Various - BBE: 15 Years of Real Music for Real People

Image For Various - BBE: 15 Years of Real Music for Real People

Amid a fast-food music industry churning out sloppy releases quicker than a Greek politician churning out excuses, it’s reassuring to know some independent labels are still eschewing gimmicks and the quick buck in favour of taking the time to release real music, even it means they’re Barely Breaking Even as a result.

But that’s exactly what London’s BBE has been doing for 15 years, and why it has long been one of my favourite labels; its diverse output throughout this time has cemented its reputation among more discerning music lovers as a proud and uncompromising purveyor of ‘Real Music For Real People’.

It’s this tagline that reflects BBE’s commitment to quality, a commitment that has never wavered despite the almost total transformation of the wider music industry around it. This transformation has claimed countless other well-loved but (arguably) poorly-run and cash-strapped independent labels. But not BBE.

When you look at the label’s back catalogue, it’s perhaps easy to see why it’s a survivor. It’s not hyperbole to say BBE can lay claim to releasing some of the most influential, adventurous and enduring music – electronic-based or otherwise – of the past 15 years. Masters at Work, Dimitri From Paris, Pete Rock, Gilles Peterson, Henrik Schwarz, Osunlade, John Morales, DJ Spinna, Robert Strauss and Georg Levin have all dropped cuts on the label, and that’s just a drop in the bucket of their catalogue.

In 2012, BBE continues to stick to its guns, releasing a mixture of forward-facing club cuts as well as forgotten disco classics of yesteryear (Al Kent’s Disco Demands being the latest must-have release), melodic house, hip hop, jazz, soul and broken-beat releases. Such quality is testament both to BBE’s A&R efforts, and to the label’s standing with chin-stroking music lovers who not only refuse the commercialized, Auto-tuned dross that’s routinely served up as ‘quality music’ these days, but who are still happy to actually pay for a quality product.

BBE remains a label for the purists. It still presses vinyl. It still puts thought, and love, into matching a release’s cover art with its musical vibe, even if its website is today increasingly offering digital WAV downloads as an alternative. And now, on its absolutely fantastic 15th anniversary compilation – 15 Years of Real Music for Real People – it demonstrates over two CDs and 71 tracks that quality music can still move bodies — and units — and perhaps even make a little money as a result.

Londoner Chris Read (of Substance and Classic Material fame) compiled this anniversary compilation, and he has done a standup job. It must be said though — and this is most certainly not intended to take anything away from his mixing effort — that it’s not surprising given the wealth of music available to him; 15 years of brilliant material simply doesn’t lie.

The legendary Pete Rock and DJ Vadim feature heavily on CD1. Bouncey beats and smoked-out lyrical stylings abound as the good mood builds courtesy of tracks by Roy Ayers, Osunlade and Aaron Jerome (perhaps better known as SBTRKT), the latter’s Late Night Mission (The Bump) featuring Yungun being the perfect party starter. Slakah The Beatchild brings CD One to a suitably-uplifting close as he recalls the days of De La Soul, SWV et al with the laid-back Enjoy Ya Self.

Australia’s own Katalyst also gets a look in via his brilliant How Bout Us featuring Steve Spacek, while Dedicated featuring the searching rap of Diverse, opens CD Two. We’re treated to several tracks by ‘The Magnificent’ DJ Jazzy Jeff on the second disc, meaning plenty of scratching and timely samples. Philadelphia soul-boy Vikter Duplaix also features, as does the late, great Detroit producer Jay Dee (aka J Dilla), whose music lives on.

I could go on and on (and on), but the tracklist speaks for itself. From more recent label releases to classics by legendary New York hip hop and rap producer Marley Marl, BBE’s 15th anniversary compilation is unsurprisingly brilliant, a fine reflection of one of the little-labels-that-could, would, and keeps its focus on real music for real people. A must-have release; five stars.

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