After over two decades delivering uncompromising ‘underground sonics’ from a roster of some of drum & bass music’s most impressive artists, Kasra Mowlavi and the Critical Music imprint to which he’s dedicated most of his life have grown to be among the most respected names in electronic music.
First making the leap from label boss to standalone solo artist back in 2018, Kasra’s own productions over the last few years – alongside a constantly busy DJing schedule – have shown the world that the Londoner’s ear for good, honest music goes far beyond just A&R.
With a professional background in the wider music industry working in artist management and marketing, Kasra started his first record label aged just 15, emblazoned by a passion for the sort of DIY American punk and alternative imprints it’s rare to hear name checked in European dance music circles.
“I always wanted to run a label. I’ve always been obsessed by labels; how they work, the processes, the physical product and everything that goes into that. I still go record shopping pretty much every week.”
That zeal for the label as an art-form in itself meant it was only natural that Kasra’s early years running Critical would be spent focused on the nuts, bolts and fine details of operating a meaningful record label in the digital age. While the imprint became a stable home and incubation chamber for an increasingly diverse collective of artists from across the world; launching, developing and championing the careers of now highly respected names such as Enei, Mefjus, Charli Brix and Halogenix; it took a while for Kasra to join the label’s esteemed rank of artists. To do that required building confidence in his own artistic abilities and the right to release records alongside some of the most technically skilled producers in the game.
“I’m surrounded by such amazing talent, people that are far ahead of the scene, so I’d always felt that to release my own music on Critical, it would need to stand up against everybody else’s. I’m lucky enough to get DJ work because of my role at the label, so I’ve never needed to make music to get work; I make music because I want to.”
As well as numerous solo and collaborative productions for Critical, releases for Doc Scott’s flawless 31 Records and, more recently, for Dutch maestros Noisia’s Vision imprint have proven Kasra can more than hold his own among the very best and ensure he continues to make music for all the right reasons.
For Kasra, though, it’s the label that brings the most satisfaction, enabling him to help fledgling producers follow the path he cleared and benefit from his hard work building the wider Critical brand.
“One of the most rewarding parts of my job is working with artists and being able to give them the platform to do what I do; make a living from what I love. It’s great to have the ecosystem to try to help artists thrive and realise their ambitions.”
That ecosystem comprises more than just a record label, with the Critical Sound events firmly established among electronic music’s most respected and consistently packed parties, acting as a vital incubator for the label’s artists to develop and showcase their work.
Marking the imprint’s landmark twentieth year, 2022 saw Kasra host a residency at Phonox and Critical carry its sound to places few might have once thought possible for an underground drum & bass label; taking over the main stage in front of 50,000 people at Boomtown, representing D&B at Barcelona’s ever-erudite Sonar festival and selling out London’s cavernous Printworks – bringing the music to almost every crowd and corner, without compromise.
“We have an incredibly exciting group of artists on the label who have themselves brought a different energy and I’m focusing more on making music. It really does feel like the next step now… Critical 2.0.
I’m always very conscious of being proud of what we’ve done, but it’s not about looking back. I don’t buy into the nostalgia thing; you just put out the same music again if you do. For me and for Critical, it’s always about looking forward.”