Tuesday, January 22, 2013

label profile / cover story, The Wire, May 2011

by Simon Reynolds

There's a crossroads in Eagle Rock that's like a microcosm of Los Angeles. On one corner, a billboard for the Matthew McConaughey movie The Lincoln Lawyer faces off against a billboard for José Huizar, a city councilor seeking reelection.  On the opposite side of the street, an acupuncturist's and a nail salon contrast with the Eagle Rock Baptist Church. Right there, all at one intersection, you have: Hollywood, the coming Latino majority, the Asian-American influence, the beauty industry, and the little known fact that the suburban sprawl of greater L.A. has more in common with America's red-state heartland than you'd think.  

But there's something else at this crossroads.  Invisible from the street, representing  L.A.'s  thriving musical underground, there's Not Not Fun, the record label whose seven-year-old discography reads like a who's who of  DIY culture in the 2000s: Ducktails,  Sun Araw, Matrix Metals, Yellow Swans, Charalambides, Rangers, Dolphins Into the Future, Magic  Markers...  Go round the back of a building, climb the metal exterior staircase, and you'll find the apartment that doubles as HQ and home for  Britt and Amanda Brown, the husband-and-wife team who founded NNF in 2004 and who have played, together and separately, in several of the label's key groups, including Pocahaunted, Robedoor, and LA Vampires. 

The couple's living room is a charming clutter of thrift-store finds, tchotchkes, and sundry cool old stuff.  A vintage manual typewriter squats on the coffee table. A Seventies-relic turntable called the Realistic Clarinette 40 clings to one wall. The opposing wall is taken up by a mural of an autumn forest, the sort of décor you might find in a time-warp restaurant in Bavaria.  Through the room's wide windows you can see some real-deal pictureseque: the mountain ridge that gives Eagle Rock its name.  There's vinyl everywhere you look, and on the wall hangs a wooden cabinet crammed with cassettes.  

Tapes is how Not Not Fun started out.  The Browns originally met when Britt was working at the Hollywood celebrity-oriented glossy FLAUNT and Amanda was his intern. After she'd left but they'd kept on dating, Amanda suggested they start NNF, a flashback to her early teens as a riot grrl making zines and releasing cassette compilations via her label Cotton Crown.  Britt and Amanda also formed a band, Weirdo/Begeirdo, who promptly appeared on NNF001:  the cassette sampler Have An Uptight Party.  The next few releases came from other groups on the sampler, like My Sexual Dad. Then the couple started to put out tapes, vinyl and CD-Rs by bands they saw playing at LA's famous punk venue The Smell or the Neon Hate You micro-festivals  organized by Brian Miller (whose own primitivist ensemble Foot Village were NNF009 with "World Fantasy"). "We saw so many amazing bands in a short space of time," recalls Britt. "I just didn't know there were kids on our level trying things so sideways.  We rode that high for several years."

In the label's early days, when its releases came in editions anywhere between 32 and 300, NNF's hallmark was its cute 'n 'clever handcrafted packaging. This was mainly Amanda's department: not only had she done a minor in sculpting at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, but she has "tiny little hands, perfect for assembling factory style."  The couple would come home from their full-time jobs, then spend entire evenings putting together the artwork for their latest limited edition.  "We'd rent some movies and set up," recalls Britt. "Go late into the night."

Darting into another room, Britt returns with an armful of their favourite handiwork.  Like the compilation Boo Yeah: A Halloween Retrospooktive, which comes with a Frankenstein-shaped hand-drawn comic inside and a Trick-or-Treat style Tootsie Roll attached.  And like Free Beasts, a 2006 comp of bands with "animal-involved names--believe it or not, not so easy to come by back then!"  Each cassette is partially hooded by a "creature-head" with mismatched buttons for eyes and fangs whose tips are colored blood-red.  These miniature saber-tooth tigers look like they might have been repurposed from thrift-store cuddly toys but were actually hand-sewn by Amanda and two friends. "It was so much about how wild we could be with this aesthetic," says Amanda of NNF's drive to re-enchant the commodity. "That's the true connection that we have to the music: we spent so much time with those objects."

