An experimental label originally founded by leftfield beatmaker Matthewdavid and visual artist Jesselisa Moretti, Leaving Records was one of the early hubs of Los Angeles’s storied beat scene in the late 2000s, and the label continues to be a reliable outpost for all kinds of weirdness from Southern California and beyond. Long before cassette releases had come back into fashion, Leaving Records showed a real dedication to the seemingly defunct format, and the imprint’s debut offerings went even further afield, including packing burned CDs inside hand-painted floppy disks.
Format aside, the label’s music was always the most impressive part of the operation, with the Leaving catalog including hazy dispatches – many of them loosely rooted in hip-hop – from Ras G, Shlohmo, Julia Holter, Jonwayne, Knxwledge, Dntel and plenty of others, along with numerous releases from Matthewdavid himself. In this excerpt from a Leaving Records special with Frosty on RBMA Radio, Matthewdavid handpicks some of the label’s defining releases.
Dak, Standthis (2009)
Standthis was a double album release, LR001 and 002. We released Standthis, and then a month or two later we dropped the bonus B-side as the LR002. If you bought the tape, the B-side was the bonus – digital you only got the A-side, so it’s incentive for folks to grip the tape. On the A-side was this really heavy, weird field recording sub-bass cut called “bitdepth.” That track has this crazy, compressed sub-bass that is actually a ground hum from a busted DJ mixer that he chopped up and put into this field recording.
It’s like a sound of him smoking a blunt, a sizzling, crackling sound. He was living in an apartment in Glendale. He’s hanging out on his back porch, smoking a blunt, there’s wind chimes and traffic, sirens, vehicle sounds in the background and this really, really strange, minor key melancholy melody with this intense sub-bass. That track is the heaviest track, and it set forth the ethos or the aesthetic of our label in a lot of ways – just the sound design of that song.
Durlin Lurt, Him Jenson (2010)
The concept behind this was 26 letters of the alphabet, each a track for the album, so we go A through Z in a weird trash compactor, Madlib meets Gaslamp Killer meets Dilla meets I don’t even know what – Jim Henson, basically. We have all sorts of standard Sesame Street, Muppets stuff, then we have really obscure DVDs and VHS and stuff recorded straight from the television, and I don’t even know what stuff from audio books, on cassette.
This is an essential title in our catalog. It’s part of our free series, and you can still go to leavingrecords.com and find this on the sidebar and download it for free… It’s live drums, very overcompressed, loose, jazzy, very sample-based. Some of it is very melodic, others just more textural. It’s very hip-hop. This is a hip-hop record, but it’s like hip-hop for the new scene. It wasn’t made on the computer. There’s no Ableton involved with this. This is all straight SP-303 from Durlin Lurt, who is a very obscure but classic Leaving Records-affiliated artist who helped to find our sound.
Julia Holter, Tragedy (2011)
Oh Julia, still and forever. We’ll always love you. She’s doing her thing now on bigger indie labels and touring the globe and doing amazing stuff. I couldn’t be more proud of her. I was introduced to Julia through dublab. This label was a dublab label – it started out that way and it remains that.
I befriended Julia and was engineering a session at dublab with her. She was fresh out of CalArts, maybe even still a student at CalArts at that time, and coming back and forth from the university to LA and sharing her music with us. I think Human Ear Music had released some stuff of hers, pre-Tragedy.
She had told me that she was working on this Greek tragedy opera. That thing typically wouldn’t really turn me on, but anything from Julia turns me on. She started playing little things here and there for Jesse [Jesselisa Moretti] and I. Her and Jesse really got working closely together to realize this project as far as the concept and the art direction and the feeling and the mood of it.
In traditional, avant-garde classical terms, it is the most avant-garde title in our catalog. I’m not saying that in a bad way at all. I think the reason this record was our most successful record or biggest hit was because it spoke to a wide demographic of all ages that are interested in classical compositional music. This is a highly talented and trained musician, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, pianist, making an avant-garde modern compositional album, and it is so celebrated for so many good reasons. It’s epic from start to finish and is one of our proudest moments.
Semya, Golden Days (2012)
This is another abstract collage, classic Leaving aesthetic title. Semya came to me via the internet, and now he lives here in LA. I call him an LA homie right now and hopefully forever.
