Dominic Mentsh – Greco-Roman Records
Dom Mentsh talks ‘Kidz These Daze’, lift-shaft parties and what happens when you put Thom Yorke and Daphni in a swimming pool for six hours.
Come on, you know who they are. You probably know them individually, as all three of them run around doing cool things. So, we’ve got Joe “Hot Chip” Goddard, of keyboarding and remix fame, then there’s Alexander “Full Nelson” Waldron, music consultant and DJ, and finally Dom “I’m just a behind the scenes kinda guy” (yeah, sure) Mentsh, music manager and one-time jungle MC. Together, they make up Greco-Roman , the DJ Group – come – Clubnight – come – Record Label.
From loud sets in studio-squats, to nurturing current luminaries like TEED and Disclosure , to Annie Mac minimixes (did you catch that last Friday?) and DJing on ice at the new Somerset House clubnights , the Greco-Roman boys have fingers in pretty much all the pies. I caught up with Dom Mentsh to chat about life, kids, jungle music and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Universal decision-making, constructive criticism and cherry picking only the projects that conform to a shared sense of artistic integrity – you’d be forgiven for thinking it sounds as stuffy as an old ladies’ tea party. You’d be forgiven, but you’d also be wrong.
The Greco-Roman “Collective” is partly a lesson in DJ Socialism – “It does feel like a family atmosphere”, says Mentsh, “We all have to be into the music or into the creative idea for it to go…and there’s no despotic leader” – but it’s mainly just a convenient excuse for three friends to get together and have a fucking great time.
“We all met at Island Records years ago,” Mentsh continues, “and we were just mates ‘about the music’. We all left and did different things and then we’d come back together to throw really sporadic, stupid parties.”
“They were always in do-it-yourself spaces – a bloke’s front room, a pool hall or a lift-shaft on Cambridge Heath Road,” Mentsh remembers, “The idea was to never do the same place twice. It always felt like you were in some kind of shit movie set.”
Now that they’re Radio 1 regulars, playing to sold out crowds and running the Greco-Roman record label, you’d assume the vibe has changed a little bit? “Well, we describe Greco-Roman as our ‘posh hobby’ because we all do other things,” he says. In other words, they have real jobs to make them some money. “So I suppose because it has that hobby ethos, it has, over a period of time, remained ‘true’. There’s less pressure on it.”
It’s a mature operation. He’d forgive me for saying that, he said it to me himself. But don’t for a second assume that makes it tame or safe. The passion and thirstiness behind the Greco-Roman love of music is just as strong, if not stronger, than their younger counterparts.
“Jungle was my complete obsession for so many years. It’s funny, we did a [Greco-Roman] Soundsystem gig at Fabric last weekend – me Joe and Alex – and we had some of our younger artists coming to play – TCTS and Roosevelt – who are amazing and absolutely smashed the third room”, he says.
“And I was explaining to this kid Marius (Lauber, a.k.a Roosevelt) who’s like 22 and from Germany, this whole culture of jungle music in London. Being 15 or 16 and being obsessed with Cool FM and going to raves and then finding this club Metalheadz and for like two years it being the epicentre of my world.”
“I was banging on at him for hours over dinner, saying ‘(DJ) Randall is playing a ’97 Metalheadz set and it’s going to be amazing’ and I took him down there to the jungle room. He looked at me like I was mental. He was like ‘Why have you taken me down to this room, I’m much more cultured and happier listening to my percussive house music upstairs that’s really cool and people are into and doesn’t give me a headache’.”
“If my 17 year old self knew that I was listening to and buying house music I would have been absolutely mortified,” Mentsh muses, “The same 17 year old, if he’d ever known I’d be on a flier with Goldie, Randall and GQ, he’d have lost his mind and not known what to say, but actually that same guy my age now is more than happy to escape upstairs and listen to the tunes in room three [with Roosevelt]. People change, time moves on and there’s a new scene that resonates with people, that’s the important bit.”
We’re not talking the death of jungle though, or the end of an era or anything as icky and winsome as that. Times may change, but there’s always a geeky vinyl worshipper somewhere, keeping the sub-genres alive.
“Another of our artists, TEED, created the night [at Fabric],” says Mentsh, “and he’s obsessed with jungle. His insight into it is through [Radio 1’s] One in the Jungle, which is a very different entry point to what I experienced living in London.”
“His knowledge is incredible. I’m slightly older than him, but he has knowledge of tunes that are before my time. He’s obsessed with ’92-’94 era, like proto-jungle and into the original jungle. He’s a real purist.”
Uh oh, here it comes. He’s already brought up his 17 year old self, it must be time for the “back in my day…” speech. And it certainly starts that way…
“When I was a kid,” Mentsh reminisces, “and I was connecting with a culture or scene, I didn’t have the internet.” Facepalm.