The couple stress how haphazard and "blind" those halcyon early days were: NNF had no aesthetic agenda.  Imperceptibly, the label evolved from a fun sideline to their jobs into their actual livelihood.  "Now it feels like there's never been anything else in our lives," says Amanda. Most weeks they work six or seven days, toiling into the small hours.  The discography has passed the  #230 mark and the pressing runs are much larger nowadays: typically 1000, but reaching 2000 with "hits" like the LA Vampires/Zola Jesus collaboration or Peaking Lights's 936.  

Inevitably, success has pushed NNF out of their artisanal comfort zone and into manufacturing. Now and then they'll still silkscreen a tape or 7-inch, like Dylan Ettinger's forthcoming "Lion of Judas".  The shift was painful, says Amanda. "It was hard to let go of being the maker. Now it's more that we'll order 1000 records and drive to the record plant and pick up the boxes. And there they are, ready, perfect, shrinkwrapped."

Vinyl is still analogue, though. Tougher still was the decision to sell digitally, through eMusic/Revolver/Boomkat.   MP3s are anathema to NNF. "We don't listen to any digital music, we don’t own iPods" says Amanda. "When things started to turn toward everything-digital, that was such a struggle for us.  We try not to be Luddites  but we are a bit like, 'I can't believe you don't want to hold this thing in your hand! What's wrong with you?!'" 'But Britt says that they believe in the music too much to keep it limited-edition. "I feel it's our duty to make it available. If we did an edition-of-fifty tape and it sold out in two hours, that's frustrating to me because clearly the demand is there.  And if I was a fan of the band, I'd be like, 'do you actually want me to just listen to it as a shared MP3s on the internet?'"

That last comment points to the way that underground music today, from post-noise to post-dubstep, enjoys a peculiar double existence.  There's premium tier of involvement (that finite elect who have and hold the music as tape or vinyl) and then there's this whole other realm of dematerialized dissemination (illegal shares through message boards, through blogs uploading to file-hosting services).  So a record has a primary audience and then an unquantifiably larger audience, who check the music out once or twice, listening most likely in a fairly disengaged, distracted manner. This is partly a side effect of the music coming to them free: if you haven't paid, you're far less likely to pay full attention.  But it's exacerbated by digimusic's user-friendly  "conveniences", which invite you to break the flow of immersive listening. 

Do Not Not Fun feel like they are part of the resistance,  by pulling people back inside analogue time?  "I would say we're part of the resistance to things that almost don't exist," says Amanda.  "It feels like the music doesn't exist.  To some people, I know, this doesn't lessen the quality of it. But it actually does to me.  We all have certain ages of our life where we stop growing. And there are certain tenets I had aged 14 that I still have now I'm 29.  I remember how hard it was to get stuff. There was this one PJ Harvey import CD and I'm still getting chills at the thought of how difficult it was to acquire. I know it's not 1994 anymore -and in so many ways, thank God-- but I  want people to feel that kind of exultation with owning the music, seeing the artwork and holding the thing."

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."

But perhaps the contradiction of being digi-phobes dependent on the Net isn't a contradiction so much as a productive tension. Or even a strategy.  NNF resist some aspects of digiculture but embrace others: the liberating lines of communication opened up by high-bandwidth networks, which enable the aggregation of dispersed fans into a viable market, and, more importantly,  connect them with artistic like-minds. 

Many of the label's newer signings agree. "I think the internet is helpful in finding your extended family, essentially," says Isla Craig, vocalist of the Toronto-based AquaGoth trio The Deeep.  Dylan Ettinger, creator of last year's splendid swan-song for hypnagogia New Age Outlaws: The Director's Cut, says "The place I live now--Bloomington, Indiana--doesn't have the best scene for what I do.  So the Internet is absolutely essential to what I do and what NNF does." He tells me he's about to play the NNF showcase at SXSW in Austin, Texas, "alongside bands from Japan, Australia and France." 

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.

Robedoor,  Britt's band, kick things off:  tentatively at first but rising to an impressively primal rampage, with drummer Geddes Gengras stripped to the waist.  Brisbane's Blank Realm play psych-tinged postpunk midway between Blue Orchids and Flying Nun. After a DJ interlude of Celestial Vibrations-style new age, Goblin-esque horror soundtracks, and slap-bass-happy fusion, High Wolf take the stage.  