The track I want to focus on is “Spectral Growth Reel.” The whole album is very reminiscent of a lot of music that I was into put in this LA beat scene context, but not being so forward that it is such. “Spectral Growth Reel” is the one track that would make that statement make sense. It’s got a pulse. It docks in sidechains and is compressed like the LA beat sound, but it’s super New Age-y and very ambient.
A lot of the tracks on this record are cacophonous and very abrasive, and then it gets into really beautiful, melodic, major chord tonal movements and very New Age, lush, ambient textures. “Spectral Growth Reel” is the one with sub-bass that pumps through it, and it really ties together this New Age sound in a very psychedelic way. This is a classic release and subconsciously I think it led to a lot of the New Age stuff that we’re doing now.
Ras G, El-Aylien Pt. II: C.razy A.lien (2012)
El-Aylien Pt. II is a sequel to the El-Aylien tape, which was G’s more experimental sound collage album. People who know Ras G know that Ras G gets way out, but he wanted a platform to really truly express his wild side, his collage, free jazz, Sun Ra side. The El-Aylien series was that platform.
This stuff is a little more beat-driven, a little more hip-hop than Pt. I. Pt. I was pretty far out, very noisy – a lot of people were scratching their heads and asking me, “What are you doing putting out this music? I don’t get it.” Pt. II appeased the common denominator, but still was very expressive of G’s astral reachings.
There’s a video that Miko Revereza made that’s really, really awesome. It’s sourced footage that he collaged together to make this video for the song “Broken Cartridge!” This is kind of a banger, but it’s like a subdued, hip-hop instrumental banger, and it’s got this very demented vocoder sample. I’ve never asked G [about it]. Ras G is really good at telling you what he sampled if you ask him. I’m sure I could ask him, “What is that weird demented vocoder sample?” and he’d be like, “Oh, that’s probably Björk slowed down. It’s actually a GarageBand [sample].” I don’t know what it was, but when I heard it I was like, “I have never heard a song or beat like that.” I had those epiphany moments all the time with Leaving.
Dak, youstandit/leftrecord (2012)
This is a double album on one tape, youstandit/leftrecord. “Youstandit” starts off the album. It’s the first track on Side A. Thom Yorke actually blogged about this song. This is very LA-sounding, very Flying Lotus, very Low End Theory, but it’s so beautiful and so dense. The detail, the expression of the production on this track is just impressive, for lack of better words. I heard it and it was like, “Goddamn, man. You are just completely on top of the game. No one is fucking with you right now,” and then Thom Yorke heard it. He does his top ten list and there it was on there. I was just so stunned and surprised that the dude was listening to this. I don’t think I’ve ever told Dak that. I think he’d be really happy to know that.
Leftrecord is more of the improvisational, straight-to-tape lo-fi experiment. The first track on Side B is called “Diamond Cult for Electric Slide.” This is like a slow, really syrupy, groovy, what would sound like a Dâm-Funk demo from his adolescence or something, but really slow. I know Dâm was making dance music back then. When I showed this to Dâm, his mind was blown and it’s just Dak can get really groovy and really funky. It’s like chopped-and-screwed boogie, but there’s nothing really chopped-and-screwed about it, it’s just Dak producing this song really slow and cut straight to cassette. It’s got that crunch. That is so endearing. It was just all done in the moment, very improvised. He told me it’s a cover song, and I don’t know what it’s a cover of. Maybe if you listen to it you could find out, you could point that out for me.
Matthewdavid, Disk II (2012)
The first ever release on Leaving Records was a CD-R released under my name, Matthewdavid, just setting the standard for the Leaving aesthetic in a more ambient realm, what would then lead to New Age. I didn’t know it was New Age at that time or could have that name placed onto it, but it’s very much ambient New Age.
The Disk series, Disk I and Disk II, are just ambient experiments, tone and texture and dynamics. When I say dynamics, that means processing through compression and doing liberal experiments with EQ and other dynamic effects. All with tape, so quarter-inch tape and cassette and different decks and four tracks and eight tracks and a reel-to-reel.
Disk II was a project where I sourced five quarter-inch old floppy disks, and had CD-Rs inside and painted on the disks and sent them out in the mail. I think I made 150 of them and they all went real quick. I had a lot of fun really getting into my visual side and expressing another part of me through this release. There’s a couple of really great collaborations on this release, but each one of these I handpainted, and I have extreme OCD quality control. If I thought I messed up, I just tossed it and started over, so RIP to these floppy disks that never made it out.
