What was the best thing that happened in dance music in 2011? Everyone will have their own particular answer to that question, depending on taste and nightclubbing experiences, but we might be surprised at how many would simply say “100% Silk”. At the start of the year, Californian label Not Not Fun, known on the underground scene for its many releases, its preference for a lo-fi sound and the variety of its register (from ambient to noise, and from blurry psychedelia to B-movie soundtracks), started a subsidiary dedicated to house and disco. In the Not Not Fun vein, of course: homemade, enthusiastic and lo-fi, featuring some names that later surfaced on other, premiere league electronic labels, such as Ital, Polysick and Maria Minerva.
100% Silk was that sub-label. It was the personal bet of Amanda Brown (also known as LA Vampires, responsible for both labels alongside her husband, Britt Brown), presenting a hedonist, care-free brand of music - freely digging through the archives of the great music of Chicago and enthusiastically gong after synth-pop and acid, 70s disco and certain IDM complexities of the British school of the 90s. With 100% Silk, the term 'hipster house' became popular, referring to artists from the indie-rock scene, making purist dance music. From then on, because of its forward thinking attitude and the quality of each release, the platform became a key player on the electronic scene.
100% Silk will be at Sónar this year with a showcase featuring four artists: LA Vampires, Maria Minerva, Ital and Magic Touch. We asked Amanda Brown to make us a mix with the 100% Silk touch (with released and unreleased material, alongside influences on the label's sound, like Pal Joey and Kerri Chandler); an hour of house mixed with love, featuring some of the most exciting club sounds of now. We also recovered the interview we did with her and Britt at the Unsound festival in Krakow last October, with some additional questions asked just days ago.
You've been releasing tapes and records since 2004 and in those seven years, Not Not Fun hasn't stopped. Although the label's roots are in rock, a mix of psychedelia and domestic noise - now there's more room for synthesisers. Do you feel your initial idea has changed over the years?
Britt: No, not really. Our intentions are the same as they ever were. At first, we wanted to be very DIY, not thinking about making money, which is why we always worked with underground bands that had just surfaced. We just wanted to give a chance to people whose work we liked, and that's exactly what we're doing today as well. What's changed is the kind of music we support from Not Not Fun, because every two years, more or less, the sound of the underground changes as well.
Amanda: Initially the style of music was even less important than now. Not Not Fun was also an art project, with a concept behind it, with specific artwork. But now there's nothing more important than the music itself, the music is everything.
Britt: We're regular people, and like everyone else, we change over time. You can't be an adolescent forever, and as we changed - took on responsibilities, got married, started living together - Not Not Fun changed in the sense that we started seeing it as a business as well. It became something we could live off, installing an office, giving more attention to some artists than to others, but at the same time trying to keep them with us because, most of all, we're fans of the musicians we work with.
So is Not Not Fun like a family? People before business?
Amanda: Yes, it's very important that the artists feel close to us. We always communicate with them. Before anything else, we want this to be fun. You can aspire to make a living out of the label, you can force yourself to be creative, but without the passion and fun, it would just become a regular job.
Britt: In the early years, we didn't really know if the label was going to last. We didn't see it as a long-term project. But as we started to discover artists whose music we loved, we also found that they were great people. Those friendships were decisive for us to go ahead, because we wanted to work more with them, which made us professionalise up to the point of crossing the line between hobby and work, which is where we are now.
At what point did Not Not Fun stop being a hobby and became a responsibility that required your daily attention?
Amanda: In 2008, this became something we had to take care of every day, all day. It took up 100% of our time.
Is there no-one else to help you out?
Amanda: We have no employees, it's just Britt and I, we can't afford it at this point. But we do get help from interns sometimes, and from loyal friends, when we need them. It's a full-time job, 24/7. There are times when I don't get enough sleep, but it's worth it...
"We release cassettes
because we like it,
though we know there's
a bigger market for
vinyl. But vinyl is
expensive and we can't
always take the risk.
If a tape works well,
we'll do a vinyl reissue"
However, Not Not Fun is a small label, with very loyal but not numerous fans. Moreover, you do very limited runs of your releases. Can the label survive on that?
Britt: Our background is in art, we're not business people, nor do we have any experience doing business. We've had to learn from our mistakes over time, there've been some moments when we lost a lot of money because we went into things too fast and with too much enthusiasm. You discover a band you think has more potential than they really have, make more records than you can sell and in the end you're stuck with a load of stock. It made us more cautious, thinking twice before signing an artist, get a better feeling about whether it will sell or not. We don't want to destroy anyone's life, and we also don't want to depend on just one record, so we designed a structure where the sales of one record can support the loss of another one that doesn't sell so well but which we really love.