Although guitars and effects pedals dominate, Max's sound is surprisingly clean and clear for a NNF band.  But then the day before Max had declared his total lack of interest in "sounding lo-fi or like The Skaters". Prior to High Wolf, he'd worked with sampling and Raster-Noton style abstract electronics. The four sides of High Wolf's quadrangle of sound could be Spiritualized, Steve Hillage, Shpongle... and Sun Araw.   Tonight, because Max spends so much time crouched over various machines, triggering tabla loops and intoning vocals through FX boxes, the lead guitar comes courtesy of a lanky young man with buttercup-yellow locks called Barrett Avner, a recent recruit to Sun Araw.

Listening to space rock with nothing but air between your head and the stars above is a lovely way to spend the night.   But as midnight approaches I'm also feeling puzzled.  This is about as underground as an event can get, but it doesn't feel underground.  A woman wanders around with a bucket to collect $5 donations, reminding me of Spiral Tribe doing the same thing at illegal open-air "teknivals" like Castlemorton. But the vibe couldn't be more different.  There's no atmosphere of danger, wildness, or even--despite the trippy music-- drugginess.  This is just some well-educated young (and not-so-young) people standing on a hill listening to loud music. Blank Realm even got some funding from the Australian government to mount their US tour.  There's little sense that something illicit or threatening is taking place. Maybe that's why the police, dropping round in response to a neighbour's complaint, leave without incident, noting "that it's early yet" and politely suggesting "keep an eye on the volume levels".  

Three days earlier I had asked the Browns what they thought "underground" meant nowadays.  I'd been struck by a comment of Amanda's in a Pocahaunted interview: that they were "blissfully unaware" of "everything popular".

In 80s America, post-hardcore noiseniks and indie groups alike felt almost physically oppressed by  mainstream pop. The self-same synth textures, drum sounds and  production hallmarks that yer hypnagogic popsters are now  resurrecting, felt in those days like an insult, an assault.

Today, underground musicians just seem have a mildly amused indifference towards chartpop. There's no sense of enmity. "Oh yes, the mainstream just runs right alongside us," Amanda agrees.  She and Britt laugh about how so many of the underground musicians they know--"the weirdest person making the most out-there sounds"--listen to Beyonce and Kanye.   "Justin Bieber: I don't own his records but I don't have an issue with his existence."

So what defines "underground" then, if not opposition to the commercial overground? "It's more to do with an operational procedure," says Britt.  "Booking your own shows, playing somewhat non-traditional venues.  You're 'underground' if you're putting out your own records, or if whoever is putting out your records is not that much above you."  It's not about avoiding professionalism (NNF obviously take immense care over what they do) but about not having too many levels of intermediation between yourself and the listener: agents, managers, levels of business hierarchy. "We get emails that are like 'have you any idea how I can contact  Amanda Brown?'," laughs Amanda."And I'm emailing back, 'Hi! It's me!"

"Underground", in 2011, means creating an atmosphere of cultural intimacy. So the most apt comparison for where do-it-yourself music is today might be ETSY, the online market for handmade and vintage items. Not only is the economic structure similar--small entrepreneurs selling their wares at fairs or through specialist boutiques but doing most of their business online--but the aesthetic sensibility overlaps. There's the same vintage materials and formats (T-Shirts with pictures of old-fashioned typewriters, notepads that repurpose the covers of 1970s textbooks), the same penchant for slow, unwieldy production methods, even similar iconography (lots of ETSY stationery features animals and birds, particularly owls!).  But what this analogy leads onto is the unsettling thought  that underground music-making is becoming a niche market, a form of hip(ster) consumerism that slots right next to distressed furniture,  micro-brew beer, artisanal cheese, and vintage clothing.  No longer art as an intervention in the battlefield of culture, but art as "décor for life."

Asked if they can delineate the sensibility of their generation, Britt and Amanda's thoughts converge with my own doubts.  "I consider it to be post-creation," offers Amanda. "Pastiche. We're all now just pulling and pulling and pulling.  Someone like Prince was thinking of people in the past, but it didn't feel as funneled and as specific.  We're a bit derivative, unfortunately, and it's not to our detriment always-- but we are direct descendants and there are all these lineages. It's an interesting time for music because people aren't trying to create anything brand new."  She points to NNF act Umberto: "He's making music that sounds like Goblin, which you'll have heard if you've watched old Argento movies. But he's one of the few people making that kind of music today. So that is the choice you make: you go for who is stepping a little bit outside of the box--the box being the demos we get sent everyday. But you can't say, "Umberto, he's so original'.  Originality is not a thing anymore".

