Ross Telford is General Manager, Resident DJ and label A&R. Most people are familiar with his discerning ears, wry smile and trademark haircut but little beyond. One of the pillars of Sub Club, Telford started as a glass collector: a story to restore your faith in ‘The American Dream’. We had the chance to speak to the humble man in spite of his insistence he didn’t think anyone would care. He was completely wrong. Telford offers an uncompromising and insightful view into club culture, DJing, music, running a label, Glasgow’s scene and tonnes more. Enjoy.
In your RA bio it says that you had an interest in house music from a very young age. Did you see Sub Club as somewhere you wanted to work back then?
No, definitely not. In fact, I probably wasn’t even aware of it for the first few years I was into music. Basically I’m old enough to still remember this scene pre-internet (or before the internet became such an important part of it). Therefore, not everything was spoon fed to you, you had to ‘discover’ things for yourself. This was true in music and also the same with going out to clubs. Since I was only around 13 or 14, it was harder to find out about places to go out, since I wasn’t actually going out. I’d heard about it from a few friends a few years later but it wasn’t until I was old enough to go out that I went there for the first time. Probably what attracted me most to the place was the aura or mystique which surrounded it. No one really my age (or certainly anyone I knew) knew about it.
A lot of your adult life has revolved around Sub Club, how do you feel this has benefited you and your career?
Basically I get the chance to hear absolutely everyone who is around in the scene right now. I know what everyone else plays and this is part of my filter when searching for music to play at the club. I’m also pretty much strictly a warm up DJ. Therefore over time I think a style has developed for me that is considerably different from everyone else, especially in Glasgow. At least to my ears. I’m still surprised by the number of people who play here who don’t know how to use some of the basic tools that are available to them as a DJ, especially when playing early on. For example, volume and tempo. Keeping the volume low at the start and gradually turning it up at certain points in the music which is playing over the course of the first 90 minutes, not only highlights the parts of the tunes you want, but can also increase the intensity of them too. The same logic applies with tempo. Starting off slower you can gradually increase the tempo with the type of music you play, which not only allows you to play different styles but can also help you take it in different directions later in the night, depending on the different aspects which can dictate how a night goes (crowd, capacity, guest etc.). You can fill a dance floor just by using these two basic tools at your disposal.
How did you become a Subculture resident?
I was working one night and as he was leaving out the back door, I gave Domenic a mix CD. One of the few times I’d ever done that and if you know Domenic, a pretty ballsy move. He listened to it in the car on the way home that night. He was living abroad at the time and they needed someone to fill in for him around once a month, or when Harri was also away. I got a call the following week to do a few warm-ups. Basically it was a gradual process and I started playing more often.
One of my most memorable and favourite nights I ever had at the club was when you played before and after KiNK. What night stands out for you?
This one also stands out for me because the energy in the club that night was unbelievable. There where 100 people on the dance floor 10 minutes after we opened the doors and I was playing at 100bpm. And KiNK’s live set is amazing. That was a special night. But also, some of the first times I played there: Playing with Larry Heard and him singing over “Can You Feel It?”, unannounced with Theo Parrish taking the music down to 110bpm at 2am and building it back up again. Warming up for Dixon and playing only ambient music to a packed dance floor. There’s been so many, I’m pretty spoiled.
How would you describe your taste in music?
I play House music, in all of its forms. I like all types of music though and I don’t think anyone can describe their taste in words. At least not with any accuracy.
What’s your ‘crate-digging’ process? Do tracks usually come from promo lists/friend’s recommendations/blogs/Soundcloud/Youtube algorithms?
It’s a constant process, every day searching online for new music. It can be a long and arduous process but this is the only way. I remember 5 years ago Kristian from Ame telling me he checked every track on every single promo he gets sent, as its the only way to really find the tracks no one else does. I’m not sure if you understand how much music that is to check – but it’s A LOT of music! He’s right though and I also do my best to go through this process. Listening to different types of music too also helps a lot. And then there’s sharing music with Domenic. The only person I have almost the exact same taste in music, to the point where I can send him 20 tracks and I know he’ll play 19 of them. Having a good set of monitors or headphones also helps a lot – they can help you reference what the music will sound like in the club.
Do you feel there is a change in clubbing in Glasgow from when you first started DJing at the club? And do you feel your attitude towards it has changed as well?
My attitude has stayed the same: its always been about music for me. I think 99% of people get into this through the party aspect of it, but for me it has and always will be about music. The scene here is really healthy in terms of the amount of nights on and stuff happening. However I’m also frustrated with it. Its mainly one off events and nights constantly booking guest DJs. Where are the nights who do a weekly or monthly residency and just have residents playing? Where are the nights which even have resident DJs? Everything is very event lead and everyone buys advance tickets now so the spontaneity is almost completely gone. For me, these two things are what lead to some of the best nights and helped to build small communities in these spaces and club nights in the past. From the Sub Club to Club 69 and everywhere in-between. In a time when venues are being shut down and the fundamental ideas of going out and listening to music are being challenged, its never been more important to get back to basics and remember why we do this in the first place.
You are heavily involved in the Sub Club record label, Nautilus Rising. How did the record label come about? And how did you become involved?
Its something we spoke about for a few years and last year we finally decided it was the best time to do it. We got some tracks together for a few releases which we loved and thought they needed to see the light of day. Some of them have done pretty well, but its still early days for us. Its harder to do than I thought it would be. They asked me to come on board in an A&R type role, which is choosing the music that’s released. I also have an input into the look and feel and general running of it, which has been something of a dream of mine since first going down this path. So when someone shows you a video of Dixon playing air-synth to an up and coming release in a warehouse in Milan, its a pretty strange feeling. Maybe we’re doing something right.
How do you split your time between club management, label and DJing business? Which bit is best?
I’m constantly working, much to the dismay of my girlfriend. But ultimately I love every aspect of it, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I don’t think I’d be very happy only DJing on the weekends, so they feed into one another. Which is the best bit? Well, that comes down to filling out expenses spreadsheets, going through countless demos or playing music to 400 people in the best club in the world? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
What interests outside of house music do you have and do you feel they influence your work?
My girlfriend is a designer, so she’s introduced me to the art world. She’s really talented and has a great eye for every aspect of design, so everything from Gio Ponti furniture to a Dieter Rams clock to the whole Bauhaus movement. I’m not really sure how it relates to club music but of course, you can find inspiration everywhere if you look hard enough.
Any mixes/labels/tracks you can’t get enough of at the moment?
I just discovered an album last night by a French guy Jonathan Fitoussi called “Imaginary Lines” on the American label Further, which is totally amazing. His previous album with Clemens Hourriere came out on Versatile last year and his new album is in the same vein. I’ll be playing a few of these in my up coming warm-up sets.
Photography and questions by Jenny Johan Reid
Introduction by Richard Phillips-Kerr