Homegrown Labels: ASL Singles Club

“When we first started, we talked about releasing singer/songwriter material. We’re definitely not a genre-dependent label, but right now we’re focussed on dance music.”

ASL || photo by Sylvana D'Angelo
ASL || photo by Sylvana D’Angelo

When I arrive at the Eastside headquarters of ASL Singles Club, an independent record label based out of Vancouver, each of the three founders are sitting in the living room, glued to their laptops—a scene that’s more than appropriate, considering ASL is operating at the forefront of digital curation.

It’s no secret that the music market of 2014 is over-saturated: artists are using social media to promote themselves and music itself is more accessible than ever. Much of my own life is spent on the computer seeking this kind of aural stimulation. Like a DJ or producer who goes crate-digging at a local record store, record labels play the crucial role of combing through the masses of material, selecting and organizing music into user-friendly outlets. Arguably the biggest obstacle for listeners nowadays isn’t finding the available music but sifting through the loads of material and being able to comprehend even a small portion of it. That’s where operations like ASL come in.

The label is headed by three Vancouver-based artists: Patrick Holland a.k.a. Project Pablo, a former science student at UBC now studying music at SFU; Markus Garcia, previously one half of the electronic duo LOL Boys, now making music as Heartbeat(s); and Devon White, a graphic designer responsible for the visual component of the label, including designs for clothing and promotional material for shows.

The original motivation for creating ASL Singles Club was to start a weekly club night devoted to showcasing infectious dance music. After tossing around some names, the trio decided on the name ASL for their potential weekly.

When the prospect of the weekly night faded, ASL Singles Club became something more: it became a vehicle for the promotion and distribution of local artists’ material, as well as a clothing line.

But why those letters specifically? Garcia explains: “We started out trying to find a name for a club night and we thought ASL would be a cool name. When we started the label we added ‘singles’ because 12-inch releases used to be called singles and limited edition T-shirt runs are single releases.”

“What is the mission of ASL Singles Club?”

“I think a lot of labels try to pump out as much content as possible and some releases get lost in it. We want to keep things limited,” says Holland. “We do small releases and limited runs of clothing.” The goal is to keep things minimal. By producing smaller batches of apparel and vinyl, each release maintains a degree of uniqueness and character.

With an upcoming release from Montreal’s Prison Garde, the label will be releasing 100 copies of the EP on vinyl. As many record labels are realizing, vinyl is able to fulfill the listeners desire for a physical copy of a release. There is a degree of permanence with a vinyl record that is lost with an MP3 release.

“It’s cool to have a physical medium,” explains Garcia. “Having a 12-inch record that’s hand-stamped with a sticker on it makes the person feel like it’s really theirs.”

As Holland explains, the release of vinyl aids in the promotion as well: “Most of our music is aimed at DJs. Our promo list is how we get most of our listens rather than relying on Soundcloud.”

With an impressive list of releases from the likes of Sleepyhead, Nick Wisdom, Rook Milo, Autem, and the freshly released Hopeless Romantic EP from Heartbeat(s), ASL Singles Club is breaching the walls of Vancouver nightlife and far beyond. In a world where popularized electronic music is being targeted at stadium crowds with large synth lines and heavy bass, it’s refreshing to hear the minimalistic nature of ASL’s releases with a focus on a particular vibe and a limited run of material.

Instead of trying to strictly engage in the competitive club scene, ASL has hosted a number of after-hour shows meant to fill the need for late-night musical entertainment in a city that offers few parties past 3 a.m.

At the centre of ASL Singles Club is curation, the process of sifting through the rubble to collect, organize, and showcase forward-thinking and unique electronic music. While best defined as a house music label, Holland emphasizes that ASL is open to any genre—the label is meant to promote music that stands out to them and offers something unique. “When we first started, we talked about releasing singer/songwriter material. We’re definitely not a genre-dependent label, but right now we’re focussed on dance music.”

“I don’t think there is any rhyme or reason to how we’re putting this stuff out,” says Garcia, summing up the method of ASL quite simply. “All three of us listen to it, and there might be a particular style of music we’re feeling at the time, but good music will find a way to influence you.”

Make sure you’re at the Fox Cabaret on May 10 to catch some of the ASL-related acts live, including Project Pablo, Heartbeat(s), and more.