Surface Pressure Records: Feet in the Clubs, Soul in the Hills (WEB ONLY Q&A)

People can just tap into an idea and so instantly break it up, mash it up, put it upside down. Ð Ziggy Campbell, on modern music software<br/>WEB ONLY ALEX

Feature by Bram Gieben | 16 Apr 2006
Founded by brothers Tommy and Bobby Perman, Surface Pressure is an Edinburgh-based label home to a small but broad spectrum of pop, folk, hip-hop and electronica producers. Bobby's productions as S-Type have earned him worldwide acclaim and collaborations with a plethora of well-known and up-and coming MCs, while Tommy's band FOUND have also attracted their own share of attention; playlisted by MTV Europe and Radio 1. Their recent compilation, co-released by Glasgow label Gdansk, showcases the fine blend of electronic textures, out-there hip-hop beats and psychedelic pop of featured artists Vin Landers, Kev Sim and Ziggy Campbell, all of whom also play in FOUND. This home-grown label is a smoker's delight of the rarest, choicest quality – distinctly Scottish, with its feet in the warm bass of the clubs, its soul wandering over rains-soaked hills, and its heart sitting drunk and high on the last bus home. Ziggy (FOUND's singer) and Tommy met me in the graffiti-edged elegance of The Villager on George IV Bridge to talk about the label's history and its future.

When did Surface Pressure begin?

Tommy: Approximately three years ago. It was born by accident, I never intended to go into the music industry in that form. Bobby had been offered a release through somebody else, I was doing the artwork for it. They sent us this through this really crazy contract that had never seen a lawyer before – it was just a typed sheet of A4 with all this crap on it that we didn't agree with. We asked them to change a couple of things and they were like: "Nah, nah, we're not up for that," so we thought we'd be much better releasing it ourselves. I'd had a record out myself before – the 'Random Audio Therapy Unit' by FOUND Collective (an early, art-school template for the band that would become simply FOUND – Ed.), so I thought: "Well, this is a doddle, I've put a record out before, this will be easy." Then we thought why not do things properly: we'll set up a record label, we'll do all the promotion properly, we'll get the design sorted... And I have kind of lived to regret that choice along the way, but it's been a hell of a journey! The first release was actually a seven-inch by Wee Yo Nee, and then Bobby's 12". That was his first major release. Since then he's been doing collaborations with heaps of folk, and he's kind of taken off really, collaborated with lots of big London MCs like Logan, and he's on loads of mixtapes at the moment. He has collaborated with Juice Aleem... that came about through DJ A'La Fu, he was the Big Dada tour DJ. He was part of Wee Yo Nee, that's how that came about – we met in Aberdeen at university.

You have a wide range of artists on Surface Pressure, aside from the Perman brothers. How did you end up with such a broad range?

Tommy: It reflects mine and Bobby's musical interests, really. Bobby is a true hip-hop thoroughbred, and my taste has evolved through so many styles. Hip-hop is definitely one of my true loves, but also a lot of song-based music... After Bobby's first release, we had a single from Vin Landers, which very much reflected what I want to do with Surface Pressure: many different styles, many different flavours. No boundaries, really: just quality music from Scotland, and beyond. A recent realisation of mine is that I love pop music. It's taken me a long time to admit that, and now I've come out of the closet, so to speak - I'm a pop music fan. I'm particularly impressed by bands that can make pop – as in music that a lot of people listen to – that pushes the boundaries. There's so much that can still be done. I think a lot of the time people say: "Now we've had fifty years of pop music, there's not actually that much left to do." People have tried pretty much everything, but you can still combine elements that haven't been brought together before. The experimental is what excites me, but with a pop edge, some nice lyrics, a wee hook.

There's a preconception that experimental music has to be dark, that it has to be 'OK Computer' or Sigur Ros before you can take it seriously.

Tommy: Exactly - but there's some way-out pop music out there, someone like Serge Gainsborough for example, he was trying some pretty bugged-out production methods! Even Phil Spector, if you think about someone like that – or some of the Motown productions – they were doing stuff for the first time and it was experimental, but people got it, it was popular. So it was pop music, you know?

FOUND have done very well in the popularity stakes so far. You recently recorded in Abbey Road, and are playing some festival dates this Summer. You obviously have quite broad ambitions for the band?

Ziggy: I'm hoping when the album drops in May, it will generate a lot more attention. I think it's deserving of it, a lot of effort went into the recording, and we were also funded by the Scottish Arts Council, which is itself a vote of confidence. With it being picked up by national radio and MTV, it seems to be going pretty well.

