Band of Brothers: Hot Record Société Intrigues With Drums From Around the World

Jonah Bromwich wants to fly with pelicans from here to Baghdad “Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and...
By    July 28, 2014

Jonah Bromwich wants to fly with pelicans from here to Baghdad

Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a rhizome has no beginning or end.“ –Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

You couldn’t find a better underlying philosophy for this late stage of the open Internet than that of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. These two French philosophers used the idea of the rhizome, a plant which grows horizontally wherever it finds the space, as a symbol for non-hierarchical systems of theory and organization.

James Whalen and Javi Santiago seized on this fittingly obscure philosophy when they released the collaborative album Rizomas. The collection of jazzy instrumental beat music was the first non-compilation release from Whalen’s digital imprint, Hot Record Société, which he cofounded with his Santa Cruz classmate Daniel Fried. Since Rizomas, the label has gone into overdrive, releasing eighteen separate projects, including, last week, the third edition of their fantastic compilation series, this one an homage to the music of Brazil.

Hot Record Société has released music from the likes of Arµ-2, Chester Watson and Shungu, the latter of whom has been releasing an astrologically themed record for every turn of the horoscope this year. Most of the music is firmly in the mold of the Stones Throw/Leaving Records partnership and though Whalen claims to have no allegiance to any one particular style, releases from Hot Record Société tend to be impressively cohesive, each project aligning nicely with the label’s growing sense of self.

The label started about two and a half years ago, after Whalen had explored making his own beats and connected with other producers within the Soundcloud universe.

“There’s a lot of good music that only a few people were hearing,” he said.

Hot Record Société’s first compilation, Jive Turkeys, was released in 2012 to little fanfare. Despite a lineup of compelling young musicians, it could have very well have gone nowhere, joining the multitudes of near-anonymous Bandcamp gems. But a few months later, a video posted to Youtube by Adam Shomsky, a skate videographer, used a song from the collection, the Funky Notes track “Never Knew.” The clip blew up on Reddit (to date, it has over 4.4 million views on Youtube) and sent fiending skate/music fans to the Hot Record Société Bandcamp in search of more instrumental hotness. Donations started pouring in and the label began to look as if it might have some legs.

“It was just like a crazy, power of the internet type thing,” said Whalen. “At that point, we had a little bit of a fund that we could do more with.”

A year later, they put together another compilation, On A Trip for Biscuits, and used the money they had received to put together a limited run cassette release. (Some of the tapes are still available through Bandcamp.)

Whalen: “Our mission after that point was to keep building up donations, keep doing physical releases and keep supporting projects that artists I like were doing.”

The continuing donations explain the current explosion coming from the label, one that exemplifies the ideas of the philosophy for which Rizomas was named. The philosophy is explicitly egalitarian, and also fractal: individual musicians pull from separate musical ecosystems, paying no regard to hierarchy, chronology or any other kind of organizing principle. And the Hot Record Société functions in the same manner, with producers from Japan, Paris, and St. Louis getting equal billing and equal footing.

“People who I find on Soundcloud, I just hear their music and I guess there’s an element of trust,” said Whalen. “And I’m like, ’Yeah, I think you’ll put together something good.’”

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