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He took dubstep from Bristol to Berghain, changing Berlin’s nightlife forever. Now Scuba has dived out from his comfort zone once again… and returned with a pearl of an album
Words: Will Gilgrass
It’s 9.25 in the morning and SCB, also known as Paul Rose, more commonly known as Scuba, has been DJing back-to-back with Will Saul for almost four and a half hours. There’s still 60 minutes left of their mammoth set in Panoramabar, the second floor club above Berlin’s legendary Berghain, and Rose is cueing up the opening track from his new album ‘Personality’.
He lets ‘Ignition Key’ build before catching it just before the drop. A sea of hands fly into the air and the British producer has full control over the inhabitants of his adopted city.
The beat crashes in and the shutters flick open for just a moment. Sunlight floods the room and is greeted by an eruption of cheering – partly in adulation for the music, but also almost in mockery of the real world outside: people tucking into their Sunday breakfasts, oblivious to the fact that hundreds of clubbers are still raving, having left their cares and inhibitions at the entrance of an astonishing architectural structure just streets away.
Rose does it all. His productions are astounding: ‘Adrenalin’ was one of Mixmag’s Top 25 tracks of last year, and new single ‘The Hope’ was tipped by Mary Anne Hobbes as a possible No.1; he runs one of the most pioneering and exciting labels in electronic music in the form of Hotflush, and not only does he regularly play at Berghain, techno’s Taj Mahal, but he became, along with his booking agent Paul Fowler, Berghain’s first external promoters with their bass-heavy night Sub:Stance.
“One of the big things I wanted to do when I came to Berlin was an event, because there wasn’t anyone putting on big bass nights – but the possibility of doing it at Berghain was so far off the agenda,” Rose explains, still almost shaking his head in disbelief.
“Paul met one of the people who worked in the office at Berghain, we went in for a meeting and the first thing they said was ‘do you want to do Friday night?’ It was a risk for them; it was completely out of their comfort zone to put on that sort of thing.”
Approaching the former power generation plant at 4.30am is an astonishing experience. A man sells beers and mulled wine from a stall for punters waiting in the queue, which snakes back for 60 meters despite the sun’s imminent appearance.
The main room looks like the result of an inter-planetary war. Chains hang from the distasnt ceilings, holding up metal runways leading to Panoramabar.
A lot is made of the club’s gay fetish history (indeed, the weekend we are there The Sunday Times runs a slightly dubious expose of Berlin’s ‘sexual decadence’), and although that element is still evident – there’s a reason why the ground floor rooms are so dark – everyone is here for a true clubbing experience, to briefly leave reality and be absorbed into the relentless beats which pound from the awesome soundsystem. The crowd is hugely knowledgeable, and rather than teenage casualties littering the corridors, coffee mugs and sparkling water bottles are dotted amongst empty beer bottles and glasses.
Saturday night is the full Berghain experience, opening at midnight and often carrying on for a full 24 hours, sometimes more. Sub:Stance has a semi-regular Friday residency, with designs to represent the best of British.
At the first event in July 2008, Rose picked Mala, Shackleton, Appleblim and Distance to represent. “That was a big fucking proper dubstep night at that time,” Rose says with pride, a few hours before the latest instalment. But that is a rare example of him talking positively about the genre in which he made his name. “Dubstep began moving in a direction I wasn’t really feeling,” he says, quite bluntly. We’re talking a few hours before the night kicks off, sitting in a rammed pizzeria in the center of Berlin, Rose sporting a neatly trimmed beard and black T-shirt. “There was some really good stuff coming out until 2008 or so, but since 2009 it’s gone off.”
The decline he perceived in the UK scene was partly why he chose to move to the German capital in 2007. “I felt like I was stagnating,” he admits. “Musically I just wasn’t in it, and dubstep had become really big, but we hadn’t really. There are loads of potential reasons, but the one I could pretend to myself most easily was there are only a finite amount of people who can get big – and on the first wave it was the Croydon guys. “That’s not to say I begrudge that lot at all, but I thought I needed to do something different, with a different approach,” he says.
Despite having lived in Berlin for nearly five years, it’s clear from the way he stumbles through ordering a pizza that he still speaks very little German. “You come across the occasional administrative hurdle which needs to be jumped, but generally it’s not a problem – everyone who works in music speaks English,” he says nonchalantly.
Rose’s journey started long before his ‘big break’ – sending a CD to dubstep godfather Hatcha with ‘Scuba’ scrawled on the envelope to hide his identity and ensure the promo was judged solely on the music. “I was the typical adolescent heavy metal kid,” he recalls. “I played guitar, to a pretty good standard, and keyboards, in a kind of Suede/Smiths band which got a lot of attention. We had a big showcase gig in Camden, loads of A&R guys came and we just fucked it up. Typical rock and roll tragedy.”
