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Plates Records: Coming Full Circle

4 February 21 words: Eileen Pegg

Eileen Pegg chats with Nick Strang as Plates goes from selling records to putting out its own this year…

When Plates announced that it would be taking the leap from being a shop that sells records to putting out its own as a label, many rejoiced. Regardless of where your music preferences sit on the DIY scale, if you’re into tunes that sit on the right side of leftfield, then you’ve probably visited Nick’s store - first at the Irish Centre, then at the Malt Cross before its sudden closure in 2018. Alongside keeping us topped up with wax, Plates has always gone one step further to turn the shop and the brand into an underground community, putting on parties as well as hosting workshop sessions and getting its dubplate cutting service up to scratch. 

For the past couple of years and without a physical home, Plates has kept a low profile. Instead, Nick’s efforts were focussed on his other community venture, City Beat Radio. In this time others have stepped up to offer pop-up (Select Sounds) and digital (WhereWax) record shop alternatives. And though we were teased with the opening of Machine Woman’s Take Away Jazz Records last winter, lockdown restrictions have meant that the full potential of this new store is yet to be realised. Right now there’s a gap, which we might not be too far off from filling, re-creating similar scenes of the fertile breeding ground that led to the opening of Plates in the first place.

Everything Nick approaches seems to be with the goal of letting unknown talent shine. No doubt, he’s aware of and links up with the city’s local crews -it was a tip off from Pond Life’s Damon Harasym led to a Plates in-store set from Big Narstie. But for his label’s first EP release it’s not a set of known names. Rather, an undercover artist, friends made from the shop who needed encouragement to share their work, and a debut from Nick himself. 

You don’t often realise the full impact of something until you look back on it with retrospect. After my call with Nick, this might have been one of the first times in a while he’s had the opportunity to go digging through the dusty rack of memories made in the store that caused him to up-sticks from London back in 2014. “Thanks for that, I really enjoyed talking about the shop as it’s been ages!” he texts, once we’ve said goodbye and the conversation has had a chance to settle. 

Whether you’re into music, collecting records or just exploring culture in Notts, I think you’ll enjoy this story too. Here’s Plates, from store in 2004 to label 2021. 

Why did you start Plates?
It just came out of a love for records, which I really got into when living in London around 2012.

Prior to that I went to uni in Notts. It had the history and connection with music but there were no places to go digging, or any shop made for DJs. It was always on my radar...I thought, “if another shop doesn’t pop up soon then there might be an opportunity there for me”. 

Did you come back to Notts just to open the shop? 
Pretty much, yeah. I always wanted to go into record selling and Notts was the obvious choice. I wanted to find a way to come back here too as I loved it as a city.

I had to get to know it again, learn where people were going, what parts of town to be in. I probably didn’t do enough research. Our first home at the Irish Centre was a challenge, looking back, but it gave us a good head start. 

You’ve moved around a bit haven’t you...
It was difficult to get foot traffic at the Irish Centre and hard to get known by the people who I knew would like to come. We decided we wanted to be in a busier part of town and moved to Malt Cross in 2016.  

After that, Malt Cross ended swiftly in 2018 and we had to reassess what to do. Notts was becoming more difficult due to rent, and lots of other record shops closed after we did. It became harder and harder to operate but at the same time, I was kind of done with it. 

I thought “we’ve had a good run” and I’d achieved most things I wanted to achieve. I didn’t feel like the shop was going to increase its audience much more, like it hit its peak. Then I kind of lost motivation to find anywhere new. When I looked around it was too expensive. It was kind of a relief, after years of scraping together enough money to live off. Obviously, I missed the fun of it though…

Moving the dubplate cutting service was more complicated. As part of my conversations with people, I pitched it to Confetti as something that could be involved in their programme. They seemed pretty keen on it, and in the end he offered me a space at Metronome. The plan was to show students the other side of music - I’ve done lectures for them, worked with Circle of Light so far. So there’s still the education side of it but I’m still there operating the business independently. 

A big part of both the physical shops were  your in-store parties - do you have any highlights?
Some of the best parties were in Irish Centre. We had some absolutely mental ones in there. 

One that comes to mind is Leftback records for their 2nd birthday party. They wanted to get a Funktion One in there, sell booze and I was up for it. But I was also aware that the management might not be too happy, so I was kind of in the middle...I knew it was going to be mental but I wasn’t prepared for HOW nuts it was. It was packed wall to wall with people. 

[here, we recall another Leftback party with Plates, held in the caves in Malt Cross, which was equally as memorable...]
Yeah...we continued to work with them. On the first party they brought loads of people down and people bought loads of records. Atjazz played too which was cool - I was always a fan of his music so it was great to have him down. 

With your shop it was almost a hub for a crossover of crews...
Yeah, I saw Plates as bringing everything music-wise together. Having DJs play in the shop was a massive part of that. We’ve had a lot of fun. 

How did you start offering dubplate cutting service? It’s a pretty specialist thing in the UK - who do you generally work with?
Yeah, what we do is pretty rare. In London there are maybe four or five big studios who are doing the real cutting work for records that are getting pressed, then you have people like me who are just doing little bits here and there, cutting dubplates, so it’s only a handful of people. Double figures maybe. 

For anyone interested in records, it’s like going another level when you start exploring dubplates. It’s like pre-releasing a record, so you discover a whole other level of digging for stuff that other people haven't found. That was already appealing to me, then it went onto learning how people cut these records and I found that really interesting.

Eventually one of my pals, Nebula 2, who was a hardcre producer from Notts told me he knew someone who got a record made in Nottingham and I didn’t believe him. Then he set up a meeting and this guy just had [the machine] in his conservatory.