Britt compares the way today's bands operate to crate-digging. "It's like, 'I've just stumbled across a thing that nobody else has referenced yet".  Citing Zola Jesus's Nika Danilova, Amanda elaborates: "The people who stand out are those who use famous people as an influence that nobody else is using.   So when Nika was like, 'I'm going to make sort-of-Goth, everyone was like 'We forgot about Goth! We forgot Siouxsie was cool!'  But Nika's not trying to reinvent the wheel."

One side effect of this chase for fresher things to rediscover, and from the sheer abundance of past music people are exposed to these days is that artists aren't attached to specific styles so intensely.  "It used to be that people would bond at a formative age with a style, and then keep going with it, evolving of course, but staying pretty constant," says Britt. "Now people are more like 'I have my witch house band over here, that plays by certain rules, but I also like still playing beach pop .  Everyone's got a million projects."

High Wolf exemplifies this syndrome: Max also operates the "weird hip hop, no samples, all played" project Black Zone Myth Chant, the "doom-and-dark" project Annapurna Illusion, the "abstract techno project" Kunlun, plus several collaborative projects.  Max has even done a "split" LP (for the label Group Tightener) divided between two of his alter-egos, High Wolf and Annapurna Illusion.  Then there's Daniel Martin-McCormick, who plays in the Thrill Jockey band Mi Ami but records for NNF as Sex Worker and Ital.

All this multipolar activity means that it makes sense to see the music put out by labels such as Not Not Fun and Olde English Spelling Bee as not so much separate genres (hypnagogic, witch house, drone, nu-Goth et al) as a single macrogenre.   Artists move back and forth within an ever-expanding post-historical (and increasingly post-geographical) field of resources. Sometimes they combine elements from different archival seams (Italodisco, horror soundtracks, screw, Cold Wave, Afrobeat, etc) and sometimes they'll focus on a specific period style.  Which is why overtly retro genres like garage punk and psych are tolerated in this realm, despite their done-to-death staleness compared with fresher recombinant strains.

I love so much of the music coming out of these Zones of Alteration but one thing that disconcerts me is its relative lack of an expressive element. There are exceptions: Oneohtrix's Returnal contains deeply personal emotional resonances, while the two records by Sex Worker serve a similar function of catharsis following a bad romance.  But generally you don't get much sense that the music comes from the artist's life beyond music.

"Everyone's more inspired by a style, and the desire to be creative," agrees Britt. "It doesn't mean there isn't emotion in the process, but nobody sits down with a guitar thinking 'I'm going to write about this thing that just happened to me'. It's more, 'I'm going to get up and do this every day, whether I'm feeling remotely inspired or have anything at all to say'.  There's a discipline to that and high art has come from it.  But it does feel a little divorced. That's why a lot of contemporary styles can have a sheen of irony, because there's not a ton of people really fervently standing behind what they do.  There's no Fugazis anymore." Amanda, for her part, says that "when I make music, I'm only interested in thematics. I think, "What do I want to present? I'm trying to make a certain statement. And that takes it out of emotionality and more into a cerebral place. 'Meaningful' becomes more of an adjective than 'soulful'. "

When music is only rarely about releasing inner emotional pressure ("I have very little angst!" says Amanda) and nor is it formed in reaction to its political/social environment ("we're pretty educated, we're middle class, we don’t have much to complain about"), then the model for the modern musician becomes the conceptual artist. Or even the critic. That's what strikes me about the new breed: they think like critics. They navigate the history of music using a kind of combinatorial logic (Goth + dub = LA Vampires/Zola Jesus). They frame projects with over-arching concepts or clearly designated reference points: Chains was "Pocahaunted does Tom Tom Club". Like certain critics, they're genremaniacs, constantly coining new terms for their sound, sometimes just for a single release: "tribal soul" was Pocahaunted's buzzphrase for 2008's Mirror Mics , while 2009's Passages was "dark raga".


As those Pocahaunted examples suggest, Amanda Brown herself is a supreme exponent of  "concept music". She often stresses that she's "not a musician" but an "audio artist". Or she'll talk about being a writer. That's what she studied at college. And her debut novel Drain You is set for 2012 publication on mainstream-as-they-come HarperCollins. 

