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L.A.’s generation next of homegrown dance-music labels is mixing up a whole new sound by DANIEL SIEGAL / photographs by ALEX HOERNER
Los Angeles can feel like the best city in the world for music when you catch a legendary act, or discover indie rock’s next big thing in a beer-spattered shoebox club in Echo Park. But for those seeking an L.A.-cultivated dance-music scene, something groove-inclined locals can stake a claim to along with gridlock and carnitas tacos, the pickings have been slim.
Now, in the wake of pioneers like banger-factory Dim Mak Records and Flying Lotus’ pot-saturated Brainfeeder Records, a second crop of L.A.-based dance-focused record labels, created by artists who didn’t see their aesthetic represented in the local scene.
Of course, artist-founded, independent labels are a half-century-old story in Los Angeles, and in this era of digital downloads, what it means to be a record label has shifted—at least for the independents. While 100% Silk and Fade to Mind both release and distribute albums on vinyl, they also, like Body High, build a community—both online and off—around their artists, with showcases, strong design aesthetics and a coherent sound.
What’s unique about this crop of new labels is they’re pushing L.A. to appreciate dance music as more than disposable background music for the bottle-service crowd. The world is watching these labels right now, but the next step is to get people to pay attention on their home turf.
After Ezra Rubin, aka Kingdom, came to prominence in 2010 with his That Mystic EP on London’s Night Slugs label, he brought his aesthetic from New York to L.A and started the Fade to Mind imprint in July 2011.
Kingdom’s inspiration comes from a vibrant hodgepodge—the gay ballroom vogue scene, London bass music, mainstream R&B. Such tracks as “If You Buck” and “Seven Chirp” have a low-rider bounce as well as a futuristic sheen, a unique duality that gives them life both on a club’s subs and through a pair of headphones at home.
“We make club music,” says Rubin. “It’s club ready, but it’s of importance to all of us that our music has emotional resonance. People come to the clubs expecting one thing, but we like a lot more mood swings in the club.”
The label’s first release, the EP Timesup, came from L.A. duo Nguzunguzu—Daniel Pineda and Asma Maroof, who have been friends with Rubin for five years. “I wanted to make a home for their music, for the universe we had created together,” Rubin notes.
In fact, it was that shared musical sensibility, cultivated during trips to see Nguzunguzu and Ashland Mines (Total Freedom), that drew Rubin out to L.A. He and friends returned last month from a European tour that came together when the Bologna Live Arts Week asked Kingdom, Nguzunguzu and Freedom to perform at the Palazzo Re Enzo as the three acts’ live DJ collaboration, the Claw.
Fade to Mind’s semi-monthly party at Los Globos in Silver Lake is hard proof that this warped, mutated take on club sounds has plenty of proponents. Hundreds of attendees of all stripes, styles and sexualities pack the place to dance to the pounding sounds of the label’s diverse roster.
Fade to Mind may be reimagining club music’s margins, but Body High’s Sam Griesemer, aka Samo Sound Boy, and Jerome Potter aren’t bothering with any boundaries in their pursuit of body-moving rhythms. Producing together as DJ Dodger Stadium, the duo realized the label they wanted didn’t exist yet. “I was kind of sick of other labels and just not having 100 percent of the creative control,” says Potter, who also produces as half of LOL Boys.
Potter says he and Griesemer realized that thanks to the interconnectedness of Twitter and song-sharing sites like Soundcloud, they were already embedded in a group of like-minded producers from across the country.
Like Fade to Mind, Body High built its roster through personal connections. The commonalities between the two extend from appearances at Los Globos to the desire to reinterpret club music as darker and stranger. “[Artists] like Dubbel Dutch, Jim-E-Stack, Myrryrs and all these people—we knew we were on the same page. We always want it to be pushing the envelope and different but also be the most powerful thing you can be playing in the club that month,” says Griesemer.
“To make underground dance music in America exciting,” adds Potter.
