Running an independent record label is always a tricky business proposition. You needn't be a business-school graduate to recognize that music is a big, big industry and that the little guy is often squashed beneath the heavy boot of seemingly omniscient major label giants. The prospect of starting an indie dance label, then -- in a city not known for its striking dance artists -- is that much more complicated. Not only is the music that is being promoted underground and often completely lacking commercial support, but the label's target audience is underground, too. Running such a business requires a certain level of subterranean savvy, a working knowledge of the dark corners of the dance world, both artistic and professional.
Jeremy Golden knows his way around that world, and as president of Terraform Records, he's working to bring Denver's dance artists up from the shadows. A local producer and multi-genre DJ, Golden created Terraform nearly ten years ago with business partners John Chamie and Eric Gerd as a simple outlet for his own creative output. Today Terraform carries the marks of a bona fide record label: an increasingly diverse artist roster, national distribution and a target audience. The label has a respectable number of recordings due for release before the end of the year and has just launched Format, a new specialty sub-label in drum-and-bass stylings. No longer a basement project for bored kids, Terraform is going beyond Denver's dance-floor elite and aiming straight for DJ record bags and dance floors across the nation. Early this year, the company released the compilation CD System Evolution -- essentially a sampler of Terraform-affiliated artists, many of whom have their own full-lengths due on the label this year. System is the most ambitious of Terraform's previous six releases, as well as an indicator that the company is looking to get real and become Denver's first established, professional dance label.
"It's hard to make any money, because you don't have a large volume to sell to, but that has changed a lot in the past five years with the dance industry growing like it has," Golden says. "Now nearly every major label has a dance division."
Terraform got its unofficial start in 1991 when Golden, Chamie and brothers Eric and Rob Gerd (Rob Gerd is no longer an integral part of Terraform) found themselves infected by the vibes of the then-burgeoning local rave scene. The four began slowly assembling a studio and proceeded to spend the better part of the next four years learning one of the raver's primary tools: the keyboard. In 1995, Golden and company put out their first record, under the name Ether. Since then, they have produced a slew of recordings under a few different monikers, names that change with the style of music that's being produced.
"You need different pseudonyms, because if you're putting out house and drum and bass under the same name, people aren't going to get it," Golden explains. Accordingly, all of Golden's house releases have come out under the name The Vandal, and all the drum-and-bass or dark break music has been produced as Ether or Agent Babylon. And though these Golden-backed projects formerly dominated the Terraform catalogue, the label has since begun working with other artists, most of whom are from the Denver area. In addition to his own self-produced projects, DJ Vitamin D (aka Derrick Daisey, a recent Westword Music Showcase nominee in the DJ/dance/electronic category) has done some remix work for the label. Other artists currently aligned with Terraform include Sundog, Moth and ph10, the enigmatic drum-and-bass duo featuring Recone Helmut and Clark ov Saturn. The two relocated to New York City last year, only to find themselves signed with a label from their former stamping grounds.
"Denver is getting to be a pretty big city, and many of the artists here have been around for a long time," Golden says. "We're into doing as much local stuff as possible. If we could get enough stuff out, then maybe we can help create a sound for Denver. I think there is a distinctive sound that is building. What it will take is for one artist to really break out."
While a lot of their energies are focused on helping the Denver scene develop, Golden and his colleagues are slowly working toward gaining a national clientele. John Chamie moved to San Francisco two years ago to set up a sort of West Coast satellite office for the label. He's been getting talent together in California while Golden and Gerd remained in Denver to focus their energies here and run the Terraform HQ.
True to the DIY ethos of the rave scene, Terraform is an entirely self-sufficient label. Golden and his partners aren't getting rich off of the thing; they fund it right out of their own pockets. "We thought about outsourcing, but if someone from the outside has a lot of money in it, then there's a danger that they're going to want to run it themselves," explains Golden, who has been able to raise capital for the label primarily through his work as a computer consultant over the past few years. "When we started out, we were in college with little money and had to work to be able to put out our first release. We've slowly built it up to what it is now, and we have seven records set for release later this year."
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Earlier this year, Golden, Chamie and Gerd expanded Terraform by creating the Format label in an effort to broaden the styles of music they could produce and promote. Dance-music labels almost always stick to one genre, primarily to maintain consistent relationships with the DJs who buy the records. Dance deejaying is an exacting science, and no DJ wants to get home to discover they've just purchased a house record when they were expecting drum and bass. There are, of course, exceptions to this stylistic rigidity. For instance, labels such as Astralwerks (the American home of Fatboy Slim) deal primarily in the CD market and cater to the Tower Records crowd; as such, the label has much more freedom to release what it feels like, since it's not catering solely to the DJ.
"I like how Astralwerks is a big label that a lot of people respect, and that's what I want to do," says Golden. "I want to be a respected label that's putting out a lot of good music. When people hear our name, I want them to associate it with good music, whether it's house or drum and bass. But," he adds, "we needed Format to make the distinction clear."
While Format works with artists who specialize in the drum-and-bass or dark breakbeat genres, Terraform can stick to the house end of the spectrum. The first Format release will be a single by Sundog called "Super K-9," with a remix by Toronto's Vinyl Syndicate on the flip. This will actually be a huge kickoff for the label, as Vinyl Syndicate is arguably the most respected drum-and-bass crew in North America. Format will also be the imprint behind full-length albums planned for release from Sundog, Moth and ph10 and mix CDs by DJs Fury and Ivy, as well as a string of singles.
The word terraform roughly means "to make a planet suitable for living." Indeed, Golden and his partners are in the process of exposing Denver as an environment capable of sustaining and encouraging life in the world of underground dance talent and production.