked back so we thought we might as well put it out ourselves. We knew Dave Piccioni from Azuli Records who said he could sort our distribution and off we went. We came up with the name, Paper after a few sessions in the pub; we wanted it to have no pre-conceptions attached to it, meaning we’d be able to stamp our own identity on to it.
We also ran a club in Manchester called Robodisco and had booked Eric Rug who we all got on with like a house on fire and so his track, Cut The Rug, became the label’s second release. I recorded as Shaboom with Blackpool’s Mark Bell and Dick ‘Magik’ Johnson and we came up with Bessie, while Miles and Elliot were on a roll in the studio with Si Brad, resulting in the singles, Downtime and‘Origami (which was a remix of Raven Maize that Dave Lee had rejected), add New Phunk Theory and the Paper sound was born. I think we were in the right place at the right time as UK house music began to grow in confidence and expand its own more disco/garage-influenced music after many years of U.S. domination. There were other people doing a similar thing like Classic and Nuphonic which all got lumped together as Nu Brit House. At Paper, we were all in to house music in the main but it was a broad church so the BPMs, beats and breaks did change as the label became more established. If you listen to the first album we put out, Kaminski Park by Those Norwegians, it’s got all kinds of flavours going on and is a long way from straight up house. I think that by looking outside of 4/4 deep-house, we kept things fresh and interesting, especially on albums by the likes of Streetlife Originals.
The label kept expanding and a big signing for us was Crazy Penis who had a live element to their music and were a real talent, offering more than just the ‘DJ in studio mode’. Towards the end of the first phase of Paper, we also started Repap records as its eclectic leftfield sister label, putting out music by artists like Rune Linbaek (in space disco mode), Bobby Trafalgar (electronic easy listening by Hakan Lidbo), 0898 Dave (mad pop) as well as Herbert who we anonymously sent all sort of household objects then revealed ourselves and asked him to make a track with them.
How and when did you second incarnation of Paper Recordings come about? Why did you think it was important to re-establish the name rather than start a new label under a different moniker? We felt like the label had run out of steam towards its 100th release and decided to call it a day and all go off to do other things. Miles went in to IT and Elliot got involved with radio but there was still quite a bit of demand for the back catalogue. Pete and I kept running it part-time, just doing what needed to be done to keep things ticking over. This went on for a while and interest in the label never quite went away. The landscape kept changing and with the advent of digital it reached a point where it felt right to put out a best of Paper collection in this format as it hadn’t been done before. It was released, accompanied with a Bill Brewster DJ mix of his label highlights and it seemed a natural progression to get parts of the back catalogue remixed.
Remixes of The Book were our first release on Paper Digital in 2008 followed by Keyboy’s Viva Blue and by getting involved in this process it seemed only natural to start putting out brand new EPs by fresh artists. We’ve been doing this for the last three years and having started slowly, we’re now doing one or two releases a month. Paper has such a rich legacy and we see this new version of the label as a continuation of its earlier, deeper style combined with the old Paper quality control. We’ve also started a new label called We Are Woodville for more leftfield stuff like the Karoshi Brothers, Heavy Deviance and Hakan Lidbo and we’ve got an ace new signing called Stop The Car who makes catchy, underground electronic pop.
Which artists have you released since the re-launch of the label? Do you feel there is a new Paper Recordings ‘sound’ developing? It’s got to the point now where we’ve built a family of brilliant new and more established artists. We’ve not gone down the route of using old names but have discovered the producers who will be the ones to watch in coming years.
Last spring we put out Proviant Audio’s album, Real Love Tastes Like This! and I have to say, I think it’s the best long-player we’ve ever released. Mathais, the chap behind it, is only 18 and is an amazing talent; he mixes up disco, house, hip-hop and jazz into a really modern mix that shows a maturity way beyond his years. It reached number 15 in the Norwegian charts and he’s also in the running for a Norwegian Grammy. There’s always been a Norwegian connection with Paper that seems to be getting stronger and stronger. We’ve got music coming from Bergen’s The Treatment who is an up and coming disco producer and has been getting props from Dimitri From Paris, Leca, Keyboy and the irrepressible Ralph Myerz who’s also doing us an EP. Closer to home there’s Manchester’s 2 Billion Beats, two young producers making brilliant electronic disco and Jamie L who sounds like Yorkshire’s answer to Moodymann. We put his first ever release out in the summer and it got an amazing response from people like Mr Scruff and Red Rack’em. There’s also Manchester unsung hero Daco, Flash Atkins and we’ve just signed something from Florida disco type, Sleazy McQueen. I’d say the sound is a continuation of what went before but it perhaps leans a bit more towards disco rather than just being straight up house; the BPMs seem to have dropped a little too!
What are your future plans for the label? Keep putting ace new music out, finding new talent and carry on getting excited! We’ve got albums planned from Daco and The Treatment plus a compilation of the best of Paper digital that'll have an album of music that’s been out already but which will also contain unreleased edits and mixes, as well as one with completely new tracks from our core artists. We’ll also be organising a few label parties to plug the Paper sound. In addition to all this, we’ll continue to do promo for other labels, something we set up under Record Label Services, Paper’s umbrella company.
Can you tell us a bit about the mix – how did you decide which artists to include and what were you looking to achieve with it? I’ll let Mathais of Proviant Audio explain as he put it together, “The mix consists of tracks that I feel have true ‘Paper vibe’, from mid nineties output to today’s releases and I think it shows that the characteristics of the Paper sound remain strong, seventeen years after the label was first established. I was only five years old when the label began and only discovered it around 2005 through the productions of Hot Toddy, Those Norwegians and Rune Lindbæk. Still, I thought I was actually listening to brand new music! The Paper sound is renowned; old releases still sound fresh and new releases look back but also point to the future. I’ve blended old and new together, bringing out the ‘lost’ gems that were classics in the golden age of 12” vinyl but have perhaps been forgotten in digital age of music; the sound and feel of the recordings rather than the artists involved helped me choose which tracks to use and I’ve made sure to include some I think will be ‘future classics’!"
Finally, can you tell me about your alter-ego, Flash Atkins? Oh dear. Well, I decided to re-name myself Flash Atkins as Ben Davis isn’t the most exciting moniker. I wanted to have a laugh as there is nothing worse than a DJ desperately trying to look cool with a tan, sunglasses, bad tattoos and a disco dolly on his arm; if you check the DJ Top 100 DJs it’s full of them. I’ve gone in the opposite direction and as Flash Atkins sounded a bit like a superhero, I came up with the concept that he’s one who’s fallen on hard times, has a low level drug and alcohol problem and currently lives in farmer’s field in Yorkshire, with only his dog for company. I thought it’d be fun to do some filming, so I made some short videos and actually ended up being interviewed on Sky when I played live on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of Anthony Gormleys’s ‘One and Other’ Project. I also recorded a pop track called The Sweetshop for Woodville a couple of years ago; we created a brilliant video for it that’s had over a million hits on Vimeo. The whole thing seems to have taken on a life of its own; there’s now a comic and even an iPhone game in the works as well as more short videos, all done with no grand master plan in mind. It’s pretty much nothing to do with the music I make and is probably a total distraction!
Regarding this, I’ve actually got a Flash Atkins EP coming out on Paper this month which is a disco house cover of Sweet Exorcist’s Test On, a mix for the Ism’s Odyssey remix album and another for Neco’s So Sweet, on the same label, more of them for Paper as well as number of EPs too, not to mention DJing but not in costume!
For more on Paper Recordings, head here