After another momentous year, with highlights including High Focus getting a shoutout at the Brit awards, the release of the elusive Laminated Cakes album, signing of Coops and getting an album in the official top 40 charts, the team are gearing up for another of their legendary birthday events. Taking place in both Bristol and London, the High Focus Eighth Birthday Party events are sure to be an absolute roadblock.
The events take place on the 29th March in Bristol and 30th in London, with performances on both nights from The Four Owls, Dirty Dike, Ed Scissor, Ramson Badbonez, Coops, Strange U, Onoe Caponoe, Datkid, Pete Cannon, DJ Sammy B-Side, Molotov, Jazz T, Talos & Baytrilla and special guests as follows;
Bristol – Res One Inja, Smellington Piff, . Room two hosted by Sika Studios, and headlined by Devilman & Sox.
London – Dr Syntax, Micall Parknsun & Joker Starr, Trill Mitchell, Boyson & NV. Room two hosted by Boom Bap Festival, Sumgii, 184, Jives, Kotei & 4a4.
We spoke to High Focus commanding officer and Big Owl, Fliptrix, to find out about the High Focus journey to date, new music, and the birthday party.
First up congratulations on High Focus turning 8, what was the catalyst for starting a record label all that time ago?
I was working on my second solo album ‘Theory of Rhyme’. At the time I was recording in Chemo & Jehst’s studio in Camberwell. I got Jehst to jump on the album as well as Verb T and Kashmere. At that point in time I was quite up for getting my album released by YNR, but if I was to have done that Jehst said it would’ve been about a year or so wait, and I wanted to get my album out sooner. He kinda said to me that the best advice I could give you is to start a label yourself. I was at music college at the time and I had people around me that could help me with it, so I started High Focus purely as a means for me to release my own solo album at the time. I did a good professional job of it and got some good coverage on radio and in magazines like Hip Hop Connection and Rewind and stuff. I had a lot of talented mates around me at the time like Jam Baxter, Dirty Dike and Leaf Dog. They saw I did a good job with that and Jam Baxter came to me and said he had an album. I told him I’d definitely be interested in releasing it cause I thought he’s a really talented lyricist. He came to me with a proper vision and I was feeling it so we released his album Rinse out Friday / Spack out Monday, his first solo album, and then yeah it all just rolled naturally and organically from there. Leaf Dog came to me with an album and then we signed Verb T, and from that point on, after putting out a couple of albums I knew it was what I really wanted to do, to try and build a whole movement and a whole scene, cause at that point Lowlife had gone and the scene was a bit dead, so I wanted to revitalise it and bring through a whole new generation of producers and rappers.
Think Twice topped 4 million views on YouTube recently. 8 years ago starting an underground label did you have any idea that releases would be catching this much attention?
Yeah I mean we always like to think big, but I guess you never really know if that’s gonna happen. Leaf Dog helped a lot with getting that tune to come together, but yeah it’s amazing how it’s grown and it’s got a kind of snowball effect at the moment, so everything that we’re dropping is getting bigger and bigger, so it’s going well. After doing a few big things like that it helps set our eyes on bigger targets.
Do you remember a specific point in the early years where you realised that High Focus had blown up?
When we released the first Four Owls album Natures Greatest Mystery, we made that album so quickly and all together, after we released it I did notice a really big boom. It kind of caught on as a cult album. We started getting a lot more bookings and shows. It was around that point we started to make a living from music, whereas before we were all just doing it purely for the love and stuff. So that was a bit of a turning point, and then obviously after working with DJ Premier and doing the second Four Owls album, that was when the levels went up.
High Focus have achieved a level of exposure that has gone beyond reaching members of the UK hip hop scene and actually expanded the scene itself. How do you see the label expanding in years to come while staying true to its underground roots?
If you look back to 2010 there’s a lot of people in our country that wouldn’t even listen to rappers from the UK, you know. I think with grime and mainstream rap artists coming through it’s got the general public a lot more accepting of UK Artists who rap. I think in the early 2000’s you’d ask some kids who are their favourite rappers, and every one of them would probably be from America. Now if you ask kids who their favourite rappers are, pretty much everyone’s gonna be from the UK. So I think as a country we’re backing our artists a lot more, and in turn a lot of artists from America and around the world are seeing what we’re doing, and how we’re really pioneering the genre while staying true to classic roots. I think it’s helping to take it worldwide now which is obviously a big thing.
If you could choose one highlight, both on a personal and label level, of the last 8 years what would it be?
A personal highlight was performing at a festival in Vienna, it was a free festival and we got put on the main stage there, so we played in front of I think it was about 25,000 people, and a load of people knew who we were and all the lyrics cause we’d been touring Austria a lot and they’d been playing a load of our songs on the radio. So that show for me really stood out, as well as going to Greece for the first time, ’cause Greece have been writing on our videos for years about ‘Can’t wait to see you guys there’ and we did a show in like a 1000 capacity club and it was sold out, and we were the only artists on the bill (The Four Owls) and everyone knew our words, so those two shows for me stood out a lot as personal fun highlights, as well as working with DJ Premier.
The next sort of biggest achievement from the Labels perspective has been Ocean Wisdom’s new album getting in the top 40 official charts at number 39. As an independent hip hop label I don’t think it’s ever been achieved before as far as I’m aware. So that’s really big for independent music and the hip hop scene in general.
There’s been a lot of talk about the new Four Owls album, when do you expect that to drop and do you have a working title for it?
Yeah we do have one, but it’s too early to say, but we got some good ideas, and hoping to get it out this year ideally. We’ve done all the writing and recording for the album, so now it’s just getting on to the videos, but yeah we got some really cool features and stuff, so yeah, I think everyone’s gonna be in for a treat.
What can fans expect from this release?
It’s classic Four Owls vibes with a bit of a new twist, classic lyricism, classic beats, & some great features on there as well. We always like to work on our music together so we capture that vibe when we’re recording, all the tracks are written and recorded in the same room together, so you really do get that crew energy, which I think is missing in some hip hop today when it’s all done over the internet you can lose some of those vibes, so yeah, we’re trying to bring some of that crew energy back.
High Focus have been smashing it at attracting a high calibre of collaborators for releases for a long time. Is there a particular stand out collab on the new project that will surprise fans?
Yeah there are some big stand out collabs on this one, but you’re gonna have to wait for an announcement on that… They’re under wraps at the moment.
Give us a tip for 2018
Get high, stay focused. Believe in yourself, manifest your dreams.
Any shout outs?
Yeah, big up to everyone supporting the High Focus movement and all the artists. Stay tuned, we got a lot of new music coming this year. Got a new solo album from myself, got some great music coming from Coops as well, he’s a new artist on the label, we got a new Jam Baxter album coming, new Dirty Dike album, and a load of exciting stuff in the pipeline, and yeah a new signing or two coming as well, so keep your eyes peeled because we got lots more to come.
So tell us a bit about the 8th Birthday Party?
A great night of real high energy live hip hop music with some cool special guests. We got Skinnyman on the London show and Pete Cannon and Dr Syntax, as well as Micall Parknsun and Joker Starr, Boom Bap festival hosting room 2. Bristol’s much the same, we got Sika studios hosting room 2, a couple of Grime headliners Devilman and Sox, then Res One and Smellington Piff as well in the main room. It’s gonna be BIG.
Whats the craziest shit you’ve seen go down at a High Focus birthday party?
Ahhh, probably Jam Baxter at the last birthday party bringing in a boat, blowing it up backstage with Lee Scott then while they played Titanic 2 setting sail across all of the fans was a legendary moment.