1080p Collection is a fast-rising experimental tape label, operating out of Vancouver, Canada. Run by Kiwi expat and cosmopolitan part-time blogger Richard MacFarlane, the label has carved out its own niche, somewhere between low-fi tape aesthetics, left-footed house and distorted disco. Taking its cues from labels like Opal Tapes, 1080p Collection has kept an outsider perspective to the current developments in dance music, constantly searching for the oddness that gives a release longevity, instead of jumping on the next hype.
Paired with strong visual packaging that often caters to a certain digital nostalgia, the 1080p roster has spread out all over the globe, from Vancouver’s own LOL Boy Markus Garcia to Berlin’s Tings & Savage, and New York’s Gobby to Abstract Mutation from Melbourne. In this excerpt from his recent interview with RBMA Radio, MacFarlane details the label’s trajectory thus far.
I was working as a music journalist for quite a few years, since I left university where I did English Lit. I was running a blog called Rose Quartz with a few friends and we’d been trying to post all new music, mostly experimental, from DIY cultures around the world. The internet was great for breaking down barriers. I was wanting to start a record label for some time to continue that in a more curatorial kind of way. For a few years, I wanted to start a label, but I wanted to wait until I had a point in having a label, rather than it just being an arbitrary vanity project or something.
I’d moved to Vancouver, British Columbia and had met a few people that, kind of like myself, had previously been into more guitar music or more noise or post-noise and started exploring techno and house tropes. There were a few friends of mine that were doing that, and it was a nice logical place to start. Mostly just actually doing it and getting things together, as opposed to just saying, “Oh, I’m going to start a label soon.”
To me, cassettes have always been a very utilitarian and cheap format.
A big reason I decided to do tape releases was to make it a nice casual space to experiment, especially for someone who’s doing their first release. That’s always something that’s interested me. Amateur approaches – or not amateur, but early steps in trying out new genres. That was a big part of the music journalism that I would do as well.
I’m focusing on newer stuff, just weird experiments, in terms of using cassettes for the medium. I mean in many ways, it’s just as much a digital label as it is a cassette label. To have that duality is nice. To have people that want a physical object or to get a 50-50 option, where they can have a real physical object or just digital files. To me, cassettes have always been a very utilitarian and cheap format. In terms of distribution as well, they’re easy to post and cheap to make as well.
I think to many people, I suppose for better or worse, they’re considered less serious than vinyl, a little bit more removed from DJ culture in a more mainstream kind of way, and also connected with a lot of the DIY music that really got me into music in a big way. I’m thinking about labels like Not Not Fun and Olde English Spelling Bee, and lots of self-released stuff from noise artists, like hypnagogic pop from around 2010, when that was a big thing. Back when music blogs were a really big thing in terms of digging up local DIY cultures and putting them on a more global platform.
Local vs. Global
I’ve always been really pretty much glued to the internet, in terms of the music writing I would do. Blogging for me was really useful because it’s completely instantaneous. You could find a track or be emailed a track and then get a [blog] post up on that within half an hour or so. It was enabling me to have this window into these other cities where I’d never been to or didn’t really know anything about or, for better or worse, didn’t have so much of a context around the music.
In terms of the formation of 1080p, it was definitely a very good split between meeting people in Vancouver but also linking up and often reconnecting with people who I had programmed events for in the UK or just even old friends from New Zealand who had started making some crazy techno or bridging some gap between the noise music they used to make and some strange kind of wonky house or something.
One thing that I had been looking to explore with the label in its first phase was this lo-fi aesthetic that a lot of people associate with cassette tapes. I soon started to realize that I didn’t want to focus on just simply one aesthetic or texture. Also, tapes are really good quality when you get them pro-dubbed on chrome cassette, which is something that people never really realized because the tapes are, in many ways, an obscure medium. Most people are really shocked when they see one.
