Not Not Fun’s 10 Years of Weird

Marissa G. Muller

By Marissa G. Muller

on 04.03.14 in Lists

Hidden behind a corner store in a mid-century, motel-like building in Los Angeles’s Highland Park neighborhood is the office of the electronic label Not Not Fun. There’s no arrow overtly identifying it, no sign on the teal door leading inside. It’s a perfectly unassuming location for a label that typically champions hard-to-pin-down, occasionally inaccessible artists.

Not Not Fun’s co-founders Amanda Brown and her husband Britt started the label as a hobby back in 2004. “We started out, as a boyfriend and girlfriend, wanting to do something more interesting than just have sex and go to the movies — though that’s incredibly fun. We were like, ‘Let’s put our humble stamp on the world in some way,’” Amanda says, sitting at her dining room table which doubles as a workspace for the label’s interns. As their home office indicates, there’s not much divide between their personal and professional lives.

Amanda Brown Not Not Fun

Not Not Fun cofounder Amanda Brown

In the label’s early days, Amanda and Britt silkscreened every LP jacket themselves, bringing in friends to help when needed. As their following grew, that hands-on approach became harder to maintain. Eventually, the couple outsourced their production, focusing their efforts instead on working closer with their artists to help them fully realize their creative vision.

The label’s sonic evolution followed a similar path. Some of the label’s earliest releases were by Pocahaunted, the band Amanda was in with Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino. But the couple took a more curatorial approach as the label grew, eventually working with a wide swath of experimental artists on the fringes of noise, drone, psych, pop and dance.

Their prowess has earned them a place on the cover of The Wire, one buyout offer, and an international reputation as a breeding ground for avant-garde artists like Jonas Reinhardt and Maria Minerva. Naturally, along with that kind of recognition comes the threat of bigger labels snatching away their artists, but Amanda and Britt are okay with that. “A lot of labels we respect think of us as being kind of scrappy little boxers, still going at it, and, for a lot of them, curating what will be their future releases and opening doors for artists they would never be able to take a chance on, but will one day take from us,” Amanda explains. “There’d be nothing cooler than if DFA is stealing all my acts because that means I’m doing something awesome.”

Britt Brown Not Not Fun

Not Not Fun cofounder Britt Brown

Another thing that distinguishes Not Not Fun from other micro-indie labels is their celebration of female artists. “We always have an eye towards women,” Amanda says. “Not everyone has a woman on the staff. If you’re a woman, your demo gets listened to first — and I don’t have a problem saying that. It doesn’t mean we’ll take you if your music isn’t good. You get treated equally, but you have a running start. I’m proud of that, because I don’t think other labels can claim that.”

In honor of their 10th anniversary, Amanda and Britt selected 10 releases that best tell Not Not Fun’s story and shared on each of them.

Britt: This was our ninth release and it felt significant for a number of reasons. We started with a very insular community. It was just our bands and our friends' bands for seven months. Foot Village was the first "outside band" that let us do a record, and they were the most awesome band from the Smell scene at the time. They had a brilliant concept; four people around these massive drums. They were supposed to be a punk band — militant and shouty — without electricity. They stood out from the landscape.

We also pushed the packaging to the most outlandish point — a white vinyl 10" in a cubic box filled with branches and leaves — brush from under the freeway. We silkscreened these boxes of earth. It was fun but, in retrospect, it was the height of annoyingness. Everyone we sent a promo copy to wasn't necessarily laughing when they opened it and a pile of dirt came out on their bed or got in their phone.

Amanda: This was released at the height of our 7" sales. They were collectibles; now, no one buys them. But we put together a collection of Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko, Hello Astronaut and Weirdo/Begeirdo, the two of us. There was this movement at the Smell called "tropical punk," and Abe Vigoda became the face of it. Every show at the Smell at the time was like opening and closing your eyes for the first time. We couldn't believe the energy and friendship. This release was a great moment of all these bands coming together and being able to be on a 7". We stenciled and spray-painted the cover of every one. It looked really cool, and felt like a representation of what our sounds were. It sold out instantly.

Hello Astronaut were incredible live, doing pop music at a time when that wasn't what everyone wanted to hear. They flew what would become the Smell's early freak flag, merging Los Angeles's Hispanic culture with its white punk culture. It was one of the first times you'd see not just the misfits and Morrissey fans from that culture, but those invested in weird pop and outsider music. That was a solid release for us sales-wise, but it also made us a Smell label at an important time for the Smell.

