But as much as NNF push back against digi-culture, their operation is completely enmeshed with the Net. There's a Southern California aspect to the label: the back catalogue teems with local outfits, like Magic Lantern, Sun Araw and Abe Vigoda, who belong to same L.A. ferment that produced the Ariel Pink/Geneva Jacuzzi/Nite Jewel cluster or, at a more NME/Pitchfork level, groups like Warpaint and No Age. But increasingly NNF is becoming postgeographical: the roster is studded with acts from Japan, Australia, Denmark, France, Canada, New Zealand, Estonia and Britain. "Half of our sales are international," says Britt. "We fill out a lot of customs forms! We're down at Eagle Rock post office three times a week, mailing out packages to places like Copenhagen. It's actually people from other countries that seem most enthusiastic. And that's always been the case: some of the first people to reach out to us were just internet trawlers from France and England who somehow found the website."
The French artist in question, High Wolf--real name, Max--talks about how the Net has destroyed one idea of "community" ("the oppressive one of neighbourhood, social background, religion") but allows for the building of "a new community just from your taste or interests." This parochialism of sensibility is "not based on place." But this global dispersal means that the modern musician goes places: "I can travel to Tokyo or LA and sleep on people's floors in maybe seven different houses."
But even as NNF and their artists take advantage of the Net's deterritorialising potentials, in other contexts they retrench around analogue modes: their format fetishism represents recalcitrance in the face of the brittle, partially-attentive listening virtually imposed by digitized music. "In French the word is contrainte, I don't know the English," says Max. "Oh, it's 'constraint'? Ha! With digital, you can skip within a track from the first minute to the last minute. With analogue, there is a constraint, but it is liberating." This concept--freedom through submission, bliss as surrender--is deeply mystical (and perfect for the nouveau cosmique rock made by High Wolf on albums like Ascension). But more important, the concept is also deeply musical: rapture as being rapt, detained against your will.
The day after chatting with Max in an East L.A. café, I go see him and three other NNF artists play a show that's at once deep underground and high in the sky. It's at Landslide, an open-air, hillside venue in Lincoln Heights, an area that like its neighbours Highland Park and Eagle Rock is becoming a trendy place to live for musicians and bohemian types. Landslide isn't really a proper venue but an idyllic, if rather steep expanse of grassy meadow and woodland in back of a house. Panting, the musicians lug equipment up the hill and assemble the PA on what used to be a skateboarding ramp and is now a makeshift stage. Stars twinkle overhead but the firmament is eclipsed by the light-show panorama of downtown LA in the valley below: skyscrapers and glittering freeways familiar from countless helicopter scenes in movies.
Unlikely as it may seem given the label's roots in no-fi noise 'n' drone, "lush" and "groovy" seem to be NNF's watchwords for 2011. Hence 100 % SILK, the dance-oriented side-label that Amanda has launched. Along with its evocation of luxury, "silk" echoes Chicago house pioneer Steve "Silk" Hurley, while the imprint's generic-look sleeves hark back to disco's luxe aesthetics. "I'm a huge fan of dance music but I'm very specific: 70s dance and 90s dance," says Amanda. Explaining that she doesn't like Eighties robotic-ness or Noughties glitchy-ness, she enthuses about trip hop and "downtempo groove. Stuff people think of as Muzak nowadays. Portishead!" Indeed NNF has its very own Beth Gibbons in the form of Weyes Blood's Natalie Mering, whose voice, gushes Amanda, "is just stellar."