Amanda: We're in a good phase now, we've been lucky enough to sign a lot of artists who are selling a lot of records, and we have enough to live off. What we can't afford yet is having children.
What does the format of your releases depend on? Some are on cassette, others on vinyl, and only the ones that sell well, like Dylan Ettinger's “New Age Outlaws”, for instance, get a second chance.
Britt: We release cassettes because we like it, though we know there's a bigger market for vinyl. But vinyl is expensive and we can't always take the risk. If a tape works well, we'll do a vinyl reissue. Sometimes it's more obvious from the start that an artist is going to do well, so we do a vinyl or CD release right away. But we're usually working with people who are just beginning in this world, and for them it's better to start with a tape.
Amanda: I can tell you the particular case of Maria Minerva. One day she got in touch by email, and she asked us if she could send us her music. Of course we told her she could, and she sent us everything she had in one go, loads of tunes. The only thing she said was “do whatever you like with this”. There was danceable material, and some pop; we evaluated it and in the end we decided to do a cassette, which was “Tallin At Dawn”, and which got a better reception than we had thought beforehand. So later we did the first 12” on 100% Silk, and then the album, “Cabaret Cixous”.
It's hard to define what you're doing on Not Not Fun. Psychedelia might be a useful term, but there's also noise, or post-punk, or hypnagogic pop. Is there a word or concept that fully defines you?
Britt: I don't think there's a buzzword for us. Maybe lo-fi is a common idea for all of our releases, but we decide to release music based on its artistic quality, not on how it's recorded. What we do look for is a bit of humanity, that you can hear there's a person behind the music rather than an idea. We don't care about people who just want to be famous, nor do we strive for perfection. We do like experimentation, and psychedelia, because at the end of the day, we break a lot of rules - we move away from the original idea of several musical genres.
Amanda: I would call it hybrid music. There are a lot of labels and artists out there who treat this as something pure. We have ambient artists on Not Not Fun, but we don't want to release strictly ambient music, nor strictly dub, but something that's on the border of all those genres.
And what is the common factor in all that chaotic variety?
Britt: Our personal taste, I suppose. The two of us are the face of the label, the reflection of someone human behind the curtains. There's no special reason why we chose a particular artist for a release. We get asked a lot about why this one and why that, and it all comes down to us liking their sound.
Amanda: The word I would use is “twisted”. We like the music to be reminiscent of something, but with a feeling of oddness. When Dylan Ettinger gave us the first demos of his second record and we played them, we felt it sounded like some rare Joy Division B-side. On Not Not Fun, everybody makes odd music. And another thing: we consider ourselves to be retro-futurists. We look for bands that connect the past with the present, but with their minds on the future. That's the kind of music we like the most.
In what way is your own project, LA Vampires, twisted and retro-futuristic?
Amanda: It's my solo project, but I'm never alone in it. I'm surrounded by people who help me shape it. The latest EP I did was “Streetwise”, and all of the sound is based on what Daniel [Martin-McCormick, also known as Ital and Sex Worker] could give me. Daniel is really good at making dance music, and when he works with beats, he usually takes inspiration from the rhythms of downtown New York in the 80s, so LA Vampires sounds like the people who participate in the project at each point. That's why each record is so different. I never tried to sound like anything in particular. I'm fascinated by- and tried to do - a lot of things, so I've been tagged with many labels, but LA Vampires isn't anything you can define in one word.
You're not worried you might confuse people with all those changes?
Amanda: Change is part of the idea of Not Not Fun. We started out that way, and we've kept doing it. We like change and surprise; it gives you things you don't expect.
Britt: When we see that a certain style is becoming successful, we immediately think about changing direction. We don't want to be a mono-themed label, because that would limit us, it would take away part of our freedom.
The sub-label you started in 2011, 100% Silk, only releases club music, with the emphasis on house and 80s disco. Why create a sub-label if Not Not Fun already releases all kinds of styles?
Amanda: We thought that music for DJs works through channels different from those of bands, and we felt it would be good to separate them. We had the feeling that if the 100% Silk EPs had been released on Not Not Fun and had been aimed at the audience we now have, they would have failed, because in the USA there's no tradition on the underground of following dance music. It started when Martin sent us the first demo of Ital and we loved it, but we didn't see room for it on Not Not Fun, so we started a new label. When it comes to promotion, we focused more on countries with a dance music tradition, like Germany, England, Spain…
"Our idea is simple:
if we like your music,
we'll release it. We're
the kind of label that
can open doors for a
new artist, and that
means we have a big
it's the first chance
So the label started in order to release a record by Ital that didn't fit on Not Not Fun. How did the following vinyls come about?
Amanda: We looked for them and asked around, because we hardly receive any dance demos. We do now, because 100% Silk is known on the dance circuit now.
Do you sign new artists based on demos you hear then?