Britt: Magik Markers are still around. They were a band we got into as fans. This was our first time working with an internationally respected band with whom we had no social connection; it felt like a symbolic moment. We asked if we could reissue this CD-R as an LP, [and] even though they didn't know any [of the music we released], they liked the vibe and agreed. Their early records were on Thurston Moore's label [Ecstatic Peace!], which was a huge deal to us. They had a crazy Patti Smith punk vibe. Singer Elisa [Ambrogio] is an idol of mine, and she's an amazing lyricist and commanding frontwoman. We never did another release by them, but this was a high point.

Amanda: It was a door-opener, because we got the confidence to start writing to more people that we didn't know and start looking outside of Los Angeles.

Amanda: Bethany [Cosentino] and I were notorious messes at the beginning. We released every sound that came out of our mouths, because that was what it was to be an underground artist at the time. You would release live jams, practices, everything, because you were making such small runs that people collected the music. No one wanted to make "Statement Albums," they seemed very passé at the time. Now, it wouldn't make sense to do what we used to do.

We had a string of [releases] and were getting more serious about being on vinyl. So I said to Bethany, "Let's ally ourselves with someone in the community who does music that's a little similar to ours." Christina was the only choice: someone we'd seen live and [gave us] chills. She was unbelievably kind to us newbies. It was one of the first Pocahaunted releases [that was] seen as academic or esoteric. Allying ourselves with Christina — someone who's reserved, specific, and thoughtful — we became that in [some people's] eyes. That was a turning point for the band.

Britt: Inca Ore seemed like the most unpredictable and raw and experimental artist, but she was also soulful, and could connect on a physical level — her music didn't seem too abstract. She sent us this album and said she'd heard good things [about us] from a friend. Not only did I love the album, but it sold well and we were honored to put it out. She became an influential presence in our lives. We've put out a few more records by her, but that was a nice stepping stone. It came to pass in such a wonderful, organic way.

Amanda: Eva [Saelens] is one of my top musical heroes. She had the right attitude about music. Even as she became jaded, which we were becoming, she wasn't becoming a cynic and awful and nasty about it. She was becoming even more real.

Britt: The only vinyl compilation we ever did. [The album] showcases female artists. These days, a lot of female artists are reactionary against that concept, because there's been so many patronizing articles like "Women in Electronic Music — Who Could Have Thought?" That's not our motivation at all. We've worked with tons of female artists over the years, so we thought it'd be cool to make a compilation of all of them, even though none of them sound alike. I think musically it turned out good. It felt like an accomplishment at the time, and [it was] symbolically important for the label.

Britt: This was the year Pocahaunted broke up. We were starting to realize that making music with a band is what we're drawn to, but being in a band is socially hard. It starts to be psychologically challenging in a way that it wasn't when you were younger. So when Amanda started making music as LA Vampires, she had the idea to create short-lived fantasy bands [who made] collaboration records. You get the benefits of playing with other people, but there's no long-term commitment. You can just enjoy the fun part, which is making the music. This was the first in the series. We had met Nika [Rosa Danilova] at SXSW the year before and became friends. It was one of those rarely well-received records where people I admire really liked it.

Britt: This was her first release, and it was the rare experience where we heard someone's stuff, instantly liked it, and had confidence that other people were going to like it. The moment she sent it to us, we both thought, "Fans of what we do will think it fits in perfectly." It has the right amount of lo-fi, and it's, like, Eastern European Ariel Pink dance. It's very "what's going on right now." That tape came in and we immediately sold out of it, and good things started happening to her. By the end of that year, she was able to do music full-time. We're doing another record with her in April that's her best one yet.

Britt: Russian Tsarlag is a personal hero of mine. We met him early on in the label. Back in the Foot Village days, he had a label that he ran and we played shows with him at the Smell. He's an underground touring musician and also a comic artist. I was a fan of his solo project early on, and it kept getting better. Finally, in 2012, we floated, "If you ever want to do an LP…" He wasn't doing a lot of vinyl, because his music is fucking weird. Midnight at Mary's House is his best album. The art is amazing. And we were able to break even on it. Staying a fan of music is so important when you run a label. If you're only thinking of something in terms of whether or not it can sell, then you develop cheesy taste like most big labels. Russian Tsarlag represents a real purity to me. He's one of my most highly-recommended artists.

Britt: This represents the enduring faith you need to have: If you keep taking chances on new things that you believe in, you never know which one is going to click with someone. This album, made by a Swedish artist, ended up being the most popular release we did that year. It came out of nowhere and a bunch of people wrote me being like, "Where did you even find this guy?" This was us doing what we've always done. The system is true but we can't predict when the rest of the world will be like, "We like him."