It’s been some time since we ran our last Sleeve Notes feature, a series which aims to offer an insight into some of the hardworking people responsible behind the scenes for some of your favourite music, but when we came across Ratskin Records we knew we wanted to feature them on Sleeve Notes. The Californian-based label is responsible for releasing a veritable deluge of creative music from the realms of noise, industrial and all forms of experimental electronic sound – releasing everything from the chaotic electronics of Bonus Beast right through to post-industrial horror of Malocculsion and beyond to the daring noise-meets-R&B of Tyler Holmes.
Holmes is a perfect example of Ratskin’s role in the scene, their experimental sound splicing the harsh with the playful and thus seemingly appealing to no established genre. Labels like Ratskin operate between the margins, conforming to no preconceived genre boundaries and never releasing anything for any reason other than they believe in the music. They’re keeping music’s artistic spirit alive through a roster of forward-thinking, diverse musicians.
As such, we felt compelled to reach out and find out more about their inner workings. Read on to find out more about their formation, current projects and what the future entails.
Tell us a little bit about your label and how it all started.
Ratskin has been around in one form or another since 2006 although the first five years were focused on releasing our own works, beginning with post-rock and noise rock and around 2011 sliding into more noise and experimental sounds. The current incarnation is the most conceptually realised version of the collective, releasing mixed style electronic works focused on traditionally marginalised artists and producers working at the forefront of the intersection of art, sound and activism.
What are you currently working on?
2020 brings twelve scheduled releases including our 100th release which will be a thirteen disc boxset fundraising for the Black Mammas Bailout Project, an abolitionist project from nationalbailout.org. We’re also releasing LPs from four of our artists, Headboggle, Tyler Holmes, Beast Nest and Dax Pierson, as well as cassettes and CDs from Joel Shanahan, Golden Champagne Flavored Sweatshirt, LEXAGON, Malocculsion and many more.
We’re also releasing out first book project, featuring a dozen of our artists, as well as several collaborative curatorial projects still in the works.
What was the first CD/record/tape you ever owned?
Metallica – And Justice for All…
Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
TLC – CrazySexyCool
What is the biggest obstacle you regularly come across whilst running the label?
Time, and financial resources. The label is still a labour of love but we hope to move towards a self-sustainable model to where artists can release works outside the pressure of the normal accelerated “press cycle”.
And what would you say is the most rewarding aspect?
Getting to have a small part in helping further the reach of works that we wholeheartedly believe in and learning from the artists we have the privilege to work with.
What are some of your proudest moments or achievements as a label?
Releasing the Rogue Pulse / Gravity Collapse ten-disc benefit compilation featuring Clipping, Aaron Dilloway, Wolf Eyes, Moor Mother, Matmos and 200 other artists that raised over $8000 for Black Lives Matter, St. James Infirmary and Ghostship.
How much importance do you place on physical products over digital?
Physical editions are important because we still don’t really know the longevity of digital, plus it gives artists a chance to be able to distribute their work on tour also while giving fans and peers a physical object to remember the experience by, which is more or less the only way the artists can make any money, especially with services like Spotify devaluing producers and artists in favour of maximum profits. Most importantly though, you can’t roll a blunt on a download code.
What do you think of the current state of underground/independent music, and where do you see it going in the future?
Underground music has become a more accessible form of community building, in small part through the positive aspects of social media, however content is also de-contextualised because of the overwhelming amount of content. All in all this is a good thing but it’s important, in our opinion, for artists to control the discourse around their own work as much as possible, to make sure active and important aspects of the concept and breaths of specific works and the label in general aren’t lost to the rhizome that is digital content.
What do you look for in a potential signing?
Well a lot of our artists come from the Bay Area but generally we look for intersections of under-represented artists who are working directly against the status quo of capitalism and white supremacy.
What other current labels do you admire?
Club Chai, Deathbomb Arc, Don Giovanni Records, PTP out of NYC is doing really amazing work, Psychic Eye Records, from Oakland. Lots more that I am blanking on at the moment, but follow all those above.
If you could have signed one band not currently on your roster, who would it be?
Honestly we’re really happy with where things are. It’s always going to be a dream to release a Moor Mother Project.
What can we expect from you in the future?
More deep and nuanced works presented in the best possible way we’re able to with our resources. More LPs, cassettes, books and large scale projects unlike anything we’ve done before. Please follow at www.ratskin.org. We’re launching a brand new interactive web store in April so stay tuned for that.
What advice would you give someone who’s just kickstarting their own label?
Do it out of love and passion, not profit.
Regardless of your financials, projects born of love, passion and necessity are far more rewarding for us. Use your art for change against white supremacy, xenophobia and all oppressive forces.
What are some of your favourite tracks released on the label and why?
Honestly all of them. All of the works are so unique it’s often hard to compare but here are a few that I’ve listened to more than anything else:
Tyler Holmes – ‘Two Tylers’
Wizard Apprentice – ‘Exorcism’
Spellling – ‘Blue (American Dream)’
Dax Pierson – ‘A Snap of The Neck’
Check out Ratskin Records on Bandcamp for more.
Words: George Parr