Feature: Ryan Hunn

Picture of Ryan Hunn

Interview by Marc Kets

A 22 year-old who spends too much on records and not enough on bills, Ryan Hunn started working for Manchester record labels Players and Estate Recordings at the age of 19, starting with jobs that no-one else wanted to do. Throughout this time Ryan did the odd bit of work at gigs for Mr. Scruff and RSL before being asked to produce a radio show, which was started to promote the newly founded sister label, Vox Pop 45s. The show grew rapidly and was broadcast worldwide on five internet channels and featured guests including Quantic, Mr. Scruff, Monk One and DJ Emskee, Natural Self, Jon Kennedy, Rob Luis, Nostalgia 77, Andy Votel, Hugo Mendez and Miles Cleret, Treva Whateva and many more. Remember the name because he may just be starting to write his own chapter in the history of music in Manchester but with a knowledge of music that belies his age and the ability to challenge and entertain dance floors in equal measures all over the country the future is looking very promising for this jazz maverick.

Let’s start at the beginning of your jazz adventures. You were 19 and still into indie music…

Yeah, I was working at Revolution and there was a guy I met who was a DJ and he played loads of hip hop and I got into it through that. It was the first time that I had ever listened to anything properly apart from indie and from there I started getting into a wide variety of other music really. I also started buying loads of records at this point.

When did you start working for Vox Pop?

It was about a year later in my second year at university. I actually started working for RSL’s label Players, which was a bit of pot luck. I wrote to them asking if I could do a bit of work experience, this wasn’t for university or anything but was purely off my own back. I met up with Tim who ran the label and he said to come in and have a chat, and I started working for the label from there on in really. At the time RSL were pretty big, Wesley Music had just come out and smashed it and The Mast was just about to come out. Tim was also running Estate Recordings, which put out all the Broke ‘n English stuff and from there I started getting work with Mr. Scruff and I went on tour with him doing some rigging and working on the tea shop etc. Tim and Vox Pop were in the process of setting up a label re-issuing old rare funk and soul stuff and I got involved with it and also started working in the shop, This was just amazing, feeding off the knowledge of the guys who worked there and that’s kind of how it has all been really, it’s just built itself gradually over a fairly short period of time.

Everyday must have been like Christmas come early when the guys in Vox Pop pulled out tunes for you…

Yeah definitely, especially when it was on Oldham Street. They have amazing knowledge those guys, from soul to disco to reggae to psych and they’re really keen to impart their knowledge onto a young’un like myself. They were very keen to teach me about certain records and were very excited that someone was interested in all these weird and wonderful tunes. It was almost as if they were pushing me into the right direction to a certain degree. I was always worried that I was pissing them off by asking them what the name of every record was but they didn’t mind.

I’m sure that they’re the way how you are probably in that when someone asks them about a record that it can almost be cathartic for them to share their passion with someone else.

Yeah there are people like us who are quite into music and seek records out whereas 90% of people simply don't. People like Scruff are lucky enough to play this music to a large audience and people buzz off it, but people like us aren’t in the same position, so when someone asks us about a piece of music you just want to talk at them for ages. I remember once this girl came up to me when I was djing and asked me about a record and I ended up giving her a thirty minute ‘lecture’ about music just because she seemed vaguely interested. She probably went off and had a stiff drink afterwards.

You must be aware of how fortunate you are in that after a year of starting to buy records you became heavily involved in a scene that was right where you wanted to be.

I was lucky to be hanging out with people like Scruff, Jon K, Kelvin and the Vox Pop guys; meeting people like Votel, Adam Leaver, Quantic etc, who were nice enough to put me onto a wide variety of stuff. It was very heavy being introduced to such a huge range of stuff in such a short period of time. It did give me a weird sense of thinking that I had been wasting so much time listening to indie dirge…

But that all feeds your musical development…

That’s true, but when you meet people who say that they grew up on their dad’s Blue Beat records or northern soul collection or even people whose parents owned every single Motown release ever and that puts it into perspective to a certain degree. My mum was into really good music, like Motown and Boogie records but she wasn’t sitting me down and telling me about them, it was more passive in that she’d play them around the house and that’s where I’d hear them and looking back probably grew to love them.

Now let’s talk about your Djing. When I met you were still the resident DJ at Revolution up the road from where we do Last Rites. How long were you resident there for?

I was resident there for three years. It started with me working behind the bar and doing Mondays for free because I wanted to hear some things loud, and I heard that a Saturday night slot was going and I asked if I could do it and that was that really. Musically I didn’t really get away with what I get away with now, I was playing loads of hip hop, soul and the odd house bit but none of it was as deep as the stuff that I am playing now. However, after a while I did manage to get away with Leon Thomas records at 12:30 on a Saturday night in a townie vodka bar in Manchester, which is pretty cool of as not many can say that. It must be said though that it didn’t get your typical jeans ‘n shirt crowd which has a lot to do with the location of it plus it was the first one, so it still had a fair amount of cool to it.

Let’s talk about your involvement with Sketch City.

