The Snapshot: Blair Stafford from Straightup in Australia

UPDATE: The link at the bottom of the article for Straightup’s site has been fixed. Thanks to Rocky Rococo for alerting me.

For the second interview in The Snapshot series, it’s time to check out the vibrant underground music scene Down Under.

Lest you think that the Northern Hemisphere has a foothold on all things fine music and partying, the folks in Oz are out to show people a thing or two by matching wits with the best of them. It’s an area many on the upper side of Earth don’t associate with the music scene; yet some top talent, both known and unknown outside Australia, are busting moves and taking names.

Keeping things together on his end is one Blair Stafford. A lifelong music lover, he’s cultivated his appreciation of music not only from his parents, but from his overseas adventures throughout the years before returning home. While most might have scuttled such thoughts, it was while on a vacation with his wife, as well as plans of a young family in the making, that he decided to go all out and follow his passions.

And those strong passions have yielded Straightup–a web site, a booking agency, and a music label. Needless to say, this keeps Stafford busier than ever, but the payoffs have been fruitful. With upcoming events, a full release slate, and shows from top spinners and producers being loaded online through the Straightup site, it’s a frenzied pace that shows no lack of momentum anytime soon.

As ever, it’s time to welcome the man by allowing a proper introduction. Take it away, mate!

Blair Stafford: I was born and raised in a little beach side village about 50km south of Melbourne, Australia where I spent every day watching boats come and go, playing guitar and just hanging. By the time I was old enough I was heading into the city to catch bands. There were no DJs back in that day.

After traveling around the globe and living away from Australia for many years (I lived and studied music in Berlin for most of the nineties) I have now based myself back in Melbourne in the inner north where I live with my wife and our young family.

Velanche: What drew you to the DJ lifestyle?

Stafford: I think the lifestyle is different for everyone. I am not one of those cats who go out and just party all the time. Although for that touring is always fun, Djing came pretty easy; by the time I was finishing high school we were starting to have all these house parties and I was the one who was sitting next to the tape deck with pre cued tracks to lay on. Eventually we started hiring decks and I then got to figure out how they worked.

I raided my parents record collection much to their surprise and start laying down all this big band jazz stuff next to a lot of early hip hop that mates were bringing back from their trips to NYC. This was back in the early 80s. There was no old skool or nu skool so I have never really got into beat mixing per se but maintained a good collection and played as a selector in the soul tradition.

By the time I was at Uni I got right into Northern Soul and Motown/Stax stuff so I started doing some soul nights around town, again mates were bringing back all these old 7” from the UK and I was just lapping up… it all progressed from there. I started traveling and ended up in the scene in Berlin in the late 80s and a lot of the 90s where I played and studied music at the College of the Arts,

V: How is the scene in your neck of the woods, and in Oz in general?

Stafford: Melbourne has always been a vibrant cultural centre in Australia musically, going all the way back to the pre WWII days with big band jazz. Then it is where punk and disco first really flourished in the 70s. Nowadays it is such a mash of different scenes it is hard to tell what is what. We have so many talented musicians and producers who base themselves here so the live scene is quite mind blowing.

The club scene is a different story all together at the moment and it is no different in any other city in Australia, the more soulful, hipper sounds have given way to the electro tech house boom currently; but hey everything is cyclical and things will swing again.

Our particular scene is kept alive and happening by monthly parties and collaborations of DJs and live muso in different cities. Also through Straightup naturally which keeps us all in touch with one another. Sometimes (I write this on a five hour flight to a weekend of gigs in Perth and Margaret River mind you) it seems that Australia is so large you have to fly somewhere almost every week or so to play, so there that is the infamous DJ lifestyle you were asking about. Early flights and late nights.

V: You have a web site, or more like a music portal, called Straightup. Can you explain the purpose of the site and how it came about?

Stafford: The purpose is pretty simple. To provide beats and grooves to a discerning listening public. We have been pretty lucky as we have a lot of fans (60,000 listeners a month on average) as well as some amazing contributors; and so it is very easy to do it with so much support and feedback. The beauty of the station (we like to think of it as an online radio station) is that we can all play whatever we like so we get a lot of CDR action as well as the opportunity to push flavours that we just plain dig!!

It was actually pretty funny how it came about. I was on holiday (actually had just eloped) with my girl in Laos and we were chilling up on an amazing river in the far north of the country. Totally picturesque stuff (think Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon style country); massive deep rivers and turquoise mountains rising up, big fish literally jumping out of the water, amazing country. Anyway we rented a fishing canoe off this guy we met, which we used for a few afternoons just to and go up stream for picnics and float back to the village at night.