In the label’s eight-month existence, it has found its own aesthetic, with a postapocalyptic predilection for pounding Chicago house bass, juiced up on Internet steroids. Its first big L.A. showcase is happening this month. Body High is also providing a home for artists from far off the radar, like the hypercaffeinated rhythms and chopped up R&B vocals of DJ Sliink’s Jersey club music.
“I don’t think no other label besides Body High thought about putting out Jersey club,” says the DJ, Stacey White, 21, of Newark. “No other label came to me...They’re not scared to do anything, and that’s the same with me.”
Explaining Body High’s intended reach, Potter says, “We want to find all these different pockets and get them on a label that would have an international audience, where Europeans are paying attention to it.” With DJ Sliink currently touring in Switzerland and Belgium, that goal seems in sight.
DJ Mario Cotto, KCRW’s dedicated keeper of club sounds, has a unique vantage point with a midnight show on Saturdays. “Right now it’s kind of an amazing time to be in L.A., because the dance scene is just so vibrant and you’ve got so many supertalented kids,” he says. These new L.A. labels are finding they can make calling cards out of an uncompromising approach to music and a loyalty to the communities. “There’s Hollywood, there’s the very mainstream commoditized version of the underground...these dudes are really about keeping it underground.”
A sun-filled bungalow in the hills of Highland Park might not technically be underground, but from their home office husband-and-wife duo Britt and Amanda Brown are following an equally off-map path to putting out some of the most innovative yet catchy American dance music in years. Somehow the Browns, who founded the indie-experimental record label Not Not Fun seven years ago, found time to launch 100% Silk, an imprint just for dance music, in January 2011. Since then, it has more than 20 releases on vinyl.
From their own psychedelic leaning LA Vampires to La Roux keyboardist Mikey Norris’ jacking-house project Fort Romeau, 100% Silk’s roster is an eclectic collection of producers whose common palette is the lush, wide-band sounds of analog synthesizers and the soulful hooks of old-school diva vocals. “We forget that the core of dance music is to get up off your ass and shake it,” says Amanda. “If you see that grouping together of aesthetic and sound, that’s just because you’re hearing my taste in music.”
Growing symbiotically with its roster of experimental noise-rockers turned dance revivalists like Daniel Martin-McCormick, aka Ital, or Damon Palermo, (Magic Touch), 100% Silk puts out music that can move a dance floor but also produces records for a headier listening experience.
In the past year, the label has drawn attention from grand keepers of indie culture Pitchfork and Wire, but as far as filling the floor, the label’s strongest admirers are overseas. Amanda Britt attributes 100% Silk’s transatlantic admiration to dance music’s tradition in Europe, where recalling ’90s sounds can be appreciated as a reinterpretation, not just a retro pastiche.
“In Europe, it’s like real fanfare. People are excited and they’re sort of tantalized by the whole thing,” she says. “They’re taking [dance music] in as Europeans who never had to see that weird era we had in America where it was ravey, trashy and awkward—like you couldn’t be cool and like it.”
The sort of respect 100% Silk is drawing abroad will evident at Barcelona’s Sonar Festival this month, where the label is hosting one of three major showcases, alongside acclaimed and established imprints Brainfeeder and London dub-step innovators Hyperdub. Fade to Mind is also represented at the fest, with Nguzunguzu performing.
Although the seductive, analog hypnosis of 100% Silk’s house music might not have much in common with the dark futurist aesthetic favored by Hyperdub, Amanda says the eight-year-old Hyperdub, which DJ, magazine named Britain’s best in 2009, has been an inspiration: “Our thought process is closest to Marcus [Scott’s] at Hyperdub, because he really wants to create the Hyperdub sound and to create a community around what it means to be on that label.”
Cotto says that from what he’s seeing at the club nights and warehouse parties slowly springing up outside the Hollywood ecosystem, that day is on its way. “There’s a boomerang effect. People in the States, if music is a little challenging or it’s just on some new trip, we don’t recognize it. But when it hits abroad and then boomerangs back here, we have to accept it.”