From Italo disco to spiritual jazz to meditative soundscapes, hidden gem artists are finding new audiences – and sometimes returning to the stage
LARAAJI with JOSEPH SHABASON at Toronto Spiritualist Temple (706 College), Friday (April 12), 7 pm. $20-$25. rotate.com, ticketscene.ca, soundscapesmusic.com.
It’s a golden age for record collectors. Whether you’re after Italo disco, psychedelic free jazz or something else entirely, it’s probably available – and for those unwilling to pay top dollar for rare pressings on Discogs, there’s a new crop of labels worldwide entirely or partly devoted to reissues.
“There’s almost like reissue fatigue right now,” says Toronto record shop Invisible City owner Gary Abugan. “For us [a reissue] has to be something that we really like, because there are so many labels out there these days, and a lot of them are putting out things people already know.”
In 2013, he started label Invisible City Editions with Brandon Hocura to share finds from his travels to countries like Japan, Jamaica, South Africa and the UK. (Hocura has since left to start label, publisher and distributor Séance Centre.) Their 15 releases to date include folk-jazz trailblazer Glenn-Copeland’s Keyboard Fantasies, Trinidadian disco producer Michael Boothman’s Touch and, most recently, Washington, D.C. harpist (and former Alice Coltrane student) Jeff Majors’s 1986 spiritual jazz album Yoka Boka (For Us All).
Telephone Explosion co-founder Jon Schouten also knows a thing or two about standing out in a crowded market. After putting out successful reissues by composers like Bruce Haack and Steve Roach, he and co-owner Steve Sidoli have partnered with Dave Nardi on Morning Trip, a Hamilton-based imprint dedicated to ambient and experimental electronic music. Their first release is New Age pioneer Laraaji’s 1986 collaborative album with multi-instrumentalist Lyghte, Celestial Remains, which was previously only available on cassette.
Schouten says Nardi came up with a list of potential reissues they were interested in. “It just so happened that Laraaji and Jonathan Goldman [Lyghte] were stoked and were like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Often times unearthing these lost gems and the artists’ stories takes an incredible amount of detective work, phone conversations and face-to-face meetings. “There’s definitely tricks of the trade to try and find someone,” says Abugan, but adds that many of his best discoveries were found by “total chance.”
Even after they track down these musicians or surviving family members, they might still be met with reluctance to put out music for a number of reasons. “Sometimes it’s because it was not a positive time in their life. Other times there’s already plans in the works with another company,” says Schouten. “With all those variables working against you, your rate of emails out to successful emails back can be quite low.”
While these Toronto labels can’t compete with the massive outputs of major reissue players like Numero Group and Light in the Attic, they can sometimes help give artists’ careers a second (or third) life. Schouten points to New York post-punk prodigy Chandra – who originally released her 1980 album, Transportation, when she was 12 years old (Telephone Explosion reissued her EPs in 2018) – as an example of someone who’s been able to tour and play festivals with a band as a result of renewed public interest.
He’s helping bring Laraaji – who has played high-profile concerts for Red Bull Music Academy and Boiler Room in recent years – to Canada for a mini-tour, including Friday (April 12) at Toronto Spiritualist Temple. The church is the ideal venue for the composer’s meditative, improvisational soundscapes, and he’ll be supported by experimental local saxophonist Joseph Shabason.
Abugan hopes to organize more shows with artists like Majors or New York City synth-pop musician Tommy Mandel. And while both founders are keeping their cards close to their chests when it comes to future releases, they say that meeting other like-minded crate-diggers has been its own reward.
“Before, we were always a little unclassifiable, like ‘They‘re a modern experimental punk label that does reissues sometimes,’” says Schouten. “But now we’re really starting to feel like part of that [record collector] community.”
“Some random person will come in the shop and bring something that you’ve never seen before and we have a lot of friends suggesting things,” adds Abugan. “There’s a network of people helping us.”