A lot of the early releases had a very tape-suited quality, which is almost a contradiction in having the releases being digital as well as tape. Really, the reason that I wanted to do a tape label as well is because they’re so easy to post and just cheaper to manufacture. There’s a short turnaround as well, compared with vinyl, so we could keep up with the more digital-speed release schedule instead of waiting several months for the vinyl to come back.
Attention from publications
Towards the end of 2014, I was really stoked to end up on some kind of “best of” lists on sites like Resident Advisor, XLR8R, and Fact Magazine, who had all been really supportive, particularly for the second half of 2014. I noticed when you start getting more coverage, people that might not have given you the time of day previously start to take notice a bit more, which is really good.
One thing I wanted to avoid was having this mysterious SoundCloud producer thing where someone is deliberately obscuring their identity.
Since then, I started to receive a lot of demos as well. It’s very hard for me to ever get through listening to those. I spend a lot of time on a computer freelancing and I find it quite hard to find the right time to listen to music. To make it through lots of the demos, again, is really difficult. Luckily, I get a lot of demos sent from friends or acquaintances that I’ve met around, which is always really exciting to receive some kind of shredding techno from a friend who has just started playing around with some new gear. It’s always that is the most exciting thing for me when someone’s just starting out and experimenting and managing to make really good stuff as well.
One thing I wanted to avoid was having this mysterious SoundCloud producer thing where someone is deliberately obscuring their identity. Sometimes it does make sense to not have the person’s name at the forefront, or for it not to be the main thing with the release. I’ve always tried to be really transparent in press releases in identifying where the person is from and give as much content as possible, because I think it’s just a bit boring to be deliberately mysterious. I would hope that the music can be evocative enough on its own, without having this crazy backstory with it. It can be really cringe-worthy to read a press release that has obviously picked up three or four talking points rather than just letting the music speak for itself.
In 2014, going into that year, I was trying to set things up a little bit and to have quite a particular schedule. The idea I had was not to place the schedule too far in front of having quality music to release, because I ended up getting inundated with music from friends, which I thought was amazing, and somehow fitted the label perfectly as well. Doing that on the fly, while I was in this quite busy school program, I had to be quite intuitive about what I thought the aesthetic of the label was. Hopefully it makes sense for other people.
I would frantically work on releases to do one every two weeks. I think in one month, in 2014, I did one every week, which was just too much and it unfortunately affects the way it plays out for the artists. They get buried in the label, which is definitely not the intention. I would hope to get a frequency of releases that lets the release really stick out, but also where the label is a reliable place to go to check out stuff. Another reason for doing the frequency of a release every two weeks was sending off batches to the tech manufacturer. It was a lot cheaper, because shipping can be quite expensive to get them shipped from Missouri up to Vancouver. To send off about three or four cassettes at once was a lot more viable and lessened the workload to get one batch at a time.
I’d love to do cassette-only DJ sets. I think I might try to start up a night in Vancouver, using some Nakamichi cassette decks, which would be really cool. I’ve always DJ’d very casually over the last several years. I’ve never been particularly good at it, because my attention span is just hopeless sometimes. My ability to remember what tracks sound like, I know that really good DJ’s are just so good with being able to pick a track out of the air and knowing just exactly what it sounds like and what will fit the vibe of the room. I’ve always just had way too much music on my computer and get overwhelmed.
When I was doing blog posts on Rose Quartz quite regularly, it was always fun to make a semi-fake genre up. Nothing like there’s definitely a big part of journalism where you want to label a new genre and be quite serious about it as well.
When I write the press releases for each 1080p release, I try to give things genre-specific names where possible or be quite specific about the kinds of things they’re trying to push in terms of genre boundaries. It’s always the sense of hybridity, which was the key issue in me starting the label as well. A lot of the electronic stuff I started to get interested in was really blurry and really chopped up. The aesthetics that would normally just be found in one genre, but blurred together.
It’s funny with press releases because you can almost project into the future what the article is about.
I think being too specific can be probably detrimental as well. If you say something really specifically in the first line of a press release, then that’s definitely what most of the discourse about a track will be saying. It’s good to give some little breadcrumbs for people that are writing about it, but not to dictate it too much. It’s funny with press releases because you can almost project into the future what the article is about, what the music journalist is going to say.
