Preview: The Independent Label Market, LA

Clash speaks to IAMSOUND, Delicious Vinyl and more ahead of LA's ILM...

The Independent Label Market (ILM) in London is a well-known affair, a farmer’s market for real music where you get to speak to the producers and creators as well as purchase rare original creations, debuts and limited editions.   

ILM in Los Angeles is younger, only in it second year, but it reappears next weekend to unite a range of producers from one of the most diverse cities in the world, a city with a massive density of active artists.

But how did the ILM begin? Its founder, Joe Daniel, was working at Angular Records when, in Berlin with These New Puritans, he manned the band’s merch stand when there was nobody else to do so.

“I really enjoyed it,” says Daniel of the experience. “It’s rare that someone from behind the scenes at a label directly interacts with the audience we’re selling to.”

He continues: “I was able to talk about the process and the band in a whole different way – and the punters were interested, and bought more. I was connecting with my own passions: the music, and the people.”

Joe saw the ILM as “a nice opportunity to get labels together, and a good experience for those into record shopping. They can speak to the actual creators of the music, people who know all about it. With fewer independent record stores in the UK, that knowledge base is dwindling. The ILM is one way of keeping it active.”

The ILM debuted in the US when stateside label IAMSOUND found out about it and immediately loved the concept.

“We reached out to Joe to see what we could do to bring it to LA,” says IAMSOUND co-founder Niki Roberton. “We did the first one here last year, and it was a huge success.”

“We’re a small label,” says the label’s other head, Paul Tao. “So our vision was always just to make a creative space for artists, one that was very friendly. We want to help artists share their vision, translating it so it spreads as far as possible. We also don’t restrict our output to one genre – good music is good music.”

IAMSOUND enjoyed early success by putting out some Florence + The Machine material. “She signed to a major shortly after,” says Niki. “But you don’t necessarily have to be a big corporation to deal with the logistics of a popular artist.”

“There has to be a balance between indie and major labels,” says Paul. “I love a lot of bands on majors, but independent labels just have something special about them! There’s a real sense of community, where we’re all in this together, putting out music that might not interest the majors.

“Also, being able to develop bands who start out as babies and grow into profitable artists is something that is a particular source of pride.

“We just hope that LA indies can develop more of this community spirit, so we can collaborate and support each other. We want to show the world that LA has a thriving scene. Places like Brooklyn and London are seen like this, but LA, somehow, never gets as much credit as it should.”

For fellow LA label Delicious Vinyl, independent music is critical to preserving creativity. The label, which turned 25 in 2012, also has its own store on West Sunset Boulevard, stocking records and merchandise.

The roots of Delicious Vinyl go back to 1982, when founders Matt Dike and Michael Ross met at Impact Records on Crenshaw. The DJs shared similar tastes: funk, soul, rock and the emerging hip-hop scene. This resulted in an ethos to make “dope records”, rather than aim to be a big company.

And they’ve succeeded, too: Delicious Vinyl counts amongst its released-artists the likes of Tone Loc, Young MC and The Pharcyde.

Says current DV co-owner Rick Ross: “We look for artists with great rhymes, stories and songs. We learned the ropes through the three ‘R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. Seriously, you need to read all kinds of books.

“You need to have respect for the knowledge you give yourself every day, and then dig deeper. Practise, and stay humble – these are key pillars. When you’re ready to go all-in on something you believe in, do it; but be prepared for the unexpected, as that’s when you must be at your best.”

And on the ILM, Delicious Vinyl are succinct: “It has to keep it simple, know the time, and introduce the world to some dope shit.”

“Dope shit” is a key element of any great record, of course.  But so is the format it’s released on. Based in Fullerton and started in 2008, Burger Records specialises in cassettes and vinyl.

“We put out bands from all over the world,” they say – “they” are founders Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard. “If we hear something in someone’s music, we go for it. Since 2008, we’ve sold over 150,000 cassettes.

“Format is important to us. People prefer physical copies – not the virtual, intangible MP3. They want something they can collect, something we touched and put our energy into. You can’t do that with an MP3.  We touch every single tape we push out. We love turning people onto music."

And on the ILM: “It’s really awesome to meet a bunch of people who are also passionate about music, and innovative with their ways of getting it out there. We made a lot of friends last year, and sold a lot of Burger merch. It wasn’t your usual record convention crowd, it wasn’t just nerds. The ILM embraces everyone – creative people, people from the industry, artists and fans. It sets it apart.”

Brushfire Records’ founders Emmett Malloy and Jack Johnson switched from making surf films in 2002 to establish their own label. Johnson’s career as a solo artist helped launch the label into the public eye.

“Jack’s first record went on to sell over two million copies,” says Malloy, “and its success gave us a lot of privileges moving onto his next one. We really wanted to curate our own label for Jack’s album, and those of others.”

Continues Malloy: “I like artists with strong aesthetics, who do cool videos and have great visuals to go with their music.

“We have a staff of three at Brushfire, as we work very hard to make sure we have each new record forthcoming. Big record or small, they all take a lot of effort.”

Another label that will be at the ILM is Hit City USA. The LA-based company was started by Colin Stutz in 2008, and has issued releases by the likes of Lord Huron.

“Our inspirations and ideas can come from anywhere,” says Stutz. “But mostly there’s an aesthetic ideal that drives them along. There’s not enough music in Venice but skaters and surfers love punk rock. Stuff like that sets us off. And then it’s just a matter of grinding it out. When it comes to choosing an artist, it’s all about soul.”

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The ILM in LA will take place on Saturday May 4th at Micheltorena Elementary School, Silver Lake, Los Angeles. It opens at 11am and closes at 4pm. More information on Facebook

Words: Nina Bhadreshwar

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