Arriving on the scene with nothing more than a phone number directing callers to crackly clips of their debut release, Bristol’s Hotline Recordings has established itself from the outset as a unique label in today’s digitally dominated, quick-fire landscape. Having hosted releases from a diverse range of producers, the label finds its common musical thread in the form of a simple mantra ‘Hot traxxx – Bangers on wax’, while its aesthetic draws on the simplicity and physicality of 90s rave culture – when fans had to go to greater lengths to discover new parties and music. This is a welcome break in today’s climate, where labels scramble to secure exclusive premieres and other forms of promotion across various digital platforms. Instead, Hotline simply urges its fans to ring the number in the run up to the latest release, often accompanied by physical promotion in Bristol itself. It’s a strategy that seems to work given the amount of represses that have been issued for a number of their releases, such as Hodge’s ‘Mind Games/Flashback’ and Kahn and Neek’s ‘Backchat/Dubchat’. Of course, this isn’t solely down to unconventional promotion methods. First and foremost Hotline is renowned for releasing top notch bangers, tunes that will often have been on heavy rotation as dubplates from some of the best producers in Bristol and beyond.
Hotline kicked things off in late-2012 with Kahn & Neek’s Backchat/Dubchat, only the 3rd release from the pair following the success of ‘Percy’ and ‘Find Jah Way’ as their steppers alter-ego Gorgon Sound. The A-side is a masterclass in simplicity, combining a militant Beenie Man vocal sample with snappy snares and a bouncy dancehall rhythm to devastating effect. On the flip, Dubchat, the duo opt for a spacier approach. By stretching the vocal out and deploying half time drums, Backchat is turned on its head. Dubbed out chords and the occasional gunshot sample anchor it firmly in the original’s Jamaican roots but give it a distinctly Bristolian darkness.
Through 2013 Hotline released only 2 records, Lurka’s ‘Full Clip/Br Greaze’ – a heavy experiment with the slow/fast, bashment infused sound that has since found a significant level of popularity among many of drum and bass’ big names, and Rachel’s ‘Okada’, which received a monstrous jungle rework on the flip by Sex Tags label boss DJ Sotofett.
Having already covered a wide spectrum of the UKs various incarnations of bass music, Hotline turned to dubstep, kicking things off in 2014 with Commodo’s ‘F__k Mountain/Good Grief’, accompanied by the sort of real life promotion that the label has become known for in the form of the artist’s name being plastered across the top of a building in Stokes Croft – a photo of which would go on to form the basis of the releases cover art. ‘F__k Mountain’ is built around a deadly combination of distorted drum sounds and one of the most screw face inducing basslines we’ve ever heard. The flip saw Commodo experiment with a slower tempo, but Good Grief is executed with all the impact the Sheffield producer is known for. The off-kilter percussion and pounding bassline make for a potent drum track that would murder any dancefloor. Having been run on dub plates in the hands of Mala, Kahn and Vivek for nearly 18 months prior to its release, this 12” proved to be one of the most popular releases the label had had, being repressed a number of times to satisfy demand.
For the next string of releases Hotline looked back to Bristol’s homegrown talent, releasing tunes from rising stars Hodge and Batu and Lurka, as well as a pair of weighty double packs from Ishan Sound vs Rider Shafique and Borai respectively. As well as continuing to release some of the finest club music form the south-west, Hotline also began to team up with promoters across the UK to bring the sounds of their label to the club in the form of label showcases at venues such as London’s esteemed Corsica Studios in partnership with Brighton’s Mute.
Their most recent offering brings Hotline back to the darker sounds of UK Techno with a massive 12” from London’s Beneath, otherwise known as “the Philip Schofield of dark funky”. The lead track, ‘Seeus’ begins with ominous soundscapes and a scattering of the eerie vocal sample that acts as the song’s hook later on. It then descends into a heavily chopped version of the same sample before a brief moment of silence punctuates the climax. A barrage of sub bass and toms from the rhythmic foundation before the paranoid refrain of ‘you probably see us, but you don’t see us’ comes in under a more refined drum pattern. The song continues in a call and response format between these sections, building the sense of dread that culminates in the addition of flittering synth line towards the latter stage of the track. On the flip, Beneath takes a more minimalistic approach, combining the complex, warped percussion he has become known for with a rock solid bassline, creating a monster of a club-tool in the process.
With 13 records now under their belt, Hotline has become one of Bristol’s, if not the UK’s, most exciting labels. The unpredictability of the releases – not to mention the old-school promotion style, combined with the sheer quality of the music and the stellar design work from Tape Echo studios makes it more than your average vinyl-only label. In packaging forward-thinking, bass driven club music in a form that harks back to the early days of rave, Hotline celebrates all that was good about the roots of this culture, without seeming as though it fetishises the past. It gives new-comers an authentic window into club music’s origins, while exposing the fresh musical ideas coming out of Bristol and beyond. While it’s not clear where the label may be heading next, you know you’ll be in for a treat when the hotline fires up.