GODMODE

Nick Sylvester

Nick Sylvester's GODMODE label has some big ideas. Putting value in New York's unpredictable, yet combustible music scene, he started to put out music by artists in a manner that was wholesale. Work with the artists in every way possible as a means to proliferate the community-driven art scene that everyone is always talking about, but might not really exist. With an ethos, a will, and a deep interest in making hard art look easy, GODMODE is the label that New York has been missing.

godmode

COMPLAIN BY MAKING STUFF. Before GODMODE, I made decent money writing about other people’s music. You can be every kind of jackass as a music writer—no particular responsibility to any particular party. At the same time, you have no skin in the game. Maybe someone will listen to you, but you’re crossing your fingers. I got sick of complaining about chillwave and wanted to at least try to offer an alternative. That’s why we started Mr. Dream—and GODMODE grew out of that impulse.

A RUMBLING. Through the walls of our practice space, I heard a rumbling of drums and sub-bass and hellish guitar noise and a man singing what sounded like a spell atop it all. It was the most exciting music I had encountered in New York, all this through a concrete wall. This was the kind of music that made me want to move here in the first place. I was surprised to find out that this band—YVETTE—could not find a single label in this city to put out their music. Nobody would vouch for them. That struck me as a real problem.

THE INTERNET DOESN’T MATTER, YOU LIVE IN NEW YORK. Maybe because the music industry is based here, things can get overly professional way too quickly. You can have a manager, a publicist, a booking agent, and a “sync ninja” before you’ve played a single show—a million people on the internet talking about you before you’ve made your first record. So that was another real problem: It’s difficult for New York to have a small-town petri-dish type vibe where weird art can cross-breed and fester. That’s what we’re trying to make happen with GODMODE.

THE FIRST RELEASE. YVETTE’s “Erosion” / ”Cold Sweat” 7”, which I co-produced with Matt LeMay, was the true beginning of the label. That was 2012. I co-run GODMODE with Talya Elitzer, and we’ve released about 40 singles, cassettes, albums, photobooks, and so on since then. Dale Eisinger joined us this past summer as the Director of Special Projects and Other Provocations, and Tyler McCauley has been helping us out with production.

THE PROPOSITION. Every release on GODMODE is (usually) a collaboration between the label and the artist. To Albini’s chagrin (is there really no band named Albini’s Chagrin?) I produce most of the music in a very traditional sense. I work with the artist from writing in the demo stage to recording and mixing to creating the best possible context for their work to be received. Fasano, who is a brilliant pop songwriter, writes songs that benefit from the kind of voyeuristic one-mic demo feel of a cassette release. It creates romance. With YVETTE, which is the most mysterious and aggressive stuff on the label, it was important that we accentuate the beauty and spirituality of the music as a counterbalance.

The music spans from sardonic punk (Sleepies) to improvised industrial techno (Alan Watts) to tuff New York disco pop (Motion Studies) to whatever The Flag is up to (The Flag). Whenever we bring a new artist into the fold, we start with a two-song cassingle release. Low pressure, no expectations. It’s usually knocked out over a weekend, and the goal is to figure out if we even liking working together. We go from there.

THE PARTY IS THE HIGHEST EXPRESSION OF SOCIAL ACTIVITY. GODMODE doesn’t have a “sound,” in the way that something like Slumberland or Sacred Bones does. Instead we’re trying to play personalities off each other—not unlike trying to put together a good cocktail party. Right now there are about 20 of us total, spread across 12 or 13 active music projects. We all get along pretty well and play on each other’s records and go to each other’s shows and so on. There are thankfully no assholes among us. It’s nice to work with friends.

NO HORSEBETTING. There’s a room in my apartment with fake wood paneling, which became known as the Wood Room. That’s home base. All the dubbers and inventory and mailing supplies are there. Carlos and Julian from Ava Luna let us work out of Silent Barn studio this year, and I also have a space at Sound City that, when the metal bands aren’t playing next door, doubles as the label studio.

