Homegrown Labels

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HOTHAM SOUND

author
Judah Schulte
Photo Edits
Duncan Cairns-Brenner
illustration
Alicia Marie Lawrence

On the website for Hotham Sound, the geographic place after which the label is named is described before the label itself. Hotham Sound is a sidewater of the Jervis Inlet, located on the South Coast of British Columbia. This prioritizing of information says a lot about Hotham Sound’s focus and inspiration.

Hotham Sound releases the work of experimental electronic artists from the Cascadia region. Their catalogue is atmospheric, textured and cinematic, boasting nine releases from the likes of Mount Maxwell (a project by label founder, Jamie Tolagson), Khyex, KR75 and others. Although each release has its own personality, they make the listener feel that they are suspended in dark waters or laying in an evergreen forest at dusk, grainy synthwork and eerie samples painting sonic pictures of the Pacific Northwest.

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Photo Edits by Duncan Cairns-Brenner for Discorder Magazine

When Jamie started the label in 2015, he didn’t expect it to flourish as it has. This year alone, he has released four cassettes with another one on the way. This success is, in part, due to the coincidental conception of Hotham Sound. Jamie met friend and fellow artist Kristen Roos (one half of KR75) bonding over music. Within one week of meeting, they were talking about  how to release their sounds. “[The growth was] exponential because every new person that gets involved brings with them this whole little community,” says Jamie. And so, like the seedlings of one tree planting several others, that one connection has spawned a rich discography in less than three years.

It might seem enigmatic to emulate nature with electronic music, but Jamie thinks otherwise. “To me, electronic music has more of a connection to nature than acoustic music,” says Jamie, “It’s all sinewaves, all processes. It reminds me of natural processes. That seems to be a big mental block for some people; electronic music is [associated with] clubs and nature is [associated with] guys with acoustic guitars.”

The label is run with an unwavering vision: “I want it to feel like a place.” Jamie continues, “I’ve had a lot of submissions that I really liked, but they were more suited to a dark, cavernous space in Berlin, overtly synthetic. I have no problem with that, it’s just not what I’m looking for.”

This attention to detail extends beyond the music itself; Hotham Sound’s aesthetic is also neatly maintained. The website is sleek and minimal, featuring no photos of the artists themselves, and Jamie works at length with the artists to design the graphics for their releases. It’s not only the music that’s experimental, but also the operations.

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Illustration by Alicia Lawrence for Discorder

Jamie works on a contractless system, splitting the cassette releases 50/50 with the artists, with all digital sales going directly to the artists. Another unusual aspect of the operation is that Hotham Sound offers its musicians exposure but not publicity. Jamie wants the listeners to share in the same experience of discovery that inspires the music. “I let the artists know that it’s not the kind of label that will be marketing them. It’s almost a hidden thing, something I want people to stumble upon at 2AM and say, ‘What is this?’”

One of the more unorthodox projects in Hotham Sound’s repertoire is the MMR Broadcasts, four hour-long sound collages. Each ambient soundscape is composed by a group of artists and decorated with radio static and dialogue samples from old films. Another is The Mondrians, a sound compilation based on the works of Dutch artist and theoretician, Piet Mondrian. The project seeks to re-imagine Mondrian’s abstract, geometrical grid paintings as graphic scores.

Scientists know more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean. Jamie Tolagson is no scientist but Hotham Sound is a sort of laboratory, and the artists on the label are its crew. Where the average, big-time label seeks out stars, Hotham Sound and its roster are much more interested in the depths, what’s underneath the surface of music. Together they pose the question, “What better way to learn than to experiment?”

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The Mondrians is set to release in October 2018, and is still accepting submissions. For more details and to listen to Hotham Sound sounds, visit hotham-sound.squarespace.com.

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AGONY KLUB

author
Sophia Yang
photography
Colin Brattey

“Community curator,” “content creator,” “Chinese-Canadian.” These are all labels that KC Wei, founder of agony klub, identifies with, but not without questioning and challenging their meanings.

Earning an MFA from Simon Fraser University in 2012, KC has found her niche blending together music, art and writing under her loosely designated label, agony klub. “A common thread through all of those disciplines is writing, and that’s what agony klub is focused on, or at least, the starting point,” KC explains.

agony klub, the label, was born from the monthly art rock? series that KC has been organizing at the Astoria since September 2015. Through art rock?, KC introduces “popular esoteric,” a new age term centered around making popular things strange again. But it’s more than just that, KC explains, “There’s a political responsibility I feel in making art. I want it to do some good in the world, be a space locally that can feel new and out of the routine, that doesn’t need to become something other than itself.”

She admits that planning shows once a month was hard at the beginning, but the intention has never changed. agony klub and its productions have always been about appreciating diverse genres of music, from the loud to the barely audible. art rock? is all about offering a space to break the rules, and to surprise. “The agony (i.e. doubt) and precarity is something I welcome, I suppose. […] I like the uncertainty, it’s always very full of potential. No matter which way it swings, it always ends up back in the middle to fill up again,” says KC.  

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KC Wei || Photography by Coin Brattey for Discorder

Besides creating and releasing music, KC also writes about music. In addition to producing a semi-consistent publication called AK, KC edits Whitney Houston, et al., an anthology of writing on popular music, with the second volume coming out in March. “In Whitney Houston Vol 2,” KC explains, “all the writers went to a personal place, and I think that is really powerful. Something that is popular is supposed to be generic enough for a mass audience to consume, but when we can identify our own selves in it, then there’s some alchemy at work worth exploring, whether it be critical or celebratory; often it’s both.”

In this forthcoming issue, Steffanie Ling, KC’s coworker at VIVO Media Arts Centre, wrote a piece on the parallels and cynicisms of K-Pop to American pop music. Steffanie also happens to be KC’s partner in publishing Stills, a starter zine that reviews films.

You may have noticed, there is a thread that links KC’s projects and agony klub releases: a fixation on pop culture. This is especially apparent in agony klub’s print catalogue. “Pop culture is, for the most of us, what triggered our awakening as young adults,” says KC. She continues, “because agony klub has zero ambition to climb the career ladder of criticism, and has nothing to answer to except for this idea of ‘making the popular esoteric,’ I think it frees up a lot of room for writers to experiment honestly, and to get at the core of something that’s usually an aside. And these asides can hold rigorous ideas and critiques, but also be light and stylistic in a way that don’t really fit academia and journalism.”

Another side-project of KC’s is a documentary about the Vancouver music scene. Thus far, it is comprised of footage from art rock?, Red Gate’s Halloween cover show last year, other music events, and some interviews with local personalities.

What’s next for agony klub? Vancouver band Puzzlehead, dubbed ‘clowncore’ and self proclaimed “needing at least one French word” in their online bio, will be releasing a cassette with the label on April 1. Later in 2018, KC’s own project, hazy — which she nonchalantly describes as “shoegazey and dreamy, abstract and complementary” — will be releasing a split vinyl with Eshuta. hazy will also be going on a small Western Canadian tour with Winnipeg band, The Pinc Lincolns this spring.

It was so easy to chat with KC and cross-pollinate recommendations, that an hour-long discussion flew by. With all the disciplines agony klub finds itself producing, you’re bound to catch KC in action, and with passion.

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The next installment of art rock? will be Tuesday, March 20, featuring Cave Girl, Echuta, Valsi and DJ Owen Ellis. art rock? will conclude in late April with a special outdoor show at Robson Square — more details to be announced soon. For more on agony klub, visit agonyklub.com.