I was just lying there thinking how cool It would be to hook up a music site for all the people I knew. To do something that did not have a commercial overtone to it (I had just quit my job as Art Director for a rather large, soul-less advertising company). I was taken by the idea of just doing something pro-bono for a while. Out of that afternoon’s lazy thought came One year later it was launched.

V: You’ve recently decided to buck the trend and launched Straightup Recordings. In your mind, what’s the purpose behind the label?

Straightup Recordings is very fresh and probably like the station it will morph with the years. Like I mentioned before there is a great amount of talent in Australia and a lot of it just does not get out there, whether it is acts like Sydney producers Edseven, Omegaman or new signing Deep Street Soul ( a four piece funk outfit); but also I get sent an incredible amount of music (keep it coming!!) from outfits that have no label, no representation and deserve to be heard. Plus I have seen so many acts just dissolve out of dissatisfaction with the deals they are getting in the industry.

So last year I decided to put a bit of money into some acts and get them produced and mastered up and distributed. The premise of the label is to initially do it solely as digital downloads and for that there are a few reasons.

One of the major reasons is the cost these days of investing in a new act and particularly from Australia getting vinyl pressed in Europe or the U.S then getting it all shipped back here to be distributed back to those continents.

Then there is the environmental aspect of pressing vinyl or CDs and the petro-chemicals used in the process of pressing, printing, transport etc. I have always been given a good environmental education (growing up where I did) and have tried to make decisions based on what the impact will be on the environment. I still find it hard to justify flying.

I suppose I am very fortunate in that if I had started the label any earlier I would have been forced economically to release vinyl and CDs straight away, however the market is such now that the majority of music is bought online so for that it is great timing for us. Plus of course I already have a presence online through which has helped a lot.

This does not mean of course we will not one day be pressing vinyl. It is in the pipeline but will be very limited amounts and more than likely just as promos for DJs and the like.

V: Give us a sense of how the first set of releases have been received.

Stafford: Incredibly well. Our very first track by Edseven (Too Much Talk) has just been picked up by the Mercedes Benz mixed tape compilation this year. On top of that we have been getting heavy rotation on shows like Unabombers and Ibiza Sound for our last release Funkalicious (the Diesler Remix). All of the reviews have been incredibly positive and we just have to sit back now and wait to see what the sales are doing.

I think the DJs and general public are just digging what we are trying to do and that is put out great music that is both interesting and talent filled; and also not limited to one particular genre.

V: What releases does the label have in its pipeline,

Stafford: I have just signed an amazing new funk outfit out of Melbourne actually called Deep Street Soul. They are a four piece deep funk band not dissimilar to the Dapkings in style. I am about to go into the studio with them next week to finish off some of their tracks with horn arrangements.

As well as that we are working on a project with broken beat artists Daisuke Tanabe and 1000 Names. It is great to be working with talent like this particularly with people like Daisuke Tanabe and Slowly (Funkalicious Remix); for us to work with Japanese artists is very important, for the geography of course, but also because there is so much talent there particularly in the jazz and broken beat scene.

We have another EP coming out from Ed Meme and The Forms (a remix project) in about a month as well as our first album in August/September from them.

Onur Engin is doing some incredible work (following on from his last release, ‘Brisk’, with Quincy Jointz, Kidgusto & Omgaman remixes) presently as well and we should have an album of material from him sooner rather than later.

Also one of our other radio announcers Sofie Loizou is working on some great Dubstep which we are going to release (as soon as it is finished).

On top of all this we are talking with a few new acts, but we can chat about that another time.

V: Where do you see yourself and Straightup in the near future?

Stafford: To be honest I did not expect to be here a few years ago! I hope that we can just keep going. You know we have started a small touring agency, so we are bringing out acts occasionally to spread the good vibes.

I really would like the radio site to just blossom organically, as it has to date. Everyone involved is loving the involvement and very dedicated to the music. We are getting some really nice feedback on that side of things.

I think what I would really like to do is find a sponsor for the whole gamut of projects. Ideally. This way we would not be forced to make economic decisions based on what to release or who to tour. But we would be able to exist as an arts body just fighting the good fight. In an ideal world

On a personal level, I have a beautiful and a very supportive family (we just had our second child two months ago) who give me the strength to keep doing what I do. I just want to keep on keepin’ on; touring ( I want to go back to Japan soon and have not been to the States since 2001), playing and producing. But most importantly I just want to watch my kids grow up and be here for them. We have recently bought a house so I want to build a proper recording studio out the back and just see what happens from there.

Check out the site Straightup outta Oz for shows galore, mixes, events, and information on the label.