BN1 Chat’s with Brighton Music Label Trusted RHYTHM

I can remember seeing the same people… all proper music people… Everyone was head down, arms up with sweat sticking your t-shirt to your chest, and everyone was embracing where the DJ was taking them.”

David Morpeth, DJ and co-owner of Trusted Rhythm, knows exactly what was so thrilling about Brighton’s clubbing scene at its height. “I really want our label to get that lost art back again.”

Together with Lee Garrett, he’s created a space celebrating the underground, where the more soulful and versatile end of the house music spectrum is allowed to shine. The pair have spent 22 years DJing, predominantly amongst the local scene during Brighton’s ‘golden age’ of clubbing. They’d be firing up places like the Honey Club, Coalition and The Zap, with Lee enjoying residencies at London’s Turnmills and Pacha. “Ultimately, we’re both utterly obsessed by music. I found it incredibly hard to move without thinking of music. It’s very rare that I’ll sit in silence.”

The desire to forge and consolidate something a little deeper led to the duo launching their own label. But the ambitions to create a richer experience for clubbers don’t end with only releasing records. “Because music is everything, we wanted to go beyond the DJing and become more involved in the whole culture and community. For both of us, we really enjoy establishing connections and meeting good people. And having good times with those good people. So, it was a logical move for us.”

Set up two years ago, the label’s mission statement is to platform ‘Music for the underground, not the common ground’. David says there’s a wealth of producers creating unique and exciting sounds. “As we know music is representative of people’s experiences. We really want to show off artists who work hard to put musicality and emotion into their stuff.” Lee had already been busy releasing music on several other labels, so it was a small jump to start nurturing their own talent. “We could see where there were more dots to join together. I feel like we can improve a really good experience for our artists, by making them feel part of something familiar.” A community has been built up, which stretches beyond the local area to welcome producers from the US, Ireland, South Africa, Germany, Sweden and France into the Trusted Rhythm family. 

The Trusted Rhythm ‘sound’ is predominantly built around Deep House. It’s a handy tag to deploy, but simultaneously a difficult genre to describe. Like most house music genres, it emerged from 80s America. Taking influence from jazz, soul and disco to lend a more organic feel, it’s more nuanced and gentler than the bombastic tech house popular on huge festival stages. “This part of the genre spent some time going back underground. You don’t see many deep house main room events, and I quite like that. It drives people to be a little bit creative. What I love about this music and the label is that it allows me to dig and dig.” This sensuous style’s polyrhythms do seem to engage the listener on a more profound level. Characterised by hypnotic and often euphoric sounds, it’s typically a little slower than commercial fodder – the gentler pace allowing for intricate and spacious percussion.

Dance music is very much in the mainstream nowadays. We see huge festivals on TV, where the biggest names in the industry gather crowds of thousands with the latest floor-filling hits. But this appeal carries with it a risk of the music becoming anodyne.  There’s still a place for the quirky and inventive. Some people are trying to make a stand for something a bit more authentic and intimate. Trying to create a space where revellers aren’t constantly capturing some engineered mass moment on a smartphone, because they’re just too lost in the music.

Perhaps the need to commit every single moment to social media isn’t too much of a problem if people are still paying to hear dance music. After all, life moves on. The way we consume entertainment evolves constantly. Perhaps we’re becoming afraid of immersion, only able to validate experiences with the assistance of a screen. A DJ often has to fight for the attention of those validating their night with status updates.

“The advance of social media does lend itself to that. People want to be immortalised in capturing the imagery associated with that. You need to allow yourself to let go… Simon Dunmore, who used to be the head at Defected, was asked about mobile phones on a dancefloor. Who diplomatically said you need to embrace it and say no. I went to a gig in London, and the people there were super polite, but they were giving out stickers for the back of your phone. It was encouraging you to be part of it.”

David says there are two sides to everything. It’s always nice to immortalise the memory of your mate making an arse of themselves in the middle of a club. “…so long as the engagement with the music doesn’t get lost. And, for artists and labels, you’ve never had a better opportunity to engage with people. We kind of see social media as a vanity metric.” 

