Wax: Messages from the Hub

First published in Wax magazine

Tom Roberts and Jamie Odell established Freerange records in 1996, originally as an outlet for Jamie’s own material.  Since those first releases the label has expanded to an enviable back catalogue, building a roster of artists and unleashing three well-regarded albums last year. Though partners in the business, Jamie focuses more on the music searching for new artists in addition to his own recording.  Tom, he says, “takes care of the hard stuff like the accounts and chasing people up for money.”  With the release of the debut album from Audiomontage on the horizon, Kingsley Marshall met up with the Jamie at his home in Ilford.

The label is elusive musically, encompassing a number of different forms and deftly avoiding any application of genre tag.  Jamie explains, “Genre was never really an issue.  There are no specific musical criteria that we look for, though I’d like to think that there is some form of common thread, generally the jazz influences and the fact that we’re using sample based technology and computers to actually put the music together.  We’ve retained a similar attitude since we first started the label, primarily because we never really had such an abundance of material that Freerange would be very organised in terms of scheduling.  It was a more a case that if I had enough material for an EP or someone had sent us something we really liked then we’d try and get it out.“

Continuing he says: “The other side of is that we’ve been difficult to pin down as although we’ve gained a little more direction recently, the general vibe of the label has really been defined by what is happening at the time.  Although perhaps some people would criticise us for that, when a new genre of music happens it seems obvious to me to be excited by that and want to embrace it in some way.  I consider my roots to be jazz and fusion, so whatever I’m doing will always have that sort of flavour but as an example in 1996 I was buying a lot of drum & bass and was using elements that in my own way though as time has moved on I’m more on a Jazzanova and People Records type of tip and that is then going to influence the Freerange label that way.”

The label made the transition to albums in 1999, Jamie delivering his own ‘Messages From The Hub’ as Jimpster and Yennah and Marasma bringing ‘Red Noise’ and ‘Signals’ respectively.   He describes what he feels these different artists bring to the label the distinction between the artists.  “Marasma focus more on song structure, with vocals and very abstract rhythms there are both drummers so are into messing around with time signatures and textures and stuff, Yennah lean more towards big arrangements while I’m essentially a keyboard player so you get loads of jazzy noodling on my own material!  What pulls us all together can’t really be put down to one specific thing, it’s more about the way we construct the tracks.”

The next major release for the label comes in the form of an album from Jamie’s Audiomontage project.  “While Jimpster uses a lot of live instrumentation in terms of the horns, bass and percussion Audiomontage sounds more like a solo project in that it is studio based with that eighties sounding electro production.   I’ve been DJ’ing a lot more myself, which has had an impact on the album in that it has more of club friendly record.  While I was working on the Jimpster LP I was living in Manchester and buying a lot of jazz and fusion, having moved to London I’m hearing what Giles Peterson and the Jazzanova guys are playing and the Jazzanova guys, and its that groovy, electronic jazz and house kind of stuff that I was keen to develop for the Audiomontage project.”

“Albums are important both in terms of allowing you to try different ideas but perhaps more importantly they serve to reflect and capture the space that you were in at the time it was made,” he says. “Audiomontage as a project is really about myself as a trainspotter, I’m intrigued by record sleeves and discovering who played with who on whatever album, or digging out a track and discovering you already have something by that artist under a different moniker.”

Having signed distribution deals in both Japan and the US, Freerange continues to move forward.  “Our sales have steadily risen in the UK and we’ve built a solid base of people buying the records as well as DJ support from people like Mixmaster Morris.  That, combined with the exposure in other countries has been really important in that it has given us a lot of confidence.  Unlike some labels where there is a network of musicians, we’re dotted all over the country working individually and it is that support which makes running a label feel worthwhile.”

That attention, though welcome, brings its own pressures.  “When people are playing your records and looking to the label, you become very careful not to drop any clangers and ensure that every release is as good as it can be.  Though there are a lot of labels that put out as much as they can as they have set monthly overheads and whatever we’re in a situation where we can survive, building it up slowly with the emphasis on quality as opposed to quality which explains why we have a relatively small back catalogue when compared to some other labels that have been running over thee years.”

Outside of the label, Tom & Jamie were responsible for acclaimed the Martian Arts nights held at Fluid in Farringdon. He explains how they came about.  “When I was in Manchester I ran a night called Jimpster Jam Sessions at a club called the Phoenix with a guy called Matt Thompson.  What we’d do is have the band I usually use for the Jimpster material, mixed with decks and everything and have five or six hours of live music.  We wanted to do something similar in London, and had a couple of live nights down at Fluid though realised there wasn’t really the sound or type of space to do what we had been doing in Manchester and it kind of developed a full on dancing sweatbox where we invited people we respected down to play.  The last few have been rammed, especially since Fabric opened down the road and though we haven’t done one for a while we’re hoping to change it to a Saturday night soon.”

About Kingsley Marshall

Kingsley Marshall is Head of Film at the CILECT accredited School of Film & Television based within Falmouth University in the UK. The subject area consists of 28 staff working with 300 undergraduates studying the Skillset accredited BA (Hons) Film degree, supplemented by a postgraduate community studying from MA level through to PhD. Kingsley’s research and practice primarily orientates around the use of sound (including music and effects) in cinema and television, and the production of short and micro-budget feature films. He executive produced Wilderness (Director: Justin John Doherty, 2017) which won 12 awards at 16 international film festivals since making its premiere at Cinequest. In 2018 he co-produced with Neil Fox the short HP Lovecraft adaptation Backwoods (Director: Ryan Mackfall, 2018), beginning its festival journey in 2019. Kingsley began work as composer on a film project with director Mark Jenkin and production company Early Day Films. The film completed principal photography in Autumn 2018, and is currently in post production. For over twenty years he has worked as a journalist, interviewing filmmakers, musicians, and designers for over 30 publications and broadcasters worldwide, written album sleeve notes and biographies for over 100 artists, and contributed to anthologies on hip hop and soul. He can be found on Twitter as @kingsleydc