The Outsiders

Will Schematic have to compromise to get its avant-garde music heard?

Anderson, for her part, bluntly sums up her company's perspective: "Music fans are fickle, and their interest is constantly changing and evolving. The evolution of music fans' taste is great for Forced Exposure and for music in general, but bad for labels like Schematic."

The impasse recently led Schematic to turn to Asphodel, a San Francisco-based multimedia company that had considerable success in the late Nineties with turntablist acts like the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Beastie Boys DJ Mixmaster Mike, the X-ecutioners, and Miami's own Allies crew. It has since transformed itself into an advocate for bizarre acts like [The User], a Canadian group that makes music with dot matrix printing machines. Even better, it has been able to take advantage of -- and survive -- a hot industry trend like turntablism, making it a good potential model for Schematic to follow.

"We're in a sense an umbrella organization that will be coming to their assistance," says distribution and label coordinator Joel Schalit, who takes pains to clarify that Asphodel is not Schematic's new distributor but is giving the label access to its distribution network for certain projects, starting with Richard Devine's new album, Asect:Dsect. Ironically Forced Exposure is also part of that network. "We plan on making a very big investment in [Schematic's] future," Schalit promises.

Schematic's Romulo del Castillo (left) and Josh Kay inside the lab
Jonathan Postal
Schematic's Romulo del Castillo (left) and Josh Kay inside the lab

But what does Schematic want to do in the future? Part of the problem lies in defining the territory: Do fans want the micro-house and minimal techno championed by Forced Exposure -- a sound Kay and del Castillo explored, then abandoned, as Soul Oddity -- or the IDM and experimental sound art that those same tastemakers claim to be passé? More important, is Schematic willing to change focus to meet market demand and thrive as a label, or does it want to downsize its business in order to follow its muse and satisfy a small, specialized audience?

A few weeks after the studio interview and a day before the Tour de los Guapos would ship off for its first concert date in Vancouver, British Columbia, Kay and del Castillo play at an October 10 party called Elektro Base in downtown's I/O nightclub. Tonight they are headlining as Soul Oddity, the Magic City's beloved hometown heroes. The duo is scheduled to "re-create" Tone Capsule, and by the time they take the stage around 3:00 a.m., the dance floor is packed with old-school heads and young party kids eager to witness the return of the local champions. Instead the group fucks with the crowd's expectations, straining Tone Capsule's light bass blips through erratic jump cuts and abrasive, ear-bursting noise. "This stuff sounds more like Phoenecia than Soul Oddity," derides one audience member.

By the middle of the set, half the crowd begins to leave the room, and most don't return. The remaining audience is a split between Schematic fans and adventurous kids who struggle with what they're hearing, trying to absorb it. Finally their patience is rewarded when Soul Oddity gives a faithful version of "DJ Tokyo," its rumbling bass grooves rushing over the room like a cathartic shower.

The show proves to be a revelatory experience. For all its low points -- the moments when people pooh-poohed Soul Oddity's machinations and left the room in droves -- it proves that, yes, there is artistic and financial potential for Schematic and Kay and del Castillo's vision of a dynamic and musically progressive record label. But don't be surprised if they insist on tweaking people's expectations and doing things their way. "Who wants to play all the old songs that everyone knows?" Kay declared at the studio. "People will, but I think it's the corniest thing you could ever do."

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