"We are realizing there are a slew of really talented young people who are making great art that's being ignored by most for some reason. I am glad we can represent a small piece of that."
By Manu Amin
Orange Milk Records is a New York/Ohio-based label notable for its dense digital soundscapes and emphatically modern surrealist art. I spoke with founders Seth Graham (S) and Keith Rankin (K) about defining choices, motivations, and future plans.
Rare Candy: “Orange Milk”-what’s the story behind the name? How does it align with the initial goals/motivations of the label?
S : When we started the label we were chatting online about what to name it, we both really enjoy Stanley Kubrick and Keith said he wanted the name to have something related to juice. Somehow Clockwork Orange came up, then we both thought Orange Milk would be a good name.
RC: How do you fit a new artist into the pre-established collective identity of the label? I’m thinking specifically about an artist like boy man machine…
S : I dont know if we have a pre-established collective identity, we have always hoped ours would be ever expanding. We have been wanting to include all genres, there is interesting music in every style and we want to capture that. Drose was luckily our friends in Ohio making really fascinating metal, in what I think is so very different from the norm, we were eager to release their material since we heard their first cassette release "Finger on it". In my opinion, our range is pretty wide, it seems like our more popular releases define us, but our catalog represents a wide range from, Footwork (EQ Why), Avant-garde (Ashley Paul), Perfect pop (NV, Mus.hiba) etc.
RC: There seems to be an emphasis on a lo-fi, retro-futuristic quality (consistent with the defining traits of Vaporwave) that’s tangible in many of the albums released under Orange Milk. Do you see the label moving away from this sound in the near future?
S - Maybe we have come across that way to people? We have never intended to have a lo fi angle. I feel Vaporwave and related influences is part of our catalog but I dont feel is really a defining factor. If there is an emphasis, I don't know if it was ever intended, I feel we have such a broad range of releases, Vaporwave related releases to me only make up about 20 percent of our catalog. We did set out to release the more unknown when we started, there are a lot of similar artists doing noise/drone that circulate among the underground tape scene. We didn't feel we needed to contribute to that, we were much more interested in finding people who were unknown making really compelling music. Overall, we really just want to release music that is dynamic, culturally interesting, labored over or has a very unique take on a genre/genres. We don't really have any specific goal or projectory beyond that in regards to discriminating against any sound.
RC: So much of the Orange Milk aesthetic revolves around a more bygone era. In an interview with Impose Magazine in 2014, you talked about how there’s too great a stress placed gauging “originality” in music; that by our very nature, “we are all original”. Why do you think Vaporwave provides the best medium in which we can consider/come to terms with our own originality?
S - I have never saw our label as something that revolved around a bygone era, if it was, I am curious to what era that was. I think Vaporwave is a good medium (not sure if its the best) to question the value of ‘originality’. Even when someone pitch shifts and lightly edits an existing track, seemingly many Vaporwave artists have unique styles, showing that each person has a unique method. The act of taking a pre-recorded track and messing with it, really brings into question the value of performance and ownership. I am not sure if we come to terms with our own originality, we just posses it, I was trying to argue (perhaps poorly) in the Impose interview that valuing ‘originality’ has not done us any favors, it has caused us to see art in a very ‘white logic’ method, where we measure everything through cliches that have little substance.
RC: Profiling/reviewing the latest Giant Claw record, Deep Thoughts, I thought there was a great deal of deliberation on the potential landscape of the digital/space age—neither totally sanguine nor depressingly dystopian. What are your overall thoughts about where the tech age is taking us as a society and a culture?
K: In our lifetimes I hope that technological ease of use will continue to skyrocket for creators. I want to be able to conceptualize a piece of music verbally and have the computer interpret each cue into a sonic framework that can be further refined. The progression of music seems particularly determined by tech advancements, so if we see continued exponential growth in that area there should be many exciting things to come, probably in the form of another graphical interface revolution that will do for composition and sound design what the concept of windows did for personal computing. It's similar to the future of search engines too, since unfathomable amounts of data are at our finger tips but we don't have the algorithms to access them efficiently and in a way that's really intuitive for human brains. We want better ways of actualizing our thoughts and desires basically, I know I do. Whether it's an optimistic or depressing future depends on how our societal systems and by extension our collective psyches adapt to a world where those desires are so easily translated into tangible realities.
