Of all the umbrella terms in electronic music, ‘bass music’ might be the most slippery and hard to pin down. But if you’re up for digging into bass music’s modern mutations, Irish label Rua Sound is a go-to hub for explorations in jungle, drum & bass, grime, footwork and hip-hop, all routed in soundsystem culture.
Even before 2020, Rua Sound — and its jungle sub-label Foxy Jangle — was a remote concern, run by Irish DJs and promoters Rob ‘DC’ Flynn and Cormac ‘Welfare’ McMahon between Ireland, Belgium, England and Vietnam since 2016. They release vinyl EPs of “high velocity electronic music aimed squarely at the dancefloor”, so it was tough getting through last year without their records wrecking the gaff in clubs all over Ireland, the UK and further afield.
Still, the pair put out three original vinyl EPs and a Welfare remix project last year, and the label celebrates the fifth anniversary of its first release this week, so I caught up with Rob for deeper dive into the Rua sound, with a personal top 10 primer by Rob himself — as well as a Spotify playlist.
You’d been DJing and promoting for pushing on a decade before setting up Rua Sound, how did you end up starting a label?
Cormac and I were living together in 2012 in Galway briefly, and we were both sort of floating musically and looking for something new to dive into after the heat had really gone out of the dubstep thing. It was a strange time.
I then moved to Dublin, Norway, then Belgium, and a couple of years later I came back to Ireland to play a gig and met up with Cormac. We’d both gotten into all this amazingly fresh stuff that people like Om Unit and Fracture were doing, as well as lots of fresh jungle from the Green Bay Wax guys etc, and heaps of footwork. There was a kind of new energy about the whole thing — it was great.
Anyway, Cormac told me that he was thinking of getting a label off the ground, and he’d something lined up with Sully, who we’d both been massive fans of since way back — he was a really cult hero of ours.
Some stuff happened in 2015 which made me reassess some things, and I asked Cormac if he needed any help pulling the whole thing together. That was it really. We got a distro deal lined up and put the Sully 12” out in January 2016.
We’re pretty different people and have different skill sets, but we’ve been doing stuff together for the whole time, so we work together really well. We also both move around quite a bit (Cormac’s currently in Vietnam; I’m in the UK now) and have quite a few projects on the go, which is a challenge. But after five years of that, we’ve figured out processes for working in different time zones etc, and probably speak nearly every day, which is great — having projects to work on with your best mates is a real joy.
“High-velocity electronic music aimed squarely at the dancefloor” — it’s a very specific mission statement — did you always just want to release tracks and EPs for DJs to play?
Yeah, when we set out we had a few iterations of planning documents to try and nail down a common direction and get our thoughts out — that tagline was the result of a few iterations.
We’re both DJs and we both buy vinyl for playing out, so we want to put out music for DJs like us. We want to put stuff out that challenges people a bit, but at same time is definitely for people to dance to, so we’re all about trying to find the ground in between those two.
We’ve also been almost entirely focused on 160+ BPM music so far. Rua tracks are pretty bass heavy also — that’s always been important for us. We keep the general direction of the label under constant review to be honest, and talk about what we want to do with it a lot, and generally we’re quite open to different styles and tempos.
It’s been EPs so far — have you any ambitions to start releasing albums?
In some ways music trends have sped up over the last decade, and in some ways they’ve slowed down. I think we still see ourselves in the mode of wanted to get stuff out at a reasonable pace for playing out, and that lends more towards EPs. Everything we’ve put out to date has been on vinyl (as well as digital), so there’s a bit of a lag built in there already.
We’ve talked to a couple of our artists about LPs though, and I could see us doing something like in the future. Particularly as we, ourselves, get older. No plans right now, but it sort of makes sense in my head that the music would lean that direction at some point.
Sound system culture seems to inform everything you do in music, even from the days of the Dubculture nights in Galway in the last decade. How important has that been in the evolution of the label? Loads of the releases still lean into the dub/dancehall side of jungle and bass music.
