Paper Recordings has its roots firmly based in Manchester. Founding quartet Ben Davis, Pete Jenkinson, Miles Holloway and Elliot Eastwick met there before expanding to encompass all of north England and pumping out an extensive catalogue of over 2000 records across four imprints from more than 600 artists. Between pioneering a fresh deep house sound, unearthing Norwegian dance cuts and even reviving themselves when faced with the shredder in the form of a sizeable debt, Paper has remained one of the most varied and innovative UK labels.
The spine of PAP001 says “Look forward not back” and that ethos been at the heart of everything Paper has done since inception. Although upon recently hitting a 25 year anniversary, the label allowed itself some deserved reflection on its mighty back catalogue, putting out a couple of comps curated by two of its most influential artists - Crazy P and co-founder Ben Davis, under his Flash Atkins alias.
The albums showcase some of Paper Recordings’ hits from throughout the years ranging across disco, deep house and Balearic sounds. Crazy P presents Paper Recordings’ quality mixture of disco, deep house and jazzy grooves in Part 1, and Flash Atkins selects an 18-track array of label favourites and hidden gems for Part 2.
To mark the occasion, we’ve picked out some favourites from the catalogue, and chucked in a couple from Giles Peterson and Bill Brewster to boot. Check them out below.
Salt City Orchestra The Book (Paperback Vocal Mix) (1994)
Paper’s very first release and produced by the trio of Elliot Eastwick, Miles Holloway and Simon Bradshaw, this bassy thumper is complete with soulful layered vocals, the lyrics of which are based on Elvis Costello’s “Everyday I write The Book” and a busy organ driven second half. Check the hardback mix, too.
Paper Music Downtime (1995)
After such a successful first release, following up was hugely important in putting Paper top of the pile in forging a new direction for British house music. The percussion has a more disco-y feel and the track opens with smooth guitar licks before building to a funky collection of keys. Paper Music was an alias of the trio on the Salt City Orchestra track, and perhaps showcased the future for the label - coupling more driving deep house with laidback disco sounds.
Dirty Jesus 'Cut a Rug' (Jazz Dat Ride Mix) (1996)
Paper was really starting to establish a trademark sound - deep house tinged with jazz and funk. For this cut, acidic jazzy stabs build to a stirring irregular synth solo and sit on top on top of a tight kick, hi-hat combo, supplemented by a warm, lurking, unrelenting bassline.
Those Norwegians 'Hurdy Burdy' (1997)
Paper was key in bringing the Norweigan scene to the forefront, and this track from Those Norwegians is seminal. It’s a full bodied production stacked with all the ingredients that later became hallmarks of the Norweigan sound.
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Dirty Jesus 'Don’t Fuck With My Shit' (Late Night Cruising Mix) (1997)
Dirty Jesus comes through with a textured percussive background complete with triangles and bongos before smooth guitar riffs lead into subtle disco synths. The track utilises dub effects before stripping back for an outro accentuating the slick bassline and instrumental drums.
Shaboom 'Bessie' (1997)
A more pacey number from Shaboom this time, but the track remains consistent with that familiar bass driven soulful sound so closely associated with Paper releases. This cut is layered with strings, rousing vocals that leads the final charge. “Oh yes it will!”
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Streetlife Originals 'Lara’s Theme' (1998)
Harmonic disco vocals provide the melody that bounce perfectly off a combination of keys, guitar, sax and xylophone. An instrumental deep house triumph, it’s packed full of that cardboard level thickness trademark Paper sound. While this was released as a single, the LP 'Sidewalk Stories' is a stirring combination of downtempo, future jazz and deep house.
Eddie ‘Flashin’ Fowlkes 'Soul Train' (1998)
Biting the guitar straight from Bob James’ 'Westchester Lady', Detroit based producer Eddie Fowlkes incorporates the guitar and bass samples perfectly between a bouncing house beat. A testament to how far reaching the Paper sound could be appreciated and understood.
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Problem Kids 'Miles Away' (2 bit Whore Mix) (1998)
A more acoustic house banger that uses key changes on the infectious floor-shaking bassline to usher in an ominous, off-kilter synth. A lethal sounding echo-y snare interjects and high-pitched strings come together to top it off.
Kahuun 'Long Time No See' (1999)
Kahuun’s 12” debut 'Long Time No See' is a bass guitar driven effort that beckons in a subtle sounding kick drum before the composition is broken up by a vocal sample before descending into flute and guitar led instrumental chaos. Kahuun was another of the Norwegian artists Paper was exposing to the UK. Essential listening that intersects both Paper and Norwegian dance.
