Profile: Rush Hour

Hiding in plain sight on Spuistraat Amsterdam, some 100 meters away from the tourist bustle of Damstraat, a modest building in n a restrained art deco style leers at passers by through its huge open windows of some calvinistic proportions. The simple square light with the letters RH emboldened in black and white, give little to no clue to the shop’s purpose and it’s only when you press your nose right up to the glass that it reveals its true form as a record store. Nonetheless if you were not informed, you would not be aware of its significance as a self-effacing beacon for impressive House and Techno music, in whichever way you’d like to interpret that sentiment. RH abbreviated from Rush Hour is symbolic of a record store, a label, a music distributor and most importantly a community of DJs and producers that have banded together under its banner – a group of individuals based in Amsterdam that include San Proper, Cinnaman, Hunee, Tom Trago and Awanto3, lead under the sage guidance of Rush Hour’s central public figure, Antal.

Inconspicuous and far from ostentatious Rush Hour has made an immutable mark on House and Techno music without ever falling victim to hype and always wandering a path less trodden. A demure exterior in Spuistraat holds its clandestine treasures close to its chest, available to whomever has the patience and the spirit to uncover rare gems, but completely hidden to those in favour of the obvious and the safe choices in music.

Launched in 1997 from a much smaller cubicle storefront just down the street from their current building, Rush Hour began life as a record store, that looked to dig deeper than the obvious American imports that were distributed by the other record stores in Amsterdam. “We started the store to step into that void” says Christiaan Macdonald in an interview with  Richard Campbell in 2007 “and offer the music that (our competitors) didn’t supply any longer.” Although the Dutch legacy in electronic music was well and truly cemented in the early part of the 90’s as House music went through its own mutations on the continent, by 1997 it had also fallen for a sort of populist form of the genre and Rush Hour stepped into a void, immediately becoming a beacon for dusty fingers around the city and later the world. “We always did fine, with a good amount of freaks coming to the store”, Antal tells Skiddle in an interview two years back.

Those “freaks” constituted the heart and the soul of the store, many of them like Hunnee and Cinnaman, modulating from the role of customer to employee and establishing a formidable hub of a scene in the city. The original store was small and compact, with the latest releases and most recent editions filling two rows of shelves, while for the more adventurous diggers, willing to get down on their knees for music, there laid a treasure trove of undiscovered material in plastic containers below them. Crammed into this small alcove space, the expanse of House and Techno awaited the patient enthusiast and for those that intent to dig deeper, there was a cornucopia of eclecticism lying in those boxes, from Disco to Afro-Beat and even progressive rock.

Where most of their contemporaries were focussed on the instant gratification and popularity, Rush Hour opted for a more humble approach, keeping their store small, but effective and setting up a distribution centre to get those more rarified gems out of the States and into record bags in Europe. There was no posturing and even though it was in their name, they hardly rushed into anything biding their time and establishing something long-lasting and concrete on the scene in Amsterdam. It was during the great vinyl slump of 2005-6 that they would truly stand the test of time, and even though the entire world en-masse decided to go digital, Rush Hour remained and continued on their individual path, and in fact even welcomed this new era as Antal explains further in Skiddle. “(I)t was a period where all the nutters and opportunists left the game. So I enjoyed it.” With those “opportunists and nutters” out of the picture, Rush Hour soon became one of the only places around where you could still buy good underground House and Techno records. During the same time the Internet came into its own as a consumer’s paradise, RH would also become axis for collectors and fans throughout Europe.

It also cemented the Rush Hour label as an eclectic influence on the Amsterdam scene and beyond as it released music from people close to the organisation like Aardvarck and reissued classic albums like Carl Craig’s “The Album formerly known as…”. Those re-issues invariably influenced institutions like These Guys and Dekmantel in Amsterdam while the original releases helped build a community around artists like Hunnee, Tom Trago, Awanto3 and San Proper (who even sports a tattoo of the label’s logo on his arm). The community has spread even further abroad with artists like Recloose and Soichi Terrada making impressive marks on the discography, but at the epicentre of its appeal still lies the store.

They might have expanded somewhat, still only relatively little compared to their stake in electronic music today, but it still upholds the essence of the Rush Hour mantra of forging ahead on the road less travelled. So central is the store to their identity, that they’ve also established an instore serious for their customers. Rare one-of releases from the likes of Interstellar Funk and Faster Action hold incredible music for those determined to visit the store, and hidden in the shelves are endless days worth of digging for the discerning music fan, with many treasures still left to be found. With Antal’s eclectic influences still driving the store today, any person with a penchant for this music is sure to find something you haven’t heard before that would certainly make an impact in your record collection. Antal’s mixes play a vital role here too, and more often than not  they hold unbelieveable pieces for open-minded music. His mix of South African music from earlier this year opened up a new dimension of South African jazz from the seventies that had escaped this South African writer’s ears before.

As they celebrate twenty years in the game this year, Rush Hour have curtailed the short-life span of similar institutions and have become something of phenomenon in this world. They are an enigma in many ways, but they’re not pretentious or oblique about it, and have found many kindred spirits along their way that continue to revitalise and perpetuate the Rush Hour ideology. When everybody said vinyl is dead, they continued to pedal their wares and mission upstream ready to pounce on when the media form would rise to its inevitable popularity again, and they did it without being snobbish or furtive about their love for the format. They remained close to their roots and very rarely drifted into the mainstream, holding their course underground, and remain to do so today, and even though today Rush Hour is an internationally recognised label, distribution outlet and record store, you would still be forgiven to undermine its significance as you pass by its humble epicentre in Spuistraat. But for those who know what Rush Hour is, it will always be a self-effacing beacon for impressive House and Techno music.

* Antal joins Øyvind Morken for Untzdag next week, kicking off our Øya Natt weekend.