It turns out that MacFarlane is a Kiwi expat who spent unfulfilling stints in the UK and Australia before moving to Vancouver on a whim. Back in New Zealand, MacFarlane was an avid blogger and ran a website called Rose Quartz that focused mostly on the outer fringes of music—noisy stuff, DIY stuff. It was through the blog that he discovered a knack for curation. He also came into contact with labels like Not Not Fun, whose far-reaching scope and busy release schedules inspired him. But he saw no point in trying to start a label from a place like Christchurch, where everything was expensive and he had no real connection to any scene. Vancouver, a medium-sized city on the corner of a big continent, might seem like an odd place to move, then, but for MacFarlane it just looked like a decent place to live.
His decision to come to Vancouver, where he would attend the British Columbia Institute of Technology for a web development program, coincided with a shift in the international DIY scene towards electronics and dance music, which tickled his interest. It helped that he had good timing. MacFarlane arrived just as a new wave of activity had started to fill the creative void left by the Wagon Repair crew (Mathew Jonson, The Mole and Hrdvsion) and, more recently, the splintering of the city's once-strong dubstep scene. Mood Hut, a boutique party-turned-label, was just finding its feet, and a new crop of producers sprouted up around it. It was a fortunate situation for someone who moved without knowing anything about his new home.
"It turned out much better than I thought," MacFarlane says, laughing. "Just, logistically, I didn't even know that Vancouver had beaches, for instance. I was like, 'OK, this seems cool. It's close to Seattle, too.' Then I realized there was so much going on for a city of its size. It's probably perfect in that it's pretty central to things, but also like—maybe if I lived in New York I'd find it really difficult to do stuff because there's so much going on. Whereas here there's heaps of stuff going on, but you can shut yourself away a little bit. You can choose to go out if you want... otherwise you can just enjoy, like, the chilled-ness of Vancouver."
Buzzing from what he saw around him and wanting to get back into curation, MacFarlane turned towards the labels he admired when he was a blogger and decided that cassettes were the most natural option for his project. One of his big role models at the time was Opal Tapes, a similarly minded platform (which RA profiled almost exactly two years ago) that shares an outsider perspective on dance music.
"I was interested in focusing on that, in a way," MacFarlane explains, "but I tend to like more melodic, up kinda stuff. I guess hypnagogic pop was the big thing for me, and I really like when texture or mood stretches into people using dance music tropes. I'd noticed a few people—like, Bobby Draino—making this kind of distorted, hybrid stuff, melding a few genres without really being connected to one or tied to one specifically."
MacFarlane is the kind of guy who obsesses over all aspects of music—how it's presented, promoted and consumed. When conceiving his tape label, he made a point of making every release available digitally as well as. Several times during our conversations he worried aloud that this might be seen as "hypocritical," but for him it's about spreading the music, not keeping it hidden.
"I wanted to stay really far away from this small-run, sacred object kinda thing, and just have it... available," MacFarlane says. "Having the art really strong is nice for that, but it's also just because with things being so digital, that's definitely the first thing you would look at, even on SoundCloud or a website post, is the thumbnail. For that to look how it sounds is really important to me."
The label's artwork is often goofy and self-aware. MacFarlane decided to collaborate closely with each artist for their release, hearing their ideas and who they might want to work with. The approach has led to some distinctive sleeves: the Windows 95 futurism of OOBE's Digitalsea, the colorful sewerscape of Via App's Dangerous Game and the spiritual shapes of AT/NU's Psi Grove are three of many highlights. The variety of styles, from futuristic to kitschy, is a powerful visual representation of 1080p's seemingly endless range, which is also reflected in the technologically fetishistic name of the label itself.
"I worked two years ago for Nintendo, demoing the Wii at [Metropolis mall] in Metrotown, and my boss was this guy with a fedora who was just obsessed with the HD qualities of this thing, and kept talking about 1080p. Just this thing you participate in because it exists, in some capitalist way or something. I just needed to think of a name. It's kinda short and stupid but not overly serious, and hopefully kinda abstract or vague as well."
1080p's first four releases—all of which came out within two months in the summer of 2013—revealed a sprawling and savant-like perspective on dance music that felt—and feels—definitively of its moment. The first was also the launch of a new project by the Vancouver-based former LOL Boy Markus Garcia, whose Heartbeat(s) tape, Home Remedies, was full of buoyant beats expressed through muffled sonics.
"Heartbeat(s) seemed to reside somewhere between the online and forum realm (with his internet collaboration LOL Boys), but he also lived in Vancouver and is connected with a particular type of club scene here," MacFarlane says. "So it felt interesting to connect that online approach, where I personally was coming from, with something in a physical place."
The next few releases rocketed 1080p to all corners of the globe. M/M's Midtown Direct, from Brooklyn, channeled chilled-out techno. Berlin's Tings & Savage made trancey zone-out jams with Brain Foam, while the Melbourne-based Abstract Mutation tinkered with elemental techno on Fake Keygen. Then, bringing it back to Vancouver, Bobby Draino teamed up with Xophie Xweetland for a split release of blindingly bright beats that felt like acid house as viewed through James Ferraro's futuristic goggles. Looking back on this early run, it's clear that 1080p had its defining characteristics down pat: a global outlook, a playful visual aesthetic and an impossible-to-define style, which is at once the label's most impressive but overwhelming dimension.
