As the empirical wisdom of grandmothers, behavioral therapists and eHarmony’s marketing brigade has taught us, having common interests is crucial to establishing successful and fulfilling long-term partnerships. Doubtless they’re referring to a shared passion for doubles tennis and Ansel Adams landscapes, but the common concerns for the principals behind LA-based label Fade to Mind—bass, art, nature, Baltimore club, UK grime and garage, computer experiments—are equally strong glue, and suggest the collective is in it for the long haul. And for those who like to get whipped into states of ecstatic, primordial bliss on the dancefloor, this is very exciting news.
Primary credit is due to Ezra Rubin for turning on his transponder early to gather his people. Back in 2005, after attending Parsons, he and his friends decided to throw a dance party inspired by insane mixes— Dipset, Cam’ron, Remy Ma—then in rotation on Hot 97. Since no one knew how to DJ, they’d burn CDs and play them in the back of a liquor store in Williamsburg. The clothing designer Telfar was a patron and taught him how to use CDJs, and soon Rubin began blending, eventually turning out an hour-long mixtape that sold at Opening Ceremony in New York. Under the name Kingdom, he began releasing music on Fool’s Gold and the influential UK label Night Slugs, whose homegrown creative collaborations and consistent packaging became an inspiring model for Fade to Mind.
Rubin’s future labelmates were located via methods both analog and digital: he connected Ashland Mines (Total Freedom), then based in Chicago, through mutual friends; Mines’ Myspace page led him to production whiz kids Nguzunguzu. “I didn’t even know what they looked like—their only picture was this faraway shot of them lying in the grass,” remembers Rubin. “They were just on this different vibe, there was clearly an R&B influence, but also this experimental noise influence. And they sent me this CD-R, they just burned it and spray painted it black, and it was almost bent from the spray paint, in some weird paper sleeve, and tracks from that I ended up editing and making remixes of. From that point, I started to work with them.”
By 2010, Kingdom, Total Freedom and Nguzunguzu had all relocated to LA and began to collaborate for real, playing parties together and remixing each other’s work in ways that felt fresh and energizing. “I think we all came from a perspective of thinking about sound and music, not just, I’m gonna play a bangin party and it’s gonna be hot, but more, What’s the emotional resonance of the sounds that we pick?” says Rubin. “We were influencing each other from the start, pulling and pushing each other into the same emotional sphere, club music that’s a little sad, sexy and scary.” They were all busy releasing on different labels, and the thought of branding their scene hadn’t crossed anyone’s mind. But when friend and DJ Will Boston (aka Prince William, now a Fade to Mind co-runner) encouraged him to formalize their work with a label, Rubin could see the benefits: creating a consistent aesthetic, giving people something definite to latch onto, solidifying it into a movement. The label’s name is a reference to both the barbershop fades Boston and Rubin are obsessed with and the state of mind FTM hopes to induce in listeners. “I think good music makes you fade into a subconscious zone, or when you smoke weed you fade to mind, or when you have sex—just those kinds of experiences that take you into a deeper mind state,” says Rubin. Their first release, Nguzunguzu’s Timesup EP, was a group effort right down to the artwork.
Like their allies on Night Slugs, Fade to Mind is pushing aside dance music’s dusty reputation as a closed, traditionally male-dominated UK-centric relic of the ’90s and invigorating the scene with young talent from around the globe. You might recognize some upcoming FTM artists from their cameos on Kingdom mixtapes past: underground vogue/ballroom innovator MikeQ; leftfield, juke-influenced Finnish producer Gremino; and Cedaa, an uptempo crunk DJ from Bellingham, Washington. Asma Maroof from Nguzunguzu can expect to be joined by more female labelmates in the future, too. “I’m super excited to have as many female producers as possible on the roster,” says Rubin.
After years of being bummed by lackluster turnouts and frustrated by the disjointed nature of playing mercenary sets among a lineup of strangers, Rubin is excited that dance music is finally having another moment. The cohesive feeling created by Fade to Mind artists is gaining momentum, and it’s clear there’s power in alliance. “When the whole night is filled with this universe we’ve created, even the broader collective, which is really Night Slugs people and Fade to Mind people together, I notice the energy of the nights is much bigger,” he says. “People don’t necessarily want to see just one of us, they want to be entrenched in it.”
Nguzunguzu are strange, wonderful DJs. Timesup harnesses a leftfield dance infatuation into their own sublime production.
MikeQ, “Let it All Out” 12-inch
MikeQ’s “Let it All Out” is readymade for vogue balls. It touches on vocal house, Baltimore club and is the ultimate melting pot for dance floors.
Various Artists, The Claw
The Claw is Fade to Mind’s thesis statement, a limited CD-R with all of their artists contributing tracks. This is the type of thing ethnomusicologists make after the fact.
Cedaa, a very young producer from the Pacific Northwest, produces drums wound so tight his songs feel like practice for insane future trilling.