Seattle has Sub Pop. Athens has Kindercore. Minneapolis has Rhymesayers. Omaha has Saddle Creek. San Francisco has Anticon. Chicago has Bloodshot, Drag City and Thrill Jockey, those greedy bastards. The list goes on and on: Most cities with decent music scenes also boast at least one nationally distributed, hipster-endorsed indie label. Coincidence? Symbiosis? More wonkish minds than ours can work out the chicken/egg conundrum. The fact is, a great label defines a music scene, lodges it in the public imagination, attracts the so-called creative class, imparts civic pride in the hard little hearts of professional bohos. At the moment, St. Louis doesn't host a label that's well known outside the metropolitan area, but that's not to say indie labels don't exist here. If you count all the teensy one-off vanity imprints on which local bands self-release CDs for the all-important CD-release party (has ever a phrase become more hilarious through overuse?) -- well, you're talking hundreds, if not thousands. Narrow it down to the labels that release material from people other than their close friends or their, ahem, staff, and the list suddenly gets a lot shorter. Weed out the slacker/dilettantes (no offense, S/Ds -- Radar Station loves you best of all!) clearly unencumbered by national-market aspirations, and you're left with a handful of labels that aren't so much local labels as labels that happen to be based here. Herewith, two miniprofiles of hometown enterprises that just might go all bad and nationwide on us someday.
On the underground hip-hop tip is F5, which was founded in 1999 by local turntablist/producer DJ Crucial. Crucial started the collective in Carbondale, Illinois, where he went to college and first met many of the artists now on the F5 roster. One of these contacts is Serengeti, a Chicago-based MC whose playful surrealism brings to mind old-school smarties De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Serengeti's new full-length, Dirty Flamingo, is, like most F5 releases, mostly produced by Crucial.
We recently caught up with F5 CEO Andrew "Roo" Yawitz by phone as he pounded the New York City pavement in the hopes of getting F5 product into a few niche-market record stores. Yawitz, who completed a college internship at the Beastie Boys' sadly defunct Grand Royale label, has been handling F5's day-to-day business since graduating from Wesleyan. "We're trying to become the hip-hop label and music-distribution company of the Midwest," Yawitz explains. "Rhymesayers is working with artists from all over the country right now, but everything they put out has that core Minneapolis sound. In the best-case scenario, we'd be able to do for St. Louis what Rhymesayers has done for Minneapolis."
See F5records.com for more details -- and don't miss the kickoff of Serengeti's national tour on Wednesday, April 23, at the Pepper Lounge. Opening the show are the Art Thugs, a new group that contains former members of Jive Turkey.
Nancy Catalina, the founder and sole employee of Pro-Vel Records, looks to little garage/surf/hot-rod labels such as Musick (home of the Boss Martians) for inspiration. "Of course, I dream of being the Estrus of the Midwest," she admits with a self-deprecating giggle.
One of Pro-Vel's upcoming releases is the compilation It Came From Uranus, which contains tracks from 21 bands, eleven from St. Louis and ten from other states that share our time zone. Catalina, who moved here from Portland, Oregon, a year and a half ago, says that becoming a minimogul was not something she planned: "I went to check out some bands, and I kept hearing people talk about how they wanted to get their stuff out and couldn't. I knew some label people and thought I could help. Then I thought, 'Why don't I just do it myself?'"
St. Louis bands that made the comp, which is tentatively scheduled for a May release, include Tomorrow's Caveman, the Electric, Thee Lordly Serpents, the Cripplers, the Misses and the Unmutuals, all acts that Catalina grew to like after hearing them live. "I've seen some bands since then that I'd like to include," she says. "I guess there'll have to be a Volume 2."
See www.provelrecords.com for more information.
Perennial RFT Music Award winners the Trip Daddys are holding -- are you ready for this? -- a CD-release party at Off Broadway on Saturday, April 19. Doublewide, their second studio album, is crammed with all the Trip Daddy trademarks: hott lixx galore, psychedelicized pounders and rawkabilly rave-ups. The lyrics lovingly describe trailer-trash babes, stolen cars (American, natch), neighborhood bars (the Way Out Club, natch), dead-end jobs -- you know: the discreet charm of the hoosoisie.
Correction published 4/23/03:
The original version of this column misspelled the name of the Pro-Vel Records label. Additionally, the Art Thugs were mischaracterized as belonging to the F5 label. The above version reflects the corrected text.