Deathbomb Arc is the cutting-edge, forward thinking and experimental record label based in LA we’ve been kind of repping hard for years now, mainly because they’ve been responsible for some of our favourite releases of the last few years. Today marks their seventeenth anniversary, and to mark the occasion we recently hooked up with their boss, Brian Kinsman, to talk to him about those 17 years and the compilation, titled No Children, which he’s just made available for free (or on a “name your price” basis if you prefer) via Bandcamp to celebrate.
DeathBomb Arc are the label who’ve brought to the world’s attention artists such as clipping., Foot Village, Black Pus, Death Grips, Julia Holter, Signor Benedick The Moore, tik///tik, I.E. and 1000s more though the weekly singles club which they ran throughout 2011 and 2012. Said label turned seventeen today, not a birthday normally associated with putting up the bunting, raising the flags, blowing up balloons, or, indeed, releasing totally dope compilations shining a light on some of the label’s finest achievements, but DBA, as you might have gathered, are no ordinary label. Which is why we like them so much I guess. That and the music they release of course. Actually, probably mainly the latter. Which I’m hoping is how they’d like it.
Anyway – it gives us great pleasure to raise a glass to this fine institution, so read on for some wise words from their boss, aka Brian from Deathbomb Arc, and, naturally, for details regarding how the ruddy hec you can acquire the aforementioned compilation.
(Alternatively, those of you who just can’t wait and want the compilation NOW, head over here. Alternatively to the alternatively, those who can wait but would rather listen to the compilation while reading the rest of this article, by the magic of the embed code we’ve given you the power to do so WITHOUT EVEN NAVIGATING AWAY FROM THIS PAGE THE FUCK! Just click play on the widget below. Then head over here to get a copy of the compilation yourself and give the label some well earnt $$ if you wish.)
So yeah – we had some questions for Brian regarding the label. The question we didn’t ask though was why he’s chosen to celebrate a 17th birthday, although we’ve been following the label long enough to know they don’t play by the rulebook. Also, we’d already been given the answer in the exchange of emails setting this thing up. “I didn’t realize it had been quite so many but as soon as I calculated it, I was like, DAMN, I’m going big with the anniversary this year, even though 17 is such an oddball number.” Which is good enough for us!
You probably can’t be arsed doing the maths to work out when the label started so I’ll tell you – it was 1998. Oh, you’re ahead of me. Good. The obvious place to start when asking someone about their label is why they started it. So that was the first question we put to Brian, while also being surprised that in the last 4 years of regular correspondence I’d not asked him before. “As the spoiled industry brat child of a rich hippie, my exorbitant allowance in college allotted for a large budget towards drugs – something my parents thought I should be doing as a red-blooded American student. I didn’t care about drugs though. I loved experimental rock and hip hop. I felt compelled to use this money towards helping out musicians that are too open minded for the typical uptight patrons of the music world.”
Sadly that money soon dried up though. “A few years into running Deathbomb Arc, my parents got wise to my embezzlement of their “get our son drugged up” fund.” But, wanting to keep the label going Brian “…went out into the world and got a job at SEGA in San Francisco. I’m not sure if all corporations are as corrupt as they were, but their violations of human rights, child labor laws, and general Jehovah’s Witness-esque insistence upon maintaining sexist gender standards gave me further resolve to make the label really happen.”
I myself only “discovered” the label in 2011, quite soon after their singles club had started. It coincided with Tom Ravenscroft starting his Friday night 6 Music show. He played a track by Bitches on his first ever show which I liked so much I started following them on twitter, they released a track through DBA’s singles club, tweeted about it and pretty soon I was sucked in so deep to the wonderful and frightening world of DBA that I was interviewing head honcho “Brian Miller” of what we described then – and stand by today – as one of the most “cutting-edge” labels in the world.
The label’s identity as being “cutting-edge” has been reinforced over those last few years several times over. In the words of Brian – words which can’t be argued with… “The label has now been here at the heart of so many important music movements – most recently with the noisy experimental rap of Death Grips, clipping., etc.” As the person who helped introduce the world to so many great bands, is doing so amongst some of Brian’s proudest moments?
“While the slews of notable band names that have passed through Deathbomb is impressive for our resume – No Age, Deerhoof, Julia Holter – it is the building of a core roster that makes us really strong these days. Many of the core Deathbomb artists perform in our house-band True Neutral Crew, but we all help each other out in further ways, from production to promotions to touring to studio training. Please don’t paraphrase this as “I’m proud of friendship” though. That is disgusting.” Haha – as if I would!