Britt: Mostly. We take them very seriously and listen to all of them, always with an open mind. We have a good network of musician friends who hook us up with people who fit our profile - people we don't know and who are starting out. So, little by little, the community, the family is growing. We always want to hear new music and we actually ask for people to send us demos. Our idea is simple: if we like your music, we'll release it. We're the kind of label that can open doors for a new artist, and that means we have a big responsibility, because it's the first chance they get.
Amanda: We're not talent hunters, we simply trust our contact network, and we let things happen. And they happen, because we almost always find bands or artists with great ideas who haven't yet released anything on other labels.
How big is that network?
Britt: It's mostly local, in Los Angeles, starting with friends. Pharaohs, a band we've released a 12” of on 100% Silk, for instance, are my favourite LA band at the moment. We discovered them through other people, when they were playing in small venues. But the network is growing, and we get comments from New York and outside the USA. Now we're getting demos from the UK, which is good, because the UK sound is very different from the New York sound.
Before starting 100% Silk, what interested you about dance music?
Amanda: I was always interested, I've always liked the music, but I never thought of releasing it on Not Not Fun, mostly because I didn't know how to go about it. I remember we were a bit frustrated for some time because we never received any hip-hop or techno demos, while we had expected we would, even though we didn't know how to fit them into the dynamics of the label. I didn't know where to look for those demos, because I feel the scene is male-dominated and formed by people who are older than me. We started with Ital because he's a friend, and one day he told us about a new house project, after having been making tropical post-punk with the band Mi Ami. We liked the idea and that's how the concept came about: artists not originally coming from dance music making dance music for 100% Silk.
Since last year’s start, 100% has been really active. It hasn’t overshadowed Not Not Fun at all, but there are moments where it seems that there’s more stuff coming out from 100% - as if you’re putting more effort into it. What’s the actual time allocated for the label, how big has it grown?
I work on this label all the time; the past year has been nonstop musical exploration. Records come and go rather quickly and people’s attention spans in terms of what they consider ‘new’ and ‘old’ are extremely heightened right now. So I try to keep a steady stream of ear candy coming out, to wake up the listeners who skipped or missed a great record, and for fans that are just recently hearing about the label. I’d release less if I got sent less amazing music. I don’t have a quota to fill! I just follow the inspiration and innovation with love and label support.
So far you've almost exclusively released 12”s for DJs. Will there be more albums on 100% Silk?
Amanda: I feel it's always been a singles label. We tell artists we want long tracks that can be played out, that don't follow a pop concept. We might do mini albums that are no more than 30 minutes long, and we have plans to release DJ sets and cassettes. I think we're the only dance label in the world thinking about releasing tapes! We have Polysick, a new Italian artist, who gave us a tape, “FM Flow”, which sounds like a radio show, including dial movements. It will surprise many people.
But you’ve published two albums so far, Mi Ami and Fort Romeau. How did these two works come about, and what are you planning for the future?
I believed at the start of the label that I wasn’t specifically going for this statement making, year-long press push, long-form records. That what I really wanted was to speak through the language of dance, which is the 12”. And the 12”s have been amazing for us since it’s a great length for dancefloor-minded artists to work in. But in the case of Fort Romeau, his songs are only four minutes. They almost function a bit more like house pop/soul songs so it felt to me like a longer collection of more tracks was better fitting. I asked him to think of it more like an LP, or a long EP, and we curated a beautiful album. In Mi Ami’s situation, they wanted to do a full LP. I have no policy against it, and am in total support of it when the music’s right and the vibe’s on. We have future LPs coming from Sir Stephen, Coyote Clean Up, and Polysick.
And there have been several tapes. How is the ‘club’ crowd reacting to tapes, which is totally unusual for a dance label?
I don’t know really that we’re selling the tapes to ‘club’ crowds - I think the fans who are turned on by that medium are more the underground collectors, who are open to dance and electronic music and trust Britt’s and my aesthetic. SILK is not strictly a club label, there’s a pretty eclectic cross-section of people who are interested. We speak to DJ’s AND beyond! There can be a misconception that if a title comes out on tape it’s because it wasn’t ‘good’ enough for vinyl. This is untrue; not every release can be a 12" - there’s a charm and a joy to alternative formats, and I’ve always been partial to cassette.
You spoke about how you met Maria Minerva, but she's not the only interesting figure on Not Not Fun, so let's go one step at a time. What can you tell us about Umberto, who makes what sounds like soundtracks for 70s horror movies?
Amanda: We met him in Kansas. He was doing a concert where everything was fake: there were drums, bass and guitar on stage, but they were doing playback and the real concert was Umberto transmitting sounds from his laptop. We think he's a genius with a great sense of humour. He mixes things very well and, though his sound is close to the Italian horror soundtracks, he's not just a simple Goblin imitator. He's also a very handsome man.
