The Story Of Odysee Records

The first six releases from Odysee Records helped launch artists like Source Direct and Photek as well as forging a sound that became the cutting edge of drum and bass in 1994/95. I caught up with Andy and Tilla (label founder and original member of Mirage) to discuss the Odysee story and the launch of their Bandcamp store.

Tilla, you originally launched the label in 1994 and immediately helped to ignite the drum and bass scene with releases by groundbreaking artists Photek and Source Direct. One can’t underestimate the influence they had on the scene and it’s impossible to imagine what music would sound like now without their mid-nineties experiments. Tell us how you set up Odysee and what was the ethos behind it?

Tilla – We were a group of friends. Phil & I went to college together and both had a love of early Rave music and tunes like Goldie’s “Terminator”. We were all getting our first set-ups from belt driven turntables to Technics (which were every DJ’s dream back then). Even though we were still very young, we knew exactly what style we liked and nobody seemed to be making music using the sounds that we thrived on, drum and bass with a techno influence. Jim & Phil had started to produce and we decided to release the tracks in the hope that other people would appreciate what we were making. Source Direct the label hadn’t been launched at that time so I created Odysee to put out the first Source Direct release. We were coming with a different sound to the mainly London style of drum and bass that people like Hype were playing, more experimental.

So Odysee released the first Source Direct record Jim & Phil made? How does that make you feel!?

Tilla – Yes, Jim and Rupert had done the Sounds of Life tracks like “Trust Me” but the first ever official Source Direct release is “Odysee 001”, which is a pretty weighty statement of intent when you look back at it!! In hindsight, I guess I do feel pretty proud to have presented that sound to the musical world, but at the time who was to know? We were just three seventeen year old mates making music together with very little idea how much of an impact that was going to have.

The Photek, Source Direct and Mirage releases on Odysee are all very distinctive. How did you develop that sound?

Tilla – Obviously we sent loads of demos to people but it was Rupert (Photek) who was the main person to step forward and support what we were trying to do. He recognised the raw ideas in the music and decided to help us develop the sound to a level that we all would be happy to put out. We were similar in that we were coming from a techno/rave angle. He helped us produce and engineer the music to a level where it could be released. Without his help and input we would have found it a lot harder to develop that freshness of sound. Rupert did a similar thing for Digital, the scene benefited from the fact that he was such a genuine and helpful guy. We owe him a lot for the way he helped us, I wish there were more people in the world of music like him! Willing to bring younger artists through, guide them and give them that knowledge. Plus his “Phaze 1” release for the label really helped us get played by more DJs, it was a brilliant tune!

Not many people could say Photek helped them personally develop their sound, Basement Phil says that he feels that Rupert is probably the scenes greatest of all time. What do you think?

Andy – I agree with Basement Phil entirely, Rupert was perhaps the greatest talent of the drum and bass scene. He was the complete package. Forward thinking engineering techniques, strong concepts and an incredible understanding on how to build a tapestry of sound. It’s taken people years to catch up with the effortless way he used to manipulate breaks.

There seems to be a real resurgence around the golden era of drum and bass right now, listening to these tracks you realise just how emotive and relevant they still are. Explain to me what it was like being a part of that magical time in the mid-nineties…

Tilla – It was really lovely to hear your music being played out. It seemed that with each release the scene was getting bigger, from the time of “Future London” and “Phaze 1” then the 2nd Source Direct release “Different Groove”. The timing was spot on. The Mirage releases came out at pretty much the height of the scene, there were nights at Heaven, Baggleys Studios, Speed at the Mars Bar, Metalheadz had nights all over the place from the Blue Note even to hiring out Equinox and ramming the place out!

Kemistry & Storm were playing us out, Bukem was supporting it and even Kiss FM had a prime-time slot for drum and bass with Grooverider & Fabio, Kenny Ken, Hype and the others all promoting the different styles. It was a fantastic vibe for the British scene, a golden era and looking back I don’t think you’ll ever see a time like it again.

Andy – In fact it was so big that the majors started to take interest and sign artists such as Goldie, Photek and Source Direct.

Tilla – We just made the music we liked so as artists and as a label it was very satisfying to see it do well. To be part of such a Golden Era was very special and a real achievement.

One thing I love about Odysee is the way the releases often featured a heavy amen or dark track on one side and a lighter jazzier song on the flip. It really shows how versatile the artists were and how expressive the form was. Can you please tell me your stand out tracks from both styles and why?

