Dublin's All City Records makes the most of L.A. beat sound
A few blocks away, thousands of protesters are screaming in the streets about the International Monetary Fund's bailout of Ireland. Upstairs, tourists are gearing up for a literary pub crawl, where they'll learn about James Joyce and W.B. Yeats. And in this usually quiet little section of Dublin — to be honest, there are few sections that are ever completely quiet, as a perfect pint of Guinness is always within reach — a semi-sober wanderer staggering along narrow cobblestone lanes may wonder what the little shop with the bright "All City" sign out front is all about. Because despite Ireland's rich traditional music options, it's rare to find an authentic modern record store. It's almost as if hip-hop had never happened here. The hippest thing at most Dublin dance clubs is still Fatboy Slim.
But All City is about two things: bringing intelligent dance music from Ireland to the world, and amplifying the world's best beat releases through its own label. And All City's laserlike focus on the L.A. scene has made it one of the definitive labels chronicling Los Angeles' most exciting music.
This little shop in Dublin has put out more vinyl for L.A. beat artists than almost anybody else on the globe. Through an almost-complete series of 10 10-inch records, they've captured major L.A. magic: Daedelus, Teebs, Dibiase, Dam Funk, Take, Ras G, Tokimonsta and more.
Founder and label head Olan O'Brien braves a frigid Dublin night to meet at the faux-historic Duke pub. Like many things here, it's an old building, but it has only been serving drinks since the 1990s. And like most Dubliners, O'Brien — with his closely cropped hair, neat sweater and damnable punctuality — seems gentle, professional and methodical, almost the opposite of the mad-genius lab rats who make the beats in L.A. But when talk turns to old-school hip-hop, L.A. and the Americas, out comes the Irish cheer. This is a man whose love for L.A. music has helped put our local artists on the world map. It's hard not to love someone like that — especially when the Guinness has those wonderful nitrogen bubbles in it.
L.A. WEEKLY: How do you choose sounds for your own label? How do you listen to an artist and say, "That's an All City release?"
OLAN O'BRIEN: I always like to place music in some sort of context. Because I come from a record-collecting kind of perspective, I always think, "Where does that record fit? Where does that person fit?" I'm almost thinking about the record being seen in 10 years' time, rather than now — people will go, "Oooh, that makes sense." When I find a funk record from 1974, I can kind of contextualize it. When I see a 1988 hip-hop record, I know what else was going on in that year. So similarly, I don't have any preference for any one sound. I like a mixture.
I like U.K. funky stuff, I like house, and I like hip-hop. I like both sides — I like both the clubby sound and I like the more reflective sound. There is some sort of common lineage, but it's not a BPM [beats per minute] — it's a state of order.
That's what we're trying to do as a label: to make releases spanning all kinds of tempos and frequencies, and not restrict ourselves, like, "That's the beats guys." Because beats are cool, but there's other stuff as well we'd like to do.
Why L.A.? This is the longest-running series in your label's history, and it's dedicated to a city thousands of miles away.
The purpose of me putting out the L.A. stuff was to give an outsider's perspective. Obviously, there are plenty of labels that can do that in L.A. But there's a lot happening here, and people in L.A. probably weren't aware of how much attention outside of L.A. is on them. I'm trying to ground it, and have people go, "Oh, there are 10 records here, and there's two people on each one — that's 20 people." It's just a little document. When people look back 10 years from now, that'll be a good introduction.
I first was in L.A. in 2006 because we sell secondhand records, so I used to go to the States to buy secondhand records and bring them back — mostly on the East Coast. Then I met Egon and all the Stones Throw guys, and they put me in touch with this 45 dealer in L.A. named Mike Vague. He's in that weird L.A. record circle — if you're in it, you might know it.
It's a real interesting little world, and as I started to go over, which would have been in about 2006, it's around the time all this beats and stuff were starting to come to the surface. And I was intrigued. I'm a hip-hop head originally, but it was getting pretty stale and pretty boring, and this scene seemed to be coming out of it.
It's interesting that buying and selling vintage records got you into this, because that's one of the things so refreshing about this movement — it seems like it's full of people like Dam Funk, Daedelus and Gaslamp Killer, who are world-class collectors.
There is a great sense of history in L.A. — of what's gone before and what's to come next. Whether it's like Dre or whether it's Madlib, there is a kind of lineage. Flying Lotus comes from a jazz background, so he obviously takes that pretty seriously.
That's one thing that L.A. won't get its credit for — that there is actually a massive wealth of culture that people might not necessarily associate with the place. When I started going there, I just became fascinated by the city — the way it looks and the way it feels. It's like this modern dysfunctional mess, but somehow it all gels.
You're in the car, and you're spending days trying to find out where you're going, and your ass is sore from sitting in the car all the time. But somehow the roads make sense, and that's the vibe I get all the time in L.A. You don't know how it works, but it does. I think that's reflected in L.A. People are more open-minded, so there are all these various areas within the city that are completely different, yet somehow there's a connection.
I like what you're saying about L.A. not getting its due. In the past, we've been at the forefront of a lot of cultural movements, but kind of got short shrift — in the '60s, we had Love and Elektra Records...
The Beach Boys?
Well, maybe we got credit for that! But historically, we don't get credit for the late-'60s stuff, or the Masque in the '70s. Do you think Low End Theory will be the L.A. club that finally makes the history books?
It's a tough one to say, because the music they're pushing doesn't necessarily sit in the club. And it depends on where the movement goes next, and how people spin off into their own ways. I've been to Low End quite a few times, and when it's on, it's unreal. The best gig I ever saw there was Ras G and Dam-Funk. Again, that's pure L.A. — there's some sort of connection, but you'd be hard-pressed to find out what it is, but there is.
And to hear Dam-Funk singing over Ras G's stuff. ... I was actually rooted to the spot for the whole night: "I'd better take this in, because I'd better remember this for a long time." That was in the summer of '09, and I don't think I've seen anything to top it. That to me is like the Low End sound — in terms of "there is no sound." It's whatever it wants to be.
If they can morph that, and keep that open-mindedness instead of getting restricted into kind of like 90 BPM beats, I think it could be. Because already its name resonates. Yet people from outside L.A. are probably quite surprised that it's kind of a small club. But that's all you need! Any bigger than that, and it starts to get diluted.
All City's L.A. Series #7 EP with Dam-Funk and Computer Jay and L.A. Series #8 with Tokimonsta and Mike Gao is out now on All City. Available on iTunes or from allcityrecordlabel.com.
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