Held every Wednesday at Lincoln Heights club the Airliner, Low End Theory can be wild, filled with lots of hard-partying fans with a love for avant-garde hip-hop.
But the calm behind the storm rarely has more than a couple of drinks himself, and sticks to the periphery when he's not DJing or MCing. Kevin Marques Moo, better known as Daddy Kev, is a Low End Theory co-founder and the owner of Alpha Pup Records.
On Wednesdays he's focused on making sure the signature event runs like clockwork, but he's also scouting future beat scene talent.
In a way, Low End is as much talent incubator as performance space. It has paid big dividends for Alpha Pup, whose roster includes noisemakers (literal and figurative) Nosaj Thing, Free the Robots, Dibiase, and Jonwayne.
But anyone looking to get signed to Kev's label should know it takes more than a good show and an easy smile. At Low End Theory, Daddy Kev is always watching.
Take 22-year-old Walker Ashby, who was recently signed to Alpha Pup under the stage name Toy Light, and whose debut LP is due next year.
A religious Low End Theory attendee, he interned at Alpha Pup as a sophomore at UCLA, a few years back.
The guy has balls: When, during an A&R assignment, he and other interns were tasked with pitching an unsigned band, Ashby pitched himself. He used his stage name so Kev wouldn't know it was him, and only after the producer liked what he heard did Ashby fess up.
“I almost kicked him out of here for that!” says Kev with a laugh, speaking from behind a cluttered desk in his Atwater Village office. “He kind of missed the point. The idea was to look outside yourself…but I will say it was a brave move.”
Ashby was soon booked to perform at Low End, marking the beginning of Kev's trial period.
“I'm gun shy about signing,” Kev explains. “Signing someone is like an intimate relationship. I want to get to know these folks first, and that takes six months to a year. I need to see how they're like, how they interact, how their music evolves. It's important for me to see dedication and improvement over time.”
Kev says he's aware how some young artists put on their best behavior when meeting him, which is why he likes to observe them candidly from the sidelines at Low End Theory.
Ashby wasn't aware, but over his three performances at Low End, Kev wasn't just listening to his sets. He was watching how the young musician carried himself and interacted with other fans, and whether he showed continued enthusiasm for the scene.
“We're looking for lifers. I have no plans to sign anyone outside of Los Angeles at this point.” Kev says, adding that he hopes artists will still promote and represent Low End Theory even if they become big later on, like Flying Lotus has.
Alpha Pup not only has its own talent roster, but does digital distribution for 40 other indie labels, including FlyLo's Brainfeeder and Low End co-founder Nocando's Hellfyre Club. Low End is their central hub, where interconnected business interests and a weekly performance space allow Kev to meet lots of young talent.
“Most of these kids are only 18 to 22 years old,” he says.
Kev himself is 40, and his “Daddy” nickname is fitting considering his reputation as a mentor, drawing upon his decades of experience navigating the industry. That has included a corporate stint at Sony, as well as running late 1990's indie label Celestial. He admits he made some rookie mistakes. “On our first record advance, we blew through a cool ten grand at Guitar Center in a day, and then spent the rest on rent, weed, Pizza Hut, and a lot of beer. We had a keg going for about six months straight…which was awesome, but I learned from that.”
Nowadays Kev maintains a tight ship. As the final requirement for prospective new artists, they must demonstrate professionalism as performers at Low End Theory. Every schedule Kev sends out says “Number 1. Sound check at Low End Theory is mandatory. Number 2. We stay on time. Sync your watch to time.gov.”
Above all else he wants positive attitudes, and says some of his favorite moments are when young musicians bring their parents to their first Low End performances. “That's always for me when I know – seeing the look in their eye – that they've been dreaming of getting on that stage.”