I joined up just over a year ago, I’ve known Jonny Dub (Sketch City creator) for about four years and I’d played a few times and really enjoyed it and liked what they were doing a lot. I played on their stage at D Percussion last year and Jon asked me to join as I think he wanted to push it on a bit and wanted some fresh energy involved in the project. I also helped book people from labels like Tru Thoughts who Jon was interested in getting on but I had a few contacts that made it happen. I do find the night to be truly unique, I can’t think of anything like it and it is something that you can tell people about till you’re blue in the face but unless they come down and experience it for themselves they’ll never truly understand what it is about. It’s becoming a part of the framework of the city in a sense in that people now immediately think that once a month they’ll come down on a Sunday draw on a few boards, hang out with friends and listen to some great music. There is no age limit and its great that we get young kids coming down and meeting our resident artists, listening to some music they’ve never heard before and being a part of something that they’d never have been able to previously, which is an element that I really like about the night.

You’ve recently started making forays into production and I’ve only ever heard the tracks that you have up on your Myspace page, and I’m still trying to get the one off you for the radio show, and they are sounding really good. When did you start producing?

Two or three years I was mucking about on Logic and making Quantic-esque types of records and ended up leaving it for a while because I was busy doing other things and Djing took up a lot of time, so it stagnated for a while. I got back into it a few months ago and I’m just trying to make a progression with each track that I do. I’m really into composition within electronic music and at the same time not trying to follow a pre-existing pattern. At the moment I am making that kind of Dabrye/ Flying Lotus type hip hop and am really into the kind of modern Detroit sound. However, I don’t want to make Detroit records as I’m not from there, I want to give it a distinctly British feel. I also don’t sample as much, purely because there’s so many people that do it so well, better than I can. I’d rather play an organ bit than sample it from some old soul record, but I’d still treat it pretty much as you would a sample and manipulate it in a similar way. I’ve just bought some new gear and will be locking myself away over the summer. I don’t really have a plan, for instance saying that this time next year I want a record out and I want to be a presence on some label, I want things to happen almost organically and in due time. I don’t want to rush something out and then look back on it in three or four years and be embarrassed by it. I want the music that I make to have longevity and I’m still learning every time I sit down in the studio, so I’m in no hurry to tempt the buying public just yet. I really want to work with MCs, so I’ve got to put out some instrumental bits or beat tapes, almost as a resume in a way, which will hopefully attract people who I want to work with to collaborate on other projects in the future. The grand plan is to make a wide range of music and have more aliases than Domu and Madlib combined!

Now you’re working at Fat City.

Yes, it’s great working at what is essentially a hip hop shop that caters for quite a wide range of music that I guess hip hop Djs would be into. They also put records out, they’ve just put out the Producers and Waajeed projects, which is great and I’m really pleased for them as they’re releasing killer stuff.

Let’s talk about your approach to playing records. You’re definitely not afraid to play music from all four corners of the record shop. Is there any philosophy behind it?

I don’t really have one. It depends on where you are playing and what the vibe of the night is. I didn’t grow up playing records, I grew up playing instruments, so I have a slightly different approach to someone like Scruff or Kelvin Brown. I like playing at a place like Sketch City as I can play a Detroit record into a Brazilian record but when I play at the places like Cargo I have to play records that are of similar tempo, or more accurately, of similar energy and my only thoughts are trying to make everything work together to keep people moving on the dance floor.

How do you see Manchester? For me, it’s a small but perfectly formed place, with all the scenes interwoven in each other, which leads to everyone having a real appreciation for quite a diverse range of music.

It’s always had a reputation for being a rich musical city. I mean even back in the day you had people like Herman’s Hermits who were around in the 60s and 70s and The Buzzcocks and the Hacienda etc. It’s great in that it has a similar output level to a place like London but in a more confined area and there is a great sense of community here without people trying to step onto each other’s toes. There is such a wealth of music up here, just look at the shops in the Northern Quarter. You have Piccadilly, Vinyl Exchange and Vox Pop supplying a wide range of music to a diverse group of people. You have Fat City supplying all the ardent hip hop heads, you have Beatin’ Rhythm which is a Northern Soul haven and then you have places like Reckless and Eastern Bloc and they’re all within 5 minutes of each other and that’s how it is out here with the people. You can pick and choose where to go and invariably you’ll see people who you’ve met at other gigs for other kinds of music. It’s very unique in that sense.

So what does the future hold for you?

Well Sketch City-wise we’re going to keep building it and we have Tadd Mallinix coming over and playing at D Percussion on our stage. We’re also looking to take Sketch City to other cities and we’ll probably be going to Brighton next as we have some contacts there who could help us initially in getting set up. From there possibly move overseas for one offs or possibly work with people in other cities who are of the same mindset and who can push it a way that we approve of. Other than that it’s all about getting more DJ work, getting a few singles ready to shop and just keep on progressing in everything that I do.

You can hear Ryan at Hear No Evil every Thursday at Common, NQ Manchester. www.myspace.com/ryanvoxpop45s www.myspace.com/sketchcity Photo by Kev Luckhurst www.myspace.com/phatkev

Marc Kets, Jul 2007

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