The fledgling Prague bass label Meanbucket has championed the urban sounds of Czech Republic and beyond, releasing the likes of Traxman and Jana Rush. Their sonic stamp oscillates between various genres and sub genres of contemporary urban dance, be it juke or trap. We talk to the heart & soul of the imprint, Jonathan Olmos aka DJ Tuco, about the his brainchild, Jay Z and the surprisingly buyoant Prague grime scene. To get a taste of their audio world, DJ Tuco has prepared a special EB mix featuring a fine selection of bass music (not only from his own staple).
Electronic Beats: Could you say something about the beginnings of Meanbucket?
DJ Tuco: It actually started as a blog back in 2007; the parties came a little bit after. We had already been living in Prague for a while and weren’t really satisfied with what was happening at the time here musically, so the with the blog we tried to help local artist artists and DJs get their mixes and tracks on an English-speaking site, to get more exposure internationally. With the club night we just wanted to bring over music that was totally different from everything else happening here!
Had there been a scene when you started, or did you have to build everything ‘from the scratch’?
Not as such. With the music we were doing at the time which was mostly what people now call global bass, and there were small pockets of people into it but they were mostly people within other scenes. I think we managed to bridge a lot of gaps between hip-hop, electro, and dubstep/grime for the first time in Prague because what we played took elements from all of those different little niche. We got a good cross section of people to the parties, DJing and socializing with people they probably would never have met otherwise.
And what about the transition from the blog/club night to the label?
The blog thing kind of fizzled out…we just got too lazy to post and write about new music and didn’t want to become one of these Facebook page-style blogs which just reposts youtube links. With the club night we just kept running into problems with venues and eventually a lot of the core audience moved on because we weren’t running something regular. After doing the blog and running nights for several years we had some really strong contacts all over the world and a lot of producers we knew were starting to make really good music but had no outlet for it. We were always talking about a label but didn’t know were to start. Once we had all the contacts and a bit more knowledge of how the industry works it felt like a good time.
You have a selection of Czech artists, many of whom moved away from dubstep. Is there a specific sound they have, a Prague ‘stamp’?
I don’t think there is a specific ‘Prague sound’, unfortunately, but the Czech producers we work with are heavily influenced by what comes out of the UK, and they do that really well. Prague is a small city and the music scene is still really young. For example the ‘London sound’ comes from years and years of sound-system culture, and the city is a melting pot…that doesn’t really exist here yet. It could happen; maybe the Vietnamese will influence dance music some day. The grime scene here is probably the second-biggest in the world, that could definitely leave its mark in the future. Kind of like Miami Bass did in Rio with Baile Funk.
I guess not many people know this.
Yeah, a lot of people we’ve brought over from the UK can’t believe how big it is here, while others have forgotten it even existed. It’s a hard phenomenon to explain but I think it was born out of the hip-hop scene. Those guys have huge followings here, really huge! A bunch of influential people who were big grime fans, particularly Smack, broke away and started doing a grime radio show, parties and releasing mixtapes. It just grew into a really strong underground scene which seems to have spread to other cities as well. I heard that UK garage and 2 step was quite big here back in the late ’90s so it could also have something to do with that, but it was before my time.
People associate grime with tough urban London street life, the council estates, etc, not tranquil historical Prague. But I guess some of these kids might live in the Prague estates, which are probably not much better.
Yeah that’s a good point. I was thinking more from a music perspective.
You’ve managed to get some international artists on your roster, like Traxman.
We have a few— Traxman, Ophex from Lithuania, DJ Kiff from New Jersey. We’re interested in working with people from all over the world.
Is it still harder to push artists from Eastern Europe?
Yeah, the problem is that it’s an unknown territory and people are scared of what they don’t know, which is really evident in dance music. It’s definitely improving, though. The Polish have been a leading example for everyone in the last few years.
Would you say that Meanbucket stands for a certain sound?
I don’t think it represents one genre in particular. We’re focused on putting out quality club music and breaking new ground. Everything we put out has roots in ghetto house or some kind of bass music (juke, bmore/jersey club, global bass, to name a few).
What sounds are you currently interested in? I know you’ve released a trap-influenced ep recently.
I like the trap stuff, but with any genre that gets a lot of hype very quickly, you get a lot of really bad stuff as well. It seems like in a matter of weeks it’s gotten out of control! I’m still playing and listening to a lot of juke. I really like Jersey Club because it reminds of Baltimore Club which I’m a huge fan of, which seems to have died a bit. I’m also into the new wave of Vogue House producers like MikeQ and B.Ames and of course I’m always following what’s happening with the UK stuff like Night Slugs, etc.
What are your plans with Meanbucket?
In the short term we have a very long-awaited EP from Bad Mojo about to be released. I’m literally sitting here right now waiting for the masters. After that an EP from DJ Kiff, who is one of the best Jersey Club producers out there. Long term, we are already looking into the logistics of putting out limited vinyl releases. We think that’s something that could help us move up a notch, rather than focusing on one release and doing a series of remixes from our back catalog.
What about the name? What does it mean, and where does it come from?
We were looking for a name, and I’m a big Jay-Z fan. So we decided to make it random by getting a friend to say a number between one and ten, which represented his LPs. Then we did it again which represents the songs on the LP then again which represent the line from the song and then we picked the first word!
What is your personal story, how did you get to Prague, and what apart from label are you doing there?
I left the UK because I needed a change. I traveled for a while then moved to Italy for a year. Nothing was really happening there and I had some friends here already so I came to Prague and ended up staying. I enjoy the freedom of living in Prague, and it’s a great location for traveling around Europe. Apart from running Meanbucket alongside DJ Quime, I’m very active in DJing which I think is my strongest skill. I produce a bit and have a weekly radio show currently on Spin 96.2 called The Get Low which focuses on all the music we’ve talked about.