Carhartt WIP’s new podcast series Relevant Parties celebrates the irrepressible passion behind some of the most compelling independent imprints of the 21st century. The series kicks off with a special on Munich’s good-humoured label and store Public Possession, and there’ll be a new episode dropping via Carharrt WIP Radio on the 15th of each month.
Relevant Parties is hosted by revered music journalist and The Face contributor Chal Ravens. Below, Chal has picked out three tunes which reflect the distinctive personality of each label.
Ghostly began with a core crew of artists who knew each other in Ann Arbor: Todd Osborn, Tadd Mullinix and Matthew Dear. Between their many aliases they were covering a vast amount of ground, from techno, acid and breaks to totally abstract electronics. Irreparably Dented was the first release on the dance offshoot Spectral Sound back in 2000, but even after 20 years I reckon this would still pop off in any DJ set. It’s so dirty and funky.
This incredible track sounds just like its title. It’s from the fourth Telefon Tel Aviv album, an album that probably no one thought would ever be made after Josh Eustis’s bandmate tragically passed away in 2009. Death is an unexpected undercurrent to Relevant Parties, in fact – both Sam from Ghostly and Peanut Butter Wolf told me about coping with the sudden loss of several important people in their lives. It’s the biggest cliche, but music is such a powerful way to move through grief, to find expression for all that agony and despair and eventually beauty again.
Detroit duo ADULT. perform a pretty faithful reenactment of ‘80s electro and new wave with a lot more bite than the usual retro chancers who called themselves “dance-punk”. Nicola Kuperus always sounds totally unimpressed with the world, which I admire very much.
A hint of what might have been, had Peanut Butter Wolf’s rap accomplice Charizma not died tragically young. The production on this track is phenomenal, especially considering it’s from 1992 – four years before Stones Throw began (Big Shots, an album of Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf recordings from the early ’90s, was eventually released by ST in 2003). Peanut Butter Wolf is a very modest guy but his own dusty, jazz-tinged beats are a big part of the blueprint for the label’s sound. Dilla was apparently a big fan of the Peanut Butter Breaks album from ’94, so it all comes around.
When it comes to Stones Throw everyone knows about J Dilla, Madlib and MF DOOM already (right?!), so although those dudes are heroes I’m going to pick this dreamy jazz-funk trip from The Stepkids’ album Troubadour. This band connect the dots between so many aspects of the label’s sound and they were a big influence on Tyler, The Creator – whose own music is massively indebted to the Stones Throw legacy, I think.
I still can’t get over the fact that Stones Throw released Gary Wilson, this half-forgotten ‘80s punk in a fright wig who makes lo-fi lounge-wave about ladies called Linda. Fabulous! It says a lot about how out-there Wolf’s music taste really is. Fans of Ariel Pink need Gary in their life.
The definitive ultra-heavy article. It’s funny listening to Skeng on headphones when you’ve experienced it in a club – that’s what the music Kevin Martin makes as The Bug’s is for. And although he’s something of an outlier on Ninja Tune, a lot of the label’s output comes back to sound system culture ultimately.
Iran’s Ash Koosha is the kind of tech-curious multimedia artist who fits in perfectly on Ninja, with his intricate experiments in digital electronics and virtual reality. The label has always been at the cutting-edge when it comes to sampling, VJing, software and audiovisual performance.
One thing that’s impressive about Ninja is how they’ve never fallen into a predictable pattern. There are plenty of “classic” Ninja artists, people like Mr. Scruff and Amon Tobin, but there’s still so much variety. In recent years they’ve brought tons of unique women artists into the fold, not least Zambia’s Sampa The Great, who writes about heritage and displacement so artfully and makes very beautiful videos too.
Public Possession do a fantastic line in proper Balearic oddness, often courtesy of longtime label regular Bell Towers, who’s good at making summertime tunes with a strange undercurrent. This otherworldly cover of La Isla Bonita always gets people asking for a track ID.
Baba Stiltz is more usually seen on Sweden’s Studio Barnhus, a label that’s on a similar wavelength: offbeat dance music with a sense of humour. At first Pacific Times seems like a straightforward mid-set heater, but there’s just so much going on beneath the surface – strange instruments and weird mix details that make for a really absorbing listen.
The first single by The Juan Maclean inadvertently set the tone for the next decade of indie disco dancefloors, with its clunky electro gait and sleazy synths. DFA were obviously mining the ’80s Downtown NYC scene for inspiration, but at the time that stuff was still so off-grid and hard-to-find that a whole generation (me included) felt that this was OUR music.
“Dance-punk” is often bandied about in relation to DFA, usually meaning something quite specific involving cowbells. But the “punk” bit is very important, which is why DFA have put out so many records from noise merchants Black Dice and their frontman Eric Copeland over the years. In 2016, he released one of his most digestible records, the sticky-sweet and totally effed up Black Bubblegum.
I know this is just about the most obvious pick I could have gone for, but Blind remains the ultimate 24-carat disco jewel, the best of its kind this century.
Jazzy Sport is the definition of a sprawling collective – as well as a label and a record shop, they run a football team and even organise skiing holidays. This seems like an increasingly sensible model for an independent label – creating community has become at least as important as releasing tracks. Music-wise, JP are rooted in the crate-digging genres of jazz, hip-hop, house and library music, which tends to come together in blunted formations by artists like Mitsu The Beats.
Gagle are a hip-hop trio who’ve been releasing music for the best part of two decades. They rap in Japanese, obviously, so I can’t say what this track is about – but you don’t need to understand the words to feel them slice like a knife. This one is taken from their sixth album and the beat is a madness – clattery jazz drums with an Brainfeeder-esque womp.
To my ears there’s a little streak of UK funky running through this house heater from Grooveman Spot, another one of Jazzy Sport’s core artists. I love the way it opens with smears of radiophonic goo before shaking itself into a massive dance track.