Celebrating anything is a challenge in 2020, but some birthdays are just too big to miss. Surely, then, Relentless Records is going big to mark 21 years is business? Not in the slightest.
When president Shabs Jobanputra – who signed Rewind by the Artful Dodger and Craig David and is currently steering Headie One’s chart-topping Edna campaign – talks to Music Week about his label’s birthday, he’s far too busy to party.
“We’re all on the midweek drug,” he begins. “Every morning it’s the next fix of, ‘What’s the problem? What’s the challenge? What do we need to do?’ We’ve not had a moment to stop.”
On the day Edna hit No.1, Jobanputra was busy wrapping up the Sony label’s latest signing – Bradford bassline collective Bad Boy Chiller Crew. They join a small but varied roster that also includes Tom Walker and Baby Shark, two very different acts who’ve busted the charts in recent years.
While he laments the fact that we’re chatting via video call “rather than somewhere nice”, Jobanputra radiates energy. “It’s great, my dream’s come true, I’m really happy,” he says. “If you’d told me 21 years ago that it would’ve taken this amount to get to here I would’ve laughed. But when I look back, it’s been really good fun, pleasing for the artists that have come through and the team.
Jobanputra insists that he and team Relentless are focused on looking forward, and says Christmas may provide a natural pause for reflection. So consider this interview a festive treat from the Relentless leader, as he consents to take stock a few weeks earlier than planned to talk Rewind, staying power and more.
What sets Relentless apart?
“What we try and do is sign things from a scene or culture that we’re fascinated by. Whether it is Baby Shark and kids music, Seth Lakeman doing folk, Cage The Elephant doing US rock, Jay Sean doing Asian R&B, KT Tunstall, Tom Walker… They all come from somewhere that feels honest and we want to find out more. We try and purvey that. Lots of labels do that and do it really well, we’re one of many. But what we try and do is not to do too many [artists] and really try and concentrate and understand the art, the music and the culture the artist is trying to bring to the fore. Let them become more free and give them resources, build careers, not just records, so artists have a good experience with us and then have a platform for their careers, so they can appreciate [being with the label] was a good moment, something solid to build their lives upon.”
How does it feel to hit 21?
“We’ve managed to be around after 21 years, which is a good feeling I’ve got to say. It’s taken a lot out of me over the years. I’m very much in the music, in the culture, I’m not away from it. It’s very important to me and I’m very passionate about it. I would be lying if I said it didn’t have an effect in terms of life, but part of me is in the label. That’s something I’ve wanted to do, and I’m pleased for everyone, the artists, Sony and all the team. It’s working right now, but we’re under no illusion that it can very quickly go away, the market is brutal. Tomorrow, anything can happen. So we’ve got to be on the ball, use this good period right now to fuel us. It’s always about looking forward for the next thing that’s exciting and slightly scary, but that if it comes to market in the right way, it will be exciting.”
I’m very much in the music, in the culture, I’m not away from it
Will you be at Relentless for a long time to come?
“I hope so. Ben [Coates, GM] and all the team are really good, and we’re bringing lots of new people through. I’m still there doing what I’m doing. But the people have to change with the market, we’ve got to keep adapting and changing to make sure we’ve got the best people for the task ahead. Covid has really highlighted some of those things, it’s made you notice [the contrast between] what you really need and what you thought you needed before. I’m very much looking forward to the future.
Headie One hit No.1 during the pandemic, Rewind was No.1 back in the day. Is the feeling the same?
“With Rewind we didn’t really know what was going on, it was such a bullet record. We’d just started Relentless and we were trying to sign another record, I had to have it. We chased this guy around London, we didn’t get the record and I was so upset. I was so cut up. Then the next day, an offer I’d put in on Rewind was accepted. It was a weird thing where it was a consolation prize. The other record never happened and faded away, but Rewind was this juggernaut. We’d stumbled on garage, really, and the feeling was bewilderment and shock. With Headie One, it’s less shock, but it’s very pleasing. It’s very rewarding when you work with artists who are that good and it then gets recognised. A lot of good ones get away. Headie is just really good, and you want people who are good at what they do to have their moment. With age and time, you look at it differently, but you never get bored of having a No.1.”
What will the label do for the next 21 years?
“Stick to what its good at – understanding the music and the people and having fun. Then next artist on the runway is our new signing Bad Boy Chiller crew from Bradford, really exciting bassline rap, it’s classic Relentless in a way. They’re carefree, really dynamic, really exciting. That’s the journey continuing, finding these pockets of people that have got this amazing thing they’re really good at, we just want to let the world know what that is. Relentless will live and die, regardless of me, by its creative exploration and the desire to always be curious and look in areas where no on else is going to. Or, even if others are going there, we might see a different thing. Our job is to be a boutique operator that sees different things within culture and tries to recognise them at an early stage. Relentless’ reason to be is that and nothing more.”
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