The Icon Catalogue: Chris Dexta

The Icon Catalogue is a series of A6 zines profiling the most essential and elusive dance music record labels. They’re the brainchild of Chris Dexta, a London-based DJ, producer, label head, designer and record store owner. He designed and co-wrote the first two volumes (UK Garage Vol. 1 and Jungle Vol. 1.) and published them on his Southside Circulars imprint last year.

He recently approached us about working together and we jumped at the chance. As UK Garage Vol. 1 and Jungle Vol. 1 were both sold out, we reprinted them and also published a brand new title, Dubstep Vol. 1. Emily Thomas chatted to Dexta about the series, his record store Planet Wax and, of course, his favourite music books.

It would be great to hear more about your background…

I’m a London-born and bred music enthusiast. I got into DJing around 2001, and I’ve been collecting records and channelling my Aries energy into working in the dance music scene ever since. I’m a multi-genre DJ and I also make music, some of which have been released. I’ve also worked in A&R, design and label management. I’m also co-owner of Planet Wax, which has recently expanded to a bar and music space in New Cross, London.

How did you come up with the idea for The Icon Catalogue?

I’d be lying if I told you it was a 100% original idea. I’d seen similar format books and thought I could do my own twist on a reference style book – but for the music I know and love. The plan was to get together with some mates – exploring and growing our knowledge of specialist scenes – offering a little bit of information about the label, some of the artists, or people who ran them, alongside selecting a couple of essential tracks that were released on each label, and of course their iconic logos!

What’s your favourite part of the process?

It has to be a toss-up between the initial homework part when I write down a dream team list of labels I want to feature versus getting the finished print copy back from the press, scanning and getting them ready to market!

Are there any old records you’ve discovered from working on them?

Yeah, I knew about most of the labels before getting to work on the homework but digging through each of the labels’ past releases, I’ve found some absolute weaponry that I’ve now got to save up somehow to buy. I’ve also been reminded of some serious bangers I’d long forgotten for a while now! Digging through the vast catalogues of music that labels like Deep Medi or Social Circles put out has been a great blast from the past, and it’s also helped me switch up my DJ sets.

Why have you decided to release them physically rather than digitally?

I firmly believe that once something is digital, you cannot own it, touch it or look at it but only experience a reproduction of the original art. This goes for music, illustration and photography. I started a dubplate cutting studio and a record shop for the same reasons!

What else has Southside Circulars published?

As well as collaborating with all the staff at Planet Wax on the Limited Press community zine, I recently worked with my good mate Verity (aka Rave Report) to get some of her favourite stories into the physical realm by editing some long-form interviews and stories from her website into a magazine-style print. I also helped reissue a book called RIP Anker from local photographer Ben Graville. We worked together on an additional ‘new testament’ section, which was a great experience.

It would be great to hear more about Planet Wax. What’s it like running the store?

It’s absolute chaos, to be honest! We’re just trying our best to provide a great selection of music, great quality dubplates and now top-notch service on the bar while keeping the business afloat and paying everyone. We’ve been winging it since day one and are fully supported by our committed community that’s been growing for the last three years!

What’s your creative process like as a designer?

I do not have one… I’m a vibes person. I’m not very technical. If I run into an issue, I’ll work it out with the hive mind or find a way out of the hole!

What are some of your favourite music books?

Would you believe it if I told you I’m somewhat dyslexic and have a very low concentration span, especially when reading? I don’t get to read as many books as I’ve bought over the years, but All Crews: Journeys Through Jungle/Drum & Bass Culture has to be up there. It explains the blueprint of the scene and gives a snapshot of what’s happening right up to the day it was written. I hope they do an updated version, too as a lot has happened since the last edition in 2004!

What are some of your all-time favourite club or gig venues?

When I was a young raver, you couldn’t keep me out of Fabric on a Friday night or at The End for Swerve, Hardware, Shogun Audio, Ram, etc. I also fondly remember great events at Hidden, SE ONE and Area. More recently, Corsica Studios and Fold, but I don’t get out much!

Do you have any plans for the future you’re keen to share?

I’ve been releasing music monthly on my Bandcamp page, and we’ve got our next release on in-house label Discs of the World on the way back from the manufacturers. It’s a four-track Jungle/D&B record from Hooverian Blur. We’ve got a huge compilation on Diffrent Music pending, and I’m working on a few more Icon Catalogues, which I look forward to getting out there this year!

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