“I’d listen to the radio, I’d study the radio, I knew the sets that were coming up, I swapped the tapes. I’d go to Blackmarket and queue up, ritualistically, on a Saturday morning, because I couldn’t get into the clubs yet,” he says.
It often seems, speaking to musicians from certain generations, that musical integrity correlates directly with the amount of queuing involved in formative years. It appears to be a crucial part of a musician’s journey….something to do with delayed gratification, I assume.
“But you know what,” Mentsh continues with his speech, “you had Ray Keith and Nicky Blackmarket playing tunes for people and you had to get your face known before you even had a touch on potentially getting a white label.”
“These days, you don’t have to hunt down a VHS cassette of The Stooges or Velvet Underground, because you heard some person talking about it a few generations older than you and you want to see what these people looked like. You just get on YouTube”.
Calm yourself, though. Remember, Greco-Roman is in the business of nurturing young talent. So, what starts as a “kids these days” rant actually morphs into quite a flattering, insightful look at the experience of younger artists.
“The interesting thing nowadays is the connectivity and access to music. It is so fascinating that kids don’t necessarily have to be attached to any one particular theme or genre. The stuff they’re exposed to is completely mixed,” says Mentsh.
“I think King Krule is a really good example of this. It’s amazing because [when you listen to his music] it’s just ‘wow, what is this? Where does this come from? What are the reference points here?’ I can pick them all out, but I’d never have put that, that and that together in one place because it doesn’t make sense to me, but actually it’s like ‘Wow, this is great!’ It gives a sense of freedom to the whole thing.”
I decide to bring up Disclosure, who Mentsh and the boys worked with early on in their career, bringing out a track called ‘Boiling’ on the Greco-Roman label. As you well know, Disclosure have had what you might call a “meteoric” rise to fame, very quickly becoming popular radio fodder. With this rise has come a fair bit of criticism from some of the people who originally heralded them.
Forseeably, and quite rightly, this prompts a fiery response.
“Our country does an amazing job of kicking people when they have a bit of success,” he states.
“To one person, you’re going to be selling out. To another, you’re touching and connecting with them in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to, had you not gone through the channels that fall into some person’s definition of selling out.”
“Disclosure haven’t sold out. They’re just amazing producers and the fact that they are making the music they like, coupled with a lot of luck and timing, which is always a facet to the music industry, has meant that they have become very successful, very quickly.”
“I’ve seen people go on lengthy diatribes accusing them of sounding like a Marshall Jefferson record from 20-30 years ago. But you know what, they weren’t around then, they’re kids who’ve learnt everything themselves.”
“And music is constantly being recycled. Why were the Rolling Stones and the Beatles famous? The Stones were referencing RnB tracks from 50s Chicago and the deep south. It’s not like Disclosure are doing anything different. They’re quality and they deserve their success.”
Plagiarism and unoriginality might be dirty words, it seems, but “referencing” is not…
They might have left the lift-shafts behind for the superclubs, but Greco-Roman are careful to keep “referencing” their own earlier days. After all, they’re still three mates having a fucking good time.
“Now our parties go off in Berlin”, Mentsh says. “There’s an amazing place called Stattbad , which is an old municipal swimming pool. The party goes on in the workings and the boiler room, underneath the swimming pool. You can get about 1,300 people in and if it’s really busy they open up the swimming pool itself.”
“The night I am gutted I missed was the night we booked Daphni (Caribou) to play in the swimming pool. So, obviously, it was sold out and rammed and then Thom Yorke decided just to turn up and play with his mate Daphni and they played for like six hours in the swimming pool together.”
“I still like alternative spaces. That’s why I’m really excited about our upcoming gig at Somerset House.”
The Somerset House winter skate rink has just opened up again as of yesterday, this year sponsored by Coach. And this year they’re putting on some cool night-time events, such as clubnights from the likes of Greco-Roman, Rinse Fm, Gilles Peterson’s label Brownswood Recordings and Ibiza Rocks. Greco-Roman are playing this coming Saturday.
“When I was probably like 13,” Mentsh laughs, “I used to go to the ice rink at Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace) and on a Friday night they used to do a disco on ice. It would be dark and you’d go skating and Snap or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be playing and it would be, like, the coolest thing ever. It all comes full circle…”
We’ll probably see the odd dissenter, or “detractor” as Mentsh calls them, worried about the beautiful Somerset House being an inappropriate venue for this kind of music. But screw ‘em, because while they’re busy looking down their noses, the XWHY lot will be down there with the Greco-Roman boys, trying not to fall on our faces and having a fucking great time.
Favourite Hip Hop Tracks –
Dead Presidents – Jay Z
“There’s a Lonnie Liston Smith sample in it and it’s just such a beautiful piece of music”
Method Man and Redman – How High remix
Tickets for the Somerset Skate clubnights can be bought HERE
Greco-Roman’s recent compilation release We Make Colourful Music Because We Dance in the Dark can be found HERE
WORDS: Natasha Bird