British producer of our May 2010 Record of The Month talks about his roots and his future in an exclusive interview

Interview: West Norwood Cassette Library

Photo by Georgina Cook


West Norwood Cassette Library is a producer and blogger from London who is making quite an impact with his debut release “What It Is,” on his own eponymous label. It’s made such an impact that we’ve bestowed Record of The Month status upon it for May 2010, a distinct and confident record backed with a great remix from the dependable Brackles. West Norwood Cassette Library has a clean studied sound that seems grounded in almost too many different influences and styles to name. Handy then that we should have an interview with him, where he elucidates his origins, his influences, the man behind the sound, and his future plans.

Introduce yourself! Who are you, where are you, what do you do?

I’m Bob Bhamra. I’ve previously recorded and released as The Bob Bhamra Project, Plastic Soul, Data 70, No.1 Astronaut but now trade as West Norwood Cassette Library.

Where does the name come from?

Ah, this old chestnut! Despite living in West Norwood, having a penchant for old tech and being heavily involved with books in my day job, the name is nothing more than a silly joke between me and a good friend. It’s basically playing on the fact that I am a nerd.

First, tell me a little bit about your blog, and its purpose.

I feel a bit fraudulent calling myself a blogger. I don’t possess any writing skills and don’t use it as a platform to spread my philosophy to the world. It’s really just a personal scrapbook to remind me of what I’m doing right now. I didn’t think anybody was paying attention!

How long have you been making music? Your blogging presence has been around longer than your musical presence, did you just start recording late or did you choose not to share it until now?

I’ve been recording and releasing records since 1996 but it’s a patchy history with some dubious moments and quiet periods. As West Norwood Cassette Library, yes, the blog’s older than the tracks you will have heard. It took a little while to remember the point of going back in the studio (and to remember where all the buttons where).

You seem to have shifted more towards dubstep (or at least 140bpm music) compared to your housier stuff from last year, what caused this shift?

I’ve always liked a lot of different styles of music which usually means I’m unfocused and unsatisfied most of the time. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why I’m working on a particular style at any given time.

The first time I heard “What It Is,” that I remember anyway, was on Mary Anne Hobbs. Did airplay from her affect you in any noticeable way?

The first effect it’s had is that I’m doing an interview with you now! Mary Anne Hobbs is a tastemaker of the highest degree and having the track played on her show was not only a very exciting moment but also lead to a noticeable rise in interest. Mostly it’s been people dropping by on MySpace to say something nice about the tracks.

Can you say anything about “What It Is,” in terms of how you made it, why you made it, what it means, anything like that?

I’m not sure that it means anything – what it is, you see, is what it ain’t. As for the recording process, it would have been the same torturous routine as any of my other tracks. I spend a long time thinking that everything I do sounds rubbish and not like other people who make real records. I have a vague recollection of chopping up a Monkees break (no, not that one) – the rest is a bit of a blur

You’re releasing on your own eponymous label, why did you choose to start your own imprint?

I have looked into starting a label ever since I can remember but always talked myself out of it. Being a sensible type, I eventually decide to start the label when vinyl sales have really declined and chosen the most uneconomical format (10” vinyl) to release on.

I’m not planning to retire off this so the financial side of it isn’t a massive concern – although I have promised Brackles a house in Miami for his remix, which might have been a bit of a foolish move.

Will West Norwood Cassette Library (the label) ever release anything by another producer(s), or is that out of the question?

There are definite plans to release other artists on the label. I have been given some amazing music by DJ C, Quantec, Don Froth amongst others as well as having plans to put out more WNCL material.

I want to release everything properly though and treat the artists with the respect they deserve. From bitter experience, there’s nothing more frustrating than a label getting you excited about a planned release and then wasting your time.

How do you feel about vinyl vs. digital? Obviously, since your label releases digitally, you’re not totally against it, but…

I have nothing against the mp3 format – some of my best friends are digital. I can see that it’s cheaper, portable, convenient etc. It’s just not as exciting as vinyl, is it?

I’m afraid I’m a little old fashioned in that respect. I still like going into a shop, buying vinyl, checking out the artwork on the bus home. Staring at a file name on my iPod doesn’t really do it for me.

What about filesharing? Do you think the prevalence of the spreading of free music (of questionable legal status) right now is beneficial or detrimental to artists, producers, and labels? Does it take away sales or help spread the word?

I’ve got nothing against downloading free material if that’s how the artist / label has chosen to share it with the world. I’ve had my fair share of free tracks and mixes but I’ve at least waited until I’ve been invited. There’s a definite lack of manners about the whole situation. The digital era has handed us everything on a plate yet people still want to skimp out of paying 79p for a track. Pathetic.

Despite claiming not to be doing this for financial reasons, there is still a certain investment required to set up a label so I couldn’t possibly endorse spreading music illegally. If you want the tracks for free, try asking nicely.

Is there anyone you model yourself after in the way you conduct your business, any inspirations?

I don’t have a role model exactly – it’s more fun trying to work it out for myself although I’ve had the benefit of some great help and advice from Transition Studios (mastering), AGR Manufacturing (pressing) and S.T Holdings(distribution) who are all experts in their respective fields.

In terms of business conduct, I’m running the label during my lunch hour from my mobile phone, in an alleyway in Soho round the corner from my day job, so I’m not sure I have the highest standards of professionalism but I’m trying my best.

As for record label inspiration – the maverick Tony Wilson, the hand folded 7” sleeves on Sarah Records, the Warp logo and the legions of kids selling hardcore white labels out of the backs of their cars in the early 90’s all hold a special place in my personal history.

More recently, I find it hard to find fault with anything the Hessle Audio label – they have a perfectly formed back catalogue, great artwork and is run by a team of dj’s and producers with their collective fingers on the pulse of the underground.

Whose music really excites you right now, and what’s your favourite tune of 2010 so far?

I’m still excited about dubstep (or whatever it’s being called this week) as much as I always have been about house and techno. I’m very much the cherry picker when I buy records.

Today, I’m looking forward to Breach “Fatherless” (PTN) and Milyoo “Dasein” (Opit) being released on vinyl. I also keep hearing Jam City’s remix of “Let Me Bang” which I’m becoming mildly obsessed with – I really hope someone puts that out soon.

Favourite track of the year?
Addison Groove “Footcrab”, of course. You might be sick of it by now, but you’ll still remember it in 5 or 10 years time – the definition of a classic. It’s this generation’s “Super Sharp Shooter” innit?

West Norwood Cassette Library’s present and future looks like this:
Out now – Unique 3 “Take This Love” (WNCL Remix) (Mutate Records)
Forthcoming – West Norwood Cassette Library “Blonde on Blonde” (Teal Records)
West Norwood Cassette Library’s night, Rock La Bibliotek!, is monthly at The Hive Bar, Brixton