Pocahaunted was at once primal and conceptual. "We were trying to be raw," Amanda says of the group's beginnings, when it was just her and Bethany Cosentino (now of Best Coast). "The Earth's period is how we described it.  The planet's menstrual cycles! We weren't even trying to make a specific kind of music, like 'let's make drone!' It was literally,  'what can we play? What instruments do we have? ' Bethany and I agreed that we didn't have any words to speak at the time, so we just used 'vocables'. That's our term for these lilting sounds we'd make with our mouths.  So our sound was us strumming through as many pedals as we could hook up and putting as much reverb and delay as we could on the voices. We took an old keyboard stand, attached mikes to each side, and sat facing each other. And we'd sing based on each other's facial expressions and the shape of our mouths."

The name's play on Pocahontas, the daughter of an Algonquian Indian chieftain, suited the group's tribal vibe. Amanda says her original dream was "twelve women doing vocables and having a choral effect. But it ended up just being a sisterhood between Bethany and me.  We did feel like a little tribe." Other inspirations came from the course on ritual and primitive religion that Cosentino took at Pasadena City Community College, which influenced albums like Peyote Road.  In true conceptualist fashion, that album's "Heroic Doses" came from reading about ayahuasca, not actually tripping on the potent hallucinogenic potion.

Pocahaunted's early recordings can be hard going, the gnashing and wailing recalling a riot grrl take on PiL's "Theme".  The group really started to find its stride when dub entered the picture on Island Diamonds, grounding the improvised vocalese in bass-heavy hypno-grooves.  That 2008 release was the last recording before Consentino left.  Pocahaunted continued for a while as a five-piece, a decision Brown now seems to regret. Then she launched LA Vampires as the vehicle for her deepening passion for dub. If Pocahaunted resembled the spirit, if not quite the sound of The Slits, then LA Vampires recalls what Ari did next:  the On U supergroup New Age Steppers.  Except that Amanda is the Adrian Sherwood figure and instead of a fluctuating collective, LA Vampires works through serial monogamy: successive one-off partnerships with kindred artists.

"Every day I wake up and ask myself  'How I can be more like Bjork?'," laughs Amanda. "'How can I be the most ecstatic, eclectic artist? Every one of Bjork's records is different and that's partly because she's always working with new people. LA Vampires is me trying to deconstruct the Solo Artist. I want to take the 'solo' out of it!" Amanda says she loves being "seen through the eyes of my fellow musicians" but wants to shed "the baggage of being committed to a band".

The first LA Vampires release wasn't a proper collaboration, however, but a split LP with NNF's Psychic Reality, a/k/a Leyna Noel.  After falling in love with dub--"the most charming musical experience of my life"--Amanda started working with a drum machine and samples. Because she "can't play any stringed instruments", she enlisted Britt and another musician in the NNF camp, Bobb Bruno, to supply basslines on some tracks.  Although she enthuses about dub's sensuality, describing its languid drum-and-bass riddims as "like playing a woman's body", the split LP's version of dub is gnarly with red-zone distortion.   "I can't do anything clinical.  I don't make any music with a computer. I just have a dumb, clanky Alesis drum machine."

The name LA Vampires is partly inspired by all the second-division hypnagogics "vampiring" off South California imagery (palm trees, etc) and also by the fact that, although she grew up near Malibu, "I've been to the beach about five times. When I do go, I look like a vampire, in jeans and boots!".  But the Gothic name suits the second of the three Vampires projects to date: her alliance with raven-haired ice queen Zola Jesus. Here Amanda plays Sly & Robbie to Zola's Grace Jones.  The triumph of this LP, which peaks with the stunning "Eulogy", is that it takes a genre whose every last sonic potential had seemed extracted and goes somewhere new with it.  Amanda's take on dub couldn't be further from dubstep or Basic Channel.  "I know--what shall we call it?," she giggles, adding "I'm trying so hard to get recognized in The Wire as dub!  It's like, how can I physically break through the barrier between the Avant-Rock and Dub sections?"

Next came a swerve: So Unreal, a collaboration with Matrix Metals's Sam Meringue. "I don't know how it comes across when I say this, but I am deeply invested in sex and sexiness.  So I told him, 'want these songs to be sexy, Sam!'. When he sent me the beats they were perfect but really bouncy. So I slowed them down. By the end it was where I wanted it to be-- beyond lo-fidelity, un-fidelity."  

