When Tony Colman and Chris Goss put out the first Hospital Records release back in 1996, they can have had no idea of the drum ’n’ bass juggernaut they were about to create. That release, a track of their own under the alias The Peter Nice Trio, was a less gritty and more soulful take on the then burgeoning genre, and at the time polarised the d’n’b community to the extent that one record store feedback sheet stated ‘We don’t sell gay jungle!” But not everyone’s reaction was quite so extreme, and with early releases from London Elektricity, Marcus Intalex and Danny Byrd, it built a steady following for what at the time was affectionately known as ‘loungecore’.
Since then the label has become a global phenomenon, with seminal releases by artists like High Contrast, Nu:Tone and Tony and Chris as London Elektricity making Hospital the premier destination for liquid funk and d’n’b of a more melodic and soulful bent. And that’s before we even mention their wildly successful events as Hospitality, or Med School, the experimental offshoot they launched in 2006.
Label founder: Tony Colman
How did the label begin?
I’d been running labels since 1988 and had got the bug for it after our release ‘Stories’ by Izit charted. Then I began to be inspired by what my neighbours The Ragga Twins were doing in Tottenham. It wasn’t even called drum ’n’ bass at the time, but it was exciting. Chris and I teamed up with a mate of ours called Oscar and made ‘Harp Of Gold’. It’s totally different to anything in the genre before or since, but it did really well and was the birth of the label.
Did you have big ambitions, or was it one record at a time?
It was definitely one record at a time! Early on, ‘Song In The Key Of Knife’ by London Elektricity became one of our biggest hits. We pressed 7,000, sold them all, then we called the distributor to get paid and they said they had money problems. We couldn’t put out another record until we got that money. In the end we had to threaten to take away their equipment if they didn’t pay. It’s hard to imagine any of that happening in the digital age!
What’s your proudest achievement with the label?
It’s not glamorous, but never missing a royalty payment. I’m so proud of that. When we started, d’n’b labels were really bad at paying people, and none thought to sign artists exclusively and put out albums. I saw that as a business opportunity for us.
You’ve got one of the most dedicated fanbases of any label we can think of. How do you cultivate that?
People trust us because we A&R our artists so carefully. We’ve grown the label from just Chris and I to a team of like-minded staff and our fans know they can speak to us at any time. We’ve just done a two-week tour of Australia and I went walk-
about for at least an hour before playing each set to meet people and hear their stories. This 20 years has been a massive, organic exercise in family-building.