LABEL PROFILE Ten Years In The Shadows With felte Records By Ned Raggett · September 02, 2022

For Jeff Owens, founder of the label felte, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, it all comes back to family—specifically, his older brother.

“We lived in Texas,” explains Owens. “I’d lived there for about 17 years, and that’s when you’re obviously getting your taste. He just happened to be a teenager when music was pretty strong. You had the Cure, Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, The Smiths, New Order, electronic, all these bands that were, upon reflection, like, ‘Wow, that’s what mainstream music was?’”

Owens also credits a host of other influences through the 1990s and beyond: discovering alternative radio, and magazines like MAGNET; developing an obsession with independent and DIY bands and labels such as Touch & Go; making connections between bands based on cover art and shared references. But music remained a side passion for Owens until he moved to Michigan and began working for one of America’s best electronic labels, Ghostly.

“I just knocked on the door!” Owens says. “I didn’t know Ghostly at that time—it was probably only like five or six years old. I liked some electronic music, Matador had released a Boards of Canada record, Radiohead was getting electronic. I interned and happened to be there at the right time. I still work there—I’m director of the label groups. But I’ve always tried to keep felte separate. This is just something I always wanted to do. That was always the dream: ‘Oh, I want to have my own label.’”

Felte’s roster reflects Owens’ tastes, with both electronic acts and rough-edged rock bands, as well as a wide spectrum in-between. The experience he had gained with Ghostly enabled him to start the label at a time when the record industry was entering choppy waters. “In 2012, [press and radio] were not as potent as they used to be,” Owens says. “I was very open with the artists: ‘This is what I can do for you. This is the climate that we’re in, but I still think we can do some things.’”

Because of its roster, felte’s often been thought of as a goth/darkwave imprint, but Owens prefers taking a broader view on what he’s done. “[There’s] Deserta, which is shoegaze-y; Billow Observatory, which is ambient-meets-shoegaze, I guess. Then you’ve got Ashley Shadow, a singer-songwriter, beautiful vocal delivery, and Camila Fuchs: electronic, but it’s more in the Björk-y experimental sound. Ganser, I think they have an indie-leaning, no-wavey, art rock sound. In some cases [goth] makes sense, and I’m not ashamed of that, but I just think I would prefer to be identified with 4AD than as a straight-up goth label.”

Felte is now based out of Los Angeles, following Owens’ move there some years back. In honor of their first decade, we asked Owens to discuss 10 albums of note that he’s particularly proud of helping bring to the world. “The label’s very much mood,” he says. “I don’t really care how you play your guitar or your instrument. It’s really the mood that the music conveys, and all the records—that’s how they connect together.”


ERAAS
ERAAS

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Formed in Brooklyn by Robert W. Toher and Austin Stawiarz, two members of the ‘00s band Apse, ERAAS kicked off felte with a murmuring and mysterious self-titled album, living up to its equally shadowy album cover. “I knew the first release always creates the identity of a label a lot of times,” Owens says. “ERAAS just felt like the right thing. It was the combination of the Radiohead sound, the electronic stuff that I was already exposed to and involved in with Ghostly, and it also had somewhat of an indie thing to it. But at that moment, there was more of an electronic, darker-leaning thing going on. One of my best friends, Danny Scales, who goes under the name Philistine DSGN in terms of art, was someone that helped encourage me to start the label; he helped set that aesthetic initially. Danny was hanging out with a couple of people, they were talking music, and this particular woman said, ‘Check out ERAAS. I think you would like them based on your tastes.’ It was totally dead on.”

Sextile
A Thousand Hands

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Released in 2015, A Thousand Hands gave Sextile—a quartet formed when Brady Keehn and Melissa Scaduto left NYC for L.A. to kick heroin and met Eddie Wuebben and Cameron Michel in rehab—a space to work through their angst and anger. It’s a classic L.A. “darkness-in-sunshine” album, with songs like the title track, “Flesh” and “Can’t Take It,” boasting a searing rock/electronic blend. “Sextile’s an astrology term, where two opposite signs come together and create something artistically—something positive. They opened up for Ritual Howls at a show at The Echo. I was talking with someone, and sometimes you just don’t watch the [opening] band, right? There’s nothing that grabs you. But I actually stopped talking and was like, ‘Who the fuck is this band? Who is this?’ The energy of the band live was the thing that caught me. They just had this instant energy, power, chaos, the chaos in their lives. They really somehow were able to convey that.”

