Label Profile: Punch Drunk/Idle Hands

There are some record labels that just seem so mythical, so unerringly perfect, that it can be hard to imagine them as functioning businesses just like anything else. Never mind that there’s just a regular old person running things behind the stacks of iconic label stamps and legendary etched grooves. For me personally, Punch Drunk (based in the bass music haven Bristol) is one of those labels; a label with a unique look, a decently identifiable sound (more on that later), and most importantly of all, the kind of quality control that would sacrifice an orphanage if it meant securing the right tracks for a properly banging twelve. Of course, like any other label, there are real people behind it, and in Punch Drunk’s case, it’s Tom Ford, who releases some of dubstep’s most brashly experimental music under the Peverelist moniker, and has himself provided the label with its absolute best material.

Run out of Rooted Records, perhaps Bristol’s most well-known record shop and certainly one of its few remaining, Punch Drunk doesn’t really carry the enormous amount of swagger you might associate with the immense beats it disseminates. The label art, while undeniably distinctive, is extremely colourful and even playful, contrasting the usually deadly-serious music inside. The label’s releases tend to land on the dubbier side of dubstep, exploring from all angles but with a supreme emphasis on bass and groove, and occasionally melody. With releases from Peverelist bringing austere Berlin techno into the fold, Gemmy and especially Guido bringing bright and grimy psychedelics, RSD repping the Bristol old-school and city stalwarts like Gatekeeper and Pinch bringing the bass music goodness everywhere else in between, it’s a vibrantly diverse discography united by its unwavering commitment to the absolute best in all aspects of the music. This is the label that brought us “Orchestral Lab” and “Click Clunk Every Trip” — that right there is grounds for canonization.

Focusing on the almighty two-track twelve-inch and doing a hell of a job with it, Ford’s label has also ventured into CD releases, comprising a ferocious singles collection by RSD, and the debut albums from Peverelist and Guido, two records that easily sit near the top of the pile of amazing dubstep-leaning long-players. Coming up from the release of the Guido LP Anidea, Peverelist is preparing to unleash his latest twelve entitled “Better Ways Of Living,” two ultra-dubby tunes that find spirituality in human error and broken beats and highlight the power of a simple kick drum.

Punch Drunk isn’t the only thing notable about Rooted Records, however; also coming out of the shop is newer label Idle Hands, run by fellow employee Chris Farrell. Idle Hands is still in the process of establishing its identity, but it would be ignorant and unfair to see it as merely as a child of Punch Drunk. Where Punch Drunk is arguably ground in the dubstep sound, Idle Hands’ reach is greater, and its first three releases encompass techno reductions a la Peverelist, tropical funky, and the deep house ruminations of Kowton. How’s that for an opening trilogy?

As part of the feature on Bristol’s two most brightly-shining labels, we’ve got exclusive and in-depth interviews with each label’s founder, where they shed light and provide insights on the origins, histories, methodologies and futures of their respective labels. Keep reading after the interviews for a comprehensive run-down of the most essential releases from each label.