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The Sound Of: ESP Institute

Continuing the legacy of his Lovefingers blog, Andrew Hogge’s ESP Institute is a truly anything-goes imprint, unbound by genre or style. Alongside a mix from its catalogue, he tells Anna Wall about how how his DIY attitude and digger’s mentality has helped him unearth countless new musical gems

Los Angeles’ ESP Institute has delivered over 120 releases since its inception 14 years ago – an impressive feat for a label that remains fiercely independent to this day. Started by Andrew Hogge, AKA Lovefingers, a deep-digging DJ devoted to unearthing off-the-beaten-track records, the outlet has become a goldmine. Albums and EPs explore musical ideas across a wide spectrum — from post-punk, neoclassical and acid techno to atmospheric ambient and pedal steel guitars — while keeping a subtle cohesion throughout.

Hogge’s eclectic taste is what distinguishes the imprint from the norm. In the early ‘80s he listened to rap and hip-hop, before venturing into the skateboarder world of punk rock as a teen. “There’s a real underground punk and hardcore scene that was popular in Southern California, and it was really big in New York City. It was also [in] every single nook and cranny around the US: people doing these small labels, small runs, photocopied covers, zines, so that would be where I first properly got into record collecting,” Hogge explains. “It was less mainstream. Finding things that were a bit more unique or specific to your direct scene of people, and there was a lot of trading going on. I still have all those records; I’m not sure if they’re worth anything but they’re really crazy. Everything’s hand done, everything’s DIY. It was a very punk ethos.”

In art college, he learnt how to DJ among friends who shared his love for obscure vinyl. It was the end of the ’90s, and he was buying records every week from local stores in his hometown, Los Angeles, and driving to stores in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkley. He was in a band, and while they were touring he’d stop at every record store, as well as ordering music from Europe and the UK. Anything left-of-centre inspired him, from new wave and shoegaze to ‘60s and ‘70s psych, house and drum & bass.

On the left, a photo of Andrew Hogge lounging in a chair in a garden. On the right, a black and white photo of him DJing

In 2006, his obsession blossomed into a blog named Inspired by his early years collecting mixtapes, it was a place where he could share all his weird and wonderful finds, and over the years it built up a dedicated fanbase. Sharing one track per day, the blog came to a natural end on the last day of 2009 after revealing 999 unpredictable and extraordinary tracks. In 2010, he announced the birth of ESP Institute. “It was like my research phase to ESP, building up a little community, and laying a palette to jump off for something that’s only new music,” says Hogge, explaining how “the relationship with people and friends who I’d met through that sort of conversation with music” guided the output in the beginning. 

He vowed to press wax for every release, the first of which was a colourful, upbeat record brimming with Italo-esque synth lines, arpeggiated bass and live percussion from Sombrero Galaxy — a collaboration between Londoner Jonny Nash and Amsterdam’s Tako Reyenga.  Many of the early releases were based around music from friends, people he’d met while DJing in different states, or music heard in the clubs, studios, or at after-parties. 

He worked with Above Board, a distributor based in the UK and delivering to key territories in Europe, so naturally Hogge’s connections also blossomed further afield. “A lot of people reach out, and if you’ve been listening to the label for a long time, it feels like you’ve already been introduced. People send demos, but some of the best things I’ve found are from digging down SoundCloud pages, people’s Bandcamps or Discogs, and finding out who wrote the synth on this and do they do anything solo. It’s still that digging mentality to find things.” 

The label heralded artists like Young Marco, Tornado Wallace and Powder in their early days; nurturing emerging artists is something that comes naturally to Hogge. “It’s not intentional. I’m never trying to find the next thing, because it’s still very niche leftfield stuff that I’m working with, but it’s like an insatiable thirst to be inspired by new stuff. I feel like the reason why people gravitated towards is because I just did that and put it out, and it resonated with people that had the same sort of thirst for finding and discovering new music. I just kinda use that as the mantra to how I pick things to put out.”

Having such a free-wheeling catalogue is not without its difficulties, he admits. “I grapple with how that must appear with someone looking at a record label website, and why is there a classical record next to a hard techno record or a dub record. Things that have no connection. But I guess that’s just me, that’s just how it is. The blog was like that.”

Black and white photo of Andrew Hogge, aka Lovefingers, DJing

One factor that ties it all together is the artwork, most of which is designed by Mario Hugo, an artist that Hogge connected with during a stint living in New York City. “I met him in his studio and we forged this partnership. He’s done, I’d say, 90% of the records. Mario uses ESP as his playground, where he can get away with more experimental stuff.”

There’s also a more visually stripped-back side to the imprint; black and white 12”s with a centre label that Hogge uses for short sentences about the music and the artist. The first was Young Marco’s debut EP ‘Nonono’, which simply read, ‘Young Marco is a gentleman from Amsterdam. This is his first offering for the ESP Institute. It makes us smile and we are sure you will smile too.’ Hogge reveals they’ve become more abstract and silly over the years; examples include describing how Autre “fell asleep in a gondola and awoke in the krankenhaus” or how two tracks by Ian Blevins will “smack you up before they rub you down”.

There have been many landmark releases over the years, like the atmospheric, textural palette of Ripperton’s first ever ambient expedition ‘Sight Seeing’ in 2018, or more recently the dubby, grimy, bass-driven, broken beats of Low End Activist via his five-tracker ‘Gossip Is The Devil’s Radio’. A particularly memorable moment for Hogge was when he worked with the late Andrew Weatherhall, who remixed a punk dub record by Brighton-based outfit Soft Rocks back in 2011. “At the time I was super hyped about it, but it’s become much more meaningful for me as a person over the years. He’s just always been such an inspiration to me personally, his reach is endless.” 

The start of 2024 has already seen the release of a new album from Bartellow, his second full-length for the label following 2017’s ‘Panokorama’. As well as being an electronic music producer, Bartellow is a composer for theatre, working alongside The Bavarian State Opera. His latest release features excerpts from his theatre pieces, composed and conducted with a live orchestra, with subtle electronic layers. “It’s definitely been an insane labour of love this one, and it’s also totally new territory for us,” says Hogge. “It’s straight-up classical music.” It’s another example of ESP continuing to push the envelope and deliver the unexpected regardless of current trends. 

There’s plenty more to come this year, including records by the likes of Raymond Richards and emerging US-based artists Evelyn and Jd0tbalance, both delving into leftfield yet club-friendly tracks. 

Although the label has vastly grown its reach and catalogue over the years, it’s still run by Hogge alone, with the invaluable ear and advice of his partner, the well-respected DJ and figure in the LA music scene, Heidi Lawden. Under his watch, ESP Institute has unified a community of like-minded people. “I think as long as we can keep being inspired, and as long as people keep making beautiful music that we can have a hand in facilitating getting out into the world... then that’s like the biggest success we could really ask for.”


Tambien 'Der Elf'
Jd0tbalance 'Sublimate'
Benedikt Frey 'Crank'
Doc Sleep 'Untitled (Piano Track)' [Forthcoming 2024]
Lemmi Ash 'Apsu'
Evelyn 'Tremors'
Jasper James 'E Maniac'
Juan Ramos 'Pianista' [Forthcoming 2024]
Metal 'Point Vacancies (Hodge Remix)'
Patrick Conway 'Silencio' [Forthcoming 2024]
Afrikan Sciences 'Speaketh' [Forthcoming 2024]
Lord Of The Isles 'Skylark (Linkwood Remix)'