words and photography Zarah Cheng
Richard Macfarlane and I are sitting at the bar at Bestie. We each have a plate of currywurst and fries in front of us. We’re talking about Bushwick, dogsitting, and NYE fear. By the time we’ve finished eating our currywurst, I’ve realized that I haven’t asked Richard a single one of my planned questions. The founder of 1080p Collection is laidback and easy to talk to. He has a clear vision of his 2013-founded record label and is humble about what he has achieved in a shockingly short amount of time. 1080p is set to release some of the most anticipated electronic albums of 2015, including Neu Balance’s Rubber Sole, Project Pablo’s I Want to Believe, and Young Braised’s Northern Reflections (technically a Christmas Day 2014 release, but who’s checking). Backing some of the most talked about experimental music acts in Vancouver, 1080p is redefining digital DIY.
CREEP: How did 1080p start?
Richard: I’ve wanted to start a label for a few years now, since I was doing a lot of music journalism, but I wanted to wait until I had a specific reason or a specific idea. It kind of joined up with me moving here, after I lived here for almost a year and met some people making electronic music that had previously made more guitar or DIY experimental stuff. And then a few people I knew from the Internet as well were making stuff. It was forming a context for me. So I decided to finally actually do it. I realized that instead of just thinking about it, you have to actually just do it. So I just asked around, [talked to] friends who had labels and asked for help with where they had stuff done and what to do. So a lot of people helped.
1080p revolves around digital and cassette releases. Why was this important for you when developing the label?
Well a lot of my favourite labels around the last several years were small, DIY cassette and vinyl labels. And CD-Rs as well. And I guess it was just a nice format for people to use because it’s really cheap and welcome for experimentation. I combined that with the music writing that I did online. I used to write this blog called Rose Quartz, just something to keep pace with how fast things come out on the Internet and the idea of using digital things in a somewhat DIY way. I mean, even if it’s just utilizing a big thing like Facebook or Spotify, using it from the perspective of a more underground label. I do a run of around a hundred cassettes or so, which is pretty small, so I supplement that with digital distribution to get it out everywhere and to give people a fair chance of hearing it. Because it’s not about doing a small, boutique thing, I just want to get it out as much as possible.
So how does the process actually work? When you produce the tapes, are you doing that yourself or is it sourced out to somewhere else?
When I talked to friends who ran their own labels, some people actually do dubbing themselves but that’s pretty time-consuming and you have to be careful because the quality can change a lot when you’re doing it yourself. So I just asked around and there’s a place that I use now in Missouri called NAC – they’re a pretty small Christian company. Basically, like five or six years ago, a lot of noise artists started using them because they initially just did a lot of church tapes, like sermons and stuff like that, and people discovered that they’re good at doing music as well. They’re super cheap and are a nice, friendly company as well. So basically how it works is I’ll work things out with the artists, like decide on artwork, and discuss with them who we should work with and what kind of art they want. Mostly we would do mastering or get a friend to do it for free or cheap and we’ll try to send them off in batches, like two or three releases at once to make it cost-effective. And that’s also why I wanted to do quite a few releases in a year, to keep up with the pace of how fast things go online, like how people put stuff out instantly on Soundcloud. And because the tapes are a pretty casual and cheap format as well. I think traditionally, the tape labels that I looked to for inspiration do around six releases at once.
How many releases did you have this year?
I think it was around 27. My idea was to do around one every two weeks for the year, but I ended up getting lots more stuff I liked that was cool. Some friends were like, “Oh I made this stuff,” and it just seemed to fit in perfectly. And plus, I wanted to keep it really stylistically broad as well, so it was cool to have a constant collection.
To what extent do you collaborate with artists on their album covers or cassette packaging?