So Unreal is tough to tag: its haze-glazed mid-tempo discofunk sometimes stirs up balmy Eighties memories, like Compass Point or the ZE-influenced Thomas Leer of 4 Movements.  With lyric-shards like "is it the champagne talking?" bubbling up on songs like "Berlin Baby", you can imagine it as a "slow jams" album for couples looking to get in the mood. "Sade is a huge reference point," says Amanda. "I don't have 1/25th of her voice but the way she is able to impart a very specific sensuality is a big influence. I still think I have my own personal 'Sweetest Taboo' in me!"

Future LA Vampires projects include another Zola Jesus platter, records with Cliva Tanaka and with Maria Minerva (an Estonian "songstress" who recently debuted on NNF with the marvelously woozy Tallinn At Dawn) plus possible alliances with The Deeep and Ital. "Even something as slight as buying a new record can change my course. There's a lot of wind ruffling. I'm flimsy that way.  Impressionable. I like to change so that things stay... zesty!"


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."

The idea for 100% Silk was triggered when Daniel Martin-McCormick presented Amanda with a tape of disco jams in early 2010.  There's a dance element to his other groups: the postpunky Mi Ami play "body music" while Sex Worker sometimes recalls the defective disco made late in their career by Throbbing Gristle.  But in parallel with these outlets, McCormick has been trying his hand at full-on club tracks for five years now, "cutting and pasting homemade drum sounds, samples and other shit into something like techno."

Silk 001 is McCormick's debut EP as Ital.  The project name nods to Italodisco and demonstrates how large swathes of dance history--Chicago radio deejay sets from the mid-Eighties,  Baldelli's Cosmic mixes, Detroit and Balearic obscurities, all of which are readily available on the  internet-- have joined the archival reservoir siphoned by the Post-Everything Generation.  Sun Araw's Cameron Stallones, for instance, regularly spins acid house, "sunrise mixes" and "3 AM eternities" as part of the East LA deejay collective Where's Yr Child.

Ital is pretty banging, beats-wise, but the three other 100% Silk EPs to date are stronger on texture, melody and atmosphere: this is a skewed, "outside" take on dance, rather than the functionalist real-deal.  A collaboration between members of Rene Hell, Driphouse and Nimby, Cuticle offer hypnagogic house; Maria Minerva's "Little Lonely" is delightfully quirky electro-bop;  The Deeep's "Muddy Track" clanks and warbles like a strange but gorgeous alliance between Loefah and Clannad.

The Deeep are a prime example of how NNF is diversifying way beyond its original domain and taking on music with high production values.  "They're not lo-fi , which is interesting," says Britt. "It's about this cleaner, more beat-based thing, with insane vocals over it." Isla Craig's voice "just hurts you," says Amanda. "If she went in a different direction she could be Natalie Merchant--coffee house music."

Alongside Craig, The Deeep comprise beat-maker/atmosphere-weaver Wolfgang Nessel and recent recruit Victoria Cheong, an installation artist who's steering the group's evolution into a multimedia performance unit. Along with Nessel's love of moody dubstep such as Dbridge and Shackleton, the other vibe dripping off Life Light, the group's  debut for NNF, is Goth-Lite. That's my affectionate nickname for the 4AD of Cocteau Twins and Les Voix Mystere de Bulgare.  When Craig talks of being "really interested in early vocal music, church music and world music", it's clear she's the long-lost daughter of Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard.  The analogue-bubble-bath synth-burbles and bobbing, suspended feel of tracks like "Meadow Dusk", "The Dream" and "The Ballad of the Abyssal Plain" conjure up mermaid vibes, recalling the sub-aqua utopias of A.R. Kane and Hugo Largo.  According to Nessel, the extra "e" in the name comes from "working our way through the Attenborough Blue Planet series. 'The Deep' episode blows minds."

Like Amanda, The Deeep love trip hop and Sade.  Like Maria Minerva, they're proof not just of Mr and Mrs Brown's determination for NNF to keep moving stylistically, but also of Amanda's commitment to having a strong female presence on the roster. "Yesssss! I would love to have more.  I get very viciously angry if I check our release schedule and it looks like we're not going to have a woman for a while.  I'm like, 'what is this? Let's go out and find some women!'"

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