Timeline Music Meets Chris Smith (CPU)
Central Processing Unit (CPU) records has established itself as a melting pot of quality electronics where the music is as iconic as its artwork. Drawing on many influences the label itself is now as influential as many of them.
In anticipation of it’s 100th release we were excited when label boss Chris Smith had time to answer a few questions for us.
TL – When the label first emerged I was blown away by the whole concept, the artwork, binary catalogue system. I knew from the start this was going to evolve into what it is today. What inspired you to start the label.
CPU- I'd wanted to start a label for years but it took a while for things to fall into place. I built up a large network of followers through running Sheffield Bleep and Future Music internet radio stations in the late noughties. After cutting my marketing teeth cultivating those stations I felt I might be able to start a label but was never happy with my own logo and design ideas.
Then during my day job I had the opportunity to work with Human studio, a creative agency in Sheffield whom I was a fan of. After completing that work I asked them if they would design a logo for a record label I was thinking about.
TL – How did you come up with the name for the label?
CPU-I scrapped a ton of computer and science related articles from wikipedia and handed a huge list of potential label names to Human studio and gave them free rein. After a few weeks I got some concepts back which included Central Processing Unit. The binary concept quickly followed which they absolutely nailed
Nick Bax from Human said "the more I think about CPU, the more I like it. It’s not just because it suggests the kind of output that might come from the label, it also gives the impression of a central entity selecting, collecting and releasing stuff, which is essentially what a label is.”
TL – Often described as an electro label, how would you describe the CPU sound?
CPU- I would describe it as electronic. I don't fight against any genre tags but people will get a few surprises if they expect only electro.
TL- Do you have any releases you are extremely proud of?
CPU-Getting to rebuild two legendary tracks by Detromental was a personal highlight. The 5 year anniversary remixes 2xLP was a lot of work but turned out really well.I love all the releases though.
TL- The catalogue numbers seem almost random, is this intentional?
CPU-They are actually all in order (there has been the odd occasion when delays meant some numbers were released in the wrong order) . The numbers are 8-bit binary, 00000001 = 1, 00000010 = 2 etc. To the non nerdy eye they do appear random and if you have ever attempt a DJ set with only CPU vinyl it is a nightmare trying to decipher the sleeves while frantically looking for the next track! Release info can be found on the spine and back.
TL- CPU has a finely tuned sound. Do you find this containing in any way? Are there any producers that you would like to work with that don’t align with the label's vision?
CPU –I do all the mastering for the label. Anything mastered at Computer Club Sheffield is my handywork. I try to keep a uniform level and dynamic range on all the releases.
I would like to release more experimental stuff but it doesn't sell well unfortunately and I can't afford to run a vanity label so I am restricted in some ways. Luckily the demos I receive and artists who are recommended to me usually fit and understand what I am after.
I would love to release some hip hop in the future so I would like to put that out there!
TL- The Sheffield Bleep sound of the 90’s must have been a major influence?
CPU-Yes, it was responsible for my love of techno and club culture, without it there would be no CPU.
TL-You have established yourself globally both as the curator of the label but also as a DJ, something you have been doing for a long time. On your travels are there any emerging or under the radar scenes we should know about?
CPU-I still think electro is emerging even though it's recent interation has been bubbling for a long time, it more often than not plays second fiddle to techno in clubs.
TL- How do you see the Electro scene evolving?
CPU-It will keep pushing forward, I hope it gets more experimental but not the random soulless experimental rackit often peddled by elitist journalism.
TL-Having released some DJ tools on CPU do you have any plans to release any of your own productions? Possibly under a pseudonym?
CPU-I wish I had more time for production but sadly not at the moment. I have some great sample packs I've made which will be released through the label at some point.
TL-Are there any musical influences you have that whilst not obvious might give an insight into your curation of the label or just ones that might be interesting to learn about?
CPU-Ultravox have influenced me immeasurably. I remember feeling vindicated when Juan Atkins also cited them as an influence, which you can tell especially when listening to Ultravox's Mr X. Their melodies are amazing and I chase that musicality when listening to demos.
By Keith Anderson & Neil Martin
CHECK OUT OUR REVIEW FOR THE 100TH RELEASE ON CPU