"I wanted to have 1080p as a space to experiment," MacFarlane explains. "Also, I guess with the tape format, it's a place for well-known artists to release a weirder side project thing. I'm focusing on a community aspect, because it's hard for people to give you a start when you've never played a show before. There's a lot of different genres, and sometimes, like, crazy different production qualities or aesthetics. I feel like it's coming from somewhere that makes sense to me, but the main thing I worry about is how it sounds to me is different to other people, contextually. Being reliable seems like an important part of being a label—that's one thing I'd like to focus on a lot more in the next year."
As different as its releases are—more recent drops include New York antagonist Gobby, cybernetic R&B from Magic Fades, Babe Rainbow's solo piano and Dan Bodan's intimate bedroom pop—I doubt anyone would accuse 1080p of inconsistency. The label's intense release schedule is part practicality, part generational attitude. It's MacFarlane's attempt to keep up with the pace of the internet and the music he finds and receives every day.
"I try to get three releases together at once, in some degree," MacFarlane explains. "I sort out the artwork, get all the parts together and then send it off to Missouri, to this place called the NAC, the National Audio Company. It's a really Christian company, and they started out doing church tapes, but then noise people started to use them in the 2000s because they were really good at it—they make the tapes, custom-made. Sean from Night People, Britt from Not Not Fun, Matthew from Leaving Records have all used it, and were really happy to share the wisdom. For the first few tapes I did I used this really shitty place over in Richmond, and they were really, really bad."
1080p has also shown a penchant for helping to break new or completely unknown artists. Two of its major successes are Canadian rising stars. Edmonton's Khotin, whose Hello World mixed comforting deep house with childhood nostalgia, is now one of Canada's most visible newcomers. And then there's Vancouver's own Lnrdcroy, whose louche but emotional tape, Much Less Normal, has come to the fore as 1080p's defining release.
"I forget who first posted about Lnrdcroy's stuff. Maybe Mood Hut put it on their Tumblr or someone like Tyler Fedchuk or Zia or something. I just found it from someone posting it on Facebook, and I was like, 'Wow.' It really sounded like Vancouver to me, after living here for a couple of years. I feel like people who grew up in the Pacific Northwest could relate to it even more deeply, it has this overcast feeling to it. He gave me this slightly older collection of stuff, and I think it fit really nicely for the cassette format, because he does some more 12-inch-techno kinda stuff as well."
Lnrdcroy's tape has been a lasting success and the label's best slow-burner through 2014. Not only is it about to get a rare second run on cassette, but it also earned an upcoming vinyl reissue on Firecracker. Another one of its tracks, the funky "Sunrise Market," was also re-released in an extended mix on Pacific Rhythm, which is another hotly tipped Vancouver label. Lnrdcroy's isn't the only release to get the extra attention, however, as Khotin's Hello World was also just reissued on vinyl through Faux Pas.
Recent developments like these have turned 1080p from a curious little Vancouver concern into an international platform for artists to make odd, exciting music. MacFarlane works a series of odd jobs, including website development and shifts at Commercial Drive's Audiopile record store, but he's now in the position where he's planning to live off 1080p some day. It looks like the next year will be a victory lap for him, with a number of artists—Max McFerren, Young Braised and Lnrdcroy—making return appearances, as well as debuts from promising up-and-comers like Friendly Chemist, Project Pablo, Moon B and Scientific Dreamz Of U. The recent success has made MacFarlane consider starting a vinyl offshoot.
"I was at the Fox Cabaret last Friday and I ran into Bobby Draino," MacFarlane tells me. "He was saying he was going to do vinyl on a new label and him and some others keep telling me to do vinyl. I don't think it'd be too hard to sell at this point. I was thinking of doing a Lnrdcroy 12-inch, doing 500 of those. It's a risk, but it's definitely more feasible now."
There's 90% brand new 1080p material on this 67-minute trip through the label's weirdo sound.
Filesize: 162.8 MB
Neu Balance - Guu Yuu
Surfing - It Doesn't Matter
MCFERRDOG - What Up Dawgy
Friendly Chemist - Visions from Yesterday (Deep Sax Mix)
Project Pablo - Movin' Out
Khotin - Recycle (5am)
Journeymann Trax - Ice Sheets
Young Braised - Middle Class Homie Quan
LNRDCROY - Balaeic32
Daragh and Mel - Jum
Scientific Dreamz Of U - Modern Update
Perfume Advert - Death Bed
Gobby - Macalester
Via App - Sun Kissed
Mongo Skato - Turismoc
M/M - Sphere 5
OOBE - Deep Space Lovers
D. Tiffany - Far Out
Between The Beats: Seth Troxler
Fame is never straightforward. RA's latest film about touring DJs takes a journey across Europe with Seth Troxler, one of electronic music's most controversial and widely recognised characters.
RA Poll: Top DJs of 2014
Our polls kick off with your favourite DJs of 2014.
RA Poll: Top 20 live acts of 2014
The polls roll on with your favourite live acts of 2014.
RA Poll: Top 20 labels of 2014
The RA staff choose their favourite record labels of the year.
Label of the month
Label of the month: Sound Signature
Waajeed, Specter, Lakuti, Gerd Janson and more reflect on 20 years of Theo Parrish's pioneering label.
Label of the month: Ascetic House
Noise, blood and chaos—Matt McDermott heads to the Sonoran Desert to hear the unlikely story behind one of America's most prolific underground crews.
Label of the month: Objects Limited
Ray Philp travelled to the UK's south coast to meet Lara Rix-Martin, founder of a crucial outlet for emerging experimental artists.
Label of the month: Brutaż
This Polish label and party intentionally pushes dance music beyond its comfort zone. Elissa Stolman catches up with its curator, RRRKRTA.
Label of the month: Latency
Oli Warwick profiles the immaculately curated French label that tries to programme its catalogue like a DJ set.