It really varies for each release. Sometimes the musician will have a particular idea or a friend and say they want this guy to do the artwork and we’ll just send [the music and artwork] together. Other times, it might be more difficult. Like this one person will try to decide on one person to do the artwork, and then the idea is to make sure that the art looks as strong as the music sounds or is evocative of how the music sounds, especially for online stuff. Rather than having a very beautiful physical object, because I’m less interested in that. I just want something very utilitarian because cassette is really cheap. Not like a crappy object [laughs], but I know a lot of tape labels that are very boutique and really fetishistic with super crazy packaging. But it’s not about that at all [for me]. If you see it online and then you listen to it, it’s like “Oh that makes sense.” So yeah, usually it’s pretty casual when deciding. I mean, I might suggest an artist I know or they might have a friend or I might do it myself as well. But I’m not as good with that style of design. I’m more into posters and stuff, rather than [Adobe] Illustrator stuff.
I love the aesthetic of 1080p – the packaging, website, posters…everything! How does the aesthetic reflect the label’s identity?
Cool, thank you! I guess in a way, I wish I had been a little more particular about the vision I had, aesthetically. It was kind of loose and vague and I wanted to leave it quite separate for each release to stand alone. Rather than be like some labels who have almost template-style artwork, where each tape looks the same and it’s really obviously identifiable with the label. I want someone to look at the tape and be like, “Oh this is on 1080p. That makes sense.” But rather that than screaming the label instead of the artist. I wouldn’t want that. I would want to make it more about the artist than the label. I guess I kind of have this idea of just being quite eclectic and colourful, in the same way that the music is kind of goofy as well. Not super serious or earnest, but self aware and humorous.
Do you design all the posters for your shows?
Yeah I pretty much do all those. I do the actual tape imprint as well, but sometimes other people will design those as well.
The artists signed under 1080p all have their own distinct voices, but are also part of a very cohesive sound. What is your selection process like when deciding which artists to work with?
I think over the last year, I’ve had to rely on my intuition a lot because I was really busy with school and just had to trust myself to make decisions based on my ego or my vague vision of one. I think most of the time, it’s from an outside perspective of what would make sense aesthetically. Or sometimes, it might be interesting to have this release come out after this one, but it might not make as much sense as some of them. I think over the last year, there have been three or four releases that lined up really perfectly and then maybe one that stands out a little more in terms of genre. But that’s really important because at first, I had really specific ideas of just doing more experimental house but there are way more genres than that. A lot of my favourite labels have every genre and are able to have that selection, still have a larger umbrella aesthetic but again, nothing that is too overarching in terms of a label’s vision. I also really admire labels that have are very clear though, like you can hear a song and be like, “This is on this label.”
In the past, you’ve used the term “digital DIY” to talk about 1080p. Where do you think this movement is progressing? And what is 1080p’s role in this progression?
I guess I started using this term because there was an article on Electronic Beats by this guy, Adam Harper, and he often writes about online music scenes. But he’s more interested in specifically post-Internet or Internet labels, whereas I didn’t want to be an Internet or net label at all. I wanted to stay away from that aesthetic. I really want to try to balance between physical and real life and having online stuff all connected. I think the idea of digital DIY is super obvious, I mean it’s probably been discussed to death by now. But me and my friends were talking about it and it’s just the idea of utilizing say, a Facebook page, which is free but you’re also working for free basically because you’re earning money for Facebook. Or using Soundcloud to get your music out there. Whereas before the Internet, people would just do zines or something like that. But also, the Internet has been around for so long now that it’s become second nature. When I was thinking of digital DIY, that’s just become the obvious to do at this point. And it has been for years now, just like how everyone goes online to download music and to exchange music. But it’s super amazing how easy it is to get music heard if you just whip out some PR.
Although you’ve admitted that you never intended to revolutionize music, 1080p has definitely become a trailblazer in accessibly releasing some of Vancouver’s best experimental electronica. What do you think has contributed the most to 1080p’s success?