We do nearly everything ourselves. Part of that is we just can’t expect other people to give as much of a shit about our artists as we do, even when we pay them well. We also feel more invested in the work when we work this way: recording the music, mixing the music, making the art, dubbing and assembling the cassettes, taking the photos, writing the press releases, getting the music to the right people, booking the parties, doing the bookkeeping, pestering the digital distributor, getting the records in stores, fixing the gear that we break. It feels less like betting on horses this way. If we make a mess, at least it’s ours.

NO SPINNING WHEELS. I wouldn’t say we’re anti-industry—Talya is the director of A&R at a major label—but we try not to get subsumed. My biggest fear is spinning wheels, going through the motions. When you surrender your art to How Things Are Supposed To Be Done—get a manager, hire a publicist, find booking agent, record in a studio, tour nine months out of a year for peanuts, build a following, let everybody sync your music, talk about Taco Bell on the Taco Bell-sponsored festival stage, all so that maybe you play Letterman some day—it creates a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Not good for our little cocktail party.

We don’t think worldwide domination is the only goal post, just the ones that can finance careers in music for the largest number of people not actually making the music. None of these people can broker you a success, let alone a career, which is why so many of them work with so many clients at once. It’s a big lottery. I know this because for a time I was pulling the numbers, and even I couldn’t tell you who would win. It’s unfair to new artists to pretend like any or all of these people matter. A large part of our role at the label is deprogramming. Just calming everybody down.

We do a lot of cassette releases. Cassettes are very important to GODMODE. Less the sonics or the scarcity, more the way the format keeps us in touch with our purpose: trying to push ourselves artistically, trying to find actual human beings who want and need this music we make. I like the way how our cassettes never let you forget that People Made This Music. We do everything by hand, from the stamping to the typing to the photocopying to the dubbing, and these little human imperfections accumulate in a way that people seem to be responding to. At the very least it slows it all down.

DON’T INCORPORATE IN DELAWARE. We’ve learned a lot in a year, in every possible category. It turns out that low-mids are kind of important. It turns out that maybe you don’t need to spend $40 a month on a Quickbooks account. It turns out that, unless you’re a tech company, incorporating in Delaware is not a great idea. Talya and I are always in some state of post mortem, trying to figure out what makes the most sense for our artists and their music, what are the kinds of opportunities we can and should be aiming for to keep our station operable. The biggest lesson was realizing we don’t owe anybody anything. Precedents are merely precedents. We can do this exactly how we want.

SLEEP IS THE COUSIN OF DEATH. We tend to overextend ourselves, and if half of what I’m about to list happens in the next year, I’ll be surprised. Here’s what we’re up to for now:

Right now I am finishing up an original score for Rob Dubbin’s new video game. It’s an iOS football game where you can control everything but the actual game play. Rob is a writer at The Colbert Report and the game itself is brilliant and fun and smart. The music is somewhere between Jock Jams and Giorgio Moroder.

In the next month or so we have YVETTE’s debut Process LP coming out, which is my favorite New York record since Black Dice’s Beaches and Canyons. Alan Watts’s Ara LP comes out at the end of October, as does Pierre, a beautiful noise collage that Dale did with a friend of his. That project is called Horselover Fats. Mr. Dream, Courtship Ritual, The Flag, Fasano, Breeding Program, Negative Supply, and a few new top-secret artists all have stuff coming out in the next four or six months.

We’re putting out a photobook by Miles Gilbert, who is one of my favorite photographers, maybe early next year. Miles also designed the Cy Twombly-esque theta that is the GODMODE logo.

I have also been doing more circuit design and am hoping to have the first GODMODE effects pedal—a mod of the Realistic Electronic Reverb unit—ready for prototype in the next year or so.

5000 PEOPLE. Whenever I get overwhelmed, I remember something that Matt Werth told me. Matt runs RVNG, which is one of my favorite all-time labels. 5000 people. If you can find 5000 people who are excited about what you do, who are interested in how you want to interact with the world, who will go along with you for the ride, who need this kind of music and want to feel slightly less alone, then that’s a living. Our goal, for now, is 1000 people. We want to know each of you by name.

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