Yeah its central really. As DJs, we’re both very much from that tradition, the ‘hardcore continuum’ of bass heavy music in its entirety. The soundsystem thing was really quite strong in Galway when we were starting out, with the Rootical Soundsystem there, and the soundsystem our mate Steve Concannon used to run was such a central part of the dubstep nights we used to run. Cormac has been running sound for a good few years, and started Ireland’s only soundsystem festival also. So yeah, the question is always there even in 2020: ‘What will this sound like on a rig?’
I’m into lots of other kinds of music, but everything on the label is really produced and engineered for playing on big soundsystems, and I don’t expect that will ever change really. We really identify with that, and I think the label is really an expression of that identity, if that doesn’t sound too silly.
Could you talk a little but about why you started Foxy Jangle — do you think jungle is a proper standalone scene that’s outside your usual ‘bass music’ umbrella?
We’re both really into jungle and we were getting sent a lot of really great stuff shortly after starting the label. We wanted to put it out, but that kind of more classic jungle sound didn’t quite fit on the direction we were going with Rua Sound at the time so we wanted to give it a bit of space.
I remember we were joking about it after playing in Outlook in 2016, and I said we should call it Foxy Jungle, because a ‘madra rua’ in Irish is a fox — which is where the logo comes from. Cormac said call it Foxy Jangle, and he’s in — it gave it a bit of an Irish stamp to it. We sort of already knew who we wanted on the first three releases — Kid Lib, Sully, and Tim Reaper — so we kind of just rolled them out and went from there.
It’s been such a fun series to work on, and we’ve had original old-school marker work from Dublin graff artist Cisto for the covers of each one, which has really made them stand apart. We even made one cover from a 4 metre high piece he did down a Dublin alleyway last year which was a bit special.
What are you looking for in a Rua/Foxy release?
It needs to do something different. I kind of want to be challenged a bit by stuff. People have been chopping breaks for coming on 30 years now so if you’re going to come to us with an Amen track you probably need to think about that context.
I think at the moment we’re looking at darker releases, but that’s probably more a subconscious thing because of, yknow, the global pandemic etc. Two years ago, there was probably more colour in the stuff we were looking at.
How do you go about working with artists? What’s the ratio of approaching acts or sifting through demos/links now that the label is more established?
Roughly two-thirds of the releases come from artists we are big fans of and approach, but we get sent a huge amount of stuff also. It’s a bit of work to get through sometimes, but mostly I love it — it’s a bit like digging around in some dust filled basement of second-hand records, finding a gem is such a kick. Even the stuff we don’t sign, if it’s roughly in the ballpark of what we’re doing with the label then it’s good to make that connection — they’re usually like minded people and we have a connection through the music, so we try to get back to everyone.
It does bug me when people send us stuff that clearly doesn’t fit the label at all and they haven’t taken the time to figure that out. We have different approaches for different artists then, some people like a lot of feedback and suggestions, others less so, and you work through that.
How has Bandcamp reshaped your thinking about music distribution?
Interesting question and I could go one for hours about this. In one sense it’s just part of the social media platform landscape, with some platforms waxing and waning in influence over time. But it’s much more than that also as it’s about a third of our sales at this point, which is huge. We need to plan our entire promo campaigns for releases around the Bandcamp cycle, thinking about what tracks go up as instant grats, and when the next Bandcamp Friday falls. The economics of selling on Bandcamp are better than other platforms, so that’s definitely helped keep the whole thing ticking over.
And Bandcamp have been great from a labels perspective compared to streaming platforms, who don’t really factor in independent labels much into their model.
On a similar note, how has 2020 forced you to rethink the way a label can operate?
A bit — but really we always have operated remotely, so no change there. Trying to move releases through our supply chain has definitely been harder — the plants have really struggled to keep up due to COVID. Our distributors, Kudos, have done a great job keeping up with everything despite all the disruptions, so a shout out to them.