One of the things we’ve noticed about the label is how they’ve used so many experimental, even pioneering at times, ways to get their message across. And by “their message” I mean “their music”. Starting with the singles club, which was 100% digital in a carefully thought out and crafted way with, each week, a brand new piece of gif-art accompanying it; through to their premiering an album over the telephone and their ever growing DBA “street team” – via which they give people who are prepared to use their blogs / social media accounts / friendships etc to further awareness about the label and be given a host of freebies in exchange. Here’s what Brian had to say about his “PR techniques” as he calls them…
“The secrets of my PR techniques that have accomplished inhuman feats -such as getting AIDS Wolf into The New Yorker and getting clipping. signed to Sub Pop- are not given away for free. They are given away for money though. For more information please visit the Kinsman and Meng website. For the majority of the world that doesn’t give a poop about hiring me for PR, please instead enjoy the incredible song “Bad Pioneer” by The Nether-Carols, which can be downloaded for free.”
Cagey! And fair enough.
Like a lot of people behind label’s, Brian’s also a musician himself. You might know some of his bands. And if you don’t you quite clearly have not been spending enough time on this bloody website and you should sort that out ASA-bloody-P. Perhaps his most well-known band are Foot Village, but he was also in Gang Wizard before them and now is in True Neutral Crew, whose #POPPUNK album we gave a glowing review last year. I was curious as to how he decides whether to self-release music by bands he’s a member of or whether to push it out to another label…
“Foot Village was released by so many great labels that I could never show enough gratitude to (their opinions, not mine); Fat Cat, Too Pure (a division of 4AD / Beggars), Not Not Fun, Upset The Rhythm, etc. The teen boy in me that wanted some sort of indie rock fantasy was satisfied. But there is no money for rent, medical bills, let alone any of life’s luxuries like food that won’t give you cancer. So now I pretty much keep it all in house, at least until someone makes a real offer to pay for studio time or something.”
DBA has worked with so many people over the years, and one feels it’s a real family affair – Brian clearly has a lot of time for the artists he works with – hence why he likes to make music with so many of them I guess! But has that always been the case…
“As the anniversary compilation, ‘No Children’, shows: Deathbomb works with both new artists and acts that we’ve known for ages. What is not included in the comp are all the bands I’ve had horrible fall outs with. So, you know, just normal human stuff going on around here. Some friends, some enemies, and always some strangers around.”
The tag line for the label is “Genres Unknown Since 1998” – a nice reminder that we shouldn’t categorise music perhaps. But how does Brian explain this tag line – and does he stand by it as strongly as he did on day one? “Music should be an adventure. At times a highly skilled one to make sure you survive hostile territory. At others, a completely chaotic one because you got to live on the edge. Sometimes shit gets emotional, and that is just a part of the exciting narrative. But in the end, it all adds up to an adventure into the unknown.”
And is Brian as invested in the label as always after seventeen years? And what drives him to carry on with Deathbomb Arc? “I’m almost 40 and I still like new sounds. I think most people are supposed to cash out on the new music game at like 25 – get all boring “the best music was in the 90s” type garbage. I’ll keep doing the label until I start hating inventiveness.” Well we all know Peel never lost his love of inventiveness or experimentation so you can take that to your grave – ergo, we take it, DBA has every chance of being around for a long time to come. To which we can only say “huzzah!”
Finally – the inevitable question now we’ve ascertained that Brian isn’t going to be jacking in the label / music game any time soon, where does he see the label going from here? Will we be celebrating DBA’s 34th birthday in another 17 years? “I’m keeping the candles, so we’ll be here till at least the 71st birthday when we can use them again. Up next? As many know, Jonathan Snipes of clipping. also does amazing work scoring feature films such as Room 237, Starry Eyes, etc. I told him the other day that I want to see him win an Academy Award. I’ll fucking do it too.” And knowing Brian we have every faith in his doing so!
So get on with downloading that album now kids! And here’s to another 71 minus 17 years (54) of Deathbomb Arc. We’ll leave the final words about the label to Brian himself…
“I like to think we’re a label that people can trust, much like you can trust these words I’m saying today.”
Amen to that.
There’s also an anniversary show coming up for those of you lucky enough to live in LA. Tickets for the show, which is at The Smell in LA, are available here.
All words by Guy Manchester. More writing by Guy on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. Twitter: @Guid0man.