Having earned their stripes in the clubs of Stirling and Glasgow, Jelly Roll Soul now take the leap into releasing records, kicking things off with the distinctive Tanz EP from Sirrahttam
From their earliest parties in Glasgow, the promoters behind Jelly Roll Soul have had a clear interest in the grittiest and most innovative forms of house music. Setting out their stall in 2010, Stirling natives Jamie Alexander, Robert Tomlinson and Ryan Coyle share a love for the classic deep and dusty sounds of Detroit and Chicago, as well as for talented producers from closer to home – the likes of Space Dimension Controller and the often mind-melting Funkineven both made their Scottish debuts for Jamie and co. Their musical interests span decades and cross genre boundaries, but their abiding passion is for music with real substance and ingenuity.
It is from that grounding that the trio now launch the Jelly Roll Soul label this month, enlisting talented up-and-comer Sirrahttam to deliver their first EP. Unsurprisingly, the first outing bodes well for the label's commitment to quality and originality. From the skewed rhythmic shuffle of opener Linear Patterns, to the idiosyncratic charm and warped brilliance of Trees, and the crisp electro vibe of closer Moving on Slowly, Sirrahttam has certainly done his part to get the label off and running in the right direction.
Checking in with Jamie as the crew prepare for the label launch party at La Cheetah, we are left in no doubt about the ethos that will guide the label forward. "There will be no insipid deep house plodders and there will be no unnecessary identikit club bangers, albeit there may well be some necessary club bangers.”
As a golden rule, that seems pretty water-tight to us.
The Skinny: For those not familiar with your background, can you tell us a bit about how and why Jelly Roll Soul was first established and what makes the three of you tick musically?
Jamie: We’ve been mates for years, bonding over music, as you do – Detroit techno and house music primarily for us, but loads of other stuff too. Me and Robert were in a punk band for a few years for example. We had been running parties and DJing around Stirling for the best part of 10 years, which helped us cut our teeth.
We started Jelly Roll Soul as we felt there weren’t any nights going on in Glasgow that were playing the music we wanted to hear. We were influenced by going to see the Detroit DJs playing – Theo [Parrish], Moodymann etc – and we didn’t feel anyone was doing anything with that rougher, eclectic approach. So we started out with the aim of replicating that. There were also a lot of DJs we wanted to hear that no one seemed to be booking at the time, so it gave us the chance to bring a lot of people we respected to Scotland – DJs like Kyle Hall and Funkineven made their Scottish debuts with us.
Then you took the decision to move the club night to your hometown of Stirling a few years back. Can you elaborate on that decision a bit and tell us what it’s been like to bring some fairly big names to a place not particularly well‐known for its clubbing scene?
We did it because we felt things were becoming quite saturated in Glasgow – a lot of other parties sprang up with similar ideas and we didn’t feel we were contributing anything different. So we felt it would be better to move back to Stirling where, for a period, we had a free reign – we could book who we wanted without having to worry about clashing with anyone else and splitting crowds.There was no pressure in pulling a crowd or breaking even – it didn’t matter if it was an international name like Specter or Jay Daniel, or if it was mates we respected like Mark Maxwell or Pro Vinylist Karim.
We could even do a resident’s night and get a good turnout regardless, so it was very liberating compared to the pressures we faced doing parties in Glasgow. We’ve used a few makeshift venues and have settled eventually in the basement of a tapas restaurant in town. It’s an amazing wee space. We work with a local soundsystem crew, Wolfcry, and turn the place into a proper sweaty club with amazing sound – all the things we want in a club space.
Now in Stirling we’ve had a lot of new nights starting up and there’s a bit of scene going here. It’s all very friendly, but the licensing authorities have responded by clamping down on granting late licenses which unfortunately massively restricts what we can do here – which is a real shame and there’s a big question over whether we can carry on.
Moving onto the label, the first release comes from Matt Harris AKA Sirrahttam and has the kind of richness you would expect from someone aligned with Jelly Roll Soul. How did you first encounter Matt’s music and what can you tell us about the Tanz EP?
Alex McVey, of Ander-Traxx fame, switched us on to Matt’s music via Soundcloud and we had been following him for a while. He is amazingly prolific and we could hear the progress he was making. Going back to why we started the night, we wanted to offer something different and that’s what Matt’s music does.
You would think that after 30 years of house music it would be hard to do something fresh and new sounding (and much of what you hear is terribly derivative) but Matt’s managed to come up with his own unique take on the genre – it’s very much his own sound and that’s not an easy thing to achieve. The music on this EP is actually quite old as it’s taken us a while to raise the cash etc to get this out. The stuff he is coming up with now is even more sharp and adventurous sounding. This is just the starting point for him really – he really is an exciting prospect.
Most people familiar with the club nights will be expecting the deepest of deep house and perhaps bits and pieces of techno from the label. Do you have such a specific remit or are you open to keeping things more broad in scope?
There’s so much music available out there that we do feel duty bound to try to be selective and add something new or interesting to the conversation – so the main criteria will be 'does it do that?' There will be no insipid deep house plodders and there will be no unnecessary identikit club bangers, albeit there may well be some necessary club bangers. Our output will likely be house music of some form or another for the foreseeable future, but you never know how things will develop. We’re open minded in our tastes.
We understand the label will be vinyl only. Is format something that is particularly important to you?
Robert and I are the main DJs within the crew, although when Ryan is in the mood you’ll encounter one of the best 70s/80s jazz-funk sets you’ll ever hear. We only play vinyl at our parties and just about all of the guests we’ve booked have done so as well. It's not like we brief them beforehand, it just so happens that all the DJs we've booked also seem to have the same preference. For me, it’s not really an ideological thing though – it’s not a choice we’ve consciously made.
Robert started buying records around 1994 and I started out in 1999, so there was no choice then, vinyl was the only format. When Serato and stuff came out, it made no sense to us, because we didn’t have laptops, our IT skills are shit and it was all really expensive. The thought of trying to set up a laptop in a DJ booth is just scary to us – we wouldn’t know where to plug it in. We know where we are with a set of 1210s, a mixer and a bag of records. Luddites, you might say! The label being vinyl only is just an extension of that - we wouldn’t know where to start with Beatport and stuff like that; it’s just not part of our world.
You’ll be properly launching the label with a party in La Cheetah at the end of the month. What can you tell us about that night and can we expect more frequent Glasgow outings from the crew?
Yes, we are doing a label launch party on Friday 27 Nov with Sirrahttam coming up from London to play with us. We’ve been speaking to [the club’s owner] Dario and [Events Programmer] Wardy about coming back for a while, so we’re really looking forward to it. We are definitely hoping to do semi-regular parties back in La Cheetah next year.
Good news! What else is on the horizon for Jelly Roll Soul for the rest of this year and beyond?
We’ve also got a party in Stirling in December but, given the licensing problems, the longer term prospects are difficult for us there. The label will be our main focus though – we’ve got another two releases planned which, given the pathetically slow pace we’re working at, will take us well into 2016!