Few labels have defined UK techno as much as Blueprint Records, an imprint that recently celebrated 20 years in the game.
In that time, the James Ruskin and Richard Polson founded label has seen a steady stream of output from stalwarts like Surgeon, Planetary Assault Systems, DVS1, Robert Hood, Ben Klock, and Blawan. as well as from Ruskin himself, and label regulars like Oliver Ho, Mark Broom and Regis.
In the course of its 20 year evolution, the output of the label has remained remarkably consistent. Though hasn’t completely been orchestrated. Instead, Ruskin points to the imprint’s natural tendency to gravitate towards like-minded artists who understand where the label is at any given time, and what it’s trying to achieve.
“We haven’t strayed from our path, as I have always been aware of what it is that I want, and because of my belief in what we release,” he says. “There has obviously been an expansion in roster, and the same goes for the areas that I want to explore, but the thread that ties it all together remains as strong as ever.”
Initially, Blueprint was set up to release the work Ruskin was producing together with Polson under their Outline moniker. However, not long after Blueprint’s first release with Outline’s First Contact EP, a chance meeting by Ruskin with Oliver Ho would change course of the label’s sound and direction for good.
“I first met James in 1994 or 1995, I think,” Ho remembers. “We met because a friend of mine was attending a music technology course; I came along and played some live techno at a workshop they had. I remember James was wearing a Basic Channel tee-shirt at that event, which was an immediate good sign! We got to know each other pretty quickly because we had very similar influences and we both wanted to release our own music. We have always wanted to challenge ourselves and wanted to create a wide body of work.”
Ho still collaborates with Blueprint, though a bit less frequently these days. Though throughout the years, Ho’s work seemed almost tailor made with the label’s particular sound in mind.
“Well, I am not really in control of the way I make music” he states. “It comes out in a very organic way, but as it emerges and takes form, I can see what it wants to be – it feels like it demands its own name.”
Oliver Ho, image via
Recently Ho’s output more often comes through his Broken English Club moniker. “It feels like it lives in that world,” he says. “However, I also recently did an Oliver Ho 12-inch for Blueprint (“Awakening the Sentient”), which may be a bit more up-tempo and heavy, I guess. It’s not far from my BEC stuff though; it just has a different flow and speed to it. It is a fragment of who I am that interacts with other parts of my personality, and they all affect each other rather than exist separately.”
Ho thinks it is hard to pinpoint what he has contributed to Blueprint. “I’ve made a lot of music for the label in the early years,” he says, “a lot of it was pretty raw and dense. I had a love of digital synths and weird bell sounds during that time, which I still love now. My stuff then was pretty synthy too, also some processed vocal sounds. Using vocals has always been a big thing for me. So I reckon Blueprint has absorbed those things into its identity.”
Ho’s ability to shape the sound and direction of Ruskin’s imprint speaks volumes about their relationship, and the label’s friendship first, business second ethos.
“The thing that has always stayed the same for me within the group of people that I have been fortunate enough to work with over the last 20 years is that there has never been any kind of hierarchical attitude, only ever support. The relationships and friendships I have made along the way are the same now as when they began. What is important is that we continue to push what we are doing and make sure the next generation take the baton and run with it. I guess I also have the attitude that we are all in this together.”
Anthony Child, who is known best as techno pioneer Surgeon, confirms this feeling. “Really, since the beginning, it has always been about the friendship between James, Richard and me. We were out there having the same new experiences of running a label and getting out in amongst them at gigs. We felt a strong kinship. All forging ahead in the 1990s UK techno scene.”
Surgeon, image via
Thus, the seventh Blueprint release, Outline Meets Surgeon, released in 1997, was a collaboration between Outline and Surgeon, and one of the label’s most pivotal in many ways.
“James and Richard came up from London to visit me in Birmingham,” Child remembers about making the record. “We were hanging out at the flat I lived in at the time. I remember us drinking a lot and listening to music really loud, which would always really upset my downstairs neighbours. They were always banging on my door telling me to turn the music down. We recorded the Outline Meets Surgeon release at my flat.”
Unfortunately, Richard Polson passed away much too early back in 2006. Ruskin looks back at that period “with disbelief and overwhelming sadness,” he says. It left the label on the ropes as well, only to return stronger as ever in 2009 with the first O/V/R 12-inch called “Interior.”
O/V/R was another Ruskin collaboration, this time with Birmingham’s Karl O’Conner, aka Regis. It channelled both protagonists’ different influences into an innovative sound that was slow, industrial, gradually but steadily evolving, dark techno. Their 2010 release “Post-Traumatic Son” is a recent classic, its status enhanced by the remixes of Marcel Dettmann, Ben Klock, Robert Hood and DVS1.
James Ruskin looks back at working with Regis on O/V/R as a very natural collaboration, both in the studio and playing live, though he admits he’s never considered what it represents.
“It came about without a set plan or mission, and this has worked well in allowing us to pick up at any given time and see what happens. It was a very cathartic process putting that initial record together, getting back in the studio with Karl and realising that it was time to move forward and continue what Blueprint had started.”
With additions like Makaton, Samuel Kerridge, Sigha and Lakker, a fresh group of talented producers have joined the Blueprint vessel. Although Ruskin admits that finding artists that fit the label is immensely different now.
“The process of discovering music in general has changed beyond all recognition since the label began; the Internet and studios within a computer has removed any constraints or filters on music being made and heard. I think it would be almost impossible to keep up with everything and navigate your way through the amazing amount of production that is happening within electronic music, so things tend to come onto my radar a majority of the time rather than me sitting down and trying to discover what is going on. Maybe this would be different if there wasn't just myself running the label, but it would be a full time job in itself attempting to keep on top of everything that is happening within the scene and trying to pinpoint what would work for both the label and equally important any artist that we work with.”
James Ruskin, image via
Ruskin also understands the importance of managing expectations about what the label can achieve in terms of sales – “you have to be very realistic about what is possible and work to that” he says.
“Blueprint was originally only created to release music from myself, Richard, and shortly after Oliver Ho and a very small core of people, so being able to stay within the ideals of what was wanted was very easy" he continues. That obviously changes as more people become involved, but I’m enjoying running the label more than ever now as I see the new signings and the more open approach to the output as the next phase.”
With the release of Structures & Solutions 1996-2016, Blueprint ended another chapter in its storied history, with Surgeon providing a new EP to coincide with the compilation: four stunning techno stompers crafted with subtlety and precision.
“I designed Search Deep Inside Yourself specifically for this Blueprint release,” Surgeon says. “It was recorded and mixed in two days. I made it to be very simple and straightforward,” he adds, addressing the original orientation of the label’s musical style.
Veteran Mark Broom agrees that while the label began as a DJ-friendly, club-focused label, “over the last few years, it has gone in different musical directions, which I think is very healthy,” he says.
“It’s a natural way forward for the label,” Broom continues. “Just look at the upcoming compilation for evidence of that! Blueprint has such a strong back catalogue, I’m always discovering gems from the past. And with some strong upcoming releases it seems the label is here to stay!”
And while Blueprint is still widely viewed as one of the quintessential UK techno labels, Ruskin himself doesn’t quite see it that way.
“There has been an attitude since punk, and later 2 tone, that kicked the music industry up the arse and that says, “Bollocks, we can do it ourselves”, which is how Blueprint began and still operates today,” he says.
“Though I drink a lot of tea in the studio, does that count?”
Words: Tom Nys
Celebrate 20 years of Blueprint with James Ruskin, Jeff Mills, Ben Klock, DVS1, Regis, Silent Servant, Lakker, Broken English Club, Rumah & Progression, and Rommek on August 28th at The Hydra. More info here.