He recognises online social networking is hugely embraced now, but says many young people are starting to break away from the algorithms, and discovering stuff which isn’t being shoved down their throats. Particularly with music. There is a space for apps like Spotify, but its more rewarding to become involved on a personal level. “What does it give you? A different story to tell…”

The link between these platforms and entertainment is substantial. David says when approaching clubs about holding events, the very first question asked would be how many Instagram followers the label had. “I didn’t even have the chance to explain what the music was. I do wonder if people realise there was a scene prior to social media. You’d communicate through fliers, or chat to loads of people. Maybe go to your record shops, where everyone was sorting out their sets for the night and speak to the guys there. It’s just being a network, and that’s a lost art.”

David and Lee’s own friendship stretches back to when the latter was working in the legendary BPM Records, a store once servicing the needs of DJs and aficionados opposite Brighton Town Hall. “I didn’t know him particularly well, but we’d always struck up a conversation about music. When I’d go in, he’d get an order in and would have kept a few aside, saying that I’d love them. I’m sure he told everyone that. But I did! That sense of embracing people and the personalisation of music… it’s not something you really get with the digital landscape.”

Trusted Rhythm are playing their part in moving the dance scene forward, not least with participation at this month’s Brighton Music Conference. The biggest clubbing industry event in the UK, it gathers luminaries from almost every sector and genre to network and discuss the future. The label will take part in a series of A&R sessions, uncovering new talent and identifying developing trends. “It’s an opportunity to have a conversation with us. We’ll be brushing shoulders with proper household names, like Toolroom, Defected and Hospital Records.” They know organiser Billy Mauseth from playing alongside him at venues like The WaterBear and The Freemasons, and David is convinced of the value the conference brings to the local scene. “To have a conference like that in the city is massive. Music is an extremely passionate and diverse industry, and that is reflected at BMC. Bringing that kind of energy anywhere is a huge benefit. It’s a privilege. It’s great to build that kind of music. At a macro level, music is hosted in pubs, clubs and bars, so we recognise the impact of that. To have a swarm of those kind of people to this city is a huge achievement.”

The future of the entire industry is uncertain. While festivals are providing entertainment for thousands at a time, it’s accompanied by scores of clubs closing their doors. As with so many other cultural sectors, it’s the centre ground which is being hollowed out. There are the huge headline acts who can command massive fees and, at the other end of the scale, the bedroom amateurs – who are arguably the biggest consumers of dance music. It’s increasingly fraught times for mid-level club DJs, who are the ones who push their genre forward. 

David says it’s a cultural imperative that people have an opportunity to see people play in small and medium sized venues; especially in a city like Brighton & Hove, which has a rich history of dancefloor innovation. “Festivals are great, but can you afford £500 every few weeks? I certainly can’t. I read somewhere that about 3,000 pubs and bars have closed nationally in the last five years. I recognise that there’s energy bills, a cost-of-living crisis, labour shortages and the shit show that is Brexit. It is brutal. I could get into the politics of it, but this is why it’s important to build communities in the music scene. Because there’s strength in numbers. You’ve got to support your local pubs. Don’t always ask for guest list and,if you’ve got the means for it, buy your music where you can…”

Everything feeds into the ethos shared by David and Lee, and most around them, where the disc jockey works as a music curator, rather than someone resting on the biggest hits. “I guess that’s the difference between your bedroom DJs and club DJs. You want that kind of journey, where someone takes you through an audio experience. I feel that’s something we definitely want to focus on.”

The pair seem to be concentrating their efforts on two areas. As a label, it’s important to showcase underground music from talented undiscovered producers, which you can listen to in either clubs or on your headphones. There’s Trusted Rhythm events, with regular nights at Brighton’s The Arch and monthly slots at Bloc in Worthing. “We want to represent that lost art of the ‘backroom’. Main rooms are brilliant, and a great opportunity for clubs to bring in international DJs and hundreds of people, but a lot of my brilliant clubbing experience has been in those dark, sweaty second rooms. Generally speaking, they’re always run by local DJs, who have an opportunity to build a real community.”

Trusted Rhythm Records participate in Brighton Music Conference which comes to the i360 and venues across the city on Weds 22 – Fri 24 May. Their next release, Jay Tenner & Der Eva’s Hold Me, drops on 

Fri 3 May, with more coming during the summer. 

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