“100% Silk has always been about feeling over functionality,” says Britt Brown, who founded the Los Angeles label in 2011 with Amanda Brown. “The music has to strike some personal chord where you feel wooed and wowed and compelled to champion it to the world.”
Initially, that music came from artists transitioning from noise, punk, and psychedelic projects into the electronic realm. They had idiosyncratic, rule-breaking tendencies that immediately appealed. “The culture around dance music at the time seemed exclusive and a bit rigid, but all art benefits from regular infusions of outsiders and new blood.”
Over more than 100 releases and nearly 10 years later, that has very much proved the case. 100% Silk has become synonymous with odd, hazy, lo-fi but emotive music on the fringe of pre-existing genres. There is everything from fucked-up beats to dewy house, art-rock styles to eco-techno and everything in between. Britt reckons the label is simply, “a vessel for the culture fermenting around it”, so represents what is going on around each artist, wherever they are in the world, rather than trying to dictate or determine its own specific trends. For that reason, the output can swing from one sound to the next quite freely. That’s a DIY and independent approach not many labels can maintain over the years.
“If 100% Silk has a DIY bedroom aesthetic, it’s because that’s what it actually is,” explains Britt. “Everything on this planet is skewed towards vertically-scaled, profit-maximising capitalism and music has the potential to be one precious bastion in opposition to that.”
As well as helping to establish the career of artists such as Ital, one of the major 100% Silk success stories is Octo Octa. After putting out her first three albums on the label, her career blossomed and she is now one of the biggest names in house music. Importantly, as a trans artist, she is also giving worldwide representation to the sorts of communities that 100% Silk has long been fostering.
One side effect of working with smaller, marginalised artists is the difficulty in finding safe spaces in legal venues that work financially. As such, illegal warehouses like Oakland’s Ghost Ship have to be used. When a deadly fire broke out there in 2016, “it was completely tragic and horrific. Easily the low point of my life,” says Britt. Thirty-six people were killed including 100% Silk artists Johnny Igaz, aka Nackt, and Chelsea Faith Dolan, aka Cherushii.
“The majority of legal venues can barely stay afloat booking popular acts and up-selling alcohol, so the smaller illegal spaces have it even worse,” Britt explains. “Realistically there’s just not many options for small artists to perform at, much less make enough to cover minimal travel expenses, so increasingly they tend to not bother.”
Labels like 100% Silk, who truly allow artists to be themselves and lead their own conversations, then, have never been more important. “Labels, like artists, shouldn’t fixate on the stepping stones of their evolution. Change is best when it occurs organically and invisibly. The main internal discussion when on the fence about some new potential music is if the mood feels potent and the artist seems committed to their own craft and context — we don’t have to fully understand it to believe in it.”
What they do believe in is running the label in a way that accommodates fans, too: to that end, on 8th May, the label will put out four albums, one each from Auscultation, Jupiter Dax, Lunate and Well Bring, all so that anyone wanting to buy them all can save on ever-increasing postage costs.
Format is also important to the operation. 100% Silk offers “practical” digital, “affordable” cassette tapes which “emphasize full-album listening”, and vinyl, with unique artwork that has “an out-of-time feel, the way certain old obscure records and tapes have this look where you can’t tell quite when they’re from. I love the notion of a label as disseminator of time capsules, casting these artefacts into the void to be heard or ignored, forgotten or found some future day by a different wavelength of listener.”
100% Silk's The Sound Of mix is a very special contribution. The Summer Sunset mix was recorded by Cherushii in 2015, but has never been shared publicly. Over 70 minutes, the mix is a beautiful encapsulation of 100% Silk's sound, and even in these times of uncertainty and darkness, it sends light and joy right through the speakers. At the time of recording, Cherushii shared the following comment: "The idea behind this mix was to highlight the diversity and continuity of 100% Silk. My favorite labels cover a wide cross-section of styles while still maintaining a coherent aesthetic. To me, the SILK sound is defined by the balance of two opposing forces: gritty off-center psychedelia and unabashed dancefloor euphoria. This mix is full of my personal favorites from the label, old and new, many made by dear friends of mine, and a few that never leave my record crate. Recorded in my studio in South San Francisco, July 2015."
Check it out below.
Auscultation ‘Vanda’ (SILK079)
Jupiter Jax ‘Simple Pleasures’ (SILK072)
Cherushii ‘Nightsteps’ (SILK081)
James Booth ‘Flora’ (SILK084)
Cosby ‘Warehouse Fantasy Club’ (SILK078)
Alex Burkat ‘Tarot’ (SILK050)
Luca Lozano ‘The Fox’ (SILK070)
Lunate ‘Pawn Shop Romance’ (SILK071)
Pharaohs ‘Replicant Moods’ (SILK045)
Paradise 100 ‘Incroyablement Prop’ (SILK055)
Magic Touch ‘Passion’(SILK060)
Octo Octa ‘I'm Trying’ (SILK011)
Shams ‘Piano Cloud’ (SILK041)
Fort Romeau ‘Jack Rollin’ (SILK022)
Maria Minerva ‘Black Magick (Lady Blacktronika's Garage Trip Mix)’ (SILK042)
Bobby Browser ‘Clubspinning’ (SILK075)
Roche ‘Stillhope’ (SILK062)