We live in a time when grotesque self-promotion is often considered an asset, but Jamie Strong takes the opposite approach. The co-founder of Innovative Leisure Records and the Do-Over party series initially didn't want to do this story — lest he unintentionally deflect praise from his partners.
In a way, this defines his character. Over the last decade, the Wisconsin native has quietly shaped the L.A. underground music world as much as almost anyone. Yet he's retained the understated modesty conventionally ascribed to Midwesterners.
Though Strong doesn't brag, it wouldn't be hard for him to do so. The label that he co-owns with Nate Nelson and musician Hanni El Khatib is one of the most successful local indies founded during this decade. In August, the Do-Over celebrated its 10th anniversary by throwing 10 parties in as many cities across the globe. The Brazil edition drew more than 3,000 revelers.
His Do-Over co-conspirators, Aloe Blacc and Chris Haycock, deserve plenty of credit, but Strong is the common thread binding both enterprises. He's combined excellent taste, marketing savvy and an attitude that contradicts industry cliché.
“Whatever you do, you want to do it how you'd want to be treated — whether it's throwing events or a label,” Strong says over breakfast tacos in Los Feliz, wearing jeans, T-shirt, snapback and constant grin.
He started out as a college intern for Ubiquity Records, spearheading the Madison street team for the acid jazz and beat imprint, then talked his way into a job shortly after obtaining his business degree.
“I kept bombarding them to hire me with proposals and marketing ideas for things I thought I could do,” he says. “Then on a whim, I said I'd be in San Francisco looking at apartments, but really it was an excuse to meet in person and force them to hire me.”
The persistence worked. Hired to handle shipping and mail-outs, Strong found his own lane by steering Ubiquity's music into skate, surf and snowboard shops and videos. He developed a merch program that landed a major deal with Urban Outfitters, and eventually handled everything from sales and marketing to A&R.
When Ubiquity moved to Costa Mesa in the early 2000s, Strong came with it. After a few years of commuting from Silver Lake to Orange County, Strong left to take a marketing post at Stones Throw Records.
Around the same time, he, Haycock and Blacc began the Do-Over at a now-defunct Hollywood bar and BBQ spot. None ever anticipated it becoming an international phenomenon; they were just DJs who wanted to book their other DJ friends to spin reggae, disco, '90s hip-hop and soul on Sunday afternoons.
“It was the perfect storm — the right timing, and the concept of a daytime party didn't quite exist at the time in L.A.,” Strong says. Word spread organically, and the rest can be seen in YouTube clips or, preferably, in person.
Innovative Leisure started with similarly modest intentions. At first, the idea was to release a few exceptional records that didn't necessarily fit on Stones Throw.
But as Khatib's music took off, the label's fortunes ascended with it. They broke artists nationally including Nick Waterhouse, Allah-Las and Rhye, and added superb known commodities like Nosaj Thing and Classixx. If most labels are specialists, Innovative Leisure has flourished by mirroring the eclectic tastes of the post–iPod Shuffle era — everything from garage rock to disco, modern soul to jazz fusion.
“There's no secret to any of this,” Strong says, shrugging. “It's really just a matter of figuring out what doesn't exist but should — and then doing it.”
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.