RC: In that same Impose Mag interview, you mention the process of re-contextualization as a way of imagining and processing old art forms in an altogether novel way. Is there an underlying irony in the way Orange Milk pays homage to the now outdated and archaic?
K- Honestly I can't remember exactly what we said in that interview. Sometimes I feel like what we believe changes so often, maybe it was different then than it is now? If there's a sense of irony to Orange Milk it's only the kind we're taking part in but aren't aware of. I'd have to really think about it more, especially when you've been operating something like a label for years you forget to ask yourself "Why am I doing what I'm doing?"
Speaking for myself, I recognize that a lot of what I create rests on the shoulders of the past, how could it not? But when I use tropes in music it's both about expanding a sound palette and the means of composition. We obviously use melody, rhythm, harmony, and timbre as compositional tools, but in a society where we have extensive access to our past through recorded media, the perception and crossing points of time and cultural baggage themselves become potentially complex and interesting composition tools if you want to use them. I just listened to the new Beyoncé album, and some of what I’m talking about is evident there, though in most popular music it feels like genre hopping. I believe the effect will become increasingly interesting and subtle.
RC: Do you think this new conception of art, as a sort of endless digital space, will endure long into the future (becoming a more popular and widely recognized genre)?
S- I think there will be a rebellion against it, but in what form is hard to say. when I was younger there was such an emphasis on what was ‘authentic’ in art and now there is a total rejection of that. So maybe the authentic will kick back in?
K: Yeah it’s probably safe to assume that whatever seems in fashion now will be flipped on it’s head by subsequent generations, but that has more to do with cultural values, like Seth said, ideas like what authenticity and originality means in art. Then again maybe it won’t get flipped, maybe each generation won’t even care about the scattershot generation that preceded them enough to rebel against a value system that never totally solidified to begin with and our perception of linear generational time will wither away and die. Who knows?
RC: There’s a defining sense of freedom that sets Orange Milk apart from other labels, in that the conventional strictures on composition and structure seem to have been removed altogether. How do you keep the standards of the label high while still putting the primary emphasis on novelty and experimentation?
S- Experimental music (definition is debated) generally is compelling, especially now with great tools in every computer to make music, often when a person makes music they think has a wide range, in actuality is weird/experimental. I think if everyone made art without restraint or guidance, you would find a really wide range of weird stuff, so much so that the tag ‘experimental’ may dissipate a bit. We just find a lot of compelling work falls under some feeling of ‘experimental’ but it is not an intentional direction. You can generally tell when a person worked really hard on an album, we generally require that for a release. Sometimes that hard work is very complex composition or detailed editing work or both. We rarely release material we feel is not labored over in some form. We are pretty strict about that. I think the freedom feeling comes from the fact that we don't have any genre we focus on. We release many unknown artists because we listen to almost all demos we get. Many are really good. We really like good covers and I think not with deliberate intention but by accident, releasing unknown artists with great presentation has lead to a representation of something different. We are realizing there are a slew of really talented young people who are making great art that's being ignored by most for some reason. I am glad we can represent a small piece of that.
RC: Would you consider Orange Milk as the sonic companion of 19th century surrealism, (both with tendencies to the abstract and metaphysical)? If not, is there a different artistic school/era whose aims and motivations align more closely?
K- I love early surrealist paintings so much, I'm sure that influence shows through. But to claim allegiance to any particular movement would be dishonest. Every niche community I've felt a connection with or tried to become a part of has eventually left me feeling alienated, so I am really hesitant to consciously latch onto any ideology like that for too long.
RC: There are quite a few well-known artists (Clark, Oneohtrix Point Never, etc.) who appear to share the same/similar inspirations as the artists linked to Orange Milk. The most striking difference is the quality of their tools/production setups. How do you think the lo-fi sound promotes the value of the work?
S- I think the difference is money, I think most artists could/would sound as good as OPN, etc if they could buy the tools and help to do so. We really like modern computer composition because of its broad range and infinite possibilities, we have releases where the sound quality rivals those artists or some where the composition rivals them but sound quality fails etc. I do not think much of what we release is deliberate lo-fi, just that no one has the resources that big artists do, so we just make do. If it is a statement, it's not an intentional one. If anything, lo-fi promotes the message that many can create equally as compelling work with limited tools, which is a great thing.
Listen to more of Orange Milk Records on their Bandcamp.