Tommy: At the moment, we still need to play where people know us, but we're getting booked up to play the more leftfield festivals like The Green Man, and some electronica festivals in nice estates and country houses... that's my kind of thing! We're playing at Fence Collective's Home Game in Anstruther, and at Go North in Aberdeen.

The Electronica press have welcomed FOUND with open arms, was that intentional? Did you approach the songs with a dance music audience in mind?

Tommy: Over the last year, particularly the last six months, our sound has really come together.

Ziggy: To let you in on a secret, when we started we were pretty much chancing it. Tommy had booked a gig and we didn't have a set. We're all bedroom producers, so we had to try and throw all our ideas together and try and form a set with some kind of thread of cohesion. Then we did Triptych.

Tommy: After only three months, we played Triptych, which was great, and from there it's been a steep rise up.

Ziggy: It grew out of electronic productions, there's lots of elements in there, but it's really snowballing into something else, especially with the inclusion of a live drummer.

Tommy: I buy a lot of electronica stuff, and the LA instrumental hip-hop like Ammon Contact and Prefuse 73. I'm personally aware that if you position yourself between that kind of crowd and the indie crowd, there's potentially a big crossover audience.

There's a kind of sound I recognise in Surface Pressure and FOUND tunes that is polished and shambolic at the same time: I associate it with glitch and click house, messed-up hip-hop like Quasimoto, it's hard to call it a scene or a movement, but I hear it everywhere. Is it just in the water?

Tommy: We use a lot of modern software like Ableton Live, and I think that has a lot to do with it. Software like that is very enabling, and allows people to interpret their ideas. Ziggy never used a computer until a couple of years ago, and he's just excelled.

Ziggy: I think that kind of broken-melody sound does come down to modern software; people can just tap into an idea and so instantly break it up, mash it up, put it upside down...

Tommy: The idea of the song becomes all important.

Ziggy: You can take your idea from demo stage to finished production, but retain elements of the demo - you're working on the same file all the way through. If there's a certain charm in the demo, you can keep that in the finished production.

Do you think in some way the punk ethic is being brought to bear on modern music purely through technology? Less intentionally, but implicitly, because it's just there, you can use it?

Ziggy: It's very DIY. You can cut out the nonsense.

Tommy: We produced the forthcoming FOUND album ourselves, and it's great: we're really happy with it, and we did it on a shoestring budget. I'm still seeing bands who need to raise ten, maybe fifteen thousand pounds to produce an album, and we did it for a tenth of that (and a lot of hard work). You don't have to go into a professional studio, you can produce at home and get something perfectly release-able.

Ziggy: I think it's quite lucky that we are in this fragmented scene, alongside bands like Cocorosie, who can come with these really bizarre sounds that are really lo-fi (or no-fi as they say), and it has a complexity that, for me, just makes me want to get inside it and listen to it more.

Back to Surface Pressure – what are the plans for future releases?

Tommy: We are self-funded, so we work from one release to the next. This year's been great- we got the FOUND single and album, then out of the blue Gdansk helped us to put out the Surface Pressure compilation. I have a friend in Paris who runs a label called Astrolab Recordings, and we're planning a major compilation called The Auld Alliance. It won't just be France and Scotland, also England, Germany, Switzerland, and some of those LA-based, instrumental hip-hop artists I mentioned earlier. It's predominantly Surface Pressure artists and Parisian or Southern French artists, but so many people have agreed to be included. I'm incredibly excited about that. I had an idea that each Surface Pressure artist should release a 'library' record. They're a bit of a thing for geek record-collectors, but not just them, any artist who uses a lot of samples is keen to pick up a 'library' record, because there's often untapped resources on there – instrumentals, sketches, ideas, lots of different tempos. That's the next plan. It's quite achievable – all the SP artists are pretty much bursting at the seams with new material. S-Type writes a beat a day pretty much, and they're outstanding, but he has so many he doesn't know what to do with them.

With such a profusion of production skills bubbling away beneath the surface, the only pressure on Tommy and his brother is how fast they can release their tunes. Look out for the compilation in independent record stores in April, and catch FOUND's sprawling live show (like a folkier Beach Boys covering Kraftwerk tunes – but with accordions) as soon as you can.

Surface Textures' is out in April on Surface Pressure / Gdansk.
FOUND's single 'Mullokian' is out now on Surface Pressure.,