by Harry Shackleton
Central Processing Unit is an intrinsic part of the Sheffield music scene. It has received acclaim around the world for its electro, IDM and techno releases, most recently being voted RA’s Label of the Month. It has seen releases from B12, DMX Crew and Jensen Interceptor amongst many others. This week Sheffield Cassette got in touch with label boss Chris Smith, aka CPSmith, to ask what it takes to run such a renowned label and what attracted him to the electronic music industry in the first place.
When did you first get into electronic music and did the scene in Sheffield have a big influence on this?
I grew up listening to Gary Numan, Ultravox and Human League because my brother, who is older than me, used to play them in our house all the time. During that time I was also playing a lot of video games so all things electronic were instilled in me at an early age. It wasn’t until 1990 that I got into techno thanks to a mix tape doing the rounds at school (I think it was Sheffield DJ Dan Metcalfe’s tape) which had Sweet Exorcist – Testone and other early Warp / Outer Rhythm tracks on it. This inspired weekly trips to the old Warp Records’ shop on Division Street and a serious vinyl habit.
Did you DJ regularly before starting a label and what drew you to starting your own label and showcasing other peoples’ work?
I’ve DJed in and around Sheffield since the early nineties under various pseudonyms. In 2005 I started an internet radio station called Sheffield Bleep which connected me to lots of new artists who used to hang out on an old message board called xltronic. I soon realised that there was a lot of talent that wasn’t getting noticed and there’s only so many artists labels like Warp, Skam and Rephlex can sign.
Being around in Sheffield in the 90s, Warp Records must have had a big influence on you. Have you tried to replicate the approach they took in your own label?
Warp are a huge influence, especially the early nineties stuff. Their aesthetic was fantastic; I used to buy the records with purple covers without even listening as you knew they were going to be great. I wanted to emulate that sort of consistency and collectability with CPU.
The music scene in Sheffield seems extremely good at the moment. Have you known it to be better, and if so what could be done to improve the nightlife here?
It is great at the moment, although my favourite era was the mid to late nineties. NYSUSHI & BLECH were amazing. I would like to see more people seeking out and supporting new underground artists. I also think there’s a shortage of mid week events, not enough venues willing to take musical risks and experimental nights struggling to establish themselves.
Although based in Sheffield, CPU gathers artists from around the globe to produce music. Has there always been this focus on the big picture rather than something that only resides in Sheffield?
The world is much smaller with the internet so I’ve not limited the label geographically, but I think the spirit of Sheffield’s music scene courses through the veins of CPU.
CPU Records was recently voted Label of the Month on RA. What does it take to start up a label of this calibre?
Time, patience and consistency. Having a vision and sticking to it. I have been extremely lucky to have Human Studio design each release; they have certainly made CPU iconic and recognised worldwide.
Electro has had its ups and downs. What do you think draws people to electro over other genres and why does it keep coming back?
Electro is diverse, highly melodic and keeps re-inventing itself. It’s also refreshing, especially when you move from 4/4 to electro’s syncopated rhythms. It is bursting with electronic soul and funk that is sadly missing from a lot of electronic genres these days.
With house and techno nights becoming increasingly popular with young people, how do you think the youth of today can engage in more alternative genres such as the ones that will be on display at events like Reedale Rise?
It’s our job to get the word out; it’s an uphill battle though when big promoters only book big names and play it safe to get the numbers. But I think there will always be those who seek out the underground and esoteric, we just need to find them.
When I think about the music scene in Sheffield, I think of Hope Works and CPU Records. Do you feel tied to Sheffield or do you think you will ever outgrow it?
I was born and bred in Sheffield. There’s plenty of room to grow, being only an hour from Leeds and Manchester it’s actually a big music community. I have huge respect for the Hope Works team who are really pushing things forward in the city especially with the No Bounds festival. I’m proud to see the city firmly back on the music map and happy to contribute to it.
Having heard a lot about Computer Club but never having had a chance to go, will there be a return of it over the coming months?
There will be some more Computer Club nights. I run it with Nick Bax who owns Human Studio; we are both really busy and it has always been sporadic. Stay tuned to our facebook and twitter accounts to be the first to hear about the next event.
CPU releases on vinyl are generally highly sought after due to their production quality and pressing numbers. Do you avoid represses in general and is exclusivity important?
I don’t avoid repressing, it’s just really hard to fit them in with a tight release schedule. I get a lot of emails about repressing this and that – I’d never say never, just not for now. There’s also the cost; I have to make a business decision about how many to press. If I bowed to every repress request I’d probably be wildly overstocked and in a bad place.
Do you have a preference of vinyl or digital when DJing, and if so why?
I love DJing with vinyl and think as a punter it’s great to see. But I love turning up with USB drives for the convenience. I am a bit of a perfectionist so preparing tracks in Ableton & Rekordbox allows me to produce mixes I could only dream of with vinyl.
If your house caught fire, which one record would you take with you and why?
I would have to grab a box. It would contain Detromental – Rewind, Tikkle – Outer Limits, Octave One – Nicolette, Mad Musician – Jazz Out and as much early Warp stuff as possible. Why? – for my sanity!
If you could have dinner with any three people, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Ralf Hütter, Richard H Kirk and Richard D James. Geek out about synths and music.
If you could go back in time and do one thing differently, what would you choose, if anything?
Probably wouldn’t change much although I wish I’d won the lottery in 1993, the moment I left school.
What does the future hold for you and the music scene in Sheffield?
CPU will continue and I will always try to contribute to the music scene in Sheffield in any way I can.
Central Processing Unit’s latest release ‘Carter’s Green Factory’ by Jensen Interceptor is available to purchase here: http://shop.cpurecords.net/album/carters-green-factory. It’s pure electro magic so don’t miss out. You can also see CPSmith DJ in the High Density Energy Chamber (Mesters room) on Saturday night at No Bounds Festival (buy a ticket here: https://www.residentadvisor.net/events/980417), and keep your eyes peeled for the next Computer Club event at https://www.facebook.com/computerclub.it/.