Words: Nisa Kreems
Marrying emotive soul with jazzy hip hop against a backdrop of tight breakbeats and lush basslines, Amsterdam label The North Quarter has aimed to disrupt any preconceived notions you might have about the high BPM world since its launch in 2016.
Atmospheric and deep, the North Quarter's multidimensional approach stems from label founder Lenzman—aka Teije van Vliet. The Amsterdam native is a self-proclaimed ‘90s hip hop head, and is known for his signature brand of liquid funk, which has been championed by Metalheadz, Spearhead, CIA Records and more.
Equally heartfelt and head-bobbing, all six of the label’s EPs ooze sincerity and embody a cinematic quality that’s equally suitable for home listening and the club. But it’s the imprint's genre fluidity that really sets it apart from peers and attracts fans from all corners of the musical spectrum.
Brokenbeat and R&B come together on May 2018’s six-track Baby Grand EP, the debut project from virtuoso producer Zero T and multi-instrumentalists Unitsouled. The eclectic FD—aka Freddie Dixon—connects the dots between techno and ambient on his Alone With Everybody EP. There’s even a heavy Manchester rap presence, including on FD's aforementioned release, and Redeyes' Blueprints EP, featuring Black Josh and Fox of LEVELZ fame, respectively. On Lenzman's four-track Earth Tones EP, the silky drawls of up-and-comer IAMDDB grace the liquidy “In My Mind” and its hip hop reprise, while the EP also features the equally smooth “Tender Love” featuring Steo, and the darker “Park Hill” featuring Jubei.
Production-wise, less is more for Lenzman, whose vision remains visible on every North Quarter release. Whether it's his rinsed-out remix of Children of Zeus’ "Still Standing" or the warm grooves of Submorphics' Detroit Haze EP, North Quarter’s output thus far has been synonymous with simple-yet-poignant melodies and low-lying harmonies that gradually build over time, making them suitable for drum and bass newbies and veterans alike.
But the North Quarter—named after a neighborhood in Lenzman’s hometown of Leiden—is also trying to shift the dynamic when it comes to how artists release their music. Instead of feeling pressured to release dance floor-friendly singles, Lenzman encourages his artists to push further, exploring their full artistic potential through EPs and LPs.
“Teije’s vision of doing only EPs and LPs gives artists the room to show a broad palette,” MC Dan Stezo, the label’s resident MC, says. And that palette isn’t restricted to only the high-tempo world of drum and bass.
MC Dan Stezo. Photo by Revision Music
“As friends, Lenzman and I have never really been only about drum and bass,” Dan says. “We’ve been active in hip hop as well, and the idea is to do music that feels close to home. This would mean a multi-genre label that goes further than the d’ ‘n’ b’ tempo."
Certain contemporaries of the North Quarter, like Astrophonica, Cosmic Bridge and Exit Records, also share an affinity for developing new understandings of drum and bass by cross-pollinating jungle, footwork and electronica. But whatever the North Quarter does, it will always remain rooted in soul, Dan emphasizes. He recently wrapped up an Asia tour that saw him perform in Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kunming—cities with a tight-knit community of bass-heads, he remarks.
"The manifesto is quality control,” Dan says. “That's what got Teije this far. he keeps his standards really high in terms of output."