The precepts of sonic progression rarely go hand in hand with commercial success in the contemporary music industry, but since its establishment in 2010, Tom Lea’s Local Action Records has transformed from a promising, yet scattered, subset of London’s Phonica Records to a monolith in the UK underground and a constant reminder of how to properly release music. One side of the Local Action coin shows well-oiled house, garage and bassline releases from T. Williams and DJ Q, the essential backbone of the label alongside Throwing Snow and Artifact. The other side of the coin, the side that’s been facedown in a Lewisham (or Cicero) gutter, is represented by Slackk and Lil Jabba, renegades of grime and footwork and the artists that give Local Action its untrammeled edge. Lea’s curation is largely grounded in the aforementioned ‘nuum stylings, but a lucid listener can also unearth coherent strands of Timbaland, The Neptunes and The Heatmakerz (the production duo beyond some of Dipset’s most memorable hits). R&B is an obvious touchstone for DJ Q’s Louise Williams-assisted crossovers, but the minimal roots of early Timbaland productions are readily apparent in Slackk’s makeup and the austere, hypnagogic narcissism of The Neptunes is a recurring theme in Lil Jabba’s work. As label head, Lea does little to enunciate Local Action’s intentions via social media or in interviews, but through means of keeping a tight circle and superior A&R work, the outlet has become synonymous with the built environment of tasteful dance music.
With such an impressive cadre of releases to its name, it would be a simple assumption that Local Action is Lea’s main project, but the London-resident spends his days editing FACT and providing what are some of the most illuminating interviews and thought-provoking reviews in the whole damn game. He has inculcated himself in the shapeshifting Boxed crew (although he is not a resident) and allied with a number of “new school” grime producers including Finn (who’s Keep Calling EP dropped on LA earlier this month) and Inkke (who’s Crystal Children EP is also out now in digital form). Alongside Slackk, who is also a journalist, Lea can be viewed as a central beam in the recent grime revival, a reputation easily fomented courtesy of impeccable interviews (Her Records most recently), Rinse FM guest slots and bolstered by the recent commercial success of DJ Q’s Ineffable LP. It would be a stretch to point to Local Action as the sole harbinger of what’s to come out of the grime world, but it’s undeniable that Lea’s ear is firmly where the action is.
On September 1, the label will release Slackk’s Palm Tree Fire LP, the producer’s debut full-length and an ambitious project in that instrumental grime albums represent near-untouched territory. Most labels coming off a successful crossover album would never touch a full-length project from a non-commercial entity like Slackk, but the release represents the stringent EP to album progression Lea prefers as well as his willingness to stick with his guns through thick and thin. And one only has to look to Lil Jabba’s brash Scales LP, the label’s first footwork release, for a precedent for success in un-tread territory. Lea’s Astral Plane mix can be viewed as both an encapsulation of the disparate sounds that make up Local Action’s foundation and a sort of tastemakers delight, blending classic Bmore and contemporary club weapons with forthcoming label material. It’s an eclectic, genre-hopping mix that contrasts UK and American sounds as much as it draws lines between the two and even finds room for synth-enthusiasts and sometime-krautrockers Tangerine Dream. As head of FACT, Lea has lead the magazine in an admirable direction and his journalistic acumen is readily apparent in his A&R work with Local Action. Nonetheless, it’s his willingness to buck industry convention that has transformed the label into the monolith it is today.