Well, Well, Well…
Big Dada 10 Year Anniversary article with Will Ashon, founder of Big Dada by Huwston.
Ten years ago music journalist Will Ashon decided with Pete Quicke (General Manager of Ninja Tune) to spawn a side arm to the groundbreaking label’s already boundary-pushing roster. A dedicated Hip Hop label to focus on the vocal offerings the label was experimenting with, which would quickly overshadow its other side-arm N-Tone, and in some people’s eyes, become more consistent than its parent.
Some of the labels’ earliest offerings were weird, brash British art forms that no one outside of Mother England would understand. It could be argued that even the locals didn’t get it, however, from the get-go, Ashon’s motif was clear, and it was entirely evident with releases like Saul Williams Elohim 12”. Now the label has released a 2CD and DVD package that documents it all, from the cheeky local boys to their weird and wonderful cross Atlantic counterparts like Spank Rock and Diplo. Will Ashon explains how it all began:
“This was the mid nineties when the mainstream was an all time low. It was a real Puff Daddy era and there was a lot of exciting stuff coming from the New York underground scene at that time and more generally, most of the good stuff I was getting was cassettes or white labels that I would review and then I would get letters from people saying ‘why the fuck are you review records I can’t get?’ That was sort of the starting point,’ he notes.
‘Some of the best music I was getting as a journalist didn’t seem to be available to people.”
Locally, a UK Hip Hop scene had been developing but Big Dada seems to be the one who pushed it in to the face of the world.
‘There was stuff coming out – white labels and things, but it was hard for any one to break through. It tended to be done at a small level. There was more stuff that was being made than was being sold,’ he says. ‘The scene was quite insular – that was the audience it was interested, so I guess it was sort of lacking in ambition. There was Low Life, Sound and Money before we started (where Roots Manuva and Blak Twang started)… which was an important influence on Big Dada.’
In Roots Manuva the label had a sort of knight in shining armour amongst the misfits (although Juice Aleem has been like a totem pole for the label spearheading several projects) but even still, the label could jump from sample based stuff to pre-grime era electronics and everything in between. And then came Spank Rock.Is Will Ashon the trend picker?
‘To be honest with you I’m really dumb with those sort of things, I get a good demo or I hear a good band and I think ‘fuck I wanna do this.’ Certainly with Spank Rock there was never the idea that there would be this whole new scene coming from around this. Diplo gave me this demo and told me it was from ‘this kid who comes to the club and he’s a cool looking guy, looks like the black Mick Jagger’ and I heard it and said ‘fuck this is amazing!’
Having sent them a contract within a week it’s interesting to note Big Dada did not jump on the Baltimore bandwagon, with Ashon sighting Yoyoyo as the best thing to come out of the scene, quite like clouDEAD as the best to come out of the Anticon scene years before.
‘A trend is an example of where you’ve got something right and people say ‘oh well, we can make some money off of this,’ says Ashon, quite rightly.
We quickly chat about those French weirdos TTC, who, for a group who don’t speak English and have midgets and women copping slaps and guys breaking their legs in b-boy competitions in their videoclips, actually sell good units! But what Big Dada interview would not be complete without a word on the labels’ biggest hit, Witness?
‘I thought it was a great track but I’ve thought all kinds of tracks were great tracks that have sold nothing. It’s a funny one Witness because at the time – it’s a bit like one of those gigs that everyone claims they were at – everyone claims that when they heard it they knew it was a massive hit but it wasn’t when it came out. It’s just continued to be played and sell since six years now.’
And is Rodney still mad?
‘He’s never been mad, he’s still bad,’ he says, almost protectively, with a hint of cheekiness. ‘He’s on great form actually and we may have a new album from his first half of next year.’
Big Dada: one hope, one quest.