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In an age of streaming (and particularly Covid) it’s hard to imagine oneself touring through crowded record fairs, discovering new bands and artists. Of course, that opening phrase could well be answered with a clear and resounding “OK, Boomer.” Even further away seems to be the old art of compiling – or perhaps it has been superseded by the creation of playlists on Spotify, Youtube and the like.
Whether on famous local tribute compilations such as Into a Sea of Cure, the classic compilation Sol y Rock from the 80s in Argentina, or comps from abroad like Shine from Great Britain or Leave Them All Behind from the Australian Modular Recordings, the level of scope that compilations provide is undeniable, even if they have been replaced by more modern formats. Maybe it’s because compilations have an air of craftsmanship. The idea of curating and selecting music for compilations from an artisanal stance becomes especially important when it aims to shed light on those bands and solo artists who seem to fall under the shadow of the enormous algorithm that favors the most profitable record labels.
It is clear that Spotify’s CEO does not like this practice very much, when he responds to the criticism about the paltry royalties with a rabid “you can’t record music every three or four years and think that’s going to be enough”. This is precisely why it is imperative that there are people willing to update the meaning and importance of compilations in our times as a countercultural artistic brotherhood.
So I (virtually) caught up with the founder and official curator of local record label Argie Pop Records, Charlie Russell, to talk about what it means to run an independent label, and putting together annual compilations featuring artists from local and international scenes.
What is the origin of Argie Pop Records? How was it born and what has been its objective since its inception?
Argie Pop Records was born in 2015. I decided to resume my activities with a record label after living in England for about 10 years, playing in a band with which we self-released everything. That is how we put together a DIY British label called Underused Records. When I moved back to Buenos Aires, I was still managing the label, so I was interested in resuming that activity with the idea of releasing music of my own or by the bands I was playing with at that time, in order to start finding a solution to the problem of bands not knowing how to disseminate and release their material. Especially a label model that had an artistic focus rather than a commercial one, and at that time most (if not almost all) of the labels were more oriented to a less self-managed movement. They did not put the artist at the center, but the label instead. And I think that was actually the space we were looking for when we started Argie Pop.
It is a project of a clear artistic nature to help bands go out into the digital world. That is why we do not do physical releases (with some exceptions), because we were already born with a vision of digital channels such as Bandcamp or streaming platforms, and the idea is to give that capacity to a self-managed artist in the local indie scene: the capacity to release their material. That is why we do not make an exclusionary selection or have restrictions in terms of musical styles either. The search is aimed at finding distinct sounds, some differences. That would be the criterion. The call to be heard is what guides the label.
Below is a translated version of our conversation.
Compiling is really something. I grew up listening to and discovering bands in the 80s in the 90s through compilations that were released at that time by the big labels and then by the smaller labels, I even remember going to record fairs and seeing the compilations on cassettes of unknown bands. So for me compilations are the perfect mix of novelty and something more established. The digestible and the not-so-digestible. Compiling was my objective from the get go. Releasing compilations was one of the first things I did for Argie Pop, in addition to releasing music from my bands. So that was a challenge, because you quickly have a group of people who come together to do something totally self-managed. Self-managed bands that come together to be part of a compilation organized by a self-managed label. That is the goal: an alternate broadcast channel with the sense of community that comes from releasing a compilation.
What does the proposal and selection process look like?
What I have done from 2015 until now is to always make an open call. I scour through social networks, through the Argie Pops channels and / or through the radio program that I co-host called Nuevos Pero Rotos and basically what we look for are bands, solo artists, any format, any instrument that wants to contribute to a compilation that is released digitally and is published (as a self imposed lucky charm) always on September 21st: the day spring begins in Argentina.
The selection process is completely up to me. What I am looking for is people who are related to the Argie Pop label or bands that I have interviewed in Nuevos Pero Rotos, but initially it was a very open call and my search in the selection process was aimed at bands that had an interesting sound. Whatever genre it was, because we have compilations that mix from some versions of metal, punk, hardcore, indie pop, indie rock, electronic acts, even some more progressive stuff. So the idea was to reflect the current state of the up-and-coming sounds of each year. That would more or less be my ultimate goal from the humble capacity of a self-managed project. Mainly because there’s no other curators or editors. So that is all that I can accomplish as an annual event. This is the sixth year which shows it’s still possible and I still find interesting things to showcase.
I see that there is quite a bit of variety in each compilation and their titles tend to feature puns. Could you tell us a bit about each compilation and what was the reasoning or feeling behind each one? Including the latest one.
