Homegrown Labels

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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.

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Deranged Records

author
Aidan Danaher
illustration
Zadrien Kokar

If you’re at all interested in hardcore punk, maybe Deranged Records should ring a bell? If it doesn’t, here are a few artists that have released music through the independent label that might: Fucked Up, White Lung, Career Suicide. Since 1999, Deranged Records has had over 300 releases from an incredible repertoire, which is all the more impressive given the label’s one-man army founder, Gordon Dufresne.

Originally based out of Toronto, Gordon relocated to Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast with his family in 2005. According to Gordon, he didn’t have any connections to Vancouver whatsoever, let alone Roberts Creek. For him and his family, a clean slate was exactly what they were looking for.

Deranged Records || Illustration by Zadrien Kokar for Discorder Magazine
Deranged Records || Illustration by Zadrien Kokar for Discorder Magazine

Discussing the history of Deranged, Gordon says, “I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘This is something I wanted to do for the next 20 years.’ I was already involved with that scene: putting on shows, [running] record stores, and most of my friends were in bands. That was something I was always around,” he tells me. “There was definitely a specific sound that I was interested in, and remain interested in today … It’s always been punk and hardcore. I guess I got involved with that music through skateboarding, whether it was Thrasher Magazine, or whatever it was at the time. Really, that’s how I was exposed to it,” he explains.

On his attraction to punk, he says plainly, “That’s just where my focus was. Because I was not musically inclined, I figured putting out a record was one of the ways I could get further involved without needing to be a musician.”

Deranged Records || Illustration by Zadrien Kokar for Discorder Magazine
Deranged Records || Illustration by Zadrien Kokar for Discorder Magazine

Dufresne is fairly humble and modest when talking about running his label. As he says, he is “a man of few words,” while apologizing for any lack of “sexy and exciting” details about the business. He has always managed the label by himself. “Most of the labels that I like and respect that are putting out records today are typically run by one individual, and I think that is the right format for me as well,” he says. While label operations are limited to Gordon, Deranged is rather prolific, releasing an average of two releases per month with pressings of 1000+ to start.

Partly because of Deranged’s focus on hardcore punk, but also because of the label’s history using U.S. distributors, Gordon explains, “often times I’m looked at as an American label. I don’t face the same kind of obstacles as your typical Canadian label.” It seems that because of his long-term presence within the punk community, Deranged Records firmly holds its ground.

Deranged Records || Illustration by Zadrien Kokar for Discorder Magazine
Deranged Records || Illustration by Zadrien Kokar for Discorder Magazine

In talking about his relationship with artists, Gordon is practical about his involvement, saying, “As far as where I see myself as a label, most often, [I am] a means to an end. I think that where a label like Deranged may be of benefit is often times for smaller bands, because distributors and stores will take my records based on the label itself, so they’ll take a chance on an unknown band. Same with people who buy the records.”

He laughs as he says, “As a label, you don’t necessarily get the credit that you may deserve, and that’s totally fine, that’s not what I do it for.”

It is certainly evident how passionate Gordon is about his work. While he might do all the label business himself, he has advice for artists doing their parts: “If you’re a touring band, depending on how out-there you are, you’re the one that’s creating that kind of energy and buzz around you, more-so than the label in question … I think if someone is able to think a little bit outside of the box, they can create that momentum for themselves.”