Gold Class
It’s You

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Another 2015 record, It’s You was the debut album from Gold Class, one of several acts from Australia that have appeared on felte over time, such as Standish/Carlyon and Nite Fields. The Melbourne quartet have a flair for combining two musical eras at once, with Adam Curley’s Morrissey-esque vocals gliding over taut, punchy rock that Owens compares to Fugazi and Jets to Brazil. “I was starting to realize with Australian bands, it’s just really hard to get them [over to America],” Owens says. “But Gold Class was one of the bands that was able to get over here. They were such a tight band, they had such confidence onstage. They did a live session, three or four songs all in one take, and that doesn’t happen with most of the bands that I’ve worked with. If they lived in the U.S. or the UK, they would have been bigger. Unfortunately, they were in their 30s, they had been in a lot of bands, and I think it was just exhausting for them all.”

Ritual Howls
Turkish Leather

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Released in 2014, Ritual Howls‘ second album makes the case that the Michigan trio can be called goth without apology. Starting with the striking “Zemmoa,” with guitarist Paul Bancell’s croon delivering the right level of incantatory vibes in combination with Christopher Samuels and Ben Saginaw’s instrumentation, Turkish Leather hits all the right, shadowy spots. “I was living in Ann Arbor, and Paul—he’s the one that started the group—had been in bands over and over in Ann Arbor, playing DIY spots, basements, houses, all that stuff,” Owens says. “Ben was a fan of his previous stuff, and Paul had given him this new stuff that was going to be under the name Ritual Howls. I remember Ben was working at a coffee shop that was near the Ghostly office, and he gave me a CD of the music. And it was pretty raw and terribly recorded, but it was interesting. I moved to New York, and they ended up being in town, and that’s what sealed it for me. I was like, ‘Yeah, Paul belts it out as good as he does on the recordings, and the band is tight.’ On Turkish Leather, Paul seems more like a singer/songwriter who’s using the goth post-punk industrial sound. Chris helps flesh it out and turn it into this different thing, and makes it even more potent in terms of not just sounding like A plus B equals C band of the past.”

Public Memory
Wuthering Drum

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Besides ERAAS, Robert W. Toher also has a solo project as Public Memory, which began with 2016’s Wuthering Drum. While it maintains similarly subtle, almost cryptic vibes as ERAAS, Wuthering Drum showcases clearer beats, drawing more directly on hip-hop breaks for inspiration, with vocals at once more distinct and more fragile. The whole thing conveys a sense of tactile unease. “Public Memory to me is like the Thom Yorke solo stuff, in a way,” Owens says. “The way [Toher] sings, it’s more trip-hop, more hip-hop-leaning. It’s like Houston trap, something that was an influence initially. But he’s also a huge Portishead fan, so trip-hop is a big thing for him. Krautrock is in his blood, and he knows how to write melodies and pop songs. With Public Memory, the difference is that it’s just more electronic. He’s just a flagpole artist, and he’s been with me since the beginning.”

Chasms
On The Legs of Love Purified

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Also released in 2016, On the Legs of Love Purified was the second release from Chasms, an L.A. act founded by Jess Labrador on guitar and keyboards, with Shannon Madden, who recently left the band, playing bass. Labrador’s icy, extreme guitar tone matches the coolly fierce impact of both the music as a whole and Labrador’s singing, and songs like “More Love To Be Found,” the drifting “We’ll Go,” and the delicate, hypnotic “Black Ice” are among the album’s many standouts. “I moved to L.A., I was going out as much as I was in New York, and seeing the West Coast community of these bands,” Owens says. “I think [Chasms are] one of the more interesting bands. Again, I think they’re lumped in with the ‘dark’ musical world because that’s probably the community that they grew up in. But the music, as it keeps continuing, it’s gotten more electronic, more dubby. [Labrador’s] writing everything solo at this point. That energy will be a little bit different. The thing that [Madden] brought to the table was definitely her energy live. Because Jess is a more subdued, reserved performer, and that’s who she is as a person.”

