Explosions in the Mind
A Universal plea for Ecstatic Peace!
If a tree falls alone in the woods, and it does in fact make a sound, Thurston Moore will track down a rare, cassette-only recording of the event as proof of its existence. For Sonic Youth's six-string scholar, life is music is noise is art is Confusion Is Sex. An aural archaeologist, he obsesses with preservation of the past, the blurring of lines between creation and destruction the foundation of underground music.
"I'm insane," Moore claims casually by phone while en route to New York City. "There's a whole community of avant-garde cassette labels, not just here in America, but around the world. I confer with all of them and constantly purchase anything they do. I'm interested in the different disciplines and strains that continue and develop."
In 1981, Moore founded his own bedroom vanity label, Ecstatic Peace! Records and Tapes. A quarter-century later, the label counts more than 100 releases, ranging from a Lydia Lunch and Michael Gira spoken-word cassette (Hard Rock) to lost demos from the Velvet Monkeys and Budd to albums from Magik Markers, Test, and Thela. Their merit? Consider it was Sonic Youth that first put Nirvana, Dinosaur (pre-Jr.), Pavement, Mudhoney, and Cat Power in the national spotlight through support slots on their various tours.
Then there's the guitarist's prolific solo career, improv collaborations, recent book (Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture), visual art projects, and "Bull Tongue," his monthly music column in Arthur Magazine with Byron Coley.
"Everything's due to whatever I've established as an artist," Moore admits. "I could never have done it otherwise. Anyone who invests in Ecstatic Peace! is basically investing in me."
Fittingly, Moore reinvests in the acts whose work he puts out for public consumption, like the debut from local experimental artist and former KOOP radio host Rick Reed, whom the label head discovered during Sonic Youth's 1996 tour through a cassette compilation sold at the now-defunct record shop Thirty Three Degrees.
"At that time, really before the Internet and everything else, there was no audience for experimental music here in Austin, and there wasn't really a way to get the music out there," recalls Reed. "Right after that record, my stock went up considerably around town. I wasn't just another hack composer."
Reed's payment for the album, 1997's A Collection of Improvised and Experimental Music From Austin, Texas, was only 50 free copies, but his overall gain was immeasurable. "It established what it is I do as something concrete," acknowledges Reed. "It was great to have him, someone who travels the world in search of new music, shine his light on me and say, 'You're special.'"
Similar collateral was levied earlier this year in securing national distribution through Universal Records. The deal with the international conglomerate involves three separate tiers. Acts like Be Your Own Pet were signed as a joint venture, handled primarily by the major, while more modest rock outfits such as Black Helicopter use Universal's Fontana Distribution. The noise and experimental stuff that, as Moore put it, "doesn't stand a chance of selling more than a couple of thousand copies," Ecstatic Peace! works itself.
"Ecstatic Peace! has always been viewed as a pretty radical label," Moore says modestly. "What could be more radical than putting it into a commercial context without deradicalizing the content that much?"
"They're all over the map," agrees Craig Stewart, owner of local label Emperor Jones. "It's cool to have a label supporting new and sometimes unheard-of bands and putting good promo behind them."
At SXSW 06, for instance, Moore distributed a homemade zine by hand, alongside sidekick Andrew Kesin. In 2007, Ecstatic Peace! will host a two-stage, 12-band blowout that will likely include a performance by Moore himself.
"Ecstatic Peace! thrives in little ways, but a lot of little ways that create one big thing in people's minds," posits Moore. "I'm into exploding the whole notion of what a record label is, because at this point, the possibilities are endless."
Catch the Ecstatic Peace! caravan Saturday, Nov. 11, at Emo's, with Be Your Own Pet and Awesome Color.