John Rolodex: Scrolling through past, present and future  

Monday 08th, January 2018 / 12:00
By Paul Rodgers  

Photo by Agata Raymond

CALGARY – With a career that spans back to the mid ’90s when listening to obscure tracks on CBC’s Brave New Waves, Edmonton’s John Rolodex is a significant character in the history of Canadian drum and bass. His latest release, Dream Cypher, which reflects his deep roots and the ability to set his eyes to the future will come out on Machinist Music, the label he formed in 2010. 

“I just felt it was time for me to spread my wings and start my own label. I felt that I had a lot to offer as an artist and I didn’t really have a home at the time in terms of a label to be on,” reflects Rolodex, whose real name John Knoll.   

Two friends, artists Digital and Nomine, had just signed with a new distributor and Knoll secured a pressing and distribution deal with them as well. Right after, the company went through a restructuring process, resulting in a delay on the release of his first record, which eventually came out around March, 2011. Then the distributor folded.  

“I was starting over again, and at the time the vinyl thing was almost impossible, so we ended up just doing digital releases for a while,” says Knoll. “Also in the first year I stumbled upon Rene LaVice who was at that time an unheard-of producer.” 

LaVice, a prominent figure in the d’n’b world, was then sitting atop a mountain of original tracks, one being “Headlock”, which wound up being released on the mighty Ram Records and was one of the biggest drum and bass tunes of 2011. LaVice went on to become host of BBC 1Xtra’s Drum and Bass show.  

In the years following, Machinist Music put out releases from numerous artists including an EP from LaVice, and through him, Knoll met Chicago-based Dioptrics who became a partner in the label. Knoll says he wants Machinist Music to “sound like a certain version of the future.”  

“You know how in the 1960s they viewed the future in a certain way, and you get stuff like the Jetsons?” says Knoll. “Our version of the future is similar to the aesthetic that you’d get from like Bladerunner or something like that. It’s a dark future there’s a real industrial ethos to it, it’s sort of a post-human dystopian kind of a flavour.”  

He adds the label seeks “real craftsmen” — artists who don’t rely on sample packs and loops alone, but have a keen ear and a sensibility, derived from devouring back-catalogues of labels like Metalheadz or Renegade Hardware.  

Though much of the material, including his own, leans more on the darker side of drum and bass, Knoll embraces and celebrates the genre’s diversity.  

“For years it would always be, the prevailing sound would out shadow everything else. Now it doesn’t really work that way anymore. It’s sort of a long-tale theory of music, where you have someone making a little bit of everything. And that’s a really exciting climate to be in, I think.”  

Knoll is an artist truly immersed in the lore of jungle. With Dream Cypher, he exemplifies his extensive experience and career. From his crate-digging origins and his first show as Rolodex in 1997, to his work as a producer, a promoter and a label owner, in just four tracks that embody Dream Cypher, he illustrates his past, present and future — a definitive testament to the genre as a whole.   

Dream Cypher drops January 15 and will available on digital and vinyl:

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