When Robert Luis was celebrating the 10th anniversary of his record label Tru Thoughts back in 2009, a journalist jokingly asked if perhaps the DJ and A&R guru decided to start this imprint to scratch an item off his bucket list in case the world ended at the start of the new millennium.
He laughs about it now, but can’t help acknowledging the fact that there was a small sliver of truth to his interlocutor’s comment. Luis had been having a lot of fun running a monthly club night in Brighton, the seaside town about an hour south of London, and partying. But he slowly started to wonder if maybe it was time to do something more with his remarkable ear and his ability to spot artists on the rise.
“I was quite good at picking up on new DJs and new talent,” Luis said recently, speaking from his home in Brighton. “But then once somebody became big, all the other promoters will try to battle you to book the artists. I got quite fed up with that and I was thinking, ‘If I run a label as well, the artists will be loyal to club.’ And, as a DJ, that competitive nature of having music that no one else had.”
Twenty years on, Tru Thoughts has gone from a humble two-person operation, led by Luis and co-owner Paul Jonas, tapping into the thriving Brighton scene to an international company with 10 employees and a roster artists from throughout the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Brazil and beyond. Their remit has also expanded beyond the future jazz and downtempo productions of their early releases by Bonobo and production duo Steady into the worlds of grime, New Orleans-style brass bands and world beat.
“One thing I’ve had,” Luis says, “is an instinct about artists that you can tell are really passionate about what they do and aren’t just following a trend. I can chat with artists for a little while and pick up on whether they’re just jumping on a bandwagon and making a record to be a part of something or do they have that real creative urge inside of them. I’m not a musician. I’m not a producer so I don’t want to executive produce anyone on the label. I want people to just bring me music and say, ‘Look, this is what I’ve got.’”
To help celebrate the label’s 20th anniversary, we had Luis pick 10 tracks that he thought best represent the past, present and future of Tru Thoughts. You might want to limber up before you keep reading as these tunes will make you want to move.
The first Bonobo track we released from his debut album Animal Magic. A tune recorded on four-track tape and still very popular today. The first artist album we released seemed to capture a moment and fast-tracked Tru Thoughts into people’s musical minds.
A new signing and a very special talent. This track features Joe Armon Jones (Ezra Collective), Eddie Hick (Sons Of Kemet) and Oscar Jerome. Ego is a true soul artist and I am really looking forward to releasing her music.
The new generation of producers fusing jazz and electronic music. This track has the wonderful Bryony (who has been friends with Werkha since they were children). Werkha has produced Bryony’s forthcoming album on Tru Thoughts.
One of the biggest club tracks on the label and a track that all types of DJs play from Gilles Peterson to Skream. We flew to New Orleans to meet with the band to sign this track. Hot 8 are the real deal authentic music and one of the most popular touring acts on the label.
Quantic is a genius and really worked hard to push not only his own music but Tru Thoughts as a label and in the early days this helped us so much. I love following his musical journey and feel honoured that we have been able to release so much of his music. This track brings back great memories as a DJ of having queues of people asking me what the track was, as it always went down so well.
I sometimes feel Hint is a bit of an unsung hero at Tru Thoughts. He is very knowledgeable about music and production and a great DJ. He also records music as Titeknots. This track is a big bass dance track that I still play today. When Hint / Titeknots does that soulful but heavy dancefloor music it sounds amazing.
I am an Omar superfan so working with him was amazing. This track produced by Zed Bias was killing peoples DJ sets whilst on Dubplate and when we managed to sign it to Tru Thoughts I was literally jumping up and down.
Nostalgia 77 brought the real Jazz to Tru Thoughts in the early days and is still very much involved in the current buzzing London jazz scene (he engineered the We Out Here compilation on Brownswood). This track is a collab with Prince Fatty so the dub is there.
I had been playing a lot of records with Alice singing before I realized that Alice used to come down to my club nights and the person behind this amazing voice lived in Brighton. There are so many big Alice tracks on Tru Thoughts but this one I feel sometimes gets overlooked and still sounds great today.
The man behind The Bamboos is another genius producer / artist. He can turn his music mind to all types of styles. This track is a catchy folk-style tune.