The first was called Tu Ruta Es Mi Ruta Pero Hay Piquete. That was the first compilation that we released for Argie Pop on September 21, 2015. Wordplay is a very “British” thing you know, puns. But also because I grew up with that kind of humor like Les Luthiers, although now they are considered “dad jokes”. The phrase “tu ruta es mi ruta” comes from a classic TV show from the 80s and the “piquete” (roadblock) is something very classic from the 2010s to the present, so it seemed like a good mix for wordplay. The bands that participated also seemed to me a very eclectic mix of sounds from Valentín y los Volcanes, the multi-instrumentalist artist Muhammad Habbibi Guerra with whom I had played a long time ago, my own band which is my indie project called Entre-Knobs. A beautiful mix of styles. This is how we established ourselves.
2016 was a difficult year for me and that is why it is called Saludame Al Barba (send “the bearded one” my regards). It is a more personal reference to my family for the loss of my parents and it’s a long album mainly because we had bands even from Ecuador and Chile. We began to have viral repercussions in some forums in Latin America and interesting bands from abroad began to join, including indie stoners like Montaña, Los Corderos and more experimental soloists like Eric Thiemer: a cosmic jazz saxophonist. That one came out on September 21, 2016.
The one from September 21st 2017 was called Teché De Menos (which roughly translates to “I under-roofed” as in the eché de menos = I’ve missed you ), that’s a good pun. I must say this is almost a double album. We had 24 bands. Here we were already coexisting with the Nuevos Pero Rotos program which began in March 2017 so there are many bands that were added from the broadcast capabilities we had thanks to Radio Emergente. We had funk bands like CuatroCientosOnce, Fervors who we had interviewed and we added ska bands like Malambo Ska. It was like an interesting mix of styles and we had a great time. Thanks to that compilation we hosted a festival in Emergente de Almagro with several bands playing live. It was a great collaborative work with Radio Emergente. I have very fond memories from that compilation.
“Lonely as a mushroom” more than a pun, is a street expression that means to be completely alone. The selection of that year was characterized by female voices, we had spectacular singers like Emilia Inclán, Felisa Cabellos Dorados, Maru Lerner and Löbëlla. We also had Deportivo Alemán recording a song especially for the compilation.
Here the pun happens with “Aré” which means to plow and translates to “I’ll do (plow) what I can”. It looks like a typo but the cover shows a plow in a garden and there’s the joke. We have an interesting compilation, also some bands that had participated in the previous compilation like Löbëlla and Feliza Cabellos Dorados. We also had a very special feature which was a solo project by a friend from London called The Wyrd Interactions where I recorded drums. The original was from 2009 so it was nice to re-edit it in that context. A Mexican band called The Tronautas and Brendanjordan from Chile. A community that goes well beyond borders. A true compilation.
And we come to this year’s compilation where the pun is in reference to the cover image that shows the equivalent of a police corporal tied to a chair (Atando Cabos = Tying loose ends). The selection was interesting because although we had bands from other compilations such as Kato Ska or my band Malabo Ska, we have bands like Papas Ni Pidamos who are also from the Argie Pop label. Here the the spotlight was on independent artists such as Emily And, Daniela Doffo , Existing; a band from South Buenos Aires who had also been on Nuevos Pero Rotos, Cenizas De Los Que Somos, Biomano, a rather stoner project, Alquímera, Los Places and El Maura who are those artists with a very interesting post-punk sound. A compilation up to par with the rest, exploring sound variety. Although there are several bands that carry the sound of ska forward, there is also a diversity. I believe the different currents of the Argentine underground music are well represented.
As someone who, aside from having a label, is also involved in the world of underground music, how do you see the local music scene today?
Anybody that’s involved in the music business, independent or not, can tell you that the pandemic wiped out any opportunity or possibility of live concerts. So we are seeing it: musicians who cannot play, and their livelihoods have gone up in the air. Those select few who could make a living from music are having a very hard time. I see that there is great solidarity in the technical side of online events and those who have the technical knowledge help those who do not. I think that the online movement is giving people in the music business some respite in terms of allowing them to continue participating. The virtual interaction is different, it is not the same, the feedback from people is not there, next to the stage. The venues are being shut down left and right, their expenses can’t be paid.
The rebuilding is going to be very difficult, an uphill struggle. What can be seen in the scene of countries where they have already overcome the peaks of the pandemic is that shows happen at very open venues with a lot of distance between audience members and a reduced capacity. With this in mind it is not feasible (in the medium or short term) to have a live show in a basement for a new or indie band. For this reason, I see the importance of disseminating art through whatever channels possible, be it an online event or festival, very important. On the other hand, I see that from the public’s side, people are showing support. I think that there is a lot of offer in some cases. There are some massive online events where streaming platforms are sometimes not up to the task. So I guess there is a long way to go.
Our infrastructure to replace a live show with an online one sometimes does not allow it to be a quality event. I believe and hope that we can go back to the recording studio or that basement so that up-and-coming bands can continue playing as they have been doing before the pandemic.