Awarding kudos to a record label may seem a bit odd initially. After all, it's the artists that make the all-important music. The labels simply are a conduit to the public. It's hard to imagine saluting, say Sony Records, for its selfless contributions to mankind. But Beta Bodega Coalition isn't your typical record label. In fact spend a little time talking with label founders Steven Castro and Rick Garrido, and their venture begins to sound a lot more like an agitprop art project -- one that, for now, just happens to express itself on vinyl and compact disc. Indeed both figures seem just as passionate about issues of social justice (particularly the ongoing civil strife across Latin America) as they do about experimental electronic music. And the steady stream of twelve-inch records and CDs they've issued over the past two years is an honest attempt to fuse those two loves. "This isn't dance-floor music," Castro explains. "It's music for you to sit down and ponder." Case in point: releases such as Needle's (longtime local aural terrorist Ed Bobb) trnsmssn
, an unsettling weave of vintage FMLN guerrilla radio broadcasts and off-kilter beats; or Los Angeles leftist collective Ultra Red's Plan de Austeridad
, an audio documentary that sets recordings from a condemned housing project to fuzzy, dubbed-out grooves and then lets figures such as Miami drum-and-bass tweaker Otto Von Shirach go nuts remixing it all. This commitment to unorthodoxy extends beyond the music itself to the packaging, an aesthetic that uses silk-screened sleeves and cryptic liner notes to a distinctive effect that's very, well, Beta Bodega-esque. Are the contents within easy listening? Rarely, which is what makes Beta Bodega's efforts all the more commendable. As the label's counter-parties during the Winter Music Conference reiterated, no one else in South Florida dedicates so much time, effort, and money to giving proudly noncommercial artists -- both here and abroad -- an outlet.