In the world of music and entertainment, there are quite a few “thankless tasks.” Record store clerk, show promoter, tour manager, studio engineer, and yes, even a hack editor like myself has quite a few anecdotes about eating shit by the shovelful when it comes to the production-end of things. But kind of like in a restaurant, where front-of-house and back-of- house might look on each other with begrudged envy, no one really wants to trade places. Performers are happy in the spotlight; the rest of us, working behind the scenes to support them, revel in the comforting darkness and obscurity of our station. When it’s all working properly, this relationship is not unlike a healthy ecosystem. You, proud artists, are wondrous creatures and we are but remora fish growing fat off the detritus trailing from your luminescent skin. Yum!
I’ve had the fortune to dabble in many of these tasks, and one in particular I remember as a special kind of hell is that of record label owner. As a handful of you may recall, I started a label, Lambs on Helium, in the spring of 2005, primarily to support Ballzack’s second album, Chipmunk Dream Machine. But I also had plans to put out a ton of releases and document all of my more talented friends. Dream Machine is a fine album and one I’m very proud to have helped along, but the rest of it? The endless hustling for sales and consignment, futile attempts to get the album reviewed in far-away press outlets, and just box after box of product, mocking me like a huge cardboard mountain? You can keep it. It didn’t help that my adventures as a budding record mogul were cut short by Katrina, or the dumpster fire that was the record industry in the early 2000s. (Tower Records, for example, went bankrupt not only owing me money, but vaporizing some of my inventory in the process.) In the end, I just didn’t have it in me (or my bank account) to continue. The next Berry Gordy, I was not.
All this to say it’s quite thrilling to see what a vibrant label scene we have in New Orleans right now, despite the insurmountable odds of physically selling music these days. Not only do we have stalwarts like Community Records—who are celebrating their 9th year with a blowout at One Eyed Jacks this month—but upstarts like C-Rage Records are coming out firing on all cylinders, most notably with a various artists sampler LP (see Carl Elver’s review in this month’s issue for a more in-depth look). Add to that Pelican Pow Wow, who puts out the city’s nastiest, most Saturn Bar-iest punk, Joey Buttons’ Disko Obscura label (one for the eccentric synth heads), and probably a bunch more I’m spacing out on in this 11th hour. (Sinking City? PBR? Rhinestone Records? One Eye? Who else is out there?)
In the documentary Scratch , DJ Shadow takes a camera crew into the basement of one of his favorite record shops, where it’s crammed floor-to- ceiling with old vinyl, some in boxes, some just stacked in precarious towers. “You’re looking through all these records, and it’s sort of like a big pile of broken dreams,” Shadow says in his quiet, monk-like way, as he winds through the claustrophobic maze. “If you’re making records… you’re adding to this pile, whether you want to admit it or not. 10 years down the line, you’ll be here.” Of course, Shadow is using the setting to muse on the humility more artists should practice when considering their own place in the creative arena, but I see it as something else. Maybe in 10 years, or 100 years, or 1,000 even, someone will come across one of those records—or something put out by our own enterprising friends here in New Orleans. When that time comes, that record or CD (or whatever) will provide a taste of what it’s like now . Whether it’s future civilizations digging through apocalyptic rubble (post-election November, anyone?) or even an alien civilization with a vinyl fetish, there’s a chance that the records of today will speak for us in ways no other medium can. Kinda cool, if you ask me. —Dan Fox