MUSIC Last December, Anticon celebrated its 10th anniversary with a concert at the Knitting Factory in New York. It was an emotional reunion. Many fans flew from around the world to see a hip-hop collective that hadn't performed together since a 2002 concert at Slim's in San Francisco. Peter Agoston, the event's promoter, says it took a year to pull it together.
This was a far cry from 1999, when most of the original Anticon seven (along with more than a few couch-surfers) lived communally in an East Oakland warehouse. Tim "Sole" Holland, Adam "Dose One" Drucker, Yoni "WHY?" Wolf, Brendon "Alias" Whitney, Jeffrey "Jel" Logan, David "Odd Nosdam" Madson and James Brandon "the Pedestrian" Best sought to revolutionize hip-hop, injecting the art form with absurdist humor and beatnik poetry. Every month, they held court at Rico's Loft in San Francisco, performing college radio hits like "It's Them" and "Rainmen" as throngs of Bay Area backpackers shouted along. Doseone, Anticon's madcap poet, says, "We were crew, posse, label, brotherhood, and boys-club."
A decade later, Anticon has become a brand and a myth. Baillie Parker, who faithfully attended those Rico's Loft showcases, became an eighth member, label manager, and co-owner in 2001. Slowly (and sometimes painfully), he steered the label toward solvency, streamlining the collective's unpredictable adventures into a small business. Then he ceded day-to-day responsibilities to his former intern Shaun Koplow, a student at UC Berkeley. After Koplow graduated, he moved back to his native Los Angeles, and now runs the label there.
Today, Anticon Records is surprisingly durable and stylistically varied. Recent albums include melancholy rock (Anathallo's Canopy Glow, 2008), wintry indietronica (Son Lux's At War With Walls and Mazes, 2008) and punchy, synthesized instrumental beats (Tobacco's Fucked Up Friends, 2008).
Meanwhile, the collective that founded the label has splintered and scattered across the country. Some remained in the Bay Area (Dose One, Jel, Odd Nosdam, and Parker) while others moved elsewhere (Sole in Denver, Colorado; Alias in Portland, Maine; and the Pedestrian in Los Angeles; Yoni Wolf is currently "homeless" while he embarks on a months-long tour). They still own the label and make major decisions together. However, each pursues his individual career. Some collaborate, others do not.
What does it all mean? It doesn't take a Rashomon-like investigation to figure it out. "We all send each other friendly [e-mail] messages every few months, but we're not like this cult. And I think that's good," says Sole. "When we tried to be a cult, we realized that none of us made very good cult members."
ORIGINS OF AN ICON
Anticon's symbol is an ant, designed by Aaron Horkey of Burlesque Design. Ant-icon. The name comes from the Pedestrian, a Los Angeles native, and Sole, who grew up in Portland, Maine. The two met in 1992 on a Prodigy message board for cassette trading. Both were avid tape collectors, the lingua franca for music dispersion before the Napster era. They bonded over a love for the Los Angeles scene, where Freestyle Fellowship and the Shapeshifters pioneered speed-rapping and obtuse, free-associative rhymes; early Midwest battle-rap crews like Atmosphere and 1200 Hobos; and obscure Canadian groups like the Sebutones.
Anticon coalesced around a series of fortuitous happenings. Alias and Sole met when both lived in Portland; there was the 1997 Scribble Jam, famous in rap circles for its battle between Dose One and a pre-Slim Shady Eminem; Doseone's frenzied networking skills brought him in touch with Jel, and then Sole; and Dose One made fast friends with WHY?