Doc Sleep and dabecy's stylistically freewheeling label exists not only to release music, but to support and nourish the artists in its community. Agathe Blume tells its story.
Far away from the world of globe-trotting artists and massive festival stages, electronic music is still built on small communities. Communities of people that exchange ideas, encourage each other, show up at each other's gigs and rave together. Jacktone, a label founded in the Bay Area in 2013, embodies one of those communities.
A compilation of homemade music videos by Jacktone artists
Doc Sleep and dabecy (both of whom preferred to go by their artist names for this piece) met years ago at a Honey Soundsystem party in San Francisco. By the time the DJ was playing the last track of the night, they knew they'd be starting a label together, and that their label would be dedicated to supporting artists not yet well-represented in the scene.
"There wasn't an outlet for this kind of music in San Francisco at that time," dabecy said. "So, you know, it was really good timing for a lot of people in the scene. Everyone was excited about it."
Jacktone quickly became a hub for like-minded musicians in the Bay Area. "They connected so many dots between shy weirdos," said Brooke Keller, who's had three releases on Jacktone as gayphextwin and odi me. "A lot of my most important personal relationships were definitely expedited through being on Jacktone. Some of them I met because of Jacktone, others I had known already, but sharing a space for us to put out our art created a family atmosphere much easier than without the label."
The label was born in San Francisco's queer community, and many of the artists on the label are queer. "We will continue to support the community as we're part of it, and it's also very important for representation and documentation," said Doc Sleep. The queer mantra of being true to yourself informs the label's music, which is often more about personal expression than making club weapons.
Alex Bond, who's currently working on the upcoming Jacktone sub-label Dreamtone, put it this way: "Everything they're involved in seems very personal to them, unaffected by trends or popularity, and drawing from their immediate world rather than catering to the internet / social media. It was Doc Sleep's idea to have rotating curators [for Dreamtone], which I think is perfect since it's similar to how Jacktone already operates as an incubator."
Doc Sleep echoed the idea of Jacktone as an "incubator." "Investing in the artists and releasing several albums with them, you're able to hear them progress," she said. "Being able to witness their sound evolve and how their ideas become more and more fleshed out with each release is incredibly rewarding."
"I remember this particular submission from June," she continued. "She contacted us around four years ago about how cool what we're doing with the label is. So she kind of started helping us out, sending promo emails and stuff. Last year, she contacted me again and said sheepishly, 'So I have this album, I would like to submit it to Jacktone and I don't know if you're going to like it.' And she sent us this album, and it was a jaw-droppingly gorgeous, fully-realized piece of art. I still can't get over that this was another person who was making music in the bedroom, not being sure if this was any good." June, who makes music as juneunit, will release her self-titled debut album on Jacktone in October.
"Many artists we work with, their releases with us are very early works," said Doc Sleep. "To see them become confident and find their own voice is also deeply rewarding." Being able to support new artists, to help them gain confidence in themselves and their ideas, is one of the main reasons she and dabecy run the label.
Most of Jacktone's releases are on cassette, a more cost-efficient way to physically release music than vinyl. This also allows for room to experiment with new artists and release frequently—as often as twice a month. "We need to slow down," said dabecy, "but we keep receiving submissions that we cannot say no to!"
A designer by trade, dabecy also devotes special attention to Jacktone's artwork, whether he designs it on his own or collaborates with other artists. "Design is an extremely important part of Jacktone," he said. "In this streaming age it's important for us to have something tangible that accompanies each release. A piece of art you can hold or display. We always work closely with the musicians to make sure the design suits their vision. They send photography they've taken, images pulled off the web or even create a mood board that we work off of."
Doc Sleep and dabecy encourage visual artists to be different with their artwork and packaging. Music For Cycling Waste, the first release on Dreamtone, is an album that reflects on the waste recycling process. Instead of being pressed onto cassette or vinyl, it comes on fully functional recycled iPods. "The recycled iPods are all [Sug]'s idea," said Bond. "I think for any other release it would feel totally contrived. For this one, it feels perfect."
As much as Jacktone serves as a hub for a community of artists to connect and collaborate, it has also become a documentation of electronic music in and around San Francisco. "The city was (and still is) changing so rapidly," said Doc Sleep. "There are still wonderful artists making fantastic art and deeply invested in the community. We want to continue to support them and their work and provide a snapshot of who is creating at this chaotic time in the Bay Area."
San Francisco and the surrounding cities gentrified rapidly throughout Jacktone's lifespan. The underground scene was continuously pushed to the margins as crackdowns on illegal venues became stricter. As the Bay Area became less habitable for underground artists, Doc Sleep and dabecy moved to Berlin and Detroit respectively. That these cities are central to electronic music is purely coincidental—they didn't choose them for that reason. Still, the move expanded Jacktone's geographical and musical horizons.
"Networking is such a creepy word," said Doc Sleep, "but being here in Berlin definitely connected me to people I wouldn't have had access to in San Francisco, since, you know, Berlin is the center of the industry. It helped to raise the profile of Jacktone a bit." She stays busy in Berlin as a resident DJ at Room 4 Resistance, a party that seeks to create visibility and a safe space for queer femme and non-binary artists.
As they moved to different cities and gained a broader following, Jacktone also began receiving more and more demo submissions from artists around the world, from Europe and the US to Asia and Australia. "Many submissions come in the form of a full album," said Doc Sleep.
"Yes, so there's kind of a story and theme there," dabecy added. "Not just a couple of songs, but the whole piece to work on your label."
With Dreamtone, dabecy and Doc Sleep will further expand their community-based approach to releasing music. "Dreamtone will also serve as a platform for us to share knowledge and skills we've learned while running Jacktone with even more collaborators, emerging artists and curators," said Doc Sleep. Each year, or "phase," a new person or people will run the label with its founders. "This person will bring in their own ideas for how they interpret 'Dreamtone' and choose the corresponding music, visuals, media format, as well as other ideas they would like to try. We are always pushing ourselves to think of new ways to keep the project interesting for the two of us, but also for people who follow the label. This can be with genres of music, media format, or shaking it up with a label collaboration. Collaborations enable us to work with friends, and also pushes us to seek out inspiring projects and people."
In the past, Jacktone has collaborated with labels such as Dark Entries and Beacon Sound. The next collaboration will be with Naive, the Lisbon-based label run by Violet, featuring gayphextwin and one of that label's artists, Pepe.
"Jacktone has become an entity that is ever-evolving," said dabecy. "We're meeting new like-minded individuals that want to work with us and vice versa. We're even meeting ones that push us out of our comfort zone. These are the relationships that are important for us to foster."
In lieu of a mix, Doc Sleep and dabecy present Codex, a collection of 21 tracks from Jacktone's catalog