Ital is also an integral part of the label now.
Amanda: Daniel is incredible. He never ceases to surprise us with his brilliant music. I've never met anyone as good as him, doing so many different things that well.
What future potential do you see in Dylan Ettinger?
Amanda: We've released his new record, “Lifetime Of Romance”. We got to know him when he sent us a few tapes. At the time, his music was very different from what he's doing now, very spacey, though he's a synth wizard. He adores his synths, he loves them and he likes to play them hard, and he likes to know how they work. Now he's making melodies to express that passion in a new way.
Not Not Fun's most successful band, however, was one of the revelations of 2011: Peaking Lights.
Britt: Yes, that's our best-selling record. Many people liked that one. They're a couple, and they're very different from each other: he's a punk, she's more new wave, and when they get together, magic happens. They come up with this weirdly structured pop the indie audience likes. They're intensely lo-fi, very powerful, very noisy. The most surprising thing is they've been going for 18 years and they'd never had success. They had a son a while ago.
And they've left the label…
Amanda: Yes, we're sorry about that, because we would have loved to keep working with them. But the deal with their new label [note: Domino in Europe] is really good and it will help them to move forward and up. Letting them go was the best thing we could do for them.
Most of the artists you’ve published in 2012 at 100% Silk are new to us. Mi Ami are Ital and Magic Touch - and there was an Octo Octa 12” last year - but the rest are new. Do you have the feeling that 100% Silk is less about being a ‘family’, with the focus shifting to creating a good platform for new talent to emerge? How similar (or different) is that from what you do at NNF?
We’re absolutely a family, just growing. I’m doing multiple releases by Sir Stephen, Octo Octa, Magic Touch, Fort Romeau, Polysick, Coyote Clean Up... Of course I’m always looking for new amazing people to bring into the fold, even Ital was new once! That’s why it’s my dream that fans of the label trust me when I put out a brand new artist that they haven’t heard of because these artists won’t be new for long. That’s what this European tour is about, coming together as label mates and a musical family. I’d fly them all over if I could!
We’re the same at NNF; we love working with artists for years throughout their careers, having a sustained relationship across multiple releases. But we’re also motivated by new talent, and believe deeply that to support a previously unheard of artist is to truly
curate an evolving community.
What are the new signings you’re working with, and what can you tell us about the 2012 schedule?
Some new releases will come from Roland Tings, EZLV, Roche, Just Black, and Andy Sangria. Their sounds range from French disco/house, to bubbly acid, to darker acid jazz, to lo-fi drum machine grooves. The 2012 schedule will see familiar faces and fresh ones; lots of cassettes and more exploratory, innovative tracks from SILK favourites, as well as collaborations and remixes.
By the way, will your previous group Pocahaunted return one day?
Amanda: No, Pocahaunted is finished. I'm focusing on LA Vampires now.
And what's next for LA Vampires?
Amanda: Right now we’re just focused on this European tour. We’ve bulked up our live set and I’ve become obsessed with bringing a 3-dimensional energy to each show. I want each night to feel like the best; I'm poised to give it everything. When we get back, who knows? Probably work on my next record and release the long-awaited collaboration with Maria Minerva.
How was this mix done, and what of the many aspects and attributes of 100% Silk did you particularly want to reflect?
This is pure body music for me: what I dance to, what I listen to, what inspires me. It’s a spectrum of dance across the dance ages – some contemporary sounds, some classic ones – splattered with SILK gems. I always want to highlight dance’s joyful qualities, what makes the genre so uplifting and emotionally engaging.
Complete the sentence. At Sonar I/we will...
Amanda: ...celebraremos todos los días y noches! [Note: a Spanish phrase which roughly translates as: “celebrate every day and night!”]
Once a member of the influential Anti-Social crew and now full-time Deep Medi artist, V.I.V.E.K. lives in a permanent st...
Living in the Reunion Island for almost a year, Jazzanova’s Alex Barck may seem to be living in Paradise. But he doesn’t...
The mysterious Arandel gives us “Neige”, his homage to Christmas with tons of traditional songs arranged in an electroni...
Johan Agebjörn of Sally Shapiro fame gives us a big dose of his passion for eighties synthetic disco and previews us an ...
Active for ten years in the depths of the underground, and now ‘discovered’ by Scratcha DVA for his brand new DVA Music ...
Sam XL, the British expat rooted in the LA bass underground, shows us the history and the sound of the huge Pure Filth S...
Next week, the Scotish duo known as Clouds will drop his new smashing techno 12” for the Turbo label, called “Tannhauser...
Enrique Mena, alias Svreca, is the man-label par excellence in Spanish techno. In charge of the exquisite Semántica Reco...