It’s really good to be able to control it almost in a way because it can be frustrating I know when someone completely misconstrues what you’re trying to do. Personally, I don’t make music but it’s infuriating when it’s completely off the mark. I try to be careful and work quite closely with artists on how they want their release to be projected out there. It’s important to know that what you write in the press release is going to probably end up in the articles out there on the internet.
It must have been in about 2011 or so, maybe even before that, when a lot of post-noise musicians had moved on from this really outmoded expression of noise of a bunch of dudes sitting around in a dingy venue, just sitting literally on the floor and someone being quite static in front of them. I remember putting on a show for a rock band, basically, and everyone started sitting down on the floor. I was like, “Man, this is not an ambient drone show. They’re rocking out.”
It gets boring to see, for me personally, just seeing rock bands and experimental bands for several years. Standing around at a show watching some guys with guitars just became a bit old. In finding out about how fun it is to go to dance events was a real revelation for me and a lot of people as well. It’s a social thing and a musical expression as well. Definitely a lot of people around me were moving that way as well.
I was definitely hyper-aware of trends and new genres coming along while I was doing blogging, because it’s just basically there is a big part of the discovery of new music and to try and find some kind of new mode of expression. I feel like that’s actually dropped off in a way. It’s hard for me to say, because I stopped doing music journalism. I wasn’t enjoying it so much or I felt like I wasn’t saying much new about it.
Sometimes I feel almost fraudulent running an electronic or techno label.
I know a lot of other friends that had been doing similar music writing at the same time and had been taking a bit more of a break recently. I don’t know if it’s just less of a focal point, trying to find some kind of new thing, or just a matter of it being really exciting to have discovered how good techno an house can be in those ways that I mentioned, just socially and everything. I definitely have to be careful of commodifying or misappropriating it.
Definitely just being aware of the roots of these kind of things is important, because I’m a newcomer to listening to house and techno, I grew up more listening to drum and bass when I was in New Zealand, before moving towards dubstep. Sometimes I feel almost fraudulent running an electronic or techno label. I’d always listened to electronic music. I’m certainly ignorant in lots of ways about house and techno and just the history of that. Also, I’m such the opposite or a techno head.
A lot of my friends are really crate-digging obsessives. It’s a totally different place that I’m coming from. I mean, I hopefully try to think of things in a more post-critical way. Trying to enjoy things for what they are, I think, has been a big part of the kind of music journalism I was doing, as well as running this label post-criticality, but still super high quality and just really good stuff that hopefully isn’t commodifying anything.
Perception is a funny thing, especially through the internet. The way someone brands themselves can be different from the scale that they’re actually operating on. Just because you get good coverage on blogs or something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s super lasting quality or something like that. I’ve been trying to really focus on something that’s aware at least in that way. Things don’t stick around forever for sure.
I think the model that I’ve developed is definitely a short attention internet span, for better or worse. I mean that’s just always the way that I’ve consumed music. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, because it’s like the opposite of the authentic record buying approach, it’s more stream something on SoundCloud and having extreme excitement about how much amazing music is out there.
It’s interesting to read forums and see someone write, “Oh, 1080p is great but they release a lot. They release way too much.”
I’ve worked quite hard on promoting every release and building a good network of press contacts. While also wanting to be DIY, I definitely wanted all of the releases to be heard as much as possible, which is why I also have digital distribution worldwide, to embrace things like Spotify and iTunes and stuff, even if they are potentially bad or not super focused on supporting our young artists, I think it’s at least experimental at this point to try and get it out there.
It’s good to have it out on things like that because someone that might not normally listen to it will definitely check it out. Starting to get more coverage, it’s interesting to read forums and see someone write, “Oh, 1080p is great but they release a lot. They release way too much.” It’s interesting to be able to read what other people think about certain things. It’s good to be aware in that sense, as well as definitely doing things on your own terms.