I tried to think of any way I could get my hands on it basically. It was a long, long story…

[We talk more about how Nick got his machine, which could lead to another article in itself. The donor used to work in a Nottingham pressing plant which is how he claimed the gear. Following that, he’s a name on the Northern Soul scene, and even had a number one hit…]
A variety of people use it. DJs who are playing club events, for example. Dubplates are a big part of reggae culture, so we get lots of people into that cutting exclusives. Nottingham’s got a big history with Northern Soul too, we get a lot of people cutting rare tunes from that scene as well.

It’s cool how the dubplates service has been a way to connect with lots of different scenes...
Yeah definitely. I don’t have a big knowledge of Northern Soul but it’s something I’ve come to know more through cutting records. We let people watch the record get cut too, which is rare. Not a lot of people let you do that anymore. 

After the shop closed, it seems like your energy was focussed on building City Beat radio...did you ever consider selling your stock online to continue that side of things?
To be honest, I’ve never been interested in becoming an online retailer. I still have a lot of the records knocking about in different locations, some are with WhereWax, for example. Most are on Discogs and I sell bits here and there.

Now, I’m just trying to come up with more stuff for the label and find people around Notts who have work that’s ready to put out. Also, I’m trying to document anything that’s interesting in music. I always have ideas of doing short films, stuff like that. 

[In 2017 Plates ran a YouTube series ‘Selectors’, interviewing local DJs in their homes. Guests included Beane Noodler, Edwin, Facehugger, Richard Dundas, Pete Whoosh and XTC]
I’d like to pick that back up again. The guy who used to make them for us has left Notts now, so I need to recruit someone else…

Weirdly, I’m really glad we did them. I’m really close with most of the people we interviewed. Two of them have since passed away after publishing their videos, so I’m pleased we did it before that happened. It reminded me that we really need to preserve these stories. 

How did the idea of running a label come about? 
I’ve been talking about putting music out for about a decade, just never got round to it. I’ve never really been satisfied with my own music which has been the main boundary. Now that’s done, it’s starting to feel a bit more natural and I’m ready to get loads of stuff out there. 

There are so many people around Nottingham who are making music that needs to be out. It’s gone from not releasing anything for 10 years to now having enough material to release for the next 10 years. 

Did lockdown give you that push? 
One of the big things that pushed me was that loads of my mates started doing it. Right at the start  people were being really productive and it took me a while to find the motivation to get on the same level. But when people’s records started coming out I thought “this is time that we need to use productively and push yourself to do something”. 

One of the tracks on the EP is your first finished track, is that right?
I’ve been making music on and off since before the shop days. I used to make music on a laptop and when it got stolen I lost everything. That was a big setback. After that I moved away from the laptop, got an MPC and have been getting to know that. I’ve been making things here and there, nothing substantial. After hearing other people’s music recently it pushed me to put one of my tracks on the record as well. It’s been a long time coming really.

Are you excited to get your own music out there? 
It’s not that I feel people need to hear it as such, it’s more for my own mental health. I need it to get it off my chest and move on from it. I can tick it off now, it’s done! For me, my focus is about other people’s music, there’s so much good stuff.

Facehugger also features on the EP. I  recognise his name as a DJ from City Beat Radio… 
I met him through the shop. He just came in one day and was really vocal. Good fun and outspoken. One day he gave me a memory stick with about 40 different tunes on it that he’d made in the 90s, really experimental, acid and techno. All improvised, thrown together and raw - I like that in music. But there was so much! 

This will be his first ever release. He made a lot of his music with a friend who has since passed away, so he thought it wasn’t right to do anything with it at first. I’m really buzzing but he’s not very forthcoming with it. He has so much more and he’s going to get his own EP for sure.

What about Citizen Griot? 
Citizen Griot wants to remain anonymous - he’s a producer that people will probably know if i said who it was. He’s put out stuff before, more hip hop style. He knows that I’m into breakbeat so he made a tune on that tip and I really liked it. Jungle isn’t really his first language but I think it adds charm to it.

Finally, Mr Wilson makes an appearance too… 
Mr Wilson is someone that I met working at the Angel - he was the events programmer there. When I first had the shop he was one of the first supporting it - he used to work at a record shop too.  

He usually makes house and techno. I asked him to send me some tunes and NewFunk3 was on there. It’s a bit messy compared to the other songs and he was shy about it, which already made me more interested. It’s completely different to what he usually makes and what he’s into. He wasn’t a big fan of it but it stood out to me. 

Do you think there is a need for something like this in Notts? 
There are a lot of people who have made good music but aren't part of a scene - that’s what we want to showcase. I think the shop was good in that sense, just finding the people who have so much to offer and so much talent. 

That’s where we have the edge. People who… are just humble. They've got great music but you have to kind of force them to put it out. 

People need a place to be encouraged and that’s what I gained from the shop. That’s what happened with Facehugger. He probably doesn't know anyone else in Notts who's into his tunes so he just hasn't shown people it. 

I would be open to working with other people, of course. We’re based in the same building as Wigflex, for example, at Fisher Gate Point. But my priority is working with these people who haven't got this history behind them. They deserve to get known before I start working with these bigger names. 

Anything else to add?
If anyone’s interested in submitting music I'd just encourage people to get in touch! 

Plates’ North of the River Trent EP, featuring Facehugger, Deviant, Citizen Griot and DJ Squid was released on 29 January 2021.

Grab a copy on Juno, or get in touch with the label at [email protected]

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