James Ruskin

By Nick Doherty

Over half a decade has passed since the first release on James Ruskin’s Blueprint. In that time, he and Oliver Ho, the two artists to record full-length albums for the label, have emerged from the unknown to become mainstays of the UK techno scene, forging particular styles and disseminating them through increasingly far-reaching DJ assignments. With the not inconsiderable help of erstwhile label-mate Richard Polson, Blueprint quickly became one of the UK’s most tracked and respected techno labels – its distinctive sleeves and sounds bursting from the stands and speakers of independent record shops.

But since the initial wave of Blueprintmania a few years ago things have been a little quiet. Now, following a lull in productivity spanning almost two years, James Ruskin returns to the forefront of London’s thriving techno scene with a stunning LP on Berlin’s Tresor, a brand new label project and a sturdy pair of EPs for Blueprint. So – why the wait, and what has persuaded him to release his second album Point 2 on Germany’s long-running imprint?

"Time management is a very big problem for me", admits James. "I run the label single-handedly, record and DJ, so doing the thing with Tresor was an opportunity to do something else sound-wise and also relieve some of the responsibility. My DJ schedule is also harsh." And little wonder. It seems that techno DJs divide roughly into two camps: those that deal in subtleties and textures, developing layer-upon-layer of rhythmic drift and those that set out to assault the senses, hacking, cutting and segueing tracks into a kick-happy whole. Ruskin could lay claim to having a foot in each, furiously blending the best of British, European, US and Japanese techno with searing jack-apella’s and lacerating loops.

The punishing circuit schedule has created frustrations, but also developed new viewpoints – large portions of Point 2 thrive on their sense of immediacy and a clear understanding of dancefloor energy. "The DJing plays a big part in it", he explains. I’m travelling so much every weekend that the whole thing seeps into you. You can’t help but be influenced by what’s going on around you. It’s a far harsher album and a bit more club-orientated." Whilst this is true, it is perhaps slightly over-simplified. Point 2 is certainly not an extension of his debut album Further Design - its self-explanatory title emphasising the point – and it’s anything but a one-paced DJ-satiating collection of peak-time material. The trademark tribal-tinged tracks are evident, but so too are the warm depths of Subject and Eight 3 and the Travis Bickle-bearing Coda. Before The Calling abandons beats altogether and From Over The Edge is too epic to label simply as a ‘dancefloor track’. According to James, the Tresor modus operandi is central to the results: "They left me to it and said ‘call when you think you’re ready’. No badgering, no ‘send us a few tracks and we’ll see if we’re interested’. I went over to Berlin with the tape and they liked it and it was as simple as that really. They understand that you’ve got your own ideas about why certain tracks are there and why the running order is as it is and they respect you from an artistic point of view, which is really important."

The release of Point 2 begins a period of much activity. Rejecting the idea of adding new names to the Blueprint roster ("It’s been as it is for so long I think it would be wrong to start throwing new artists into the equation") a new label, Coda, has been set up with a policy of encouraging new producers: "I’m not looking for established people or anything like that. I want to let people know I’m looking for demo’s but it also gives me the opportunity to do different stuff too." He describes the first release, by himself, as "very Lost-five-years-ago", but the promise to showcase new work suggests Coda will gaze forward far more often than it looks back. Of course, the last time a situation arose with James releasing an unknown producer’s material it kick-started the now-burgeoning career of Oliver Ho: "The thing with Oli was that he’d had no contact with labels, he was just doing what he was doing in his bedroom. I’m so happy he’s getting the recognition and his sound changes all the time. His new album is amazing."

The recent joint 12" on Oliver's Meta label again highlighted the mutual respect between the two, but according to James their ways of working have changed significantly since they last collaborated: "Oliver generated some samples and a few keyboard lines, he did two tracks, passed the samples on and I did mine. It’s a more interesting way of doing it, rather than the two of you sitting in a studio banging your heads together. We tried doing that 18 months ago and the output wasn’t really very interesting." Unfortunately, a less-creative distance now exists between James and long-time friend Richard Polson with Fracture, the label that they jointly-run, now on-hold indefinitely: "I was one hundred percent into the music, the things that Paul Mac and Claude Young did were brilliant, but we couldn’t sell them – simple as that. They were putting the work in, but if there’s no money at the end of it you can’t pay them. That can’t go on forever." Which isn’t to say that it’s the end of a productive relationship: "He’s doing his thing now and I’m not at home as much as I was, but I think we’ll do something, maybe in the next year we can get together and see if the old magic’s still there!"

But if the passing of time is evident in the changing relationships of Blueprint’s original members, it is most clearly identifiable on recent compilation Encounters. First Contact from Blueprint’s debut EP release is still a scream of intention, yet its production appears understandably naive when placed against more recent work. However, the blatant development of production and ideas displayed within Encounters promises much for the next phase of the label’s life. For James, the time is right to move back into sharp focus: "It shocked me a little how you go out of people's consciousness when you’re not in the foreground" he comments. Point 2 spearheads another timely assault on dance music's self-gratifying, status-protecting centre, standing proud as another indication of UK techno reaching its next level. An album of assured invention and music befitting the overused '21st century' tag.
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