Project Squared boss Paul Cooper hands me a cup of his favourite Clipper tea inside of his cosy Stepney Green apartment on a brisk London night. A record from the now defunct New York hip hop trio Company Flow plays softly in the background and I’m informed by Cooper that ‘This is some late 90’s hip hop that started a leftfield type of movement. This was the first type of music that I released, it was done in a kind of Mo Wax style’. As I take in my first sip of tea Cooper takes me back to where it all began, a time where what income he had was more than likely to be spent on boiled sweets rather than hard wax. ‘I’m originally from Brighton and grew up alongside big beat and Fatboy Slim, I remember taping Pete Tong and Danny Rampling play trance on the radio.’ Recounts Cooper, before taking me into his early teens ‘I’ve been into electronic music for as long as I’ve been into hip hop, the first album I bought was Orbital’s In Sides when I was about twelve, I then got into hip hop around the same time.’
Paul Cooper released his Amongst Strangers and What Else Is There LP’s on Project Squared’s parent label Project Mooncircle, a Berlin based hip hop imprint responsible for pressing up tracks for the likes of MF Doom and Onra. Paul Cooper’s melancholic DJ Shadow meets Katalyst style of sample production eventually made way for his inquisition into music more so geared for the dancefloor, not long after came Project Squared. ‘My interest in hip hop really wained and I don’t think it has done anything interesting in a long time’ says Paul. “I enjoyed some of the Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke stuff but for me it hasn’t really changed or developed at all, either that or it’s gone too far off for me to feel.’ So as hip hop took up ranks alongside Cooper’s back catalogue of Fatboy Slim and Pete Tong, a thirst for electronic dance music grew.
Trawling the internet and dubstep forums Cooper discovered young Bristolian talent Asusu and Furesshu, who to the disbelief of Cooper were yet to be snapped up by any independents. ‘I got the idea to set up the label Project Squared as their [Asusu and Furesshu] music was so good it needed to be on vinyl, luckily Gordon from Project Mooncircle was up for me me starting a sub label.’ Given the all clear from Project Mooncircle boss Gordon Geiseking and with some initial funding from online music and street wear store HHV, 2009 saw Project Squared launched with Asusu’s garage tinged and two stepped influenced Small Hours/Taurean EP, which was soon followed up in early 2010 by Furusshu’s Untitled/1993/Horizons 12” also on the dubstep tip popular at the time.
Project Squared's Initial Artists - From Left: Furesshu, Asusu, Skratch
Late 2009, early 2010 saw the dubstep bubble per say close to popping. ‘My taste at the time was still fifty percent dubstep, fifty percent techno.’ States Cooper, a common thread among hip hop entrants to the world of electronic dance music. ‘Through dubstep I found that I got into what you might call the Berghain, Ostgut wave of techno that had been making it’s way in since about 2007. There was a ten inch on Kontra which had a Marcel Dettman remix of Scuba, that was the first time I ever heard Marcel Dettmann. I had been listening to techno on the side but I’d never heard anything like that before.’ Cooper attributes his transition into techno because of acts like Martyn and Kode 9 crossing over into the house and techno fray, a move also knowingly made by Commix, Instra:mental and a host others. This transition is however no mass exodus from the broken beat and two step styles of the aforementioned, as some of techno’s biggest stalwarts such as Surgeon, Lucy, Regis and Perc are famously making a name for themselves in techno for being everything broken and non-functional, genre bending in the process.
‘Around the time of Project Squared’s first release it was very two steppy and garage, but since then it’s shifted more towards techno, which is pretty much where it is now.’ Cooper is quick to admit that he can easily get bored of a given genre and puts this down to his compulsiveness in collecting records, which he say leads him to ‘defining a genre and hammering it so much that I loose interest’. When asked what he was enjoying of late his first plaudits were geared toward AnD’s new Idle Hands EP, adding that the duo’s Horizontal Ground 09 is one of his favourite releases of the year thus far. Shortly after their Horizontal Ground release AnD found themselves reaching out to Project Squared to the delight of Cooper. ‘AnD emailed me as 1n4 and I recognised it immediately, I was really excited with the tunes they sent me. They had been releasing some very heavy and stripped back techno, so it was great to have some tunes from them that were a bit different.’ Whilst placing the needle on his favourite track of the Algorithmic Love EP, Paul Cooper the true tastemaker is revealed ‘From the first email I received to the EP hitting the shelves it took six months, maybe more. That can be tough as time changes the context of how you view an artist, whether it be through how many releases they have done or what sort of releases they have done. I think that through reading you can’t help having your opinion changed of musicians and their music.’ As Algorithmic Love’s kick drum rattles our tea cups on the coffee table, Cooper continues “This is great music but for me when I didn’t know anything about them and they hadn’t released many other records, this could be seen as even more potent.’ Algorithmic Love’s dubby chords then transcend upon the room and our conversation. ‘This is my favourite part of the track, I like music where you have to wait for a reward, a lot of Aphex Twin’s music is like that. It can be difficult and tough to get through some initial parts of his music with fucking whip cracks and elephant noises going off, but then he’ll bring in a really nice melody’.