Crazy P 'Do it Good' (1999)
This mellow house funk inspired number from Paper stalwarts Crazy P(enis) brings varied instrumental percussion to the table alongside a thick acid tinged bassline, combining to provide the basis for catchy vocal snippets and a variety of instruments. The whole 'A Nice Hot Bath With' album is a triumph, indicative of Paper’s versatility and range of influences.
Papa Washington Trio 'Chocolate Fingers' (2000)
Guitar riffs and a squelchy bassline couple together perfectly as various trumpet lines fade in and out. There’s a short pause before a vocal sample tells us “I am excited” and applause rings out in the background throughout.
Rune Lindbæk 'Junta Jæger' (2000)
A downtempo psychedelic disco effort from one of Norway’s finest that was released as part of a compilation on Repap - Paper’s sister label for the most weird and wonderful edges of dance. This track showcases Paper’s influences (disco and funk) at their most raw.
Bass underpins this deep house single as the drums slot in perfectly alongside extended synth tones. A real soulful house cut, this track is a perfect example of what Paper and other UK based deep house labels were trying to do at the time.
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Crazy P 'There’s A Better Place' (2002)
A dreamy orchestral opening ripped straight from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory drips into a funky bassline, pinning together a busy percussive composition before that familiar three tone ringing beckons in a sexy disco-house breakdown for the closing.
Papa Washington Trio 'Trio De Janeiro' (2002)
That thumping kick drum opening paves the way perfectly for understated hi-hats and crisp claps. Then the strings come in and it erupts into disco fuelled euphoria.
Daco 'Aquarium' (2010)
By 2003, on the label’s 100th release, a compilation that celebrated the best sheets from Paper’s history so far, Paper had accrued serious debts. The back catalogue had to be worked in order to clear the debt. Within five years the debt was clear and Paper was saved from the recycling heap. Fittingly, the first release of the revived Paper Recordings was a bunch of remixes of their first release they had lying around. But then artists started sending stuff in. Daco was one, and with nods to old skool sounds, this Paper cut adds subtle and sultry disco elements to a well constructed house beat.
Proviant Audio 'All This Time' (2010)
The second iteration of Paper still pushed the boundaries as Proviant Audio, a Norwegian who was just 18 at the time of this release, blends together funk guitar with soulful vocals and modern production. It’s this kind of track that demonstrates Paper’s wide ranging influences and a shift in their offerings post-2008.
2 Billion Beats 'The Moodymann' (2011)
A favourite of Bill Brewster’s, this record opens with a cowbell and twangy funk guitar before tense strings lead into an acidic synth bassline. 'The Moodymann' is the first track from Manchester duo 2 Billion Beats' debut EP. They would be key in Paper’s revival, going on to release a 12-track album in 2016.
Read this next: Bill Brewster: Why I sold my 13,000-strong record collection
Research 'Day By Day' (Psychemagik Mix) (2012)
The disco influence persists on this record as Psychemagik are on remix duty. A warped bass riff creeps in and reworked vocal harmonies mix together for maximum dancefloor impact.
Leon Sweet 'Show You' (Ron Basejam Mix) (2013)
A flavoured nu-disco roller, Paper was showing it could push the boundaries of any genre - not only house. Another Bill Brewster pick, this full bodied track features that traditional instrumental Paper feel - flutes alongside a slap bass and lead guitar melodies.
Flash Atkins 'Drug Empire' (2015)
Gilles Peterson threw his weight behind the hi-hat head bobbing beat that takes charge on this record from Paper head honcho Ben Davis, who now also A&Rs for the label he co-founded. He’s found time to produce too and this effort from his Flash Atkins alias is quality. The five note synth bass runs throughout as light extended key tones sneak in and sit alongside a smooth closing solo.
Sunny Bigler 'Leon Sweet' (Original Mix) (2015)
A nu-disco banger with full on 80s vibes - arpeggiated synth bass takes centre stage on this release from Paper’s groovy sister label Paper disco. A testament to the label’s output post-resurrection.
Flash Atkins, Charlie Sinclair 'That Hit' (2018)
Another Brewster selection, this analogue synth based number from Flash Atkins & Charlie Sinclair is complete with an enveloping background bassline, soulful, acoustic and harmonic vocals from Charlie Sinclair. Bells explode for the closing section where it all comes together.
Those Norwegians 'Molde Revisted' (2019)
Released as part of the 25 year comp, this previously unheard Those Norwegians tune has a snappy, squelchy snare, crafty guitar, and a moody vibe so closely associated with the Norwegian scene.
Perhaps a better line to sum up the latest evolution of Paper Recordings is the name of PAP200 - Look forward and Back. New sounds, but always with that familiar groundbreaking Paper feel.
Max Penny-Barrow is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter
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