Seb Chew has been a hugely influential figure in UK music for over a decade. From his role as head of A & R at Polydor Records to running the distinguished 'YoYo' club night for the last 9 years, Seb has been involved in music at almost every conceivable level and I was lucky enough to meet up with him over a few pints in Notting Hill to get his humble take on his experiences in music thus far:
"I run 'YoYo' every Thursday with my friend Leo who I've known since my school days and we've just had our 9th birthday. I also have my show on Rinse every Monday night 1-3am which has been going almost a year and a half now and then there's also the day job - I'm director of A & R at Polydor Records. I've also started my own label called 'Good Years' alongside my friend Scott and we've just released Lil Silva's 'Patience' EP. Those are the things that take up the majority of my time although I do quite a lot of other music work on a consultancy basis."
With such a wealth of experience, Seb admits its hard to single out specific moments that inspired him to get involved with music but does recall hearing 'Thriller' for the first time:
"Hearing 'Thriller' for the first time definitely made me want to get involved. Public Enemy's 'It'll Take a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back' was another one and then hearing Groove Rider's dubplate of 'Arsonist' in a rave - those 3 were defining moments for me before I started out in music. Since being involved in music, there's been a million and one points though - I could think of some but I wouldn't be able to name them all! I've never considered my own role specifically, I've just known that I wanted to be involved with music in whatever way I could. I've never set out to be any of the things I am or do today - I never set out to promote nights or deejay or be an A & R man, I just always knew I wanted to be involved. I guess the reason I've become those things is just as a result of how things have turned out - I'm just as happy now as when I was working in a record shop for £25 a day when I left school."
Having been a part of the Rinse setup for just over a year and a half now, Seb's relationship with the station stretches back almost a decade:
"The whole thing came about firstly by way of me being incredibly impressed with every show that I'd heard on there. Secondly, there's nobody weak on there in their respective fields and I've known Sarah Lockhart for many years. I also signed Zinc about 10 years ago and he was the first signing I ever made as an A & R man. In hindsight, it probably wasn't a good idea because it didn't work out at the label I was at during that time. However, it formed the basis of a relationship and we've remained friends ever since - I've always been impressed with every move Sarah and Zinc have made since too. With regards to my show, I saw Sarah and told I her I was really into what they were doing and I'd love to be involved somehow - I ended up doing a few guest shows and before long a space came up and that was that!
I try to incoporate good quality British dance music on my show and I guess my taste doesn't fit into any one genre or any specific BPM. If I get sent some good Grime tracks for example, I'll play them. Good music is definitely the focus in everything I do."
Alongside his radio show, Seb also runs 'YoYo' at the Notting Hill Arts Club, a night that remains very much close to his heart:
"There's no aim for 'YoYo' besides putting on a 200-capacity venue with my best friend and music we love. There's no hair gel range or any gimmicks, that's just it! I don't want to make it bigger or take it to another club, I'm just very happy with it as it is. YoYo is a club night at a certain place at a certain time that I love very much. It actually came out of another night that I went to for most of my teenage life called 'Rotation' that ran for about 10 years. That stopped at the end of the Garage era because the club had some trouble and it ended up closing down. As with a lot of things, a reaction of not having that around anymore was to make something yourself and that's kinda why we went for it."
As for the day job:
"I started out 11 years ago with a lady called Jade Richardson - she was an old friend who'd just signed Ms Dynamite. We started an imprint together called 'P Records' and it ended up with only 4 or 5 releases. The first of those was 'Are You Really From The Ends?' and the second was Ms Dynamite's 'Ramp'. The third was a 'Scandalous Unlimited' EP and they've now gone on to be 'True Tiger'. We also put out Ms Dynamite's album and Zinc's 'Faster' album, all over the course of about 2 years or so. It was good fun but it didn't really fit with the label's outlook at the time. Jade ended up leaving, leaving me doing A & R on my own and the next thing I did was sign the Scissor Sisters! It sounds a bit mad and might not make sense but to me it made perfect sense. Ultimately, I've had 7 or 8 years of doing A & R at a major label and I've worked with many acts at many levels across many different types of music and I guess that's lead me to my position as head of A & R today."
Despite playing a pivotal role at a major label, Seb Chew remains a firm advocate of underground electronic music. After receiving some unexpected feedback in response to playing a number of Grime tracks on his show two weeks ago, Seb explains that he's never placed any significance on how music is classified:
"I have honestly never cared about what a type of music is called and as much as scene's are very important in some way, my commitment and output to music is not according to scene. It's my job to find music and I don't care for any scene-snobbiness in any way, shape or form. If people like music and want to support music then thats a positive thing. That leads in to the reaction to my show - me playing Grime caused such a stir but to me its dance music at 140BPM and thats it really. I've never put any rules on what I play other than do I think it's good or not? Its actually been really interesting meeting people on this journey - the people I think are the best are those who don't act funny when I call up and say 'I love your tune, can you send it over because I want to support it?' I guess being involved in all the different worlds I'm in means I can't care for a closed mind."
Seb is a big fan of Birmingham's 'Preditah'
Bearing this in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that Seb attributes the establishment of his 'Good Years' imprint to the music and people he's been surrounded by at Rinse:
"'I just felt very inspired by the people I'd been around during the year and a bit I'd been on Rinse. The deejays, the labels and the way in which they're run all impressed me. I guess deejays on there like Marcus Nasty, Scratcha, JJ...in fact all of them kinda made me tune back into labels. It felt like there were certain people who were so strong in terms of identity putting out such great music - Swamp 81, Butterz, Hessle Audio - they all inspired me to go for it and I'm not particularly experienced in independents.
With regards to Lil Silva, Scott who I run the label with manages him - we used to be completely hooked on Marcus Nasty's show and Silva was always getting played, he was massive. Scott made contact with him and the decision to put an EP together was made, the sampler thing happened and that was it, our first release."
Plans for the future? An emphasis on good music remains key:
"I've never had a plan and I think the only thing to focus on is putting out good music on my label, booking good people at YoYo and playing good music on my show. That's my only aim - wherever it goes from there, it goes. I'm just happy to be in it an earning a living surrounded by new, exciting things and like-minded people."
All the info on 'YoYo': http://www.nottinghillartsclub.com/thursday.html
Buy Lil Silva's 'Patience' EP via 'Good Years' from Boomkat: http://boomkat.com/downloads/406711-lil-silva-the-patience-ep
& don't forget to lock in to Seb Chew on Rinse FM every Monday night 1-3am via: http://rinse.fm/