Post Present Medium turns 10 at the Smell this weekend
In terms of sheer numbers, Dean Spunt’s most fertile creative outlet might not be his day job fronting No Age, or his Rodarte film scores, or his ambient soundtrack work for experimental nature documentaries. It’s his Post Present Medium record label, which celebrates a kind-of-astonishing 10-year anniversary over three nights at the Smell this weekend.
A lot has changed in the larger music industry since PPM’s debut in 2000. Namely, the industry as we knew it has been destroyed. But in sticking to a pretty basic formula -– ambitious, punkish bands releasing limited runs focused on vinyl -– what seemed like an '80s hardcore or '90s indie throwback philosophy has developed into something positively futuristic.
“It’s starting to settle, and we’re figuring out where we fit in. When we started, it was before Myspace even, and bands didn’t really have webpages yet. Around 2007, everyone was saying, ‘Everything’s dead,' ” Spunt said. “But people want to buy vinyl, and we’re still selling records, our artists are touring, and people still want to feel that thing they felt with Kill Rock Stars or Dischord, like they’re a part of label identity.”
The bands headlining PPM’s showcase -- which includes Abe Vigoda and High Places tonight; Infinite Body, John Weise and Tearist on Saturday; and No Age, Bleached (one of several bands to form in the ashes of the beloved Mika Miko) and David Scott Stone on Sunday, share little sonically but all value a kind of adventurous harshness and a work ethic worthy of Spunt’s musical and business model, Ian MacKaye. The decision to largely avoid releasing No Age material on PPM has let it occupy a different side of Spunt’s musical brain, one that has to figure out how to self-sustain in a micro-economy of 500 to 1000 pressings of sometimes commercial (and sometimes very difficult) music.
Even after 10 years, PPM is a small operation, mostly run by Spunt with friends pitching in to handle some press and logistical duties, not to mention the lauded SC Distribution. PPM’s marquee acts can go bigger (Spunt said Abe Vigoda’s latest “Crush” has moved about 7,000 copies), but sometimes they’ll purposefully thwart demand, like they did with Best Coast’s first seven-inch, which they let go out of print after 1,000, only to see the debut full-length of Bethany Cosentino’s surf-pop band crack the Billboard Top 50.
“I just look at it as a way to put out things that are interesting to me. I passed on a lot of bands that I knew would sell, but I just don’t have that in me,” he said. “At this point, we have a built-in audience, and I like it when people find things out rather [than] for me to try and be some press monster. There are other ways to make money.”
He admits that as his main work in No Age has taken on greater prominence, his attention to the label necessarily waxes and wanes depending on his band’s touring demands (currently No Age is on a bit of a touring hiatus after its last album, "Everything In Between"). But with this showcase that underscores the last decade of L.A. in which PPM has released some of the city's best bands, he’s eager to dive back into the beloved rigors of making small-run vinyl with a much bigger reputation.
“It’s like any business; things are always better when the owner’s there,” he said. “Being in a band has taught me what I want from a label, which is to be really open and mellow and just help your friends.”
-- August Brown
Photo: Dean Spunt, drummer and lead singer of the punk band No Age, performed with the band at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, in Eagle Rock, May 1, 2010. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times