A year in lockdown has seen many of us thumb our way through more books than usual. We devour all books on dance music, and over the last year a certain publisher has appeared countless times on the back of these; Velocity Press. The books from Velocity Press celebrate all facets of dance music culture; engaging, beautifully written, heartfelt, and as authentic as they come. Whether it’s the hilarious yet cautionary tales of the Secret DJ, Oli Freke’s concise directory of Synthesizers, or celebrating the unsung artistic talents of Junior Tomlin, no one is cataloguing an preserving the history of Electronic music quite like them. At a glance the company is headed up by Colin Steven; editor and publisher of the excellent ‘Knowledge Magazine’ and the seminal Drum and Bass handbook; ‘All Crews’.
We caught up with Colin Steven to dig a little deeper into this fledgling publisher.
What did you do before starting Knowledge Magazine?
I was a freelance journalist and club promoter. I’m originally from Glasgow and I was nightlife editor from 1988 – 1990 for The List (central Scotland’s Time Out equivalent). I then started freelancing for magazines like i-D. In 1993 I moved to Bristol. My friend Markee Ledge had just started a jungle club called Ruffneck Ting with DJ Dazee and initially I just started helping out but quickly became co-promoter.
Tell us about Velocity Press, how long has this been running and how many books are currently in the collection?
In a nutshell, we publish books on electronic music and club culture. I’ve always loved music books but most seem to be about rock so I thought I’d do something about it. Our first book came out in November 2019 and so far we’ve published ten books. They’re all quite different in their own way. I never want to be pigeonholed where people know what to expect, I always want to surprise people. It’s been a strange time to start a new business but luckily the pandemic hasn’t affected us too badly. Book shops and record stores have been closed so sales have suffered because of that but luckily people have been buying more books direct from our website to make up the shortfall.
Velocity Press feels like a record label, releasing quality, collectable books that you love and want to keep. Is this ethos important to you, especially in the digital age?
Yes, I’ve always said the aim is to is create a catalogue that feels like a trusted record label in its integrity and vision. I come from a print background and after I stopped publishing Knowledge and it went online it was never the same again. Seeing All Crews continue to sell way more physical books than ebooks made me realise that there was still a demand for this and inspired me to start Velocity Press. We’re primarily about physical and it’s great to see that this is what sells the most. For the titles where we sell physical and ebooks, over 90% of sales are physical. In society in general we’ve gone so far digitally and although some things are more convenient, people are now realising what they’ve lost. We spend so much time in front of screens and people are now making a conscious choice to spend less time in front of them and what better way than with a book? Books are beautiful objects in their own right and you can’t beat the experience of reading a physical book. As well as paperbacks we also publish “coffee table” hardbacks and these aren’t available digitally. These are premium books that are beautiful objects in their own right that people collect and treasure.
Knowledge magazine was a staple in most record shops in the 90’s, how long did it run for?
I started Knowledge with my friend Rachel Patey in 1994 and it ran as a physical magazine until 2009 and then as a website until 2014. I brought it back in 2019 for a one-off special book to celebrate our 25th anniversary which did really well. It was great to see that it still meant so much to people.
What was some of your proudest moments with Knowledge magazine?
Publishing 109 magazines, organising two awards ceremonies in 1999 and 2000, travelling to countries like Iceland, America, Italy, Brazil and South Africa and meeting some great people along the way.
You published the book ‘All Crews Muss Big Up’ in 1999, which immediately went out of print and was quickly expanded and reprinted as ‘All Crews’. This is still considered the definitive snapshot of Jungle’s early years, how did the book by Brian Belle-Fortune come about?
I actually wasn’t involved in the 1999 edition, Brian Belle-Fortune self-published it originally. After it sold out he didn’t fancy the publishing side of things again and so approached me in 2003 because of my Knowledge connections. I printed 10,000 copies and I just sold the last of these in February! Brian is actually working on another update at the moment that I’m going to publish on Velocity Press next year.
Harold Heaths’s book ‘Long Relationships’ is a very personal account of his producer/DJ career at the start of London’s Tech House scene. What’s nice is the list of tunes throughout that soundtrack different chapters. Are you exploring more books that document snapshots of time through personal experience?
Yeah, Long Relationships is about Harold’s love of music and club culture over the course of 30 years. I definitely want to do more of these types of books in the future. In fact, haven’t mentioned this anywhere else yet, but Harry from DiY Soundsystem is currently writing a book for us on his escapades in the 90s and the wider free party scene of the time.
You celebrate all areas of the culture that often get overlooked – The book on Rave flyer designer and artist Junior Tomlin springs to mind. How important is this to you?
Obviously music is the most important thing but it’s also about celebrating the whole culture like you say. Pre-social media, flyers were such an integral part of clubbing and their design was an art-form in itself. Junior also designed some amazing record covers in the late 80s/early 90s and it was great showcasing all his work together in Junior Tomlin: Flyer & Cover Art. Although paperbacks are our bread and butter I always want to publish books that celebrate the visual side of things too. I haven’t written a book for Velocity Press yet but at some point I plan on writing one on record cover design.
If someone reading this hasn’t read anything yet, what’s your top 3 to jump in with and explore?
Hmmm, tricky question. It’s like being asked to choose your favourite children so I’ll go with titles I haven’t mentioned so far.
Who Say Reload: The Stories Behind the Classic Drum & Bass Records of the 90s by Paul Terzulli and Eddie Otchere. It’s a “coffee table” style book with lots of interesting back stories to some of the most famous drum & bass and jungle tunes of the 90s. What sets it apart is all Eddie Otchere’s photography though. He was probably the main photographer of the scene at the time and was resident snapper at the seminal Metalheadz nights at The Blue Note.
It was also a huge honour publishing The Secret DJ’s second book last year. Book Two is less of a personal memoir. This time the Secret DJ explores what happened to the acid house dream: how did a utopian youth movement become an “industry” riddled with predatory behaviour, parasitic middlemen, racism, sexism, exploitation, impostors and naked greed? It’s brutally honest and often controversial but crucially it has all the pathos and humour that made the first one work.
Synthesizer Evolution: From Analogue to Digital (and Back) is also worth mentioning. Most of our titles are on club culture somehow but I’m also keen to publish books on electronic music pre-1988. Synthesizer Evolution is a meticulously researched directory of every major synthesizer, drum machine and sampler made between 1963 and 1995. Each instrument is illustrated by author Oli Freke and shown alongside its vital statistics and quirky facts.
What’s in the pipeline for Velocity Press?
Got lots of interesting titles coming. Up next in June is our first fiction book, Trip City by Trevor Miller. Originally published in 1989, it’s the story of a nightclub promoter returning to London and and being thrown into an insidious world of designer drugs, psychosis and murder. It also came with a soundtrack on cassette by A Guy Called Gerald which we’re also releasing on vinyl for the first time.
In September, we’re publishing Daft Punk’s Discovery: The Future Unfurled by Ben Cardew. It’s a global view of Discovery as a cultural phenomenon, placing the album at the centre of celebrity culture, fan clubs, video, the music business etc., while also examining its profound musical impact.