Odonis Odonis
No Pop

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Toronto’s Odonis Odonis had already released some albums throughout the 2010s by the time they joined felte in 2017 with No Pop. The album showcases an evident love of the late ‘80s industrial subculture that Ministry and the band’s fellow Canadians Skinny Puppy made popular but adds their own modern edge, drawing on techno and noise acts in turn, with a grinding ominousness on songs like “One.” “ERAAS had actually played some shows with Odonis,” Owens says. “We just became friends, and we stayed in touch. Then [Dean Tzenos] sent Post Plague, which was the first record where they changed sounds. When I got it, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is actually really good!’ I think they’re one of these bands where, with every record, they could go sappy. They could go synthwave bad. But they always know when to pull it back, and they have this control. They are making industrial music, and some people probably say, ‘Oh, he sounds a little bit like Trent Reznor,’ but they’re a band that’s not trying to replicate the template because their past is all these different sounds.

Deserta
Black Aura My Sun

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2020 brought one of the new decade’s best shoegaze records out of the gate thanks to the debut album by Deserta, a one-man project by Matthew Doty, formerly of the post-rock leaning Saxon Shore. Black Aura My Sun taps into the early goth roots that a number of early shoegazers like Slowdive drew on, but then aims for a big, vast feeling—perhaps drawing on those post-rock roots—with songs like “Save Me” and “Paradiso” conjuring up the impact of excellent bands like Hammock. “I moved to L.A. and I was at a party the first or second week I was in town,” Owens recalls. “I think I’d known Matt’s name a little bit here and there for some reason, I can’t remember why. But we just ended up talking. He had a different band going at the time, Midnight Faces, which I didn’t like as much. Then he started Deserta, and Danny [Scales] was like, ‘You really should listen to it, man. It’s really good.’ Shoegaze is a big part of my life. My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive—those were mood records, right? I just think he hit a lot of the spots, and hopefully opened up that door for more shoegaze-meets-indie-rock bands.”

Ganser
Just Look At That Sky

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Just Look At That Sky is the felte debut and the third album overall from Chicago quartet Ganser, taking the spirit of spiky, give-no-fucks ‘80s indie music and giving it both attitude and skill on fierce songs like the album-opener “Lucky,” setting the tempo and tone right out of the gate. “They were one of these bands that definitely knew the label,” Owens says. “Eventually, they sent me this record, and I just thought it was super great and next level. I think a lot of it had to do with the recordings: they stepped it up, and the mastering was phenomenal. They’re one of the hardest-working bands out there. They’re trying to grow and be part of the festival world and be as big as Idles. They remind me a lot of Sleater-Kinney, riot grrrl, no wave, that art rock stuff—they just hit a lot of things. You have these two vocalists going back and forth, and [bassist/singer] Alicia Gaines’ artwork is just so good. They have an aesthetic, and I love bands that use the art to create an environment or a vibe.”

Mint Field
Sentimental Mundial

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Sentimental Mundial is the first felte release from the Mexican band Mint Field. Originally formed in Tijuana and now based in Mexico City, vocalist/guitarist Estrella del Sol, bassist Sebastian Neyra, and drummer Callum Brown aim for a dreamy, smoky swoon on songs such as “Delicadeza” and “Contingencia,” reflecting not only shoegaze, but deeper roots in psychedelia. “[The bassist] from Gold Cage is from Mexico, and Mint Field was friends with Gold Cage. I’ve gotten to that point, I think, where people are passing the baton: ‘You should reach out to so and so.’ I liked the old records, but this record in particular just really hit me. Just beautiful songs—minimalist, open space in the tracks. They came [to L.A.] in May, that was the first time I’d seen them live, and, oh man, they’re great. [Del Sol]’s just so good on guitar, so much confidence.”

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