The Sound Of: Kindergarten Records
New York’s Kindergarten Records has become an essential outpost for hard-to-define, easy-to-dance-to club music in just two short years. Alongside a mix from its catalogue, founder Ma Sha tells Sophie McNulty how friendship and a sense of fun are at the heart of the imprint
“When people open up our Bandcamp page, they can expect this welcoming vibe that’s like, ‘Are you ready to go on an adventure with us?’” says Ma Sha, founder of Kindergarten Records. “It’s in the name ‘Kindergarten’,” she continues. “You know when you’re just creating and making decisions and you don’t really question why you do it? Just like a kid, they go for it and see what comes out.”
In a nutshell, this is everything Kindergarten Records represents. Indeed, when you look at the label’s Bandcamp page, you see an explosion of colours, shapes and textures, a perfect representation of the music that lives inside.
The Kindergarten sound is hard to pinpoint by genre, and better categorised by an unpredictable nature. The releases cause dancers’ bodies to contort into the weird and wonderful shapes that adorn the label’s covers, designed by je_fous_le_camp. “Kindergarten is all about music that is not afraid to go in different directions,” Ma Sha explains. “There’s this spice that comes from people being adventurous with sound effects, textures and melodies. We’re not thinking about whether it’s going to be too much or if a sample is too mainstream, we just take the risk.”
As a label, Kindergarten launched a little over two years ago, back in 2020. Its first EP, ‘Zer0’ by Sha Ru, the band of Ma Sha and her partner Ru, came out on vinyl in the second month of lockdown. “I felt like the most unlucky person during this time, putting out this record when all the vinyl shops had closed, that was a challenge.” Despite less than ideal beginnings, it’s hard to deny Kindergarten’s impact in such a short space of time. In the context of a pandemic, the label gained a sizeable audience with a thirst for crazy and twisted dance music.
The crew consists of the always-energetic Ma Sha, the aforementioned Ru, Ayesha, Despina and Drummy as its core members. Their shows on The Lot Radio have become the stuff of legend, hosting massive b2b sessions, joyous vibes bubbling even through a screen.
Prior to the label, Kindergarten had existed for five years as a party series. “I moved into this house with my friend Zanzie that had this huge backyard. We started throwing these parties there that went from 6pm to around 12am, before everyone went to the club.” These innocent backyard pre-parties soon grew into a radio show, first on Newtown radio, where Ma Sha runs DJ workshops, then onto Balamii, when it had an NY outpost, and finally on The Lot. The parties have gone through a natural growth, too.
“We had to move out of the house, so there was no more backyard, but venues had reached out to us before, so we started doing it at this venue called H0l0,” Ma Sha explains. “We recreated the backyard, and I brought all the plants from my apartment, which was around 50 plants — it was quite a lot,” she admits.
From H0l0, Kindergarten switched to Elsewhere, and the crew recently celebrated the label’s second anniversary at a new club, Heaven Or Las Vegas. “The whole vibe of the place matches the Kindergarten energy! It’s all very colourful and the DJ booth is two huge angel wings. It’s super cute.”
Over the years, from the party series through to the label, the sound of Kindergarten has also developed. “Sonically, it was much more broad [in the beginning], and with the label we really started to focus on something very specific,” Ma Sha admits. “But the vibe was always there! People always knew what to expect from Kindergarten in terms of the atmosphere. They knew they could lose themselves. It’s always been a very welcoming space, whether it’s in a backyard or a venue.”
From the start, Kindergarten has always been a platform to elevate friends. “The backyard parties were all about people coming together and having fun,” says Ma Sha, “there were no pretentious vibes. People would come over, have jello shots, burgers and listen to music. We just had our friends playing, there were no line-ups announced, people could just play what they wanted.”
This free atmosphere has allowed Kindergarten to gain and maintain followers’ trust over the years. “Before the sound developed, people would just come and trust in whatever we would play,” she continues. “Even at the second anniversary party, we always thought the next track would overwhelm the dancefloor and everyone would leave, but they were still going crazy.”
Eventually, those followers have become part of the label’s family. Ma Sha even met some of Kindergarten’s core members after the label was underway, like Despina and Ayesha. “I moved into Despina’s apartment before we started doing any music stuff. I was across the other side of the wall and I kept hearing these amazing basslines, and I was like, ‘What’s going on? We should put it out!’” Despina then introduced Ayesha. “She self-released an EP on Bandcamp, and Despina sent it to me like, ‘Oh my God, look at this amazing bass music release!’ I thought it was amazing and I knew we must do a record,” Ma Sha remembers. “Now we’re like best friends. We literally live two blocks away from each other.” She still lives with Despina, and their home is a regular meeting place for the crew.
As A&R, Ma Sha wants Kindergarten to elevate talent at the beginning of their careers, and because of this, her way of working is far more personal. “For me, it’s so important to get to know the person first. It’s important to vibe with people when you’re working on a record together,” she explains. On her hunt for new talent, she spends hours digging through Bandcamp and SoundCloud but, aside from vibes, she wants to elevate less-represented folks and give them that much-needed push.
“It’s so crazy how there’s such an imbalance in producer circles. My research is about finding these amazing producers and being like, ‘No, come on. Let’s put it out’,” she continues. “It definitely requires more work, but that’s how it should be! You need to do the extra work to make change in the music community.”
Ma Sha’s caring, family-first approach is integral to Kindergarten’s function. “Whenever we take on a new record, I want people to meet as soon as possible and make sure everyone knows each other. It’s important to have a family that you’re affiliated with.”
For the label’s second anniversary, Stolen Velour even flew out to New York from London to join the celebrations. Recently some of Kindergarten’s core members have gone on to release on other esteemed labels: Despina on All Centre, Ayesha on Scuffed Recordings and Stolen Velour on aya and BFTT’s YCO label. Looking to the future, Ma Sha asserts, “We have big plans”. These plans include a rebrand and album releases for all of Kindergarten’s core crew when they’re ready, plus bringing new members into the fold.
Despina ‘Crash Blossoms’
Drummy ‘R L STINE’
Ayesha ‘Apsara Dub’
Sha Ru ‘Face’
Drummy ‘Pile It On (Retina Scan Version)’
Ziyiz ‘Engineered Vessels’
Stolen Velour ‘Tibi Bat’
Despina ‘Selfcare Dot Gov’
Sha Ru ‘Taiga’
Drummy ‘No Touch’
Train To Eltanin ‘Bambam’
Stolen Velour ‘Onyx’
Despina ‘Vitamin Party’
Stolen Velour ‘Nia’