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Critical: X Marks The Spot

Critical: X Marks The Spot

10 years is a long time in any game, but in the music industry it’s pretty much medal-worthy. With such an abundance of tight competition, you have to be on your A-game from the debut release onwards to generate a truly loyal following.

It’s safe to say Kasra’s Critical brand has done this. And it all started an astonishing 10 years ago. For us this anniversary came out of nowhere. And it seems it did for Kasra, too. To celebrate he’s curated a stunning collection of tunes for this week’s Critical X collection. But it wasn’t easy; with a back catalogue of over 80 releases he was tasked with unenviable job of picking just 11 highlights. At points he wasn’t even sure if he was doing the right thing…   

“It’s weird doing this,” he admits. “I’ve not told anyone this but when I realised we were hitting the 10 year mark I wasn’t sure about doing anything to celebrate. In electronic music you always feel that it should be about progression, looking forward and not looking back. But I did it for anyone who’s new to the label… it’s a nice way to introduce people to our back catalogue and give them the opportunity to dig a bit deeper. But to me it’s about what’s coming.  The collection represents the past, present and, most importantly, the future. I really don’t want to get bogged down into ‘this is how we used to do it’ thing.”

With eyes firmly set on the future, Critical X isn’t just a walloping trip down memory lane. As well as early highlights such as Mathematics’ rim-shot-slapping Blackjack, Break & Silent Witness’s skankwise Dialling Out and Calibre’s stripped back soul roller Barca, there’s a clutch of brand new exclusives including Emperor’s Contaminant, a sizzling VIP of Kasra and S.P.Y’s Surface and a firing Enei remix of June Miller’s Walls Of Jericho. Elevating it well above mere ‘retrospective’ status, these future fusions ensure the release a place in all Critical fans’ collections.

“I’m inspired to be a label that people see as buy on sight,” explains Kasra. “They won’t question who it’s by, because they trust the label. A lot of people have told me Critical is like that. Quality is in the eye of the consumer, of course. One person’s anthem is another person’s bargain bin. I guess the whole challenge is trying to play along a certain line but be able to divert from it when appropriate. But not diverting from it too much. Does that make sense?”

It does make sense: consistency with a slight smidgeon of unpredictability is the order of the day. And while Kasra’s far more enthusiastic about future-gazing, it’s important to understand where he’s come from to understand this approach. Considering how solid his brand is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one influence was Ram Records. A label that was celebrating their own 10th birthday when Kasra first established Critical.

“Look at them!” he laughs. “They’re bigger now than ever and they’re 20 years old. That’s incredible. That’s testament to keeping on top of not resting on your laurels and not looking back.”

When asked if he sees Critical developing to the size of Ram he explains that’s not what it’s all about… “If I tried to focus on being the next Ram, we wouldn’t be being Critical,” he says. “Ram’s just an inspiration. Speed Of Sound and Ram Trilogy releases were huge for me; they were key reference points. They were massive, they were dancefloor but you could listen to them at home. That’s something I reference to this day – when it sounds as good at home as it does that it does on the floor, that’s when you’ve got a big release.”

Just one buzz on Enei’s Machines album, or Sabre, Stay & Halogenix’s HUGE Oblique suggests a job well done: Critical releases do indeed resonate with both dancefloor and headphone prowess. Naturally Kasra puts this down to his artist stronghold, stating without them Critical “would be nothing”. But a fancy garage of purring motors ain’t nothing without a driver, and it’s Kasra’s job to guide them on their journey, crash-free.

As for the future, we’ve been told to expect more of the same exciting material in 2013. In a classic D&B manoeuvre he’s keeping his cards close to his chest on exactly what to expect but if this year’s been anything to go by then it’s going to be another vintage. In the meantime we conclude with two tunes that got away; with such a broad repertoire of music stashed in the Critical vaults, there were many massive tracks that narrowly missed a sweet spot on Critical X. These are two of our many favourites…

Spectrasoul – Alibi (Break Remix)

Listen and download. 

Calibre – Rockafella

Listen and download.  

Here’s the next 10 years. Critical X is out now. Listen and download.

After some Critical vibes this NYE? Then check this out. Kasra, Rockwell, Cyantific, Jubei and Vicious Circle at a secret London location? Yes please!

Drum&BassArena Editor: Dave Jenkins has documented beats for over 15 years working with the likes of UKF, Mixmag, DJ Mag, iDJ, Bandcamp, Resident Advisor, Radio 1 Xtra and many more.