Photo by Debra DiPaolo
"How can you truly be an artist if youre so worried about being some thing?" pon ders producer and remixer The Angel. "If youre an artist, youre an artist."
Thats a tough attitude to stick by in the modern music biz, which puts its participants in neat little boxes, and often rewards them nicely for staying there. But over the past five years, The Angels quietly become one of the industrys most diverse producers and remixers. Though shes not a Dust Brotherslevel household name, the L.A.-based musicians lent her hand to countless trip-hop, hip-hop and rock 12-inches, compilations and soundtracks. Shes also completed scores for such big-budget films as Gridlockd and Til There Was You. And, within the past two months, not one but two Angel-spearheaded albums have hit the streets.
The earlier release of the pair, Jaz Klashs Thru the Haze, is a collaboration between Angel and acclaimed Bristol drum n bass duo More Rockers (a.k.a. Smith & Mighty), who together create a layered, lightly jazzy and decidedly anti-clashing soundscape. The more recent Tuned In Turned On, released under the banner of 60 Channels (both albums are on World Domination), is an Angel-spawned collective of MCs and singers both little- and well-known: Navigator (of Asian Dub Found ation), Japanese acid-jazz star Monday Michiru, L.A.s Cokni ODire and ex-Frente! leader Angie Hart are a few. Its a darkly percolating trip-hop otherworld, where Angel drags her participants out from under their various musical rocks and integrates them into her cohesive, sexily atmospheric swirl.
Semicloaked under umbrella names this time around, Angel does release re c ords with her own nom de plume, though she notes that people immediately think of hip-hop when they hear "The Angel." Its that pigeonholing thing: "I understand why the industry needs those tags," she says, "and why radio and journalists need them. But as an artist, I dont think we do. Ive generally tended to sit right in between genres. I fall between the cracks intentionally."
Which is how shes ended up with such a wide-ranging bunch on the new album. When assembling 60 Channels, she chose to team almost entirely with artists shed worked with before, and those span the gamut. "I put my feelers out to the people I really respect and whose work I respect, and who I have a great rapport with," she says. "I pretty much work with the same cast of characters." But despite the various cake icings, Angel produced, mixed, engineered, programmed, wrote all songs but one (a Curtis Mayfield cover) and actually did much of the singing herself.
"I didnt want anyone to have any preconceptions about what Id be doing," she says of her modestly obscuring pseudonym. "And it was important to me that people didnt see it as Oh, another female solo artist, yawn. Because even I find that boring, truthfully."
Born in Brooklyn and raised partly in Italy, The Angel spent time in London before ending up in Los Angeles five years ago, when she signed her first record deal with the about-to-be-doomed Delicious Vinyl. She picked up the stage moniker at this time; Angels her real first name, anyway. Original plans were to release her debut 12-inch as "Angel C.," but she thought it might be confusing: "I said, No way. This is Los Angeles, and theres 9 million Angels, and 8 million of them are guys." When Delicious founder Mike Ross suggested adding the distinguishing prefix, she adopted it, though she found it "a bit posey. I was like, if that solves your marketing problem, go for it," she laughs.
Though the Delicious Vinyl days resulted in just a few singles by The Angel, the move to Hollywood and her association with the label opened up the gates for her as a producer. After convincing label mates the Pharcyde and the Brand New Heavies to let her remix some of their material, Angel soon began doing mixes for such notables as Towa Tei and Spearhead, even getting tapped to try hipping up Australias Frente! (previously best known here for their radio-grubbing cover of New Orders "Bizarre Love Triangle"). "Theres always something good that comes out of even a negative situation," Angel points out optimistically of her brief label stint. "Its led me to everything up to this point."
Though Angels done exceptionally well in a rough business, the road since Delicious hasnt always been smooth. As one of the few women whove gained a rep in the boys-club electronic-music world on the Svengali side of things rather than as a puppetlike diva Angels seen her share of nu-school record-label chauvinism. "Ive had a million and one business meetings," she says, "and I can tell you that if Im in the room with a male manager, a lot of times the conversations will be directed toward [him] unless its something not very important, something fluffy. But Im ultimately the person that makes the decisions, and I steer my own career."
Fortunately, Angels gotten good at ignoring any condescension ("Hey, Im pretty humble; I just keep my head down and do my thing," she says), but stalwartness alone cant change her working environment of choice. While the record biz got its nastiest rep due to a few over-the-top harassment cases, its day-to-day sexism isnt so much about blatant taunts or leering offers as it is about subtle allocation of attention and resources.
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"Had I been a guy doing what Ive been doing all this time, bigger things would have happened sooner," says Angel. "There are a lot of DJ-producers who are guys and who dont have half the skills that Ive got, who are doing incredibly well because everybody wants to be excited about them."
After deciding shed had enough of the majors various tribulations, Angel now retains ultimate control of her work by recording in her own studio, then licensing completed albums to record companies after the fact. "So many of my friends have been sold that major-label dream," she explains, "and are sitting around with major deals and cant even get their product released, demoralized to the point of not even wanting to record any more. All the major-record-company thing is, ultimately, is money up-front, and no guarantee of anything beyond that. As nice as money can be and we all need it to survive its not worth it to me to sell out to that idea.
"Its taken me a long time to get to the position where I could [license my own recordings]," she says, "but Im glad that I stuck it out and waited." She notes that the environment for artists is friendlier now than it was a few years back, and we can all thank the current state of technology for that.
"It used to be that you had no choice," says Angel. "If you didnt have your own little studio setup and even if you did, it was never really good enough youd have to get a record company to pay for all that stuff. But you dont need those trimmings anymore. If you dont need the loan up-front, youre better off making it yourself and finding a way to put it across. Ive had to survive through some pretty lean periods, but its been very important to me that I do things independently, that I dont take the usual route. My idea of success is not being rich and famous. Its making the kind of music that I want to make and people appreciating it and understanding it and liking it, simply because they dig it and get it not because someones hyped it down their throats."