Covid-19 appears to be sweeping the globe bringing with it, unprecedented levels of uncertainty and confusion. In these times it is best to at least attempt some normality where possible. Hence we are continuing to bring you our regular features including Behind The Headphones with this weeks guest Robin Ball. The promoter, label boss and producer is one of the South East’s premier promoters. His Memory Box Parties have become a major attraction for those into DIY parties.
Flip through his back catalogue and both as a label boss and producer Robin Ball continues to release a string of well-received records that as are well-received floor fillers whilst also resonating with the more artistic and musically aware section of underground music. Robin Ball knowledge and understanding of the scene is such it was a no brainer to invite him onto our series and shed some light into life behind the headphones.
A statement from Robin Ball:
I’m doing this interview at a time where the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation is affecting clubland in a big way. At the time of writing, we are hoping the government will soon step up and help the events industry and especially look after the small businesses and sole traders.
This situation has caused cancellations across the board, from larger festivals to small clubs. I myself have 2 parties upcoming in April that are affected. This unparalleled situation is going to be devastating to the club scene as venues, DJ’s, management and agents are going to have little to zero income. We have no idea how this will play out but it’s possible we are going to come out the other end with less venues. This on top of the fact we have been losing venues over the last 15+ years because of rising rents and increasingly strict regulations from local authorities.
However, I feel it’s always good to look for a positive in every bad situation. Perhaps we will be able to look back on this and mark it as the time our dance music community changed for the better and came together more. I for one will be in contact with the venues I work with and discussing how we can return bigger and better.
There are always ways to improve things and perhaps some of the issues I have mentioned in my answers below might be dealt with naturally as the dust settles.
A real positive to this situation is there’s going to be more good music made as artists who have had their gigs cancelled will be in the studio with more time on their hands to make good music.
Now is the time to support your favourite artists, labels and DJs. Perhaps buy some new records or if that’s not your thing maybe buy one of their t-shirts, purchase some downloads or listen to their music on Spotify.
We will get through this and bounce back even stronger. As soon as is possible and safe – get back in your favourite venues and support your favourite club nights.
For a lot of people, dance music is a path they stumble across in their late teens & early twenties. However, we know you started your first parties at the unruly age of 14. Can you tell us a bit about how you ended up on this path?
When I look back on my early life I have to say I was destined to throw parties of some sort or another. I have a couple of memories from maybe around 12 years old of being at parties; one in a local hall and another at an older kid’s house. The atmosphere created from being in a room with friends and music left a mark on me. Around 14 years old I got my first (belt drive) decks which I plugged into my dad’s microphone mixer and started DJing.
The desire to do that, I think, was from wanting to be involved in the party more than just attending them. I can’t remember exactly the steps between that and me putting on my first “proper” parties but there were definitely a few parties at my parents’ house in one form or another. Whether that be way too many people squashed into my small bedroom or “having some friends over” when my parents were out. But that was all before I found acid house. After my first acid house clubbing experience (which is a whole other story) I got hooked on the music and lifestyle and that was when my life changed forever. Going to acid house parties and raves plus having decks with a want to put on parties was only ever going to lead to throwing my own, I guess.
The first of them I put on in halls for hire – Sports and community halls, that type of thing. Basically anywhere someone would actually give me the keys, that wasn’t too expensive to hire. I would charge a small door fee to cover costs and a couple of my good friends would do the door for me. And from there it never stopped really. I found a wine bar where the manager was into the music and he offered me a percentage of the bar takings if I put the parties on. I did quite a few parties there. Then I got a weekly residency at a club in Bracknell which wasn’t my own promotion but I was involved in the weekly set up and then would DJ there.
From then on I was always planning when the next party would be. They were normally local parties where I grew up around the Hampton, Teddington, and Kingston area. But I put a couple on in London and the Home Counties. I also had a lot of house parties after I left home. They are pretty legendary! I’ve lived in Australia and France putting on parties. After my travels, I returned to the UK and started putting on the Socialeyes parties in Kingston which then moved to Corsica Studios in London, a venue which I love! And that later lead on to the Memory Box parties at the same venue amongst many others including Patterns in Brighton which has become a home away from home.
As well as DJing and running a record label you are also a prominent promoter in the UK with your Memory Box parties. Particularly between Brighton and London. How do the two scenes differ? Do you prefer one more than the other?
I love them both. And for me it’s more about the attitude and atmosphere of the venue than what town it’s in. The Memory Box parties in both towns are quite similar anyway as I’m lucky enough to attract a cool, happy crowd of various ages and genders wherever we go.
