Their consistency, integrity, and tastemaker status have all contributed to their success.
BBE Records | Founded by Pete Adarkwah and Ben Jolly.
Launched: 1996 | Location: Hastings, UK
Barely Breaking Even just about sums it all up. Of course, for those in the know, it also happens to be the name of one of the finest disco records of all time (by the Universal Robot Band). Funnily enough, it’s where our story starts.
Sometime after the Universal Robot Band and sometime before where we are now, a pair of DJ/promoter/whatevers, Pete Adarkwah and Ben Jolly, ran a successful club night named after our eponymous song, playing a joyful mix of all they considered good. ‘Wouldn’t it be fun,’ they mused, ‘To release some of these tunes?’ And so BBE was born.
Its first release was Stop & Listen Volume 1, compiled by venerable fellow traveller, Dr Bob Jones, with a selection that could have been a calling card for the nascent label, including jazz funk classics like Eddie Russ’s ‘Zaius’, next to house killers like Soho’s ‘Hot Music’ and Sarah Vaughan’s big band rendition of ‘Inner City Blues’. That’s a recipe, right there.
Series were born, one after another. There were further chapters in the story of Stop & Listen; there were Keb Darge’s Legendary Deep Funk compilations, the Spectrum genre runs like a Model T-Ford, as well as the Barry White-referencing Strange Games & Things that, as Pete noted, “was a fans’ fave with a lot of the BBE faithful. I compiled the first one in 15 minutes and it became an instant favourite.”
These days, BBE concentrates mainly on its compilation series, while the artist series take a back seat for a while. In the meantime, Pete Adarkwah, having spent a few years in Berlin, is currently in Ghana, where his parents originate, with vague thoughts of an African outpost for the label, among many other plans. “My thinking is that Africa is the future,” he states. “I don’t want to focus purely on music, but for people to understand the music they need to understand the past culturally and then the vast diversity.” May he live in interesting times.
The main key to the success of BBE is quality. Their disco albums have been curated by some of the most respected collectors and DJs around (Dimitri From Paris, Joey Negro and Sean P), their funk albums have been compiled by Keb Darge, Pete Rock and Kenny Dope, their jazz collated by Bob Jones, hip hop tended to by DJ Premier and their house aided by Terry Farley and Masters at Work. If they needed something doing, they consulted the best.
They have always been swift off the mark, releasing music by Madlib, Will I Am or Jay Dee that frankly would have been beyond many bigger labels had they not approached them at the right time and with the correct amount of chutzpah. Plus, some beautiful artwork and a nice spot of packaging never harms things. “There is a reason why BBE has been tagged with the label ‘legendary’,” claims Amir (of Kon & Amir infamy). “Their consistency, integrity, and tastemaker status have all contributed to their success.”