Tilla – That was a purposeful decision. Coming from a DJ’s perspective, you’d want a 12” that had an uplifting musical track on one side and a real dance floor banger on the other. They compliment each other! It was good to be able to show people who listened to the records that we could be expressive, that we could be versatile. There were several very different flavours of drum and bass at the time so it was good to be able to capture the two that we enjoyed the most. We liked both styles so we made both styles. Some DJ’s such as Fabio & Bukem were known for playing the more uplifting style of music so we were able to appeal to them on the one hand whilst simultaneously producing material that attracted DJ’s who played harder and darker.

It’s very hard to say which are the favourites as they are all special and they all represent a very personal moment or memory for me. If I did have to choose, on the harder side it would be “Feel My Dreams” for that sheer growl and angry rolling vibe. Of the more mellow tunes, I’m split between “Shimmer” which is an Amen classic, the way it tore it up at the time with that string that sends shivers up the spine was amazing and “Bewildered” which keeps you constantly searching for the next thing, it really does leave you bewildered! “No Tomorrow” and “Personal” are close too.

Andy – For me, I’m with Tilla 100% on “Feel My Dreams”. I pride myself on being able to blend tight, but that track is a vortex. A tornado that has swallowed me up and spat me out in the mix a few times, and that Apache break…. (shit!) Then of the sweeter B-side tracks, my pick of the bunch is “No Tomorrow” hands down. That haunting second riff with the melancholy guitar sound literally brings tears to my eyes. “Bewildered” would come a very close second.

Tilla – I love them all, it’s just that “Shimmer” was so early, and nobody was really tearing up the Amen in that way back then, it was really original. It was an important tune for us but it didn’t get picked up by that many people until a bit later.

Andy – DJ Crystl was probably one of the only other producers doing a similar thing.

I’ve been playing the Mirage tracks a lot since buying them and have to say they are up there with the Source Direct ones. Could you please tell us about how they were produced and where did you source those samples?

Tilla – Right well, we were listening to a lot of soundtracks and film music from composers like Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schiffrin. That 70’s sound especially caught our attention, we’d always keep our ears open even when sitting down with a few beers and a film! We’d hear a dark sound and all sit up like ‘“Wow did you hear that? Let’s put that over some beats!” It wasn’t just from one source though, there might be a dark string from Rollercoaster or Stiletto but then we’d bring in jazz samples from Quincy Jones, Roy Budd, Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis. In the same way that the Hip-Hop artists had sample libraries, we were also on the lookout for interesting sounds.

We were also listening to the techno stuff like FSOL, Black Dog and tracks on
Peacefrog. I don’t think there were many people doing that at the time, bringing in that combination of elements. We used an Atari ST as a midi controller. I used a Yamaha TG33 Sound module for strings and pads (like “Trust Me” by Sounds Of Life and the second string in “Shimmer”), and Jim had a Roland 750 sampler. Before that he had this Akai with about 8 seconds sampling time [8 Seconds?! Hahaha!] so we had to sample at 45rpm to squeeze the most out of it!

So who actually produced the Mirage tracks, was it Tilla and Source Direct? You don’t seem to get much credit for your contribution to the scene!

Andy – We need to be somewhat careful and respectful of the past in answering this one as it starts to move into some rather delicate history! Suffice to say that one of Tilla’s biggest skillsets (and I know this from having produced with him over the years) is his ability to find the perfect placement for abstract sounds. I can hear this very clearly across the Mirage releases in a way that wasn’t there before. You can’t go back in time and change any of the decisions that were made but it is important that people find out how crucial his contribution was. He’s far too humble to say it himself so I’ll do it on his behalf.

Andy, how did you join the label a few years later and what’s your vision going forward?

Andy – I was at school with both Jim & Phil and although we didn’t really hang out they knew about me. I was a heavy classical & jazz piano player and studied music right through school and beyond. I don’t think my face necessarily fitted at school because of my traditional music training but I was also known to be heavily into dance music, soul, hardcore, house then eventually jungle and drum and bass. It was more after we’d all left school. I was up North studying for a music degree and mixing loads of drum and bass at the time. I’d often bump into Jim & Phil in the holidays and they remembered my level of playing. They kept saying “We really need to get you in on some stuff” and I was very excited at the prospect. Unfortunately, by the time I was permanently back down South, they had parted company so in a way I came to the party too late. At this stage I met Tilla and started to produce. We really understood each other both as friends and as a musical team. To begin with, I just played stuff in like a session musician, but in the same way that Rupert and Jim had done before hand, Tilla showed me the ropes and gradually I began to become a producer in my own right with his guidance.