When pushed on the name of the band (somewhere out there lies a long neglected MySpace page, surely?) he responds with a laugh: “I’m not telling you because it also included someone much more famous than I am,” – followed by a look which leaves us in no doubt that the conversation will be moving on.
‘Personality’ is Rose’s third album, but it is in stark contrast to both ‘A Mutual Antipathy’ and ‘Triangulation’. “I didn’t feel any pressure to go in a certain direction,” he explains as his eyes drift towards the window again, perhaps reminiscing, perhaps thinking about what records to play the following morning, or maybe wanting to escape from the interview – a process he doesn’t seem to particularly enjoy.
“I had already taken the decision to sack off the music I was known for doing, so it was like yeah, let’s see what happens, I’ll just let things flow and let whatever wants to come out come out.”
The record was completed in October after 18 months spent making 50 tracks to select from. The result is an album heavily influenced by the 1990s, drawing on elements of the techno he’s surrounded himself by, plus pop, trance and garage. Evidence of his past dubstep production doesn’t dominate, but is still inevitably part of the mix.
“I made some rock stuff with drums and guitars, and really poppy stuff. It got to a point where I knew I had to finish it. Most of it was written in September, and it’s tune number forty-two and forty-three and so on which made it.”
All the tracks are nevertheless focused on the dancefloor, and are lapped up by the Panoramabar crowd.
Like most of Rose’s releases, ‘Personality’ is released on his own Hotflush imprint. The label actually started life as a garage and jungle club night he ran in Bristol with some friends when he was a history student at the tail-end of the millennium.
“We did it at a club called The Maze,” he remembers. “It had two rooms, a good system, about 600 capacity and we just wanted to book a couple of headliners and get good crowds. We must have done four or five events and we had Andy C, Jumping Jack Frost, even [UK Garage duo] Artful Dodger – one of them was going out with a student in Bristol we knew, so we got him for £150 in the same week that ‘Re-Rewind’ came out. It was amazing.”
In Hotflush’s reincarnation as a label it’s helped nurture talents of predominantly British producers such as Joy Orbison, Roska and Mount Kimbie, but more recently American duo Sepalcure and Belgium’s Locked Groove.
“The last three years have been great,” Rose says, taking a swig of beer. “I’m really proud of the first ten releases or so, think they’re amazing. There is definitely a period I’m not so proud of – you can probably deduce what that is – but I’m really happy with where things are now.
“We are now getting to a stage where we wanted to be at the start. Somewhere where we can put out whatever we want, because it’s a Hotflush record – without people expecting a certain type of sound.”
There’s one regret.
“James Blake sent me his stuff and I just didn’t get it – that’s one which slipped away,” he says, of what turned out to be the ‘Air & Lack Thereof’ EP which came out on Hemlock. “He was part of Mount Kimbie’s live band, so I knew him a little bit anyway. The stupid thing is I do like that release – but sometimes you just play ten seconds of something and it’s the wrong ten seconds.” Then, with a lackadaisical shrug of the shoulders, he’s over it again.
As well as ‘Personality’, Sigha and Jimmy Edgar have albums slated for release on Hotflush, along with exciting new material from George Fitzgerald and Roska. Rose will balance this with overseeing Sub:Stance’s continued global expansion: events are penned for London, Leeds, New York and Amsterdam’s Trouw, and he hopes to unveil his live audio-visual show in May. A variety of remixes are scheduled, from Bombay Bicycle Club to something for Sasha’s emFire label, and he isn’t even ruling out the possibility of moving into anonymous hard techno production. Not because of Berlin’s influence, but “because I’ve got a new girlfriend who is really into techno, and not my old stuff,” he explains.
But the man who took dubstep to Berlin has perhaps been affected more by the city than he realises, forging his own unique sound under the influence of the world’s techno capital. Almost exactly half a day after our conversation at the pizzeria, Rose and Saul finish their set and hand control of the Panoramabar decks to the towering figure of Nick Höppner, a DJ and producer who also manages Berghain’s own record label, Ostgut Ton. The two Brits embrace, equal parts joy and tiredness etched on their faces. Despite not speaking the language, Scuba is arguably now as much a part of the architecture of the city’s nightlife as Berghain itself – which at 11.30am is still bouncing, an island of escapism amid the eerie, unsettling calm of the surrounding city streets.
Scuba’s album ‘Personality’ is out on February 27 on Hotflush Recordings