“I never thought we’d have bands that played Coachella,” says Reed Kanter, founder of L.A.-based independent label Danger Collective Records. “Not this soon,” adds co-organizer Jai Chebaia, his charming Australian accent still intact despite diving full force into Southern California culture years ago. “They’re paying bands on our label’s rent for a couple months.”
The last time I sat down with Chebaia was about three years ago, when he and friends Robert Tilden and Ruben Radlauer had just started their own music collective, Lost Dog. The three of them were trying to forge a DIY scene on the Westside, a place where all-ages shows were virtually nonexistent — and also where, in 2014, they were still attending high school. Lost Dog was built upon releasing the music they and their friends made, as well as shining a light on a little community that was far away from the underground punk scene in downtown L.A. — too far for school nights, anyway.
Meanwhile, Reed Kanter started up Danger Collective in early 2014 when he was a senior at Westlake High School. He began it as a way to release the music of his band, Casinos, and to throw shows in the Valley — another place with virtually no DIY scene. “We really started with an all-ages mentality,” Kanter says. “My dad’s friend owned a gym in Westlake Village, and in the back of it there was this big area, so we just had this idea that we could throw shows in there.” At the time, his greatest ambition was for Casinos to eventually play the Smell. “I had no idea how to run a label,” he admits.
Lost Dog and Danger Collective first teamed up on a mini-festival at Los Globos called Insidelands, which featured a pretty impressive lineup considering its organizers were barely out of high school. In addition to Lost Dog and Danger Collective artists like Rexx, Slow Hollows and Casinos, the one-day event included heavy hitters Together Pangea, The Garden, The Audacity and Girlpool — the latter of whom, as classmates of Chebaia, Tilden and Radlauer, were first championed by the Lost Dog crew.
While summer 2014 kicked off the first of several successful shows for Lost Dog and Danger Collective, it also marked the end of high school and, for Kanter, a wakeup call that it was time to get his life together. “I don’t really like to dive into it much, but when I was in high school I had a really bad drug problem,” he says. “And so I got sober, and when I got out, I was like, ‘What do I do to not get high?’” Continuing to run Danger Collective became Kanter’s safety net. “I just started going to shows and getting involved in music, and that’s really what gave me purpose. It’s kept me sober.”
Many of the kids making up the respective Westside and Valley scenes moved away to college, including Tilden, Radlauer and Kanter, who traveled to the East Coast to attend the New School in New York City. “Pretty much half of each of our friend groups left,” Chebaia says.
But after trying to balance his course load with running Danger Collective from afar, and also touring with Slow Hollows as their synth player, Kanter soon returned to Los Angeles to manage the label. “I decided this was my dream, and so I left school and came back and started doing this full-time,” he says. “And then we meshed,” Chebaia adds.
For the past year, Chebaia, 21, and Kanter, recently 21, have been running Danger Collective out of an office in Westlake Village — they’ve even got an intern, Owen, who goes to high school down the street. “He’s the sweetest kid in the world,” Kanter says. They spend their days packing and distributing orders from their online store, creating in-house press campaigns and booking shows for artists on their roster, most of them plucked from L.A.'s all-ages scene (“Our oldest artist is, like, 24,” Chebaia says). Chebaia even manages a few artists on the Danger Collective roster — including Surf Curse, who along with Slow Hollows performed this year on Coachella’s Sonora Stage, a major coup for the fledgling label.
Chebaia and Kanter's favorite part of the whole endeavor is simply getting to work with bands they love. “Here’s the thing: We’re more stoked than they are,” Chebaia says. “Most of the bands that we release, I’ve been to like 20 of their shows before we even talk to them.”
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As Danger Collective grows, Kanter and Chebaia have plans to move their headquarters to Chinatown this summer, down the hall from where Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear) and Ethan Silverman run Terrible Records and occasionally offer advice to their young colleagues. But while their office is changing, their business model is not.
“I think about all the artists I love, and I scroll down their Spotify page to their first album and usually it’s my favorite album, you know what I mean? Those are the most raw,” Chebaia says. “We put out the records that we think in 10 years kids will still want to listen to. You know those bands that blow up? They’ll still come back to Danger for that first record.”
Speaking of first records, Danger Collective releases Surf Curse's Demos, consisting of demos from the first album they ever recorded, on Friday, May 12. Demos will be available at the Danger Collective web store and wherever else these young pioneers continue to expand their reach.