Singles going steady
Local label What's Your Rupture? finds vitality in a hoary format-the vinyl single.
Wed Feb 13 2008
Photograph: Ryan Pfluger
The past few years may have seen the music industry in a tailspin, but they have proved to be a boom time for indie rock. Without a watershed event akin to Nirvana ushering in the alternative-rock era, indie bands have quietly encroached on the mainstream, becoming the de facto soundtrack for collegiate America. In the process, inevitably, the genre has been depleted, stripped of the outsider status and impenetrability that once defined it.
In New York, one of the most glaring exceptions to the music's Gossip Girl--ization has come not in the form of a band but rather a record label: What's Your Rupture?, a tiny imprint built around the idiosyncratic tastes of its 28-year-old proprietor, Kevin Pedersen. The company is best known for releasing Nine Times That Same Song, the debut album by Swedish art-punk band Love Is All. But that CD is an atypical release for the label—simply because it's a CD. In an age when even the compact disc can glimpse its own extinction, What's Your Rupture? has devoted itself to releasing vinyl singles and EPs. These discs are hand-stamped—"I want to be connected to each record," Pedersen reasons—and wrapped in collagist covers that unfold into posters. As objects, they are beautiful: fetishistic, personalized and somewhat anachronistic, reminiscent of the formative London punk label Rough Trade. Yet in reaching back to an old-fashioned model, What's Your Rupture? has tapped into an urgency that seems thoroughly youthful and contemporary.
The label's office lies on a handsome West Village block, in a culture-friendly building that's also home to a more established local label, DFA. On his desk, Pedersen has set up a turntable filtered through his computer, metaphorically bypassing the CD era altogether. Indeed, many of the label's releases are available on iTunes as well as on vinyl, which seems sensible: Both formats favor singles over albums. Still, few imprints have made the connection between streamed MySpace songs and the 45s of bygone jukeboxes. "Right now, most labels just release vinyl singles to prove that a band is somehow 'real,'" Pedersen says. "But each record I put out is as important as the next—there's no reason to promote a seven-inch any less than a CD."
While they vary in sound, the label's artists share the company's uncompromising vision. "My idea is to try to find the most outrageous things and present them to the most people possible," Pedersen says. Thus, his roster has included sassy new-wave band the Long Blondes and shaggy indie-rock collective Comet Gain, as well as warped hardcore groups Fucked Up and Sex Vid.
The fundamental What's Your Rupture? band, however, is Cause Co-Motion, a local quartet that recently split from the label to self-release its new seven-inch EP, "Who's Gonna Care?" As on the band's previous three singles—in its five years, Cause Co-Motion has yet to release an album—songs are pointedly concise. Everything about the group (including its practice of shunning surnames) seems diminutive, from frontman Arno's tense, nasal voice and tinny guitar to the dollhouse drumming of Jock, whose kit consists of nothing but a floor tom, a snare and a cymbal. Even Cause Co-Motion's live sets come in miniature. "I get bored watching any band for more than 20 minutes," says bassist Liam, sitting with his bandmates on the floor of Arno's Queens apartment. "Usually, our sets are less than 20 minutes—but we'll still play 12 songs."
"Well," Arno adds, "that depends on strings breaking. It's often 11 songs."
Cause Co-Motion's departure from the label was mildly acrimonious; the musicians cite issues of "convenience." Yet the new record has all the hallmarks of a What's Your Rupture? release, including painstakingly silk-screened covers and fragile performances that defy the slickness that increasingly dominates indie rock. "None of these bands are technically the best," Pedersen says. "But there's so much soul in these groups that it comes out in the recordings, often through heavy distortion and frantic playing. It seems like they're still figuring out what they're doing and trying to put that on vinyl. You get these wonderful moments in time where no one really knows what's happening."
Cause Co-Motion plays Cake Shop Sat 16 and Music Hall of Williamsburg Feb 22.