Stones Throw & Leaving Records: Dual Form (2013)
Stones Throw has been an amazing supporter and has been providing resources that I could never have had on my own accord. I’m super grateful for this compilation.
Let’s talk about the Trance Farmers song on here, “Purple Hay.” This is such a sweet, sweet song and all the ladies love Dave for this one. It’s a throwback doo-wop soul song through the lens of the psychedelia of Trance Farmers… Psychedelic doo-wop, lo-fi doo-wop. “Purple Hay” gets caught in your head and stuck. It keeps ringing over and over. We would put out Dave’s record under the Trance Farmers name shortly after this compilation dropped. I think this is a standout track because it diversifies our artists in a really strong way. We can do really catchy, unique pop music, and also do really bang-and-bass, heavy hip-hop beats, and everything else in-between and beyond. I think that Trance Farmers track really sums up where we were to go afterwards with the Stones Throw connections.
Samiyam, Wish You Were Here (2013)
Samiyam is a pioneer of the LA sound, right there with Flying Lotus, Brainfeeder, Low End Theory. All that stuff that you know about LA beat music and hip-hop music in 2006 and onward, Samiyam is a pioneer. He was at the forefront and still remains very true to his sound. A lot of other producers have taken his sound and done great things with it. A lot of people don’t really try to hold back, and it’s very obvious that they are very influenced by Sam’s music. Sam is a very influential hip-hop producer.
Some of his chord progressions and tones and melody lines are so pretty, and he has this humor to his music, too, that keeps it really afloat and lighthearted. His stuff really knocks. It’s great for the clubs, it’s great for the cars, it’s great for your subwoofers, but there is this really emotional, humorous element too that really keeps things light and keeps things engaging and very, I don’t know, interactive.
Sam decided to rap for the first time to the public on this one. I don’t know how long he’d been doing it in his shower… Everyone knows Samiyam is a beat producer and a beatmaker, but he’s a great rapper.
M. Geddes Gengras, Ishi (2014)
This record is a heavy record. I’m just going to put it out there that Ged made this record during a very emotional and heavy time in his life. My daughter was about to be born and so it was a very important therapeutic record for me, too. This is timeless music. This is lush soundscape, dreamscape New Age music.
I think if you try to call this music “ambient” it might be doing it injustice, because you can put it on in the background and do your dishes or vacuum or whatever you want. If you really engage with this record it can really take you somewhere. It can really provide the essence of this music through an active participation. Ged is at the top of his game on this one. This is a masterwork of New Age contemporary ambient soundscape music.
“Threshold,” the side-long piece on the B-side, is nearly 18 minutes long. I almost get emotional talking about it, because it was just on repeat during the birth of my daughter. It’s child-birthing music, it’s relaxation music, it’s calming participatory experiential music from Ged, who is a master of electronic music. I am humble to work with Ged and know Ged and call him a close friend.
Deantoni Parks, Technoself (2015)
Is he a man? Is he an alien? Is he a machine? This is probably the most exciting artist I have ever worked with. Technoself is the future of live performance, electronic beat music with a drum kit and a sampler and a human mind and body that I have never seen or yet to see matched by any one person or machine. You can’t get it with a machine, because it’s too live and improvised. You can’t get it with a man, because it sounds like a sampler or machine. So I don’t even know if I am friends with a cyborg or this guy is from another dimension or what.
Technoself is an important record. It’s a live record, and it’s interesting because I never put out a live record like, “Live at the Coliseum, it’s Deantoni Parks!” and then the crowd roars. There’s a couple of tracks. You can hear the crowd. I’ve always been on the fence about putting out live records, because that can be cheesy, but it actually draws you in because you hear the reaction and the interest. People hearing it and getting turned on for the first time are recorded to tape. I’m on tape and Ged is on tape and you might even be on tape and you don’t even know it. People are freaking out and if you see this guy, make an effort, go out of your way to see this guy play. Words can’t do justice to what this guy does with one drumstick on a drumkit and the other hand using a sampler to make incredibly futuristic beat music.
I want the future of Leaving Records to be more reissue projects. I really want to get down and dirty, excavating old music, unearthing music, shining light on music that never got the proper attention. I’m doing a lot of work in those realms right now and I’m really happy to continue to move forward doing that.