There’s never really been a PRB Streetgang “sound.” Taking their musical moniker from the name of the patrol boat in Apocalypse Now, the Leeds, U.K.-based duo of Tom Thorpe and Bonar Bradberry have spent the years since their first release – 2008’s Never Get Off the Boat EP on Red Records – traipsing their way throughout house music’s roadways, heading whichever direction struck their fancy while touching on styles ranging from disco bliss to acid bleep, and from sun-dappled groovers to late night party jams.
Late Night Party Line, as it happens, is the name of their debut album, which came out last year on Skint; the pair, old friends who have been deejaying together since 2001, have also released on a murderers’ row of labels that includes 2020 Vision, Futureboogie, Toy Tonics and Throne of Blood.
Despite their previous stylistic flexibility, it’s safe to say that we’ve never heard PBR Streetgang release anything quite like their latest, the Big Wig EP – both the A-side and the flip, “Shooting Star,” are among the ballsiest tracks that Thorpe and Bradberry have ever released. They’re a pair of swaggering ’80s-tinged, electro-esque stompers that will knock the wind out of anybody standing near a speaker this summer. (Speaking of ’80s, there’s a bit of a New Order allusion in Donald Dust’s percolating remix of “Big Wig.”) As tough as they are, both “Big Wig” and “Shooting Star” maintain the melodic sense and attention to detail on which the two veterans have made their name, with John Robie-style arpeggios there, some well-placed vocal samples there, and super-tight production throughout.
As if Thorpe and Bradberry didn’t have enough on their summertime plate – besides their production duties, they were holding a summer residency at Pikes Ibiza interspersed among their other club and festival dates, and they host a show on London’s Rinse FM – the two have formed a new label for Big Wig’s release, Kurtz. When 5 Mag rings the them up at their Leeds studio to talk about the new label, they’re getting ready for a series of gigs at this year’s Glastonbury fest, including one at the Heds Party stage, where the duo would be laying down a set of Salsoul Records classics. “Some good stuff to choose from there,” Tom says in his low-key way.
5 Mag: Can we assume that “Kurtz” is another Apocalypse Now reference?
Tom Thorpe: Yeah, Colonel Kurtz. Not many people have picked up on that!
5 Mag: You’ve always been able to put your music out on stellar labels. Why go through the hassle of starting up one of your own?
Bonar Bradberry: As great as it’s been to release music on some really amazing labels, it’s just a matter of having control, the freedom to release music we want to when we want to, and to be able to release that music in the formats that we want to. Just being able to say what the artwork is, the look of a release is going to be – that’s something that we haven’t really had before. We’ve both worked in the industry for years, and we kind of know how to do it, and it’s something we’ve never done.
Thorpe: We’ve talked about it forever!
Bradberry: And you can kind of scare yourself out of doing it. Like, “It has to be like this, it has to be like that, it has to be like what some of our other favorite labels are doing!” Finally we just decided to put some records out and go from there. We’re not putting too much pressure on ourselves: It’s meant to a fairly small thing, very much focused around our own output.
Thorpe: But we also want to support new talent, which I think just comes from getting a bit older. That was the thinking behind getting Donald Dust to do the remix.
5 Mag: I’ll admit that I wasn’t familiar with Donald Dust before this record.
Thorpe: He’s from Scotland. He’s done a lot of things done under different names and in different genres, like hip-hop, but he’s very fresh to this particular scene.
5 Mag: Both “Big Wig” and “Shooting Star” are pretty rugged tracks, by PBR Streetgang standards. Is that the sound that Kurtz will be focusing on?
Bradberry: Well, we have pretty eclectic tastes. With the album, that was a real cross section of the kind of music we the music we listen to, and the music we’re passionate about. You can hear that on our Rinse shows, too. But Kurtz is going to be very much oriented toward the nightclub end of things.
5 Mag: Both of the tracks have an electro edge to them. Is that a sound you grew up with?
Bradberry: I guess like a lot of people our age, that was one of the things we were hearing as we were getting into dance music. It’s probably never been the most popular thing around – but it’s kind of permeated through to our tastes.
How it worked was we were like, “Let’s develop on the sound we fooling around with on the track “Late Night Party Line,” and that kind of led to these songs. It wasn’t really an intentional thing to come out of the studio with a couple of electro tracks. It’s just how they came out.
5 Mag: A lot of your past releases have been vinyl only, but this one’s coming out on digital as well.
Bradberry: We have done a lot of vinyl-only releases, but this isn’t about that – this is just us putting the music out there, for anyone who wants to listen to it and however they want to listen to it. We still DJ with vinyl when possible, though, but we only seem to play in a handful of places that keep the turntables and needles in good shape.
Thorpe: We actually did a little tour at smaller venues around the U.K. last year, specifically for the opportunity to delve into gems from our record collections. For those, we’ll get to the venues early and set up ourselves, calibrate everything and get it sounding right. That was a lot of fun, playing like six or eight hours. They were good opportunities to dust off the old vinyl.
5 Mag: I assume you road-tested the new tracks in the clubs, right?
Thorpe: Yeah, and they got such a great reaction. The first time we played them out was in London, and these tracks were the ones that got people coming up and asking what they were. That was a nice confirmation that we were heading in the right direction. And that made us really happy.
5 Mag: Do you have the next Kurtz release ready to go?
Thorpe: We’re just sorting out EP 2.
Bradberry: But we can’t really talk about it yet. Best to keep it under wraps for now! But we’re hoping for September. We’re going to spread them out a bit.
Thorpe: Maybe three or four a year. We’re not in any rush.
5 Mag: You’ve taken that “not in any rush” approach to your whole career. It feels like you’ve taken the slow-and-steady route, rather than try and race to the top.
Bradberry: Well, if you go up fast, you’re gonna go down fast as well. And we’re not trying to get somewhere that quickly, anyway.
5 Mag: You’ve been friends forever, and have been working together for nearly two decades. What keeps you two together after all this time!
Bradberry: Beer and tea, mate.