I love doing parties at Corsica Studios in London because they have two really intimate rooms with serious sound systems, great weekly programming and a lovely team running it. CLF Art Café at Bussey Building is another regular for Memory Box because it has a really special atmosphere about the building. And we have a nice Brighton home at Patterns who always do great programming of their line ups. It’s a nice intimate venue with a good vibe and one of the only clubs that’s fully committed to underground club culture in Brighton. Recently I have been working with The Cause in London as well who are a really unique temporary venue in London.
The shape of electronic music has changed dramatically since it first gripped youth culture. However, it feels like there is a rising underground movement again with illegal warehouse events, DIY parties and pop-up shows overtaking traditional club events. Do you think the scene is going full circle?
I think it’s great to have that variety of options – from illegal warehouse parties, right through to the state of the art purpose-built clubs. I have always leaned towards a more DIY feel to my parties, where the music and vibe is the main focus! London has always had a thriving underground scene. From illegal raves through the late eighties and nineties to Shoreditch warehouse parties in the noughties, London will continue to have a strong underground. I was playing great warehouse parties in North East London in the last decade as well. It always comes around with new scenes and new party kids.
What I feel has come back around is a quality and feeling to the music that came from the 80’s / nineties. Music styles have changed rapidly since the original dance music explosion but I feel there an emphasis at the moment on quality instead of hype which is something I push through my Groovepressure and Memory Box record labels. There’s a strong analogue and synth feel going on in house and techno and of late a revival of breakbeats and this music suits a more understated subtle feel in the production at parties, a DIY feel.
The Cause in Tottenham for example (a temporary venue) have a strong DIY ethic with their parties and always have something exciting happening like a new warehouse room popping up here and there. And their line ups cover DJs from all eras of dance music, not just whatever the latest fad is. I feel this attitude is strong at the moment, looking back as well as looking forward; taking the best bits from what has happened previously and bringing it to the new crowds so everyone gets the best of 35 years’ worth of history and experience added to what comes next.
As an artist, you have played alongside some world-class DJ’s. Is there someone that you have just stopped and gone, “WOW” different class?
No not really. The wow moments were before I started DJing in clubs. The things I used to be blown away by I learned to do which kind of takes the mystique away. What I concentrate on now is bringing wow moments to new generations of clubbers. But for me, the wow moments are about creating that special atmosphere in a room which of course comes from the DJ / artist but the other people in that room are just as important in creating a great vibe!
As an artist and label owner do you think the ease at which people can create and release music is good or bad for the scene?
There’s pros and cons as with everything. If the music is good and someone has put their energy into making that happen then respect to them however they made it. How that music makes me feel when I listen to it is the important thing. I am less of a purist than I used to be and I wouldn’t want to live in a world where technology doesn’t advance so let’s just go with it and be positive. Perhaps there’s an argument that the technology has made it easy to make a generic sound that could, unfortunately, get attention over music that is more interesting and has had more time and love poured into it and that obviously isn’t a good thing. But for me what is important is the final product.
As an artist, I am more comfortable in the modern world of production where things can be a little less technical. I am not an overly technical person and have never worked work well reading manuals or instruction books. I thrive with programs I can get to grips with quickly and get my creativity flowing. It is definitely a quicker process now to learn and create and that means the skill sets have changed, but you still need to have the ideas. The ease of technology just makes it easier and quicker to make that idea become real. Helping creativity flow has to be a good thing.
Digital has obviously made it a lot easier to release music but it’s still a pretty involved process to release vinyl. I think it’s good there is a quick way of making and releasing to digital and also being able to make and play your own music in your sets. I guess as with everything – if the process gets abused that’s not so great. So, if people release lower quality music because it’s easier to do – that is not a good outcome. As a label owner yes maybe there is part of me that wishes it was harder and more exclusive to release music. But on the whole, I just want there to be good new music out there that moves me however that comes.
What has been the toughest challenge you have had to overcome in your life?
Well, the ongoing one is being different from the norm and from what is expected in general society. At school, like most kids, I just wanted to be like everyone else. But it was never going to happen. I guess I have always stood out a little for better or worse and that can be tough when you are young. As I grew I started to understand that being unique is a good thing and then started to become more confident within myself. And I think the throwing of parties and DJ’ing has helped me with this. It gave me my place in the world and a purpose in life. Over the last years making music has become part of that purpose and when I am doing these things, that is when life feels right for me. Now I see this as being an “artistic person” but that wasn’t apparent really in my younger days. The understanding of that is quite recent really. But being an artistic type of person can be a struggle in a world where that isn’t seen as a priority.
If you could go b2b with anyone past or present who would it be and why?
I’d like to go back in time and B2B with Ron Hardy at Muzic Box in Chicago. I like the sound of his freestyle, energetic raw DJ sets. And I would have loved to have witnessed that scene and watched how he did it.
Follow us on Spotify