Welcome to the first installment of Underscore (that's "[under_]" to you), a new regular column dedicated to bringing attention to DIY record labels from across the globe that may not otherwise get the chance to air their views, share their secrets and provide a large-scale platform on which to promote their work. Hopefully we can do our part in bringing these labels the wider audience their tireless hard work, enthusiasm and dedication to releasing amazing music deserves. As always, each feature will come with a selection of downloads for you to check out.
In addition to making some stellar music himself, Kevin Greenspon runs Los Angeles' Bridgetown Records. I spoke to him about how the label began, the thinking behind it and the importance of taking time to do things right.
How and when did Bridgetown Records get started?
At the dawn of 2008, I decided I wanted to get a bit more involved with underground music here in Southern California. The line between those who contribute in some form and those who are strictly observing from the sidelines is a very blurry one in most scenes. Most of the people who are at DIY shows one night are performing sometime next week. There aren't really a lot of people who are completely detached. Even just coming out to the shows or picking up a CD makes you a contributor in some regards. So everyone that's around is involved somehow. I'd been going to shows for a long time and I was always around people that were making cool records and tapes themselves. So I wanted to start trying to release music myself too. Like anyone else, I recorded all kinds of stuff at home for years and never really showed it to anyone save for a couple of friends. The truth of the matter is that anyone who wants to have a label can.
It's that simple?
All it takes is to start making some physical [or digital] form of the music you or your buddies make. There's no set of rules to follow or a roadmap to "doing it right" other than doing what you want. For me, starting a label stemmed from wanting to be something more than on the sidelines of shows here in Los Angeles and putting myself out there, sharing songs that friends created. My friend Jon Barba and I started having house shows in a pool house formerly used as a makeshift bedroom so unknown touring artists from other towns would have a place to play if they couldn't get booked in LA. I started going on the road and performing out of town a lot. This way I continued to meet more people who made music or ran labels or facilitated DIY show spaces. To me, starting and running a label is one of the most effective ways of linking it all together.
Does Bridgetown have a particular philosophy?
There are several directives [that guide] Bridgetown, but I feel like saying that there's a specific philosophy embedded in the label's core is too limiting for what I want to do with it. There are too many variables at play for someone like me to adopt one game plan and implement it in full. I'm not interested in using the label as a platform to say, bring together the most cutting-edge artists in a particular sub-genre happening right now, or document a small but tight-knit local scene. I prefer a wider range of general ideas with expected outcomes that [often] converge, but not necessarily in the same ways [every time]. In this sense, my reasoning varies for any decision I make [on behalf of] the label -- artwork design, who I invite to do a release, how I present myself to the public.
I want to release music by artists I personally feel a connection with, maintain a high standard for what I put out there, and be directly involved in attaining that standard. That personal connection can mean that I'm close to the artist because we hang out in the real world, or it can stem from feeling like I relate to what they're doing. You can rest assured that I won't release music for someone I just feel "okay" about or was an anonymous demo submission. Bridgetown is for people I've met on tour, talk online with, or [artists whose work I] appreciate.
Do you run a tight ship?
The high standard carries over to each element of running the label. [For] example, I use quality packaging but still put in DIY work hours. I design the layouts, take a razor blade down each of the prints so they don't wrinkle at fold lines and dub tapes in real-time on my own decks whenever possible, rather than ordering a completely pre-manufactured item I didn't have to actually make. I try to talk with everyone who buys a tape, go to the post office every day even if it's to send one single tape, don't let myself send a package without including a handwritten letter, and even tape over their address and double-seal each package, because who knows if it could get smudged or rip open or something and the postman can't deliver it? They're little things that might not make a difference to most people, but they count. I wouldn't do them if I didn't think they were important or a reflection of how serious I am about doing this.
A lot of labels might not take the extra few seconds to do these things or write back to an email from someone who just wants to casually say “Hi” and have a normal conversation if they're not clicking "add to cart" from the start. I know this because I'm a music fan myself and have been ordering from and interacting with small labels for years. So if it really came down to defining a philosophy for Bridgetown, it's that I want to run this label the way I'd want a label I supported to be run.
Where did the name Bridgetown Records come from?
The name is simply the translation of the town I'm from, La Puente, California. It's just a direct connection to how where I'm from isn't really a place of any notability or notoriety. There isn't really anything special about being from here other than that this is all I've ever known. I've never been attracted to the idea of using a label name to characterize what one is trying to release in terms of a genre, aesthetic, or discipline. I find that too limiting. Why pigeonhole your work? I like the name because it lacks flash and doesn't really evoke any preconceived notions or expectations. The music and variety can speak for itself; I don't need a cool sounding phrase to beckon attention.
Are there any musical avenues that Bridgetown has yet to explore? Ones you would like to head down in the future?
There certainly are. It's sometimes tough to align my own personal interests with the label's focus but there are a lot of different styles or musical ideas I've wanted to incorporate into Bridgetown's future -- and several are materializing in 2012. Some specialized or narrow genres aren't always too conducive to a label like mine or a broad fan base, so I've never wanted to run a dedicated noise or electronic label. This means a lot of artists I would have loved to release might want nothing to do with Bridgetown. Regardless, I like to keep things interesting and fluid. I thrive on surprised audiences that weren't expecting something I put out. I haven't released anything that I would consider harsh noise yet, but that will be changing shortly.
Last summer, I put out a batch of 15 different releases and made sure to throw a few curve balls. Pressure by Brahms was a private recording of my friend learning how to play keyboard chords on a waterlogged desktop cassette recorder shortly after returning home from a year in lock-up. Something like that, that captures a brief moment in coping mechanisms and the learning process is more of an extremely personal art document than a conventional album. The response was amazing, and it left a lasting impression on a lot of people. I'm interested in doing more releases like that, objects that simultaneously play into the intimate nature of the medium and defy what is expected from a label or even standard music ideas. I also want to break away from the idea that tape labels primarily release low-fidelity or amateurish recordings.
Releasing DJ-oriented work is very interesting to me because it doesn't really involve playing a physical instrument in the traditional sense. The recent David Barclay mixtape is this incredible display of professional-level cueing, song selection, arrangement and everything that encompasses effective disc jockeying, but applied to an absurd concept: only playing sections of "classic" songs that utilize one-note guitar solos direct from their original records and cross-fading them into one another without missing a beat. I often feel that the ideas executed in traditional DJing might turn off some people in the tape underground despite sharing innumerable similarities to the aesthetics of drone, ambient and other experimental genres, so I've got a couple surprises planned for those guys as well. I don't want to delve too much into my plans for what's coming next, but I can assure anyone who thought my previous batches were diverse that I'll be upping the ante once again.
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