Architects and Heroes is a new(ish) Los Angeles label dedicated to the atomization of genres within electronic-based music—that’s why their mixtape-slash-Interpreter, which we should probably call a Mixterpreter, can fit Brian Eno, Kraftwerk and Ghostface Killah together perfectly. Founded by producer and DJ Stephen R. (of Zygote and the Summer of Flux) with partner William Rosario (Asymmetrical Head) as something closer to an arts collective than a label, A+H has recently released an album by Gothic Cholo (well known to L.A. fans at Bizzart) and is hoping to begin organizing experimental electronic nights and maybe a festival in the near future. Stephen R. speaks now about the music he makes and the music that made him want to make the music he makes. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
What’s the difference between an art collective and a label? What does that mean practically and philosophically?
Stephen Ruiz (co-founder): We started not out of frustration but … here we are where the lines between creation and distribution and consumption are all blurred. We wanted to see what it’d look like to be absolutely 100% in control of not just our creative output but distribution and production. We documented on video at the beginning and it’s funny—we started a label to see what it’d be like to start a label. I used to throw parties in the Bay Area—Under The Radar—and that was like five years of throwing money down a hole! When I moved to L.A., I was like, ‘Fuck this, I’m gonna start a label—at least I’ll have something physical left to look at. “Aw, that was cool!”” Our first year was about putting out sounds we feel are quality, deisgn that’s quality, just building the label. Now that we’ve crossed that threshold and know the nuts and bolts, we’re about to move into trying to kick it up a notch.
Is creating the infrastructure to put out music as much an art as actually making music?
Absolutely. The process of getting there for us was such a natural extension. We’re already hunkered down in a basement writing code. ‘Yeah, I can make a website!’ ‘I know a lot about sound!’ It was absolutely a creative act—cuz we’re learning too! Electronic music today is the new folk. If you’re a kid with an iPad and $5 to buy an app, you’re in the game. I’ve been trained musically so I have a lot of respect for the craft, but I’m also a big fan of the ability to express a creative idea with a low barrier to entry. Obviously, the signal to noise ratio … the Internet’s full of shit! ‘Powered by shit—the Internet!’ But along the lines of the Eno idea, the philosophy of how I got into this world has a lot to do with technology, too. I was a big fan of the idea of cyberculture before it went fully on blast. It was about spinning the myth of what it was going to be—biological immortality and smart drugs and this Bladerunner-esque somehow utopian future! In parallel with me getting into William Gibson and taking amped-up vitamins of whatever, there was also this idea you could step beyond the normal boundaries and create something that wasn’t weighted down with history. You’re outside of context—kind of a cool thing.
When was your ‘I can do this, too’ moment? When did you realize you could participate and not just observe?
All through college I threw parties and DJed—I had the sense that no one’s gonna do this for me. And the stuff I’m really into isn’t gonna pay my rent. So I had to cobble together whatever I could and forge ahead. I did Under The Radar for five years. The idea of what I do is always more amplified within a group. We’d meet to see what programming we wanted to do—experimental noise, improvised instrument party—just taking weird thinking and weird ideas and giving people a place to do that. I think L.A. needs more outlets for left-of-center experimental music. But there’s a really supportive community. I meat Shaun from Anticon and he’s incredibly supportive, and that’s just one small example. People reciprocate. It’s completely defied my expectations of coming to L.A. And Low End Theory is just fucking amazing—you see everything from indie rock to straight-up dance music, and a crowd with an open mind like that is just fantastic.
ARCHITECTS AND HEROES – MIXTAPE AND INTERPRETATION
Kemek “Ultimately Always 1”
Kemek is actually a good friend—he used to record as Deeper Than Space on Silent back in the ‘90s. The type of music this track represents is kind of a thread that goes … I like to say we’re free of genres, but at the end of the day we’re really influenced by big spacious ambient music and he definitely represents that. He’s recorded more dancefloor stuff as Kemek The Dope Computer, but with the ambient he was like our seventh or eighth release. Sequentially, it’s less important that the environment he brings. That ambient space music we all sort of gravitate toward, which dovetails well with …
Brian Eno “An Ending (Ascent)”
I can safely say Brian Eno’s a huge influence for everybody on the label. It has to do with ignoring genres, mediums, boundaries and exploring what’s possible in multiple areas. At the end of the day, we all do different things. Ultimately, we wanna be a true digital art collective and not just a label. Especially now, those boundaries have been erased—DJ, make music, design, all in this digital environment. Eno as a forebear has always had his eye on pushing boundaries regardless of media. If you were to look chronologically down the line, Brian Eno into …
Boards of Canada “An Eagle in Your Mind”
Boards of Canada is a logical extension of that. Music Has The Right to Children—NME named it one of the best psychedelic records of all time. I like the juxtaposition with Boards of Canada—it has this very soothing surreal vibe, but they’re rooted in hard hip-hop beats. That’s something we can relate to.
Matmos “Lipostudio … And So On”
Twerk “No Toast No Potatoes”
Back in the early 2000s, I was in the Bay Area and that whole scene was influential to me. Matmos and Twerk were part of this extended group that were really pushing the boundaries of electronic music at the time. They got lumped into that whole ‘laptop-techno’ camp—for better for worse—but to me, they were in that first group of people really doing interesting and experimental things in new ways. They were some of the first to bring laptops out—now you go to any bar and people have their laptops. ‘I’ll break out my iPad and do a set!’ I remember seeing Kid606 open for the Melvins on a laptop and get beer bottles thrown at him! It was almost punk rock to take your laptop up there.
Antipop Consortium “39303”
They basically do experimental hip-hop that in my mind set the blueprint for a lot that would come later. I’d even argue that Kanye in some way owes a debt to Anticon—and right now Shabazz Palaces.
Gothic Cholo “People on the Street”
That’s Bizzart! He’s our first L.A. release. I’ve known Art for a long time. I met him when I was performing at an experimental thing in the Bay Area, and he was playing with Soul-Junk. I ended up doing a remix for Soul-Junk and Arthur and I stayed in touch, and we just released his Plastic Tears record, which is fucking amazing! ‘People In The Streets’ is such a dope track. And obviously …
Ghostface Killah (feat. Raekwon & Cappadonna) “Daytona 500”
People were like ‘You’re putting Brian Eno and Ghostface on the same mixtape?’ Fuck yeah, I am! This is shit that I’d have in my car.
There’s almost an evolution—Kraftwerk influencing Afrika Bambaataa and the whole hip-hop thing … it’s kind of a trajectory. And then …
Asymmetrcial Head “Emulsion Side”
This is what I’d call like early 90s Warp Records aesthetic, which is a huge influence on us. There’s so much talk about what IDM is, but that weird non-dance electronic music from like 92 to 99 where it was deep big synth sounds … very beat-driven … like early Autechre or Aphex Twin. This is Will, who is our in-house designer. He’s our secret weapon. As a producer, his projects have a sound quality very similar to his design sensibility—clean, impactful, succinct.
Tim Hecker “Sketch 2”
I’m a huge Tim Hecker fan. He represents that element of that very subtle but very impactful sound design. He produced Ris Paul Ric, and the subtlety—the microscopic nuance—in a sound environment is really impactful on us.
The Summer of Flux “Rad Math”
That’s my project. I do Summer of Flux when my friend Aaron Mobley—we went to school in Dallas and I was the guy into electronic music and sampling, and he was always the classically trained guy. I can’t read music! It’s formalized sound and notation and me going, ‘Well, what if we did this?’ Summer of Flux is what I’ll call—and I hate labels—but it’s as close to post-rock as we have on the label.