I've been at Born and Bred festival this weekend just gone. I spent large swathes of the weekend not knowing what was going on, and deserted by 2 o'clock on Sunday, I figured in the very least, I'd stay for the "Swamp81 Allstars" set. I did just that, and whilst on my own I had time to contemplate: is Swamp81 the best underground label of all time? I think they might well be. Here's why.
If you have any idea who Swamp81 are, you'll know that they kinda have no idea who they are too. They are a hotch potch of artists from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of sounds in their arsenal, and the Allstars set at Born and Bred typified this. Benton, the label's young buck and down tempo jungle extraordinaire kicked off the back to backs with his Swamp colleages. Who was next? Klose One, the man at the label responsible for pulling the house and garage influence into a crew who 10 years ago were widely recognised as pioneering the dubstep sound. Who else went B2B? Tech-leaning Mickey Pearce alongside Cousin. As you read this you'll realise that the label has a total aptitude towards lining up artists that are so unique, yet so characteristic of the label. By not being pigeonholed in one genre, its artists can flourish free of stereotype and critique. Equally when they all stand side by side, they all recognise that they are both individuals and part of a team of misfits. To my mind, only one other label in underground music gets anywhere near close to this, and that is Exit Records. Without splitting the atom, DBridge knows what he's doing.
When I first truly immersed myself in underground electronic music, I quickly understood that Swamp81 personified one end of the "host vs MC" debate. The label's most prominent MCs, Chunky and Jonny Banger, are kings of hosting - their infrequent yet laconic spoken word is a subtle reminder that the DJ is the ringmaster, not the MC. This underplaying of their responsibility is what actually builds their credibility. Compare that with the MCing duties of the seemingly unfathomable amount of jump up MCs that try to steal the show with their half baked rhymes and frankly terrible raps, and you quickly realise who are the most skilful of the lot. It's no wonder that Loefah is so selective over his MCs.
Every great label has a man behind it, there's no two ways about it. With Metalheadz there is Goldie, with Exit there is DBridge. Swamp81's stewardship lies with Loefah, a man who's been around the block. With an incomparable background in dubstep, he represents everything a label boss should. At Born and Bred, he played no part in his label Allstars set. Instead, he smoked copious fags in full view, but critically not front of stage; he elected to play no part in that particular situation (albeit he was playing a arguably bigger set with Fabio later that day). Compare that with other label bosses who make themselves the centre of attention and you realise that the best label bosses know it's the people they sign and employ that make their label tick, not their own ego.
Whether you're into drum and bass, house techno, garage or fucking punk music, if you have any interest in how underground record labels ought to work as brands, look no further than to Swamp81. To my mind, the reasons above combine to create the textbook example of underground record labels.