"Disjointed folk strums with whimsical vocals." "Otherworldly junkyard drones." "Bubbling waves of synths." "Each sound feels like it has been culled directly from the Earth's crust." These are just a few of the ways in which Rose has described the weird shit that Digitalis has put out over the years. And they're entirely apropos. Well, the Earth's crust comment might have been a little over the top. But when you listen to Rocks Will Open, you'll actually get what he means.
Not everyone does, however. Least of all in Oklahoma, where Rose makes his home. The state rests atop Texas, and is stuck between Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas—some of the last in the 50 that you'd expect to be hotbeds for weird shit. So it's no surprise to hear that Rose's interest in music, like many these days, was fueled by an internet connection. "I was talking to someone in a chat room on America Online that told me about the  Abridged Perversion compilation on Shrimper, which had The Mountain Goats and Franklin Bruno. At the time I had been recording really terrible music in my bedroom. But just this idea that there were other people out there recording stuff in their bedroom that was actually good kind of led me down that road. And after that I discovered zines and..."
And Rose goes on, but you probably know the story. Ads for tape compilations. You learn more about underground music. You start your own zine. (Foxy Digitalis, in this case.) You move to the big city. (Seattle.) And you become a big deal elsewhere. (record scratch) After his move to Seattle, Rose and his wife, Eden, found things a bit too expensive and came back to Oklahoma. The upshot? "I feel free to do whatever I want, unencumbered by anything that is going on around me." The downside? "I feel like we are sort of on an island here."
In recent years, however, things have gotten better. "There are now venues and bars that are not just willing to let you put on a show but are excited to do it and want to support it. That's been a huge change in the last few years, because before we would do shows here and nobody I mean nobody would be here. It would be the bands, Eden, myself and a friend of mine. Now, you get people actually interested and curious."
The local scene has never been too much of a concern to Rose, though. Via his print and digital zine, his outlook has always been in connecting with people that like the same sorts of weird shit—no matter where they live. In the early days of the label, things were mostly centered around the folk underground: James Blackshaw, Christina Carter and Tom Carter (Charalambides) and Six Organs of Admittance are some of the names that may be familiar to the casual listener. Then again, for every Marissa Nadler, there was Xenis Emputae Travelling Band, Anvil Salute and Plat Ypus. Needless to say, Rose's taste and contact base runs far and wide.
"The first release that probably put us on the map as far as a much larger audience being aware of us—and by much larger I mean a couple hundred people—was a CD-R from Steven R. Smith. I had interviewed him for Foxy Digitalis, and we just hit it off. I give him a lot of credit for taking the chance. We were a totally unknown small label at that point. We had this CD-R, and I made like 120 of them or something, and we sold them all in a week. It blew my mind."
After that success, Rose decided to try to put together a compilation that reflected all of the sounds that he was interested in. Entitled Gold Leaf Branches, the three CD project took nearly a year of work, two months of which was Rose obsessing over the tracklisting—"a lot of hours spent in front my computer, playing with Winamp, moving tracks up and down." The effort paid off. One of Digitalis' biggest supporters, Boomkat, got in touch after its release to inquire about stocking the imprint, and they've been an important ally ever since. "I'm in debt to those guys for all they have done for us," Rose is keen to point out.
Early on, the appeal of offering up CD-Rs as a format was one of circumstance—it kept the overhead low. But it was also one of aesthetics as well. There's nothing much more DIY than a CD-R label. Unless you're one that deals in tapes. Rose did both, moving to that format nearly four years ago when he saw that people began to lose interest in CD-R's and that cassette tape promos were coming in on a more regular basis to his zine for review. Rose sees this coming to an end soon, however.
It's not that he doesn't like tapes. It's just that he likes to do vinyl a whole lot more. "I think the best of both worlds is when something is available on vinyl and also available digitally. I mean, that's the two ways I'm listening to music." His love of vinyl has only increased with his recent mastering of releases at Berlin's Dubplates & Mastering. "I'd always heard from multiple sources that they were the best in the business when it came to cutting records and having them sound crisp and loud and all of those other good things, and in my experience it has proven to be true…. I don't even understand how it is possible, but it sounds better than the digital master. I don't know what they are doing or how they are doing it, because I don't understand any of that really, the technical part of it. I just know they have got something going over there that nobody else can seem to figure out."
Techno and house is Dubplates & Mastering's bread and butter, so to speak. So it's interesting to hear a label owner whose output veers toward the weird shit confirm their reputation as well. Digitalis' music over the past few years, though, has come closer and closer to electronic music. Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Roll the Dice and Ricardo Donoso are some of the imprint's biggest successes. It's no crass move toward a bigger audience. The label simply has moved along with Rose's own taste to encompass a wider remit.
Techno and hip-hop, for instance, have been two of the label owner's biggest obsessions of late. And while we haven't gotten a Main Attractionz album or a Juicy J Rubber Band Business mixtape, it's hard not to rule it out. One of Rose's good friends in the music business, John Twells of Type Records, put out Clams Casino's Instrumentals on vinyl last year. "One of my favorite rap albums ever is 2Pac's Makaveli. I'm constantly telling people to listen to how weird it is. I mean, there's one song where it starts with throat singing."
For now, though, things look to continue on an electronic tip. But not necessarily wholly experimental. Paco Sala's electronic pop, claims Rose, should turn some heads when an album is released later this year. Then again, it'll probably just be some more weird shit. The two, as Rose knows, are less far apart than you might think.
Download: RA Label of the Month 1202 Mix: Digitalis Recordings
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01. Jurgen Muller - Waterworld (from Science of the Sea)
02. Paco Sala - Gifts of the Bloom (from forthcoming LP, Ro-me-ro)
03. Six Organs of Admittance - Thousand Birds (Live) (from Gold Leaf Branches 3CD compilation)
04. Asha Sheshadri - Pale (from forthcoming Flowers In Glass Cases cassette)
05. Betawave X - On Good Behavior (from forthcoming Ghetto Hymns... cassette)
06. Dylan Ettinger - Ridin' Dirty (from Cutters LP)
07. FRAK - As You May (from Muzika Electronic)
08. Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Luminaries (from Luminaries & Synastry)
09. Roll the Dice - Into the Ground (from Roll the Dice)
10. Soccer Committee & Machinefabriek - Very Well Drawn (from Drawn)
11. Geoff Mullen - ADF 3 (from A Dust Futures cassette)
12. Ricardo Donoso - Probing (from forthcoming Assimilating the Shadow)
13. Tarentel - Untitled #5 (from Live Edits: Italy/Switzerland)
14. Of - Agate Cups (from Rocks Will Open)
15. Discoverer - Tunnels (from forthcoming LP, Tunnels)
16. Milton Cross - It's Been Almost a Year (from Light in the West)