I felt kind of cynical lately about whether the act of doing something or running a label…I dunno I guess I was being too self-reflective but if you just make a label, there’s so much good music around that it’s kind of easy to form a roster. Because there’s so much good stuff out there. I wouldn’t even want to take credit for it because all this music is happening and I don’t make music myself. I feel like it’s just really cool that it’s going on. I think I was just feeling cynical about reading some articles about 1080p and the end-of-year stuff, not only because of the way that music journalism kind of cycles and how when anything new comes up it’s like, “Oh cool, we have something to write about.” It’s not a negative thing, but that’s just how things work. Same with music.
But I think that the idea of trailblazing is…I don’t know. It’s good that music brings joy to people and makes people happy and getting things out there with such a good online community, being able to get something from Vancouver out to all these other communities is really great. It’s nice to be a vessel for that I guess, but I felt really hesitant to take credit – I don’t feel like I’m doing anything that’s that worthwhile. But I feel like there is that label, Mood Hut from here [in Vancouver], that’s putting a lot of care into what they do and they’re really harbouring a collective of people that are putting a lot of heart and soul into it. But I dunno, it just seems really easy to run a label, I guess [laughs]. But I also wish that I had been a bit more careful with a lot of things, like instead of being more maximalist and releasing a bunch of stuff. Plus, releasing cassettes really has no pressure. If you’re doing vinyl, it’s another whole thing because it’s super expensive – there’s a lot more on the line.
1080p distributes all over the world – aside from Vancouver, 1080p releases are also available in New York, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. How did you choose which countries to expand to?
The way I do it, my online store is under Bandcamp. So people just buy stuff from there and I distribute all over the world. It’s interesting to see that about every time I do a batch of about 100 orders or so, how many countries there are. Mostly it’s America but lots of places in New Zealand and Australia as well. And in Canada, of course. But yeah, overwhelmingly almost 60-percent from the states. But with stocking in stores when I was starting out, I was approaching more stores, trying to get them to stock because I wasn’t selling on Bandcamp – I didn’t have much of a following then. Whereas now, I’ve been struggling to keep up with the orders. Just doing it on my own, it takes a while. I have a pretty good system, but it takes a long time to package up 150 tapes [laughs]. It’s just gotten to a point where selling at a wholesale price to stores isn’t really even worth it for me. It’s just way easier for me to sell on Bandcamp in terms of making a profit for myself and the artist.
I’m just trying to work smart because it’s taking up a lot of my time these days [laughs]. Trying to be economically viable and stuff. I was talking to someone about this yesterday actually. When you’re in this DIY zone, it’s not about making money or anything but I used to put on a lot of shows and lose a lot of money doing that and doing a lot of writing for free – I mean it’s not like it’s not for the love of it but there’s no reason why people shouldn’t be getting paid. Not just myself, but the artists as well. But it does take a while. I think even down to this year, I was trying to build up a presence and working on the PR context I have. Putting a load of work into building a name and being a reliable source for music, a context to be able to get good coverage for each release to do it justice, which ties into doing distro to get it to as many places as possible.
Yeah, 1080p has some cool marketing. Didn’t you produce matchbooks for a show?
Oh yeah, that was actually for a show at Bossa Nova in Bushwick.
That was right by my apartment!
Oh cool! But I actually can’t take credit for the match idea. There’s this guy named Julian who runs Sisterjam. He booked shows at Bossa Nova as well and it was the coolest thing ever. I never actually got to go though. I felt kind of fraudulent about it because I also booked a show at another venue called Body Actualize, but it got shut down about a month ago. It was a DIY space and they would do a bunch of cool stuff there. I went there when I was in [New York] recently but just during the day to say hi to the guys there. I never actually went to any shows there [laughs].
Do you plan a lot of shows remotely from Vancouver?
I’ve only really done them in New York. I was trying to do one in LA but everything just fell through. It didn’t really work out. But I was doing this one in New York that a bunch of my friends were at and I kept having to ask my friend to iMessage me a photo so that I could tweet it and be like, “Hey, this artist is playing at this venue right now. Tweet a video of her or something.” And I’m actually in my house because I feel like I’m actually really a shut-in [laughs]. Just like sitting at Twitter all day.
