Jacob Arnold profiles the unassuming but high-quality vinyl label run by Chicago's m50.
Though we both live in the Chicago area, Max and I meet at a Japanese-style tea room on a spring day in Berlin, a city he's been visiting for a decade. Max (who won't share his last name or age) is wearing a dark sweater, cargo pants and a knit cap, with a pair of Sony studio headphones around his neck. Max is better known in Chicago by his DJ name m50. He has been host of etc radio on university station WNUR since the '90s. For nearly seven years he wrote for Gramaphone Records' blog, Phonologue, and now he works at the shop one day a week.
Max founded Kimochi in 2010 as a way to release his own music under the pseudonym Area. "I didn't have any money," he recalls. "So I did a Kickstarter." Max sold personalized copies of records he had created for other labels, ultimately raising $900 to fund his label's first release.
Kimochi's sound, artwork and even the record pressings themselves are deeply intertwined. Its releases range from dub techno and deep house to more abstract and ambient compositions. The common thread is an immersive, dreamlike quality that encourages dedicated listening.
Many of the Kimochi EPs are pressed on colored vinyl with locked loops hidden in the run-out grooves—usually bonus beats or mysterious vocal samples. Each record is issued on limited-edition, numbered vinyl (typically 200 or 300 copies) with beautiful hand-painted labels and sleeves. Aaron Shinn (cofounder of August Uncommon Tea) designed a low-cost yet visually stunning printing technique using laser-cut stencils and multi-color spray-paint gradients. The bold colors and varied geometric shapes, often evocative of natural shapes like plants or clouds, reflect the spirit of the music, which eschews blocky loops in favor of shifting layers.
"I paint each of the records," Max explains. "With the Dead Fader record, that was four or five hits [of paint] per record, and we did 200 records. Each one has to dry, ideally, for half an hour at least in between each of the steps for that." This labor-intensive process is one of the reasons for the label's limited runs. Max jokes, "I have a well-ventilated space!"
Max soon expanded the label to feature other artists, releasing three dozen records to date. With a few notable exceptions (Brendon Moeller, David Moufang and Benjamin Brunn) most of the producers featured on Kimochi are lesser known. They hail from all over the world, including Russia, Croatia, Sweden, Germany, Italy and the UK.
Zachary Lubin is a Chicago DJ Max admires, one of the first he heard on moving to the area. His EPs feature deep, hypnotic techno, bringing back memories of Midwest raves. "Kimochi offers perhaps the greatest artistic freedom beyond my own label (Obvio), and it is because there are no expected boundaries," Lubin tells me. "It encourages full exploration and revealing of one's pure, core artistic identity. For me, Kimochi is one of the most innovative labels because of this defining characteristic. Each release is carefully immersed in love and thoughtful curation, from the arrangement of the compositions to the final artwork and vinyl format presentation. Each release is something special.... [Kimochi] always brings out my most personal and vulnerable works, and that is exhilarating as an artist."
Justin James, who makes music as Dreamlogicc and runs the label Main Drain Studios, recently moved from Chicago to California. His downtempo IDM Podval EP is named after a secretive Chicago gathering. "With Max, I send a steady stream of songs throughout the year, regardless of whether I'm trying to seek out a home for them. Over time, Max ends up with a small group of songs that, despite often being made years apart, feels 'just right,'" James explains via email. "I think there is a sense of earnestness that comes through in many Kimochi records. To me, Kimochi records often feel massive yet delicate, with an energy and propulsion that often belie their miles-deep undercurrents."