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On the Silk Road

100% Silk
On a Friday night last fall, the dancefloor of the Mission’s Balançoire, fitted with Día de los Muertos masks, was a family affair. Denizens of the LA-based label 100% Silk (and related label Not Not Fun) took the stage, enticing dancers with piano riffs, diva vocals, ethereal percussion and chugging basslines. The evening arrived just days before the release of Tokyo-based artist Sapphire Slows’ debut LP (Allegoria) and a few months before the debut LP (Palermo House Gang) of LA producer Magic Touch, both performing that night. At the venue, I spoke with Britt Brown, co-founder of Not Not Fun. He proposed that like-minded artists are naturally drawn to the cohort he and his wife Amanda have created and that, in seeking to nurture new, unproven musicians, the pair also have accumulated a roster of individuals who also happen to be fairly selfless. Though many eventually move on to different labels, Britt admitted to an “emotional attachment” to the artists whom they have supported, feeling no animosity if one does decide to leave. More recently, in a phone interview, Amanda echoed the devout support the labels offer to artists: “Our agenda is to help you.”

My conversations with 100% Silk label-mates before the show last fall revealed a clear camaraderie. The artists know each other’s musical backgrounds, have witnessed one another’s growth, and poke fun at their shortcomings. When we discussed the involvement of the person in the production of the music, André, who performs as Bobby Browser, commented that he notices two “Damons” (Magic Touch): the Damon “driving the Ford Mustang as Magic Touch” and the Damon who openly worries, “gotta get a job... gotta make some money.” When Kinuko (Sapphire Slows) vacillated as to whether she would participate in another musical collaboration after having worked with Magic Touch on their Just Wanna Feel EP (100% Silk, 2012), a project undertaken entirely over online exchanges, the other artists teased her as if they were siblings.

At this show, Magic Touch, along with Bay Area-based artists Roche and Bobby Browser, performed DJ sets, while Sapphire Slows made the only live PA in anticipation of Allegoria. Kinuko has spoken in the past about the tragedies in Japan that ultimately inspired her debut EP, True Breath (Not Not Fun, 2011), but, speaking to me, she insisted that whether her music may appear “sad” or “happy” to listeners is not merely a direct correlation with her personal emotional state at the time of the music’s production. She suggests that the process is far more organic. Later that night, in her performance, Kinuko’s soft filtered voice coasted over valleys of synth stabs and soft drums. Her music roamed in an urban ennui while the percussion, which she built and then peeled back layer by layer, gave direction to searching dancers. In our conversation, André proposed that the music he makes depends on his “mood” and that the actual production process involves physically “moving” and “finding yourself in that musical moment.” From these suggestions, it is clear that the artists care deeply about their music even as they remain separate from it. Damon stated: “my music is removed from my persona.” Likewise, in spite of other musicians’ requests to incorporate her vocals in collaborative tracks, Kinuko mentioned that she is reluctant to be viewed as a singer. Damon similarly does not privilege the human voice—perhaps an indication of their success as collaborators—viewing it as simply “another instrument.”

The careers of the 100% Silk artists have been far from stagnant, whether in terms of hardware or even genre. André admitted to changing his gear annually, whilst Damon, who performed in the rock outfit Mi Ami with Daniel Martin-McCormick (who’s released as Ital on 100% Silk) and “comes from a jamming background,” conceded his initial frustration at translating his dance-oriented output as Magic Touch to a live setting. André agreed, stating simply, “you can’t play it the same way” live as you did during production at the computer. Perhaps what appears to be a limitation actually opens fresh possibility in performance. As André noted, production is entirely subject to context, whether, for instance, you are “in a band” or “playing live electronic music.” When I asked them about the notion, recently articulated by jungle pioneer A Guy Called Gerald, that experimental electronic musicians and remixers exist in different realms, the artists dismissed it. In fact, the distinction is largely ignored within the label’s output where EPs often include remixes by other Silk artists—not filler material, but careful re-interpretations.

With loving attention to detail, from the packaging of releases to their personal accessibility to fans, Britt and Amanda have developed a community of musicians who, despite their allusions to disembodiment during our interview, are very present in their music. At Balançoire, they jammed with one another, taking turns spinning as if it was a friend’s basement. Damon stressed how, from the start, the Browns have been especially “open to accepting new people.” On visiting their house, Ben, also known as Roche, noted that the pair “were listening to demos” all of the time. An ethos of sincerity pervades the artists and label directors alike. Amanda explained: “I do it to do it. It’s not monetary. I say I’m going to listen to people’s demos and I do.” As one example of the personal bonds within the label community, she cited how she threw herself behind Maria Juur, who releases music as Maria Minerva, to help with the paperwork needed for her recent stateside settlement. Thus, while their labels’ rosters are expansive, the party may be best when it’s on the smaller side, potentially when more discerning listeners are present. André and Damon spoke of the abrasiveness of crowds at large venues and when I asked whether they want the audience to see them, as performers, to know their physical presence, Damon was apathetic and André added that their goal is to “just play the best music for the party.” This interest in context—in encouraging people to dance—is a direct reflection of the artists’ own camaraderie as label-mates.

In the time since the releases of their respective LPs, Kinuko has finished a European tour and has been accepted to the Red Bull Music Academy in Tokyo while Damon has wrapped up a tour through Asia. As for the directions of the labels, their founders recognized a change in vision since the mid-2000s when they began: originally, Amanda, mentioned, they were “debuting a lot” and “trying a lot of faces in the underground” but now they concede that “supporting [the artists already on the roster] is more important than finding demos.” For the artists clearly committed to the long run, Amanda and Britt hope to “allow them this freedom over what...will be decades.” With ten years already under the belt, it is hard to imagine that Not Not Fun and 100% Silk will refrain from pushing into diverse sonic territories, but what seems assuredly constant is the community of support that will follow their artists wherever the silk road leads.

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