Small Change #5 Microlabels 101
9 Label Profile
Review by Rotten Milk
These days it seems like everyone has a label. Limited runs of 40 are all the rage. Ebay is a daytraders’ market for weird hipsters and loners that clamor for a the latest Hair Police side project. The rapid development of technology has ensured that everyone’s voice can be heard. But a seemingly endless onslaught of media means it’s entirely possible that no one is listening. This is both the charm and the frustration of hyper-active DIY culture. Noise music is, in no way, synonymous with any particular geographical region, but to map out the genealogy of the contemporary DIY-style labels, there are some places that seem logical starting points. The Ann Arbor/Detroit MI scene of the early 90s, for example, gave birth to Wolf Eyes, Andrew WK and Nautical Almanac. Thorough documentation of this movement was spearheaded by John Olsen’s American Tapes, which has been releasing a cassette a week for many years and his bandmate Aaron Dilloway’s Hanson Records label, which has released some of the genre’s definitive works and also serves as a major distribution point for small labels. With a focus on dark electronic noise, a fixation with old synthesizers and scratchy tape loops, the Ann Arbor noise scene sculpted a sound all its own. Releases on American Tapes range from runs of 8 to runs of 800. Many early and limited releases fetch a lot of cash on Ebay. Word on the street is that some of the dudes that made this music don’t even have complete collections. In the mid-90s Andrew WK moved to California to pursue his rockstar fortune and Nautical Almanac’s Twig Harper and Carly Ptak moved to Chicago to pursue something less tangible. They ran a store called the Mystery Spot for a few years and recorded fucked-up sounds. Twig was also in a band called Metalux with MV Carbon and Jenny Graf. Twig and Carly moved to Baltimore and Metalux released several more albums without him independently or on small labels before gaining the attention of Load and 5RC. Twig and Carly meanwhile, were building a home for themselves in Maryland. They purchased a large three-story building in the Baltimore ghetto, named it Tarantula Hill and spent the next many years building a palace, hosting touring bands and travelling themselves. Recently, they lost their home to a fire. What they did not lose was their label, Heresee. In addition to releasing their own work as solo artists and as a band, Twig and Carly have documented many of noise music’s well known acts, like Jessica Rylan, Madison dance-noise duo Neon Hunk, fellow Baltimore weirdos the Lexie Mountain Girls and Ohio upstarts Leslie Keffer and Tusco Terror. Found sound releases like “Sounds of the Maryland State Fair” or the Answer Tapes, a collection of found answering machine messages add spice and variety to the collection. Two recent collections of seven inch re-releases represent the life work of Little Howlin Wolf, an oddity of a Chicago street bluesman, while another called “Brave New World” consists of new recordings of this outsider artist, including a 20 minute Art Ensemble style jam with some noiseniks. Recent experiments with a lathe-cutter have resulted in one-of-a-kind remixes of old vinyl records and synthesizer maker Peter B. sells the schematics to build his instruments as a Heresee release as well. Perhaps Heresee’s most notorious release is a found video edited by Ptak called “Memorial Day 2000”, depicting a bunch of Michiganders setting things on fire, puking, burying cars in mud and emptying the toilets of their RVs. It is technically unavaible since receiving a cease and desist letter signed by one of the redneck drunkards it documents. On the Heresee website, in the discography, the letter is reprinted as the description of the release.
Ron Lessard’s RRR Records is the noise label that set the standard for all the others. He is responsible for hundreds of releases in twenty years, all of which have been mastered by Lessard himself on his home stereo unit. An aside to his CD-Rs (which come in distinctive cardboard packaging, each sealed with a sticker adorned by the album art) and records (my favorite is the 500 Locked Grooves album, a DJ’s dream and an invaluable improviser’s tool consisting of 500 loops), the Recycled tape series allows artists to tape their work over thrift store cassettes and write the packaging in marker by hand. Lessard runs a store by the same name as his label in Lowell Massachusetts and travels as Emil Beauleau, the World’s Greatest Living Noise Musician, selling CD-Rs and records and wow-ing audience with a performance that is one part Andy Kaufmann, one part Mr. Rogers and one part ear splitting debacle. A quick glimpse at RRR or Hanson’s website, or at other distros like Fusitron Sound or Forced Exposure, goes to show that there are indeed as many small labels as their are stars in the sky. So how do you, the potential consumer, know where to begin? Those lucky enough to live in a city that is a stop on the circuit have plenty of opportunities to hear all kinds of fascinating weirdos play in an assortment of basements, living rooms and dive bars. Many of these weirdos love to trade, so if you have your own small label you are in a good position to receive lots of strange looking (and even stranger sounding) media. All of these weirdos need gas money, so even if you’re not the trading type, you can still beef up your library. Some forward-thinking record stores like Encore (in Ann Arbor MI), the True Vine (in Baltimore), APop (currently relocating to Columbia MO), Armaggeddon (in Providence) have entire sections devoted to this kind of stuff. But for the homebound, the shy and those who live far far away, there are a few resources worth noting. The internet has truly opened the door for small labels to make a big difference and there is no end to the weird media available at a click of the mouse. Magazines like Bananafish and websites like Blastitude or Animal Psi keep tabs on the under-the-underground scenes. And then there’s the I Heart Noise message board and Brutal Sound FX mailing list. These internet playgrounds for travelling noise scenesters are sometimes intimidating and seem exclusive, but they’re still useful as sources of information, gossip, bickering and press releases. This column hardly scratches the surface of the origins of the current underground noise phenomenon. But then it doesn’t really try to either. Largely this is a list of jumping off points where you can begin exploring a world of exciting sounds and bizzare media.
More Information American Tapes: www.americantapes.com Animal Psi: www.animalpsi.com Blastitude: www.blastitude.com Brutal Sound FX: launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/brutalsfx Forced Exposure: www.forcedexposure.com Fusitron Sound: www.fusetronsound.com Hanson Records: www.hansonrecords.net Heresee Records: www.heresee.com I Heart Noise: p206.ezboard.com/biheartnoise RRR Records: www.rrrecords.com
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