Since 2010 UK label Illusion Recordings have been releasing high quality productions across the spectrum of house music. Their impressive roster has included everyone from Garry Todd and Mic Newman to Trus' Me, DJ Ali and Lerosa, and shows no signs of slowing down or bowing to passing trends. In anticipation of label heads Tom Craven and James Cotterill's upcoming label tour of Australia, we reached out to the pair to get an insight into the label's history, vibe, releases and their connection to the southern hemisphere. Be sure to check out the fellas' exclusive mix for us below.
Pulse: Can you fill us in on how Illusion Recordings was formed? Was there one of those ‘eureka!’ moments, or did it happen more gradually? Tom Craven: Hello Pulse, there wasn’t a Eureka moment as such; it was more organic than that. I have been DJing since going to University in Leeds at the end of the 90s and when I finished my course I headed straight to Ibiza for four crazy summers of partying and after my last summer when I got back home to Manchester I was really inspired and felt I needed to start an intimate Saturday night event in the city, because back in 2006 there weren’t really too many little parties in cool venues, just loads of big clubs with loads of obvious line-ups. We set up a DIY event in a friends skateboard shop (which came complete with a scaled down half pipe) in Manchester’s coolest area (The Northern Quarter) and took to hosting a 200 capacity free rave every month. At first we kept it to friends who we’d worked with in Ibiza and met through the UK party scene like Adam Shelton, Inxec, Jamie Jones and Matt Styles who all came up and played for about £1-200 + bus fare home. Then when the parties grew we invited over our first guests like Mike Shannon, Jay Haze and Cassy (for our 1st Birthday). But our amazing little venue got taken away from us as the owner started to let any old promoter use the space who weren’t as conscientious and thorough as us and ultimately the local neighbours complained about the noise and it got shut down.
We moved around different non-club spaces for a few years, but it was never the same, so the parties slowly died out. We’re still looking to do one final party this summer to give it a proper end point, so watch this space. But I really wanted to stay doing stuff within in the industry and after the parties stopped, starting my own label was the next natural step. I was at an after party with my label partner James Cotterill and he was putting all his new music on which was really blowing mind, so I just casually asked if he’d be interested in starting a label as I’d wanted to do one for ages and I knew he would bring good ideas and music to the table and within a breathe he said yes and Illusion Recordings was born. I keenly went to Leeds the next week and we came up with a concept with our amazing designer and good friend Grant Loftus and then we spent the next year setting everything up and that was that really.
What are the main aims behind the label? James Cotterill: The main aim from the beginning was to simply release high quality house music across the house spectrum whilst keeping the quality control high in everything we did. We wanted the artwork to be as strong as the music and for everything to really compliment each other. We have a lot of friends producing some amazing music and we really wanted to give these guys a platform, but we also wanted to draft in some of our favourite artists for remixes and tracks like DJ Ali, Bodycode, Gerd, The Mole, Trus’me. We always want to keep that balance of new and established artists whilst pushing our friends and giving them a platform to shine. We have so many amazing friends who are really talented in many different aspects of the label process from the Artwork to the Press & PR to the mastering to our events, so we were really keen to put together a strong team of friends who are just as important in producing our product and success as the guys making the music, and that was something we really aimed for from the beginning, so it's great to see that side of things flourish.
So far the releases on Illusion have been quite varied in sound, though how would you sum up the vibe of the label? Tom Craven: Yeah, that was our aim from the beginning. Our vision from the start was to just put out high quality house music. The main spine of the label will always be house but we wanted to explore all the nooks and crannies surrounding the genre along way. If we just put out one style of music, I think we would get bored pretty quickly and we buy so many different styles of house, it was only natural to keep things varied. Its great to learn from all the different styles we get sent or seek out - his is what we wanted to project from the very outset.
How do you go about sourcing artists for music to release? James Cotterill: We’ve no set way really. Sometimes we’ll get sent some music which will really blow us away which we sign instantly (i.e. our 'Tomson EP' coming out on ILL008), sometimes we’ll contact artists we are really digging and ask them to send us some stuff that again really blows us away (this was the approach for the Volta Cab EP) and sometimes our mates will drop some tracks on us we are really feeling and we’ll want to put them out. But what I would say is we don’t really sign up too many demos that get sent blind. I think a lot of people who send us music mustn’t listen to our releases and must just send out to every label under the sun, because some of that music really wouldn’t fit on our label. It’s always nice to get sent music but some people really need to do their research. Or they should contact a label in a better way than just a generic email saying SIGN MY MUSIC. I always think its better to drop tracks on people in a more organic way. Maybe become friends or talk about music first and develop a relationship, then drop the music then. The main demos we sign is this way. A friend drops us some tracks and if we like them we’ll consider them for a release. But I think there is definitely a little etiquette needed and I mostly the right music gets through in the end.