Although not associated with Project Squared (just yet anyway), Sandwell District was an act and label that Cooper also mentioned he was enjoying ‘I really love the textures, long strings and electro pad sounds they [Sandwell District] use, they tug at your heart strings and their tracks feel like there is more to them than just being clubs tunes, I like that in techno. It’s quite rare to find artists that do that and they are the types of artists that I look for on Project Squared’. Promising producer and Manchester based artist Tom Diccico is one name on the label’s roster that Cooper highlights in having the ability to harnesses such emotive content. A dub reggae obsessive, Diccico’s youth was soundtracked by the dub influences of his father, it’s no surprise that Diccico’s music has the character it does as its foundations lay on the teachings of King Tubby, Lee Scratch Perry and Yabby You.
Cooper’s search for new and undiscovered artists on Project Squared is a contributing factor to the labels modest success, earning its merits on its music, not big name remixes and rapid fire emails. The Estonian L-OW is another one of these artists, who also producers under an alias you’d expect to see graffitied on a suburban train station - 1DERL& (Wonderland). L-OW’s Pinpoint/Diver EP was the third release for the label and was Project Squared’s first thrust toward techno with two classic dub cuts. Asusu then saw a return to the label with PSQ004 with his No Kya EP featuring a remix from yet again another little known act, this time French dubstep producer F. Of the labels releases so far Project Squared’s most celebrated has been Furuesshu’s Lucid/All I Want EP, featuring a stellar Shifted remix that will no doubt feature in many of the up coming 2011’s best of lists. ‘Furesshu’s Lucid/All I Want EP has been the most popular release for the label, it’s not as subtle and bit more immediate than some of the other releases.’
PSQ007 is the labels latest release and is a four track EP from 2011 starlet Kowton and his stable mate Tom Diccico. The EP features a track each from both, with the two remixing each others work. ‘Kowton’s tunes are quite indescribable and he is a very unique musician and is impossible to pigeon hole’. Paul’s excitement surrounding the release is obvious as rye grin spreads across his face ‘I don’t know where this is going to be played out or what time it is going to be played out’ cheekily admitting to the prospect of confusing DJ’s ‘I’ve tried mixing out of Kowton's remix to Tom Dicicco and it is very hard, very strange tune with a weird groove, easy to get confused. Probably not the best decision for a dance label to put out tunes that are going to fuck DJ’s over (laughs), but I just love them’. When asked about the Project Squared sound, it’s no surprise words like subtle, dub influenced and emotive were thrown about, but Cooper like many techno obsessives says ‘I like it to be a little gravely, I don’t like my music to be that clean.’ I was then lucky enough receive a sneak preview of the stripped back and yet to be released PSQ008, from an artist who for the time being will be known as ‘The Anonymous Italian’. ‘It’s very important for a small label to research unknown artists’ says Cooper when questioned on where he finds them ‘What’s the point of starting a label if your only going to poach other well known artists just to get a hit’
As the label grows so does its presence, internationally and locally. London is a city well known for its vast underground electronic music subculture, as well as the plethora of parties on offer every weekend, but it’s techno that’s taken a back seat to the urban sounds of the cities south or the house and disco orientation of the inner east. Only with the support of clubs like Corsica Studios and Cable now hoisting London’s techno flag, the genre is again starting to rear its head. Project Squared now up to it’s seventh release houses a roster of considerable talent but when asked about the possibility of a Project Squared label night in London Cooper is quick to dispel anything too outlandish ‘If it was to happen it would most likely be hosting room two somewhere.’ Meanwhile in the techno savvy Berlin, through his HHV connections and label friend Skratch, a 2012 Project Squared label night may well be all the more possible and fruitful. Coopers fluctuating taste can be seen through Project Squared’s releases which constantly teeter on the edge of techno and the garaged influenced, but it’s the continuity in which Cooper has done so that keeps both sides of the fence signatories to the Project Squared Sound.
1. Asusu - Taurean (Furesshu's Le Soleil Noir Mix) [Unreleased]
2. L-OW - Diver (Furesshu's Die Welle Edit) [Project Squared - PSQ003]
3. Anonymous Artist - Idle Threat [Forthcoming Project Squared]
4. Tom Dicicco - V2 - [Forthcoming Project Squared]
5. Furesshu - Lucid (Shifted Remix) [Project Squared - PSQ005]
6. Furesshu - Untitled - [Unreleased]
7. Furesshu - Untitled - [Project Squared PSQ002]
8. AnD - Brother From Another Mother (Tom Dicicco Late Night Dub) [Project Squared - PSQ006]
9. Asusu - Sister [Livity Sound 002]
10.Tom Dicicco - Untitled [Project Squared - PSQ007]
11.Tom Dicicco - Untitled (Kowton Remix) [Project Squared PSQ007]