I have the impression that there was a lot more noise in the second half of the year also, so rolling out promo campaigns became a bit more of a challenge. We’ve had to be conscious of the situation our artists find themselves in, and trying to make sure we’re a positive effect in that regard is important.
Has it been a struggle putting out vinyl EPs this year knowing DJs can’t really play them properly?
Its definitely been a shame, but I’ve tried not to let it bother me and just get on with it. We put out three records in 2020 and the reaction to each of them was really great, so I think people are just happy to at least still have a connection to music. Even if you can’t go to a club, it’s a bit like following a TV show — you just want to see what happens next and get a buzz off that.
For example — I’m sitting here listening to the new Paradox record which was just announced on Sneaker Social Club — didn’t see this one coming! As the fella says: Hardcore will never die.
Any artists or releases you have planned for 2021?
We should have the seventh installment of our Foxy Jangle series out in March, which is a double-A side and sounding really heavy. We’re just wrapping up artwork for that at the moment.
Then the next Rua Sound should be out by early summer. And then there are 2-3 other releases which are pretty developed… we’ve found a nice rhythm for ourselves now as we enter year six…
Starter for 10 — Rob Flynn’s Rua Sound / Foxy Jangle primer
TMSV — Fission Chips (RUA002)
I love this track. The 85 bpm halftime thing got a bit over-done in recent years, but this one still sounds fresh. Its got this g-funk, gangster romance thing that I really love. It was the first thing we did with TMSV also, who’s been a mate since then.
Sully — 368ft High & Rising (FOXY2)
Everything Sully does is special. He made this one especially for us as a b-side to Soundboy, Don’t Push Your Luck, which was originally a jungle war-dub a couple of years previous. Soundboy was a huge track, but this one really makes the 12” for me – it’s R&B jungle groove in the vein of the Tom & Jerry series on Reinforced. It just rolls out.
Tim Reaper — Fridge Magnets (FOXY3)
Another b-side, and one I wasn’t so sure about at first. I draw for this regularly still though — it’s a total Amen apocalypse smasher from Tim that works in the dance, or on your headphones, eyes closed as the breaks wash over you.
Comma – Gasworks (Itoa remix) (RUA007)
I’m such a big fan of Itoa’s music, and he really turned in a killer remix for us here. He engineers really interesting sounds that really ping off your ear in a pleasurable way. He goes really off-piste with rhythms, and works a bit of tension into tracks, and they’re still very dancefloor friendly. He’s a top fella also and has since become a mate, so yeah — big up Itoa.
Touchy Subject – The General (RUA008)
This is the title track off the second EP Touchy made for us, and it’s a pure emotive goosebumps affair with an iconic vocal from Rankin Dread. Steve’s such a talented guy, he just knocks out music like it’s nothing. I think he made this one in an afternoon, it’s a fairly simple composition and it just works.
Lynch Kingsley – Capricorn (FOXY5)
Another artist we’ve had on the label twice, we’re massive fans of Lynch’s music. He takes such an artistic approach to his craft, which I really respect. I remember telling him I was totally worn out from listening to this track, and he was delighted because that was exactly what he was going for – to leave the listener completely wrecked from the relentlessness of his composition.
Sun People – These Days (RUA009)
Sun People made this great EP for us in 2019 with all these great hybrid rhythms. The title track, ‘These Days’, is, I think, his best work and I’m really delighted we got this on the label.
Arcane – Temples (RUA011)
Arcane sort of came out of nowhere the production skills of someone who’d been releasing music for decades. On this track ‘Temples’, he really goes in in true drumfunk style. Banger.
San – Half In (RUA010)
Another producer we’re so so excited about — San is the deathly jungle alias of a techno producer I’m really into. His sound design and breakbeat choppage are up there with the best in the game. This track is my fave on the EP and it’s incredibly unnerving — which just fits the moment right now. You’ll be hearing a lot more about San over the coming years, trust.