The Story Of Dirtbox Recordings

50 Releases, 5 Years Of Filth and counting...

The birth of record labels is always an interesting topic, the stories behind them are inspired by the love for the music first and foremost. However, the story of Dirtbox Recordings is not only an inspiring one, but an unconventional one at that.

Originally a live drum & bass show, Dirtbox Live consisted of a DJ, a beatboxer, an MC and a drummer. But since going separate ways, Dirtbox Recordings has lived on and become a label that champions artists across the whole drum & bass spectrum.

Releasing material on a broader scale has ensured that Dirtbox has ran for 5 years now, and it just so happens that this falls perfectly in line with their 50th release. So head honcho, Lee UHF, has rounded up the troops to organise something special in the form of a remix project to tease the new album.

5 Years Of Filth – Album Samplers 01-03 are already available and feature remixes of some of Lee’s favourite tracks released on the label. The likes of Beskar, Stonx, L3MMY DUBZ, Glitch City, ESKR and Impex all putting their own spin on some of the labels best material. Album Sampler 4 is out tomorrow and includes remixes by Just Breathe, Slaine and Resurgence. A monumental buildup to the full album release as 5 Years Of Filth drops Friday April 5.

With their Vibe City Liquid VAs and their recent Tape Pack Series launching at the turn of the new year, the last 12 months have been fruitful for the label to say the least. With much more on the horizon too, the promise of another 50 releases by the end of 2025 is no mean feat and the label looks to be going from strength to strength.

In this chat with label owner Lee UHF, we find out all about the unique origins of Dirtbox, some of the highs, some of the challenges he’s faced and a whole lot more.

So fasten those seatbelts and hold on tight as we delve deep into the story or Dirtbox Recordings

How did the story of Dirtbox Recordings begin?

I started DJing in like 98 and the obvious progression from that is you want your own music so that went into producing around 2000. Back in 2003 I ran a hardcore label called Bedlam Records, it was really successful and I ran the label up until 2010. I got into drum & bass around 2006 and it was a long journey of learning how to make drum & bass. I put out a self-release in 2016 which was a free release and it kind of ended up being the first release of Dirtbox. At the time I was working with a group of people doing a live drum & bass show. So we were called Dirtbox Live and the name comes from quite simply it was a DJ, myself, a beat boxer called Leetabix, an MC called Banchco, and a drummer as well. We put that together to have something a bit different, every man and his dog were a DJ. If you wanted to be getting good bookings and not be playing in room 17 next to the toilets, you needed to be doing something a little bit different. We were touring the world, we went to America, Australia and all over Europe. We had a good few years with it but then went our separate ways. But when you build a brand up with a name like Dirtbox, it’s hard to let go of, especially when you think it’s got a few miles left in it. The name Dirtbox Recordings, you’ve got a double meaning there, dirty music and a beat boxer, now it’s dirty music in a record box, so that’s just where the name came around.

Love that! So can you tell us about some of the artists you’ve had the pleasure of working with on the label?

The main people were TRCD, Fretman and also Slaine. I’d actually got in touch with a guy called Jay Walker as well. With the seventh release, we had a couple of guys who have been on things like Eatbrain now, Kutlo and unikore., they teamed up with an MC called Jimmy Danger and a producer called Komander Ground from Czech Republic. There was also Full Contact, who’s from the Birmingham area. He’d done stuff on Viper and stuff like that under different names. He was just open to releasing and gave me a track called Tornado, and it came with a Skynet remix, Tornado actually got signed to Wipeout, the PlayStation game. Early on, we stuck with a lot of the same artists. As we branched out, I met a couple of artists, one was a guy called Cristian, who was part of a collaboration called Sequential. So he was from Romania. And he had like, I think it was our 16th release on Dirtbox. Up until like the 20th release, it was a melee of those artists that I’ve said. We kept to the core artists and we didn’t jump out.

Awesome! Do you think it’s important to keep a good core of artists that are steadily releasing with your label?

Yes, for me, obviously there’s a loyalty factor. You want to be loyal to the people that are giving you this music. The artists are obviously putting all their hard work into my hands and entrusting me with it. I feel I’m in a very privileged situation so I’ll always put them first because they truly are the core of it. I’ve always had that thought process when creating a brand like that and involving people I want a core set of artists that feel like they belong on the label just as much as I want them on it.

It definitely brings a community vibe to it all! What are some of the challenges you’ve faced at Dirtbox?

Different things at different times really, early on it’s getting music. If you’ve had two or three releases, nobody’s signing anything to you. Later on, it’s getting support from big DJs. They’ve all got the their own brands which come first, their mates come first too which is understandable. There’s not many labels out there where people just have a love for that label and buy everything on it. In recent times, I think the most trying thing is the support for labels on DSPs, Digital Streaming Platforms, like Beatport, Spotify and Apple Music. These platforms give us some great support, I cannot thank places like this enough for the support they give. But let’s take for example Spotify, it’s massively artist related now and the problem you have there is, why can you have a Spotify For Artists page where you can manage your music, whereas a label owner managing all their music, it’s a lot harder to manage? I can’t go on Spotify and click on a label like I can on Beatport and just find the back catalogue, it doesn’t work like that. So there’s a lot of restrictions that could be shifted with ease, and there shouldn’t be any problem with doing that.

Would you say that Dirtbox Recordings spans across the broader drum & bass spectrum?

