Although the dizzying changes in music fandom over the past decade have been overwhelmingly to the good, there are lots of things I miss about indie rock circa 1999. Some of the things I miss are probably shared by any music fan my age: I miss listening to full-length albums in depth, instead of sifting through thousands of mp3s; I miss record stores; blah blah blah. This stuff has been re-hashed to death. But living in Washington, DC, there is something I miss that probably not too many others do: a little record label called Slowdime. Slowdime put out a whole bunch of great albums by a diverse group of local musicians, the kind of records that weren’t really appropriate for the much-bigger Dischord, but records that deserved a chance and an audience. Slowdime helped to document a surprisingly thriving local music scene, and I gradually started to trust the label as an arbiter of really great local music that might not exactly sell to a mass audience, but could help local music fans know what shows to go to, who to look out for. Also, you could buy the CDs and feel like you were helping pay back the people in your own neighborhood who were working hard to support interesting and challenging artists. It seemed like a pretty great feedback loop.
Slowdime slowly faded away in the early part of the ’00s, and not-so-coincidentally, so did a lot of my interest in local bands and music. There was still a lot of great music being made here, but when blogs took over from record labels as curators and promoters of talent, it felt like the music scene was all scattered and incoherent. DC indie music seemed mediocre, at best; the good stuff was drowning in a blandly generic sea. The giant of the independent music scene locally, Dischord, slowed down its work considerably (and understandably), and didn’t really dive into the new-media universe (again, understandably). A couple other local labels came and went. Some interesting music websites have floated around. Experimental music has had a kind of a coherent scene. But for rock music, good rock music, things seemed kind of dead, and this was exacerbated by the collapse of the record industry. It seemed like the whole idea of a small-time local record label was both quaint and quixotic, at least up until the past year or so when I started paying attention to Sockets Records.
Sockets has a diverse roster, but seems to focus on creative and interesting music, with an emphasis on DC. The label isn’t new, but it has been actually gearing up its publicity and raising its public profile lately. They’re trying to hype their bands; they use all the
idiotic essential modern tools like blogs and facebooks; they seem to really want people to listen to the music they are pushing. And luckily, they’re working with a lot of the best up-and-coming talent in the city. Is Sockets the new Slowdime? Not really — the world has changed too much in the past ten years. But maybe Sockets can help use the idea of a record label in a new way to get people excited about the local scene. It’s all about the branding, and I am already learning to trust anything that is Sockets-approved.
Tomorrow night they are having a showcase at the Black Cat that I highly recommend… I can also recommend the upcoming Imperial China album from Sockets, which I am about to post a review for. Go to the showcase! It is gonna be the musical event of the season, featuring Cornel West Theory, HUME, Imperial China, Buildings, and Big Gold Belt. Info here.