When Jeff Antebi, the maverick multitasker behind the Waxploitation record label and management company, decided he fancied photography, he didn’t just set up a Flickr page and call it a day. He turned his hustle on full blast and began sending to everyone he thought might want to see them amazing photos of his frequent overseas journeys. Someday, one of those recipients might help him turn his hobby into yet another element of a diverse career, which has been most notable for managing one Brian Burton, a.k.a Danger Mouse, and his equally sprawling ambition to produce hits for everyone from Gorillaz to Beck. There’s also a little project called Gnarls Barkley, which should keep Antebi busy for the foreseeable future.
“They’re talking about a fourth and a fifth record,” he says, thereby revealing the unspoken understanding that a third is on the table. “I think with a lot of artists, the ones who are successful will be the ones who are out there year-round.”
Antebi hasn’t always been on top. His early days in the music industry began with menial jobs, like gofer for a former hair-metal manager who had him delivering plush toys to various clients. It never occurred to Antebi that those plushies might be full of something other than cotton stuffing. Then there was the decade he spent finding production work for out-of-work musicians, such as Ministry’s Al Jourgenson. He found the task “difficult,” but it was this commitment to the notion of producer-as-artist that led Antebi to sign Danger Mouse before The Grey Album (the artist’s apocryphal mash-up of the Beatles and Jay-Z) put him on the map, before his production credits for Gorillaz, before Beck and Barkley made him one of the biggest producers this side of Timbaland.
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All of this success has opened doors, but rather than simply stash the cash inside, Antebi has funneled his access into drawing attention to the Darfur genocide. Waxploitation has released a remarkable benefit CD, Causes 1, which features unreleased music from, among others, the Shins, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon and Animal Collective, and organized several charity auctions, all in an attempt to do what he can to stop the violence. This, despite the fact that Antebi has never been to Darfur, and probably wouldn’t be welcome if he tried.
“I’d have to sneak over from Chad,” he speculates, sounding as though he’s actually scouted the borders. “But if I was caught and they looked me up, let’s just say, I’d have problems.”
Still, his work generating funds for organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam America has been as tireless as his schedule with Danger Mouse.
Although Antebi will never bear witness to the tragedy of so many thousands on whose behalf he has dedicated much time, he has helped generate an outpouring of support from places he never imagined. “The distributor, CIMS, said they’d waive their fee. I woke up one morning and iTunes had given us every piece of property on their site,” he says, still in awe of the cooperation he’s received. “I didn’t ask for any of this. You create something and everyone else can put their own thing into it.”