Label Love #60: Esp Institute
“I’d draw a giant cock on his Mexico wall. I’ve always been pretty good at drawing cocks”. Andy Hogge isn’t impressed by Trump or his rhetoric, and based over in LA I was keen to hear what he thought of the wigged maniac’s political promise. Andy (or Lovefingers, his DJing pseudonym) is the hairy beard behind ESP Institute, a label that has brought us diverse acts including Vactrol Park, Land Of Light, Man Power, Young Marco and Moscoman amongst a talented roster over the past six years. Always just to the side of the dancefloor for the club 12"s, and definitely in the stranger end of the electronic spectrum, it has been prominent in introducing some weird and wonky sonics to these ears.
He is in Dublin when we catch up. He’s getting about a bit, making more mileage than Phileas Fogg.
“Tonight I’m at a party alongside friends Traxx and DJ Sprinkles, and I’m beyond excited for the live debut of Damien Lynch (new to ESP). Tomorrow I’m off to Belgium to play a beach festival called ‘We Can Dance’ with good buddies Young Marco and Pachanga Boys. Fun weekend!”
“I couldn’t be any happier than being able to bring new music to people through the label and then expand that into a bigger story on the dance floor. The best gigs are when I get a lengthy set: Cocktail d’Amore, Lux, the ESP Institute Happenings in LA, and last night in Dublin to name a few. Its important to me to tell a cohesive story and not just a chapter or two.”
With his forthcoming appearance at Odyssia Festival in Greece, and the potentially brilliant debut album release from Moscoman on its way, I wanted to find out more about the label. How did he and the imprint end up in LA, where he lives with his “partner-in-crime” Heidi? He tells me they run the label from a small garden home over a hill. Sounds better than Dalston.
“I was born in LA so I have seen it go through many changes over the decades. I lived in NYC for about 7 years and that was a memorable span of time spent making music, touring, and getting into trouble with my brother Lee Douglas. We had a duo named The Stallions. Lots of my tightest friends were made there but it seems most of us have dispersed around the globe.”
My social media timelines seems full-up whilst I get fed-up with dozens of DJs, musicians and artists out in those climes. It seems obvious to ask why that is, but surely there is more to it than the sun, and the sea and open spaces just a drive away?
“It’s just a place full of youth trying to find its way right now, so it’s exciting to see people putting so much effort into culture rather than commerce. It’s always the way when there is a reasonable cost of living; there’s opportunity to pursue your art without being stuck in a shitty job to pay your bills, leaving you too tired afterwards to dedicate time to the beautiful things. So despite the stifling drinking curfew here and the general lack of actual clubs, people are really stepping up to make the best with what they can. Some people call it "underground", but that too becomes a label or genre, so I prefer to leave that door open.”
I do a quick property search on places to rent. Seven Sisters will never be able to compare with Cali, even when the gentries come along and the four weeks of warmth enable my shorts to get released on the public. It’s not as cheap as I’d been informed. Sigh.
“It's been creeping up for years, the boom has happened, everyone is coming here so of course its pushed prices up (and still pushing). The cheap housing has gone. Now the reason to stay is the standard of living. LA really does have a little of everything, the edge it has on London of course is the weather.”
ESP Institute kicked off in 2010, with a release by Sombrero Galaxy (including a mix by the aforementioned Stallions), and produced by people that would become part of the fabric as it grew.
“I planted a seed in the best possible conditions, putting out a record by two of my closest friends, Tako (who went on to open Red Light Records and runs Music From Memory) and Jonny Nash (who I met in Japan when he was part of Discossession with Dr. Nishimura and Chee Shimizu, and went on to release the Land of Light and now runs Melody As Truth). The whole label grew organically from there, always looking to do something interesting, never following anyone’s lead, only our own nose.”
Andy explains that everything he does (and therefore the path led by ESP) comes in a form of storytelling (“as corny as that sounds”). He created a five year/ 999 song mix, an extremely slow burning project which seems an appropriate avocation of the “evolving trajectory of the ESP Institute and its creative direction… and all it’s moving parts”.
“Its a macro versus micro concept, I really strive for things to carry a common thread, even if I’m the only one that can see it… the more things are focused this way, the more of a grand scheme in the end. Call me a hippy, but I believe in the universe!”
