The story of Warp is now a thing of legend. Born out in Sheffield’s FON record shop by store workers Steve Beckett and the late Rob Mitchell, alongside record producer Robert Gordon. Originally named Warped, it was shortened when the trio discovered it was difficult to distinguish over the phone. Like any new label, they had some luck in amongst some great tracks. WAP1 was a Gordon produced effort from The Forgemasters – who’s other componant parts; Sean Maher and Winston Hazel popped up in later Warp releases as part of The Step and Tuff Little Unit, both featured in the playlist. The 500 pressing they had made up was financed famously by an Enterprise Allowance grant, and the follow up – Dextrous by Nightmares on Wax, sold 30.000. Within a handful of releases, mostly in iconic purple sleeves designed by The Designers Republic, they were bothering the charts, and becoming the stuff of legend.
We’ve focused on the early sound of Warp, the first five years in fact – as the label found its feet, incorporated bleep techno, lost Robert Gordon who acrimoniously left in 1991, and laid the seeds for its elevation as one of the iconic indie labels. With the exception of the aforementioned Forgemasters label opener – A track with no name, we’ve tried to avoid all the obvious tracks so it makes for an absorbing listen. Maybe Rare is the wrong word, just less well known.
Track with no name is this almost acidy affair that trips over itself, with handclaps either side of tinny percussive sounds and shards of synths, and Hazels The Step follows a similar pattern, with its classic house vocals courtesy of Sarah Jay (the group also featured Sweet Exorcists Richard Barratt) . In contrast DJ Mink, along with Nottingham rap crew The K.I.D. and Carruthers, let the flow go with some classic and fairly funky Hip-Hop.
Tuff Little Unit and ex-Hacienda DJ Paul Fitzpatrick under the guise of Kid Unknown contribute a couple of turn of the 90s club classics, the latter sounding like a real club staple from that era, and Huddersfield’s Jaco gives us something a whole lot more icy, but not less groovy. Techno trio Chris Mellor (Coco), Lene Stokes (Steel), and Craig Woodrow (Lovebomb) appear with their single Feel it, an acidy, edgy and stripped back number while duo Rhythm Invention contribute the house / acid house of Can’t Take it, which bumps and grinds and twists and morphs as it goes.
Wildplanet, still a duo in their Warp releases of Simon J. Hartley and Richie Brook (the former continuing in solo guise after moving labels) released Electron (WAP 22) in 1992, and its this hard edged, funky house workout thats a real earworm, and Nottingham free party crews DIY released Hothead a year later, which is minimal techno, but with this funky feel to it, especially when the bassline kicks in. In between it Eternal’s brilliant mind odyssey will keep you firmly on the dancefloor, Eternal being Australian house producer Mark James.
Slumberland from Solitaire Gee has that sound of a classic house tune, bubbling away with vocal snatches and this blocky bass sound. The pair, John Gilpin & Raz Shamshad, ran Fourth Wave records in Huddersfield (a regular haunt of mine in my years at university in the town) and also contributed to the Warp catalogue as part of the already mentioned Jaco, singularly as Lex Loofah and Resoraz and its the latter that follows on with the bubbling Art of Time, while Lex Loofah’s Freaky Deaky is a slow burning, gradually unfurling slab of lovable house, complete with soulful vocal cut up.
Segueing the two is Fracture from Seefeel with its slightly industrial overtones and minimal house stylings, and the playlist ends back in Huddersfield at the door of Gilpin and Shamshad, this time under their Black Mojo alias.
Nowadays of course, Warp is a different beast altogether, but these are the tunes that built it, in some small way.
Check it out, here