Yeah, 100%. And I guess this is another thing that’s obviously an issue that you have. I’ve always tried to push Dirtbox as a drum & bass label. It’s not a neurofunk label, it’s not a liquid label, it’s not a rollers or a jungle label. It’s tough because if you put out like three neurofunk releases in a row, somebody says, oh, that’s a neurofunk label then. Well, it isn’t. Ram Records and Viper, they get away with it. Dirtbox covers all subgenres of drum & bass.

Quality! So, 5 Years Of Filth! What an achievement, can you tell us about it?

So towards the end of last year, we realised that the label had been running for 5 years. Spanning from the back end of last year to the back end of this year, we’re celebrating the 5 Years Of Filth. One thing that’s been on the cards, for quite a while, is the 50th release on Dirtbox. So when I was getting to like the 36th or 37th release, it was like, okay, I need to plan ahead now. I can’t just be throwing these releases out. I need to think how this will work and how I actually get this 50th release out, and it’s got to be special. It’s a great milestone and it just so happens that it’s synced up on the 5 year anniversary as well. We had a couple of remixes that were already set for release. One was the Beskar remix of Bring The Fire by Varkid, one of my favourite tunes ever in drum & bass. This kind of started the landslide of an idea, let’s celebrate by remixing all my favourite tracks on the label and getting some new artists involved who have never been on the label to actually drop a remix.

Can you tell us a bit about what’s in store for the 50th release?

Now this took a fair whack of planning because as you’re leading up to it, you’re thinking, well, how do you get to that 50th release? How do we get a compilation on the main label without obviously going away from the standard that we’ve set? It took a lot of planning to think, but how we got there was, the main album will go on the compilation and then we will do 4 samplers of the album with a few tracks on and they would all be 50A, 50B, 50C and 50D. So there’s four releases on the 50th release, which makes it a bit special. And then obviously you lead up to that compilation, which is what we usually do as well. It wasn’t a case of just throwing mud at a wall. There was a lot of planning to get this done a year ago to make sure the buildup was good.

Amazing! So What in your opinion, does it take to run a successful label?

I would say to run a successful label, take 2 things out of the equation. Number 1, do not run your label for clout because you’ll never get there. You’ll be very transparent and people will be able to see it. It might take a couple of years, but get clout out your head. You’ve got to be dedicated to it, it’s a job. Releasing on a label is not just signing a track, uploading it to Bandcamp, Cygnus or Beatport, and just leaving it there, that is not a record label, and if that’s what you’re doing, then you are doing your artists a massive disservice. There is so much stuff in the background that’s got to be done and that you should be doing, so that’d be the second thing. Also, pay your artists, not every release is going to make money but make sure you’re doing your accounting. If there is money to give out, make sure it’s there. Always, even if it’s a gentleman’s agreement, put it in writing with a contract and sign it. I’d say those are some of the main keys to succeed.

What would you say are some of your personal highlights with the label?

Some of the ideas that we’ve managed to bring to life that just came from a concept. The Vibe City albums, it was great to dive deep into Liquid, because we didn’t have enough of that on the label. I’d not give it its care and attention it deserved. So, last year was brilliant to do that. We’ve got an amazing guy, my friend Matt, who does all the artwork for the releases, everything I do, DJ-wise, music-wise, my business is outside of music. He’s always done the art for it, and he is great at it. Like, he did the GTA release, it took him fucking ages to do that, because they’re all hand-done and all separate. The Tape Pack series as well, this was one of those times where you’re in the shower, and you come up with a great idea. Shayper and The Fi5th gave me 12 tracks up front and they have a release on the first of every month. They get a 70% cut of profits, as opposed to a normal 50%. These artists now are guaranteed to have a release out on the first of every month for 12 months. The 50th release for me is a huge milestone. I’ve ran other labels and I’ve never got to this many releases. To me, it shows that I’ve got the dedication to it and it gives me a bit of drive to carry on. I feel like we have got a legacy, not many hit 5 years, let alone 50 releases. It’s something I’m really proud of, and I’m really thankful of with all the artists that have provided that.

So, what would you ideally like to see for Dirtbox in the next five years?

Definitely another 50 releases. I think we’ll reach that a lot quicker because I’ve got a system, and I’m sat on a lot of music. We should be on the 100th release by the end of 2025. If you’ve got a good plan and you’re on top of things, I think it is very possible to do without skirmishing the quality, which I don’t think we do. We’ve got some big projects as well after this 50th release. One is called Battle World. And it’s basically going to be, again, a compilation that’s led up to by a series of releases. There’s going to be collaborations of artists that wouldn’t usually collab together. Also, as I promised last year as well, there will be another Vibe City this year too.

Love it! So lastly, what your thoughts on drum & bass in general are at the moment?

It’s obviously getting a lot of attention now in the mainstream media and that always trickles down to people like myself. I think something needs to be done with the events, they have suffered greatly despite what’s going on. The Dnb Allstars events, they’re amazing and they’re full, but they’re the only events that are really doing exceptionally well. People are struggling with putting events on and I think a lot of the big DJs need to help to nurture some of these younger promoters. It’s all well and good if you charge seven grand and you only want to play those things but your bread and butter are these younger, smaller promoters in these little towns and cities that are putting events on. They put their wages on the line to actually do it and if they can’t get people in by getting some names on to actually support them, they’re just going to stop doing events. So to see the smaller and more independent promoters receive more support from the bigger DJs and the punters would be amazing and do wonders for the live events in the scene.

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