Local indie label Stickfigure Records and its proprietor Gavin Frederick had a busy year in 2005. Nine titles -- a combo of CDs, LPs and 7-inch singles -- bore Stickfigure's mark last year, more than any of the label's previous years of operation.
Since 1997 Stickfigure has been giving an outlet to Atlanta-based art punk, noise and hardcore bands, plus some best filed under "other." Local releases from Blame Game and Deerhunter, as well as national offerings from Milemarker, and a Xiu Xiu/the Paper Chase split single pushed the label to new heights. But dozens of lesser-known titles from local and regional acts, like Coulier, SIDS and the Subliminator, and some from across the pond, like Finnish act Echo is Your Love, found a home on Stickfigure. Many of these recordings would have never been given the time of day by other labels. "Some of the best records I've put out, aesthetically speaking, have been my worst financial decisions," Frederick says. "But ask anyone in the art world and they'll tell you that's always the best stuff."
Frederick describes the label's recent scope as "outsider music." The label's catalog encompasses everything from the Subliminator's hallucinatory bend to Retconned's awkward and scathing electro chirps -- something Frederick likens to walking in on your parents during sex.
If you're thinking this doesn't exactly sound like the most lucrative or inviting stable of artists, cranking out the hottest new hits, you're correct. But profit is not the bottom line for Frederick, who views the label more as a hobby. It's an extension of his "day job" running Stickfigure Distribution, a small indie label, music/print distribution, and mail-order company based in a West End warehouse. Since he's not relying on the label as a major source of income, he's able to maintain his outsider stance and put out records with a pure and unmarketable dedication to integrity. "If there was a Stickfigure mission statement, it would be to push the label as close to bankruptcy as possible without actually going bankrupt," he says. A certain uneasy hesitation in his voice gives the impression that he's only half-joking.
As he prepares to host a three-day label showcase at the Drunken Unicorn, piecing together a lineup of 15 label-affiliated artists, his earnestness and dedication to Atlanta's music scene becomes clear.
"Atlanta is a huge untapped market that no local label has been able to effectively muster," Frederick explains. "In a town of 4.5 million people living in a 90-mile radius, it boggles my mind that labels here can't sustain themselves by selling 5,000 copies of their releases," he says. "It just doesn't happen."
But an outsider endeavor such as Stickfigure does not lend itself to mass consumption, something of which he is very much aware. Rather than dovetail the label's output to cater to mainstream tastes, he revels in stirring up the underground.
"Every time we've played a Stickfigure show, there's always a great lineup," says Adam Newman, guitarist of Athens' oddball jazz, metal trio Coulier, whose third Stickfigure recording, Vibin', is slated for a Feb. 28 release. "At every show there's been a good rock band on stage, or a weird, quiet band in the corner facing the other way, making noise and they're all on Stickfigure. It's very eclectic."
Stickfigure's system of signing artists and releasing material is a many-sided affair that's a bit more complex than that of the average record label. For starters there is Stickfigure CD-R, a subsection of the label that primarily handles demo recordings and discographies by obscure bands that Frederick likes but would otherwise probably go unheard.
There are also a slew of split-label releases where Stickfigure partners up with like-minded institutions such as Army of Bad Luck, Scared Records and San Diego, Calif.'s Gold Standard Laboratories (GSL). Both of these headings are reserved for groups in which he's interested, but doesn't have the financial means to give a proper release. "The real perks for the split-label releases and CD-Rs are on the promotion and distribution end," Frederick explains. "Without a label, it's next to impossible to get distribution."
This leads to Stickfigure proper, Frederick's flagship imprint. Before artists sign on with the label, bands must meet a few criteria. First and foremost, local groups get a preference, and overall approach to the music is also a major factor. "A lot of it has to do with the kind of attitude the group has and a lot of it also has to do with where I think a band is going to be in 10 years," he explains. "Who would have thought Jeph Burgoon from Portrait would ever do what he's done with Airoes? I like it when a band undergoes a transition that makes people say, 'What the fuck happened to that guy?'"
This kind of slant in shaping a record label has definitely built steam around Stickfigure, and fostered a reputation for a strong and eclectic roster of artists.
But in terms of sales, Stickfigure Records won't usurp his day job anytime soon, despite last year's flurry of activity. "People kept asking me where did Stickfigure come up with all this money to put out so many releases and I would say, 'This is Operation Bankrupt Stickfigure,' and I wasn't kidding," Frederick says. "I went all out. Maybe one of these groups is going to blow and be the next Animal Collective."
But in the event that one of his releases does rise up and make its way out of Atlanta's indie scene, Frederick has no intention of raising his profile or running the label any differently than he has for the last decade. "I'll just keep putting out records that I like."
Stickfigure Records showcase schedule
All shows at Drunken Unicorn, 736 Ponce de Leon Place. www.thedrunkenunicorn.net. Thurs.-Sat., Jan. 26-28. Doors open 8:30 p.m. all three nights. $5 (21 and up), $7 (under 21).
Thurs., Jan. 26
9 p.m. the Subliminator
10 p.m. Airoes
11 p.m. Zandosis
DJ Dry Lungs in the cafe
Fri., Jan. 27
9 p.m. I Would Set Myself On Fire For You
10 p.m. SIDS
11 p.m. Coulier Atlanta CD release show
midnight Me and Him Call It Us CD release show
DJ re com pas in the cafe
Sat., Jan. 28
9 p.m. Bigpenguin
10 p.m. Tenth to the Moon
11 p.m. Electrosleep International
midnight Blame Game
DJ Retconned in the cafe
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