Oakland’s Hot Record Societe Builds a Community of Like-Minded Outsiders

Melanie Charles

Melanie Charles

Despite being firmly rooted in downtown Oakland, the prolific label Hot Records Societe can trace its origins to a fateful day in Ecuador some years ago when the label’s founder, who goes by the pseudonym Arlington Lowell, got stung on the foot by a stingray. Lowell spent the following month recuperating in Ecuador, and took advantage of his solitude to finish an album he’d started at home in Oakland, and to reach out to artists on the internet, including the Belgium-based ShunGu, who have since released music on Hot Record Societe. “[There was more of a garage rock scene] in Oakland at the time,” Lowell explained. “I didn’t see a lot of people doing the same thing that I was.”

In the years since Lowell returned to Oakland, however, Hot Record Societe—or, HRS—has assembled a group of local artists making music just as experimental as Lowell’s own Mejiwahn project. Much of it is beat-heavy, vivid and maximalist in scope. That group of Oakland musicians, which includes artists like Salami Rose Joe Louis and Javier Santiago, frequent a series of downtown venues and bars that serve as sites for collaboration, further emphasizing the sense that Hot Record Societe is a collective as much as a label. Lowell’s own pseudo-anonymity highlights his democratic intentions: “I have an allergy towards claiming ownership over [the label],” he told me. “It’s the people who make it up that make it what it is.”

Lowell met many of his peers at Smart Bomb, a monthly show at the downtown venue the Legionnaire. “This is where I’m going to find the people doing stuff that I want to be doing,” Lowell thought. HRS has since become involved in booking the show, and have invited out-of-town artists to Oakland. Many of them, like the New York-based singer Melanie Charles, have gone on to release music on the label. A few blocks away from the Legionnaire, the Starline Social Club has similarly fostered HRS artists; the bombastic drummer Ruckus long made regular appearances at a Tuesday night jazz gig there, and Salami Rose Joe Louis performed not long ago as part of Toro y Moi’s Company Pop showcase. “A lot of these artists are people I see on a weekly, if not daily basis,” Lowell pointed out. “Everyone’s really tuned in to what everyone else is doing. It feels really positive, and not competitive at all.”

The social approach Lowell describes runs counter to a common refrain that musical communities—to say nothing of artistic endeavors in general—have been killed off by the cultural vacuum created by tech-fueled gentrification. “It’s on everyone’s mind, it’s a looming thing,” Lowell acknowledged. “But I wanted to intentionally create spaces where it’s not dominating everyone’s psyche, [creating environments] where everyone feels welcome and that push the boundaries of what a show should be.” In contrast to Hot Records Societe’s online beginnings, Lowell pointed out that there is now a “resistance to having it all exist on the internet.” Summing up Hot Records Societe, he observed, “That’s not fulfilling as having everyone in the same space.”

Mejiwahn
Lúil Ó Fadó

Featuring collaborations from a wide swath of the HRS crew, including Salami Rose Joe Louis, ShunGu, and more, Lúil Ó Fadó presents a dizzying collage of lo-fi beats, recorded spoken word interludes, classical guitar figures and more that capture the Oakland multi-instrumentalist’s maximalist finesse at its finest.

pAS dOO
Think Less Doo More
 

pas doo

The moniker of veteran podcast composer Pat Mesiti-Miller, pAS dOO offers a more hi-fi approach, compared to other HRS artists’ nocturnal compositions. Think Less Doo More takes a line directly from the playbook of J Dilla’s iconic Donuts, digging deep to find unexpected grooves; the brief mid-album track “Autro” offers up one of the album’s most gripping moments.

Salami Rose Joe Louis
Zlaty Sauce Nephew

Even though SRJL employs a lo-fi approach similar to many of her HRS peers, Zlaty Sauce Nephew finds the Bay Area musician exploring more pop-centric territory as well. “Cyanotype of Blue,” for instance, establishes a thrilling contrast between a murky bass line and the sweetness of her crystalline vocals.

Ruckus
self-titled
EP

The Minneapolis-based drummer Rodney Rocques, aka Ruckus, has carved out a niche for himself in Oakland as well, with his bombastic style and frequent gigs at downtown venues like Starline Social Club. On his self-titled EP, Rocques, joined by Javier Santiago and Greg Byers, plays a handful of both original compositions, as well as those by his HRS peers like Santiago, with elegance and aplomb.

Javier Santiago
Verses

Javi Santiago

Drawing on the sharp grooves and warm instrumentals of Golden Age hip-hop, the Verses EP captures a handful of gifted MCs, including Minneapolis’ Proper-T and the magnetic Amyna, dropping inventive rhymes over Santiago’s lush soundscapes.

Melanie Charles
The Girl with the Green Shoes

The NYC-raised singer Melanie Charles takes inspiration from her Haitian roots, soul greats, and contemporary hip-hop. On The Girl with the Green Shoes, she blurs snippets of pop music, R&B, and Stax grit into a complex and vivid tapestry of sound, sewn together by her hypnotic vocals.

Spote Breeze
Not Aloud

Produced by fellow HRS artist Asonic Garcia, Not Aloud places Spote’s nimble, nasally voice in front of a variety of soundscapes and musical stylings. “Whatchuneedtoknow,” for instance, brings to mind Madvillain dipping his toes in the waters of G-Funk, and album highlight “Broke” employs a Big Boi-like flow to riveting effect.

 

-Max Savage Levenson

 

 

 

 

 

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