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Labelmania: Dance music still shakes off labels and flirts with the void
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Nights in white vinyl

Some of that ancient A&R and promo machinery still creaks, despite the virtual pipeline. "I used to just promote my releases mostly on social network sites like Friendster, MySpace, message boards, e-mail lists. I'm still focusing mostly on online marketing in the same fashion, but I'll even be doing some print ads soon, probably for my album [the forthcoming Brick by Brick] and singles off of it."

All right, so there's the meatspace platter dynamics and the dead-tree marketing campaign. Would Byallo ever — gasp — release a digital white label of his own, just to fuck stuff up? "I'm actually working on a couple bits right now that I'll release under a pseudonym quite soon. I'm not going to say what the tracks are bootleg remixes of, but it's pretty classic stuff reinterpreted."

Pseudonymy: the new anonymity. "We've received some anonymous stuff but we usually won't post it because we don't know where it came from," says Rchrd Oh?!, cofounder of Big Stereo (this.bigstereo.net), one of Blogland's biggest and best indie-dance-release hype sites. "We've received some songs, though, that certain people want us to post up and not get credit for under their name, in which case we'll do it. I think not branding yourself can be good sometimes. Not being branded lets you do anything you want with no expectations."

Big Stereo is a perfect example of the new dance label distribution mechanism. Longtime fellow track fiends Oh?! — a local club DJ whose name has become synonymous with the underground electro and mutant disco scene — and partner Travis Bigstereo, based in Portland, Maine, find their inboxes stuffed every morning with digital tracks from tiny to well-known labels eager for Big Stereo exposure. The site posts several choice cuts a day with very little critical commentary, focusing instead on bringing primo acts like Little Boots, The Golden Filter, and Fan Death to a wider audience. It also tends to treat the labels as personalities on par with the musicmakers themselves — an appropriate response, seeing how contemporary dance labels, stripped of all the musty mechanics, are more a brand of esoteric mood and abstract graphic design (yes, I'm talking to you, Valerie and Ed Banger) than impersonal star-generators. A label is a blog with battling unicorns.

"It's funny because everyone keeps talking about the demise of labels and records," Oh?! says. "I think it's positive and negative. It's almost like the demise of paper to me. In one way it's good because we become less wasteful people, and we can filter the bullshit. It's also good because haven't artists been complaining about the control record labels have on them for years?

"On the other hand," he continues "it's bad because full length albums are less enjoyed and appreciated, and artists come and go so fast these days. But 'record label' means nothing to me — it's like branding on clothes. I either like it or I don't."

Does that artistic license and freedom of choice extend to the definition of dance music itself? "Look," says Oh?!, "all kinds of labels come and go. We are here forever. We love this planet, and we love music. Big Stereo will keep pushing anything we like. One day you're punk, one day you're electro, one day you are disco. Hey, that would be a great song."

As for dance music's eternal and profitable return to the wellspring of obscurity, here's an inspiring digital-era white label corollary. Earlier this year, an anonymous bootleg dubstep mix of "Blinded by the Lights" by the Streets, a.k.a. grime hero Mike Skinner — who is himself currently flipping the bird to corporate scallywags by releasing his latest tracks on Twitter — took the underground Web by storm.

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