The irony is that even though a part of me is gutted that I missed out on those early Odysee releases, in hindsight I might well have hindered their vision. It took a while to shed some of my formal musical understanding and embrace that more experimental 70’s abstract sound that was the driving force behind the Odysee & Source Direct style. If you compare “Heaven Suite” (ODY7) with some of the later unreleased music such as “Bluescapes” and then into the Circuit Breaker series and beyond, you can clearly hear me go on that same musical voyage of discovery. As time went on, I embraced the twisted and dark sounds of Odysee more and more. It’s going to be vital moving forward to produce in a way that fits the Odysee sound, there’s always a danger that the new catalogue won’t relate to the old unless we are very careful!

You mention an unreleased track “Bluescapes”, this is what I want to hear from Odysee in 2017 and going forward, what’s going on with that and how did it come about?

Andy – “Bluescapes” was one of the unreleased tracks that came out of the studio between 2001 and 2003. At this time we had teamed up with Graham (who has been producing for Modern Urban Jazz in recent years). It is very much a personal piece, an album track not built for the dancefloor. As a jazz player I was keen to demonstrate that a drum and bass framework could be used as a backing for fully improvised music (I know that amongst others Herbie Hancock explored this on his “Future To Future” album.) I was really finding my way around the Akai 3000XL and various other stuff I had bought for the Odysee studio. I was also doing plenty of late night record shopping at Tower in Piccadilly Circus at a time when a load of OST’s from the 70’s were being re-released on 180gm Vinyl. I grabbed loads of the key pieces: Dollars, Deathwish, Mr Tibbs, Diamonds, The Black Windmill, Bullitt etc. and literally tapped into the same sample sources as Tilla, Jim & Phil had done before me.

I don’t think I would want to release it officially as it’s just the work of someone learning the ropes but I was very pleased with it at the time and I’m chuffed that it’s bringing a few people some listening pleasure years after the fact! Having said that, be assured that going forward a more mature take on that sound will be coming out of our lab. It’s certainly one of the styles that is very true to our ethos (think “Different Groove” or “Cold/Divine” by Hokusai for example).

The digital files on your Bandcamp store sound like they are from the original DATs, are all the tracks for sale on from original tapes? Are you having them remastered?

Andy – For the purposes of making the old catalogue available Bandcamp etc. they are all direct WAV’s from the original DAT tapes. It’s kind of nice to present them as they were originally mixed down in the studio. We will obviously re-master any tracks that we are re-pressing onto vinyl.

Tilla – They will sound cleaner as they’ve not been cut onto a lacquer. You do lose a bit of quality when you press onto vinyl.

What happened to the label, and why did everything go quiet for such a long time?

Andy – It was a difficult time for Odysee, basically, the label had lost all its key artists.

Tilla – The major labels saw the potential for this form of music, it worked so well in the context of film and computer games. Goldie got signed to FFRR which detracted from his Metalheadz stuff, although it was a huge success for the drum and bass scene and Rupert and Source Direct were releasing through Virgin rather than their own labels. I had Dillinja and Wax Doctor lined up to do something, Peshay was going to remix “Deep Rage”, but then everybody got picked up by the majors, so in a way their success was responsible for the label going silent.

Andy – Plus between 1998 and 2002 drum and bass went through a difficult patch. There were some exceptions, Ed Rush and Optical spring to mind, but there was this period of transition between the old and the new where the music had to regroup and find it’s voice. The UK Garage scene had exploded at that time which we really related to because it was almost a return to our soul and breakbeat roots of the late 80’s and early 90’s. By the time we started to work with Graham (Invincible), who is another really key member of the Odysee family, the sound and production techniques had really changed. VST’s enabled the productions to sound more integrated and polished. We took a while to embrace those new methods and it was hard to find a way to make our ideas work together. Suddenly we found ourselves in the post-millennium era of drum and bass where tech-step, neuro and liquid were the sounds emerging from what we had been making. It had gone up a notch production wise, people were designing their own beats now that were as convincing as the original catalogue of breaks. Bassline design became very important as well. Gone were the days when 909 Subs and Taurus synths (Reeces) were enough to carry a track! Then again maybe it’s just that the timing wasn’t right.