Citing both his mother and Heidi as his biggest influences on the music and the label, his initial inspiration behind starting ESP Institute was his mates.
“I had wealth of talented friends. A musical bond between all of us, a creative simpatico, and the need to get our voices heard. I’m not part of the music industry, I’m just a subversive weirdo on the fringe.”
Over it’s history, the label has actively sought out it’s artists and although Andy imposes personal rules on some things, it’s doing your own thing and not working for anyone else that is the finest part of running a label.
“I work for the artists but that is really a collaboration, and there is nobody telling us what or how to do. The worst part is the waiting, but patience and good-timing are important virtues.”
As part of the story-telling with ESP, the art direction is something Andy shares, despite his 20 year trade as a creative director and designer and having his hand in countless sleeve designs.
“The aesthetic of the label is of the utmost importance to me, all the artwork must have a consistent hand (or hands) throughout. My partner Mario Hugo has created almost all the artwork for the label, including the logo. In allowing someone that I dearly trust take the reigns, I have the freedom of being objective and orchestrating the overall vision. For the “black’n’white” series, which are 2-track club 12”s, I write a little story about the artist, always a bit cheeky but something abstract that relates to our friendship.”
With the proliferation of bedroom musicians and DJs that surprise, delight and sadly often dismay us, what does Andy think of the current independent scene?
“There has always been private press. Artists these days are clearly and easily self-empowered through technology, and I have great respect to the artists that take that power into their own hands. That said, I personally love a record label that I can trust with my heart, a label of essentials from which I need every release, especially when the curation of that label considers the listener, their journey, the seasons and moods throughout a year, and a guise under which they create an emotional listening environment, whether a dance floor or a living room.”
As ridiculous as it is in 2016, nothing seems easier at putting a wasp in a muso’s beer than the ongoing Facebook debate (usually late at night) about the digital versus vinyl stance. ESP Institute is an almost wholly vinyl label. Andy knows where his heart lies, but has little time for the wax-precious nerds.
“I prefer vinyl. Unfortunately many clubs and venues these days aren’t properly set-up for vinyl, but that doesn’t stop me from bringing records. However, things change, technology advances, and if you don’t evolve or at least adapt in some way then you’re only doing a disservice to yourself. Knowing the ins and outs of digital music can either set you on a new path or, in my case, make you appreciate vinyl even more as a format that we've taken for granted. To each his own, but I do think that people billing as a ‘vinyl only set’ is fucking nonsense. If you have the knowledge, you should be able to flow seamlessly between vinyl and digital, without any consequence to the sound or the integrity the music.”
Avoiding ‘club bangers’ at home in favour of albums, “I like the music in my home to enhance my life and be the focus of my attention, but never a chore.” Daydreaming, he says he would have signed Satié or Debussy from anyone in history.
“I’m an impressionist at heart! Also, if I could have got my hands on The Screamers’ records, I always wish they sounded better. Such an LA punk icon but so poorly documented.”
It has been a busy and well received year so far for ESP, with label debuts from Man Power, Damien Lynch and due soon is the first LP from Moscoman, following up his recent release in partnership with Red Axes. “The album is top shelf man!”, he says proudly. Imagine if it blew up massive, or some other windfall gave the label an injection of cash, how would that change things?
“I would definitely go to the moon with packaging. I’d also organise ESP happenings worldwide, creating a holistic context for our artists. Money only limits you if you allow it to. To be honest, there is not much money to be made in record manufacturing these days. I’m not in the cut-throat reissues hustle where I feel things are a little more lucrative, but I do take risks all the time, many times never breaking even. Sales have no bearing on what makes us proud as a label, we believe in the music. That said, we’ve just expanded our small team here, so in 2017 we’re looking to poison a larger audience with our ideas.”
For a bit of fun to end, I asked Andy to describe ESP Institute in five images and five words:
“Inna Gadda Da Vida, Baby”.
Check out clips of the whole ESP Institute catalogue HERE.
Lovefingers is playing at the Odyssia Festival, Greece on 1st September 2016 and full info and tickets are HERE.
Mosocman's album is out next month.