What have you got coming up on the label this year? Tom Craven: Well our next release is by our good friends Dan Ward and Alex Wolfenden aka Acid Mondays, who have given us a really amazing EP that comes with a suitably tasty Delano Smith remix. Watch this space for these guys, they’ve got new music and banter of the highest order and bring a really refreshing vibe and we’re really buzzing to have them on board as family lids. We’ve then got an EP from a fellow Mancunian called Tomson (he actually grew up in the same village as me and we only met when he sent me his amazing tracks) that comes with a wicked Detroity dub techno remix from Washerman and an ace house rework from John Dimas. We’ve had these EPs ready for a while, but due to our commitment to vinyl and the fact everything is self-funding, we’ve had to wait and save and recoup the money from each release before we start the next release. So our output isn’t huge, but we feel the quality of the music and product is worth its wait.
After these EPs we’re looking to work with Trus’me again after his amazing remix on ILL006, we’d love to hook back up with our main man from Rotterdam Gerd after his awesome NY Stomp EP and myself and James have been beavering away in the studio completing our first EPs for the label. But the bar has been raised recently so we are very keen to keep the quality high!
Any plans to release some of your own productions? James Cotterill: Yeah, we are relatively new in the studio compared to most but I’ve been making music for a good few years. I’ve probably been making music a bit longer than Tom, but we are knuckling down and getting close to where we want to be production-wise. Me and my studio partner Ross Elliott, have been making music we’re really happy with at the moment and we can’t wait to get our debut EP out on Illusion at the end of the year. We released our first remix on Illusion when we reworked NY Stomp’s ‘Can U Feel it’ which went down a storm and it was great being able to contribute to one of biggest and best releases to date. We’ve just released our first track away from the label which is a remix of Issac Silva on his Movements label which has been getting hammered left, right and centre, so we are really proud of that track as we’re getting to a sound we’ve been working hard towards for a good few years. Tom has also been working on some wicked solo material as well as a more pumping remix of an Acid Mondays track out later in the year on Illusion. So at the moment, it’s all about getting our heads down and building towards the right sound. We’re more concerned about quality over quantity, so we’d rather wait and get it right, than boot out loads of average tracks just to get some gigs.
You’re about to embark on a mini label tour of Australia. Where will you be visiting? Tom Craven: Yeah, we’re coming over for April for a month and sorting out some dates in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and a special party in Singapore for the Super 0 crew on our return leg home. From our years of working in Ibiza we’ve got friends all over Australia, so we want to go see them and play some cool parties along way. I’ve been coming to Oz every few years as I used to get return flights on Virgin for £100 through one of my best mates, so it was cheaper for me to go down under than to get the train to London from Manchester. Sadly those days are gone, but now we are coming over DJing, so really looking forward to getting back over to get burnt to a crisp.
How did your affiliation with Australia and the friends you have here come about? Tom Craven: Most of our Australian based friends have come from working in Ibiza from 2001 to 2004. Space Ibiza was affiliated with Home in Sydney, so loads of Aussies and ex-pats would work the clubs during the Oz summer, and then come to Ibiza for the European summer and that would go on for years. Chasing that never-ending summer! They’d be regulars like Mark and Sarah at Space, Alex Wolfenden (Acid Mondays), Garry Todd, James Kyte, Con Mitsou, plus loads of other ravers and DJs such as Little Fritter, Caroline Chang…the list is huge. I probably know more people in Sydney and Melbourne than I do in Birmingham where I currently live! It’s madness. Then when we’ve become close friends with people like Garry Todd, Acid Mondays and Littler Fritter and they’ve given us tracks to play out and we’ve loved them and put them out. Garry did some wicked tracks with Mic Newman and he was then pulled in to the crew, so with so many friends and links over there, we felt it was time to go visit them. It’s Spring now in England and I’m looking out my window to a full on Snow Blizzard, so as you can probably guess we’re pretty happy to be coming over. But knowing our luck they’ll probably be some Cyclone when we land, but that will suit us, we’ll just get our heads down and party!
Favourite track of the year so far? Tom Craven: From Illusion Recordings: Volta Cab – 'Don’t Give Up (Trus’me Gotta Be Strong Remix)'. A really amazing analogue remix of an amazing song from one of our favourite producers and friends! Tracks I’ve been playing out: Delano Smith – 'What I Do (Mike Huckaby Remix)' on Sushi Tech – the right amount of Detroit, groove and deepness from one of my favourites!
James Cotterill: From Illusion Recordings: Volta Cab - 'Dont Give Up (Original Mix)'. Every time I hear this no mater where I am it makes me feel at peace with myself puts a smile on my face. Tracks I’ve been playing out: Shane Bambrick - 'The Process (Shane Linehan Remix)' on Basic Grooves. Really feeling this label and where they are coming from. Shane Linehan has had a great year so far, this remix is a great way to bridge the gap between warm up and peak time sets. Always had a great response when Ive played it out.