Tilla – It was a mixture of things. The scene went down a bit. Unless you were a really big DJ it was hard. Even some really well known names seemed to fade into obscurity or struggled, Hidden Agenda for example. It was hard to balance everyday life as well, to make music around your family commitments and personal life.

What was the reason behind re-launching Odysee and how did it come about?

Andy – Following my remix of “Future London” in 2011, I had been discussing re-launching Odysee with Tilla. I then randomly bumped into Jim about 3 years ago. In discovering that he was planning to bring back the Source Direct brand, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to help each other wherever our strategies ran side by side. This is not simply a re-forging of the old alliances as we both have our own thing going on, but at the same time there is plenty of common ground for us to take advantage of. Everyone is in a very different place now in terms of our lives but we are all pretty excited about the prospect of new productions coming out of the Odysee & Source Direct camps again. The scene is of course somewhat different, but I sense that it’s becoming very vibrant once more. The building momentum of nights such as Soul In Motion, Rupture and of course the recent victory concerning Fabric (phew!) is encouraging. Although my musical tastes over the years have encompassed many genres including soul, jazz, rave, deep house, garage and even disco, there is this very special emotion that producing drum and bass ignites in me. My own personal ‘Odysee’ has been quite a journey with many successes and disappointments in equal measure. I just have this feeling in my bones that now is the right time for the Odysee imprint to return.

I have read that you have been busy in the studio working on fresh material and new remixes of classic Odysee material including Phaze 1 by Photek. How do you make a label like this relevant in today’s scene and what are your biggest challenges?

Andy – There are several reasons for the remix series. Firstly, for me personally because I wasn’t there from the very beginning, it’s a chance to become a part of those early releases and to enter right into the bloodstream of Odysee. Secondly, as collectors items, the original 12’s go for a lot of money in the second hand marketplace and although I want to preserve the integrity of the original pressings I’m keen to give the heads, and of course the younger generation, a chance to revisit the music at the normal price! Most importantly however, I really love the emotive vibe of those early releases and I think these remixes have the chance to tap into that whilst presenting them in a fresh new 21st century style.

Tilla – 100%! It’s important not to forget those tunes and bringing them up to date without losing the feel and flavour of the originals is a brilliant thing.

Andy – The remixes are just one part of what we want to do. We’ve been stunned and really pleased by the response from people telling us how special the music was and still is for them. There are challenges with bringing back a well-respected label like Odysee though. Perhaps the biggest fear is that people won’t appreciate the new stuff as much as the old. We just have to stick to our guns and have that same ethos, the same blueprint. A hard relevant dancefloor tune with cinematic drama on one side then a more experimental musical piece on the other. Then hopefully we will get the response that we are longing for which will be something along the lines of “that’s exactly the sound I wanted to hear from Odysee in the modern era!”.

Tilla – It’s lovely that these remixes are getting done, but you can’t really compare the modern sound to that era. There’s something special about having been part of that unique moment in history so it is a challenge to recreate that vibe in any way.

Lastly how does you feel that being in my forties I still get chills listening to Just “For You”, “Deep Rage” and “Personal”?!

Andy – It’s really good to hear! In the world of online forums and now having the ability to talk to people all over the world, we’ve been delighted to discover people who love the Odysee sound. One of the benefits of the modern age is that the scene is more open and there are more opportunities. Drum and bass is now worldwide, the fact that it’s international opens everything up from DJ gigs through to discovering music and labels from all over the place. One of my favourite labels is Warm Communications, run by the lovely Heath Looney. It is run from the States but is accepted as part of the drum and bass family in the UK. You’ve got artists coming out of NZ, Russia… look at how artists such as Seba and Noisia have come through! The scene may be more fractured now with minimal, new school jump-up, neuro, drum funk, liquid are being very different subforms of drum and bass but it all has its place. It’s all valid and when any one of these styles draws in newcomers, there’s every chance they will discover your sound as well!

Tilla – It’s much more challenging as an artist to come with something cutting edge. We just have to do it right, hope for the timing to be right and hopefully get recognised. Sadly, it’s all too easy to go unnoticed in this day and age…