Describe a show hosted by 1080p.
Actually, the thing I was trying to do with the last show here [in Vancouver] was the same thing I was trying to do with the label, like have a hybrid genre, crossing these gaps between people who had previously made a lot of either guitar or noise music and had started experimenting with house music ideas. For live shows, I had this idea of having a cross between a dance party and a live show. Because I just got really bored with seeing bands play and seeing that format. That kind of performance just seems really done for me now. People playing live hardware sets and a setting that is more similar to a dance party than a gig, that was the kind of thing that I was trying to do. But more often, I got a bit overexcited with booking too many acts in one night and trying to make it really eclectic and stuff. That was another thing as well, trying to get a few different styles in one night. Hopefully not getting all male performers too, because I feel like that’s really boring as well.
What would you say to the people who refuse to buy cassettes because they are outdated or because they’d rather just download music?
[Laughs] Well, I mean that was another reason for having both digital download and cassettes. Actually, lately, I’ve been really enjoying going to buy digital releases on Bandcamp. I mean just for $5, I really like the model of that. And usually it goes directly to the artist. I don’t really listen to cassettes as much as I do mp3s on the computer, just because I’m always on the computer and it’s easier like that and there’s so much music out there. I mean, a lot of people don’t have cassette players. I feel like a lot of people buy cassettes just to have the object and might not even have a tape deck.
At the same time, a lot of people have old cars that have tape decks and that is the most satisfying person to sell a tape to, when they’re like, “Oh man, I listen to the tape all the time.” Because when I used to have a car in university, dubbing stuff and putting it in my car, it’s just such a good way to listen to music. But also there’s this kind of split between people who buy a lot of dance music – they want to buy vinyl. I met a bunch of people in the last six months who are just like, “You gotta put out this release on vinyl!” And yesterday I received a release that I had put out on tape that also got picked up by another label and put out on vinyl. It’s cool to see that on vinyl because I mean, it just makes sense since people want to use them to DJ. People think of cassettes as throwaways. I just like the idea of using that as a physical object because it’s really small and easy to post.
What can we expect from 1080p in 2015?
I’m going to try and keep up the schedule of having a release every two weeks on tape. The first couple of months of the year are pretty much all Vancouver stuff and then some stuff from New Zealand and the States as well. I’m also looking at doing vinyl so I’m just trying to find a viable way to do that. A bigger idea I’ve had for the label is making sure it is mostly the first release of an artist or the first release by a new project of an artist, rather than having people release a ton of stuff. But it’s quite a lot of pressure to find new stuff all the time. Luckily, I had some time over Christmas to do some looking around online and getting some new demos. So I guess the idea is to just keep a nice consistent schedule and move into vinyl. I just need to figure out whether I will release artists I’ve already released on tape on 1080p or just try and release brand new artists and take some risks with vinyl. I think that will be very important, to keep it interesting for myself. I think the whole point of a label is to be reliable and also to be pushing forward. Not that I’m thinking about revolutionizing stylistically but just in a small contextual way, I want to keep it interesting for the label and the people following it.
What creeps you out the most?
I guess with being online a lot, I get so many friend requests on Facebook and I don’t really care – I just accept everyone. But there are a lot of guys online that are super nerdy about collecting stuff and this guy was messaging me about this particular style of music I don’t even know, called Vapourwave. It’s this type of post-Internet kind of sample-based electronic music. And this guy was trying to get tapes from a particular label and he added me on Facebook and was like, “Hello, may I ask you a question? Do you have tapes from this particular label?” And it was just this young guy from the Midwest super obsessed with Vapourwave. I guess Vapourwave is a laughable genre in a way, because it’s just all super postmodern, slowed down samples of new age stuff. So yeah, there was just this one guy that was super obsessed with trying to collect all these tapes.
Posted on January 7, 2015