This recurring series was created with the intent of exploring the local DIY scene. Minneapolis is a city rich with musical subcultures, and with popular music further imbibed by more experimental themes, the underground finds itself surfacing for air. Today we're focusing on a locally based record label whose contributions to the ever-growing DIY mentality have reached an international level of success via everybody's best friend: the internet.
Name: MJ MJ Records
Owner: Andrew Todryk
I met Todryk earlier this week at a cafe to talk shop. In his signature hat with bronze earrings dangling from beneath its flat brim, he sat anxiously twirling long tendrils of hair while spouting off information, taking sporadic breaks to sip his beverage. “I'm highly strung, and work a mile a minute all day every day,” he tells me (without really needing to).
Medium for releases: Strictly cassette and digital
Cassette tapes can be purchased for $6.66, and digital releases for $4.20 (no, I'm not kidding).
For fans of: Anything and everything, from dark euro-techno, to rock 'n' roll, to "vapor wave"
Since its inception in early 2010, MJ MJ has released a collection of artists that run the full gamut of sound. Surprisingly, Todryk claims that the only rock albums he's released have all been from local artists like the Shakin' Babies, Tree Blood, Teenage Moods, and the Velveteens. Last week heralded the release of Part of the Y'all from Florida's Ben Varian, which includes elements of prog, pop, and funk. Coming up next week is the launch of ONE, a collaborative album created by Knoxville TN's PERSONA LA AVE and BARAKA — which Todryk describes as “future funk vapor wave jazz fusion ish.” And at the end of the month, local band Crimes' frontman Andrew Jansen will be releasing his solo album Loud Sun.
So what the hell are “vapor wave” and “future funk"?
For those of you who haven't spent the majority of your lives mainlining the internet, these are likely to be foreign notions. Somewhere back in the beginning of the millennium, computer-generated visuals began flirting with audio elements. Think about that weird rendition of “Diamonds” that Rihanna did live on SNL in late 2012. The combination of net aesthetics and live performance she demonstrated outed an entire clan of internet dwellers claiming “seapunk,” catapulting the genre straight into the mainstream.
Vapor wave and future funk are similar ideas. “Vapor wave is an aesthetic that kind of winks and mocks at corporate culture,” explains Todryk. Early vapor wave borrowed visual cues from Windows 97 while utilizing '80s muzak samples, and evolved via James Ferraro's album Far Side Virtual, which is somewhat understandably described in this Pitchfork review.
There are purists and there are those who have a more loose interpretation of the term. Vapor wave means a lot of different things to different people, but basically it's made up of weird net art in many different forms — including music. “It's all these people who grew up disenfranchised and disillusioned in small towns but they had the internet,” Todryk continues. “I was from Wisconsin but I had the internet, so it was like this portal to the rest of the world.”
As far as future funk goes, it's an offshoot of vapor wave. In this case I think it's best to allow Todryk full discretion in describing this newborn genre: “I always say the visual cue you'd get is like, a Guess jeans model kind of grabbing her shirt like an R Kelly video,” he says, smiling. “And like really intense wind in the hair, big fat 909 kick and clap, '80s strutting down the runway shit, just like ... music to strut to.”
How it got started: A game of NBA Street Vol. 2
In early 2010, Todryk was laid off and given the golden ticket of unemployment checks, so he began living in his bathrobe and hustling music. One day he was playing a game of NBA Street Vol. 2 on Xbox with friend and label co-creator Charlie Collier in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In this particular volume of NBA Street, players are given the option to compete with both the '89 and the '96 Michael Jordan on your team at the same time. “It was like, unbeatably good, just having two Michael Jordans on your team,” Todryk says. “So we decided that we should start a record label called Two Michael Jordans, hence the MJ MJ.”
The two moved to L.A., where Todryk became heavily embedded in the internet music scene and particularly FMLY, an international collective initially devoted to breaking obscure net music over its blog. “L.A. chewed me up and spit me out, but I was able to accomplish a lot of really fucking insane and incredible things there,” he says, especially in his involvement with FMLY. Eventually he picked up and moved back to the Midwest, landing in Minneapolis, where MJ MJ is currently run out of his home and computer.
So what ever happened to FMLY?
Though it's “effectively over” according to Todryk, its original ideals are still thriving. “We were just these young idealistic kids who thought we were going to change the world,” Todryk says of the collective. “We got really close to changing the landscape of DIY music in this country in a big way.” Indeed, FMLY's fingerprints left lasting imprints on music and spurred a series of festivals and a community instinct felt by members around the globe.
“All of the ideals that FMLY was built on are still very much alive,” he claims, like the mentality of manifesting art and music culture as an actual family. “We were all family. If you thought and acted and behaved a certain way, those were the FMLY ideals — openness and enthusiasm, basically. The idea that you could do whatever the fuck you want, you know?” Just last summer, FMLY had its first Minneapolis festival, which Todryk plans to continue every two years.
Best-selling artist: Psymun
This comes as somewhat of a surprise, considering Psymun is the only hip-hop artist who's had a record put out by MJ MJ. “I actually went to high school with him,” says Todryk, shaking his head. “He was like three years younger than me. He hit me up and asked me to put his tape out.” That tape quickly became one of the label's highest sellers, and eventually Todryk was so overwhelmed by the royalties he was receiving (typically labels split digital royalties with artists 50/50), he eventually wound up giving all the profits to Psymun himself. “I had all this money pouring in and I was like, 'Dude, you're way bigger than this label is now, you just keep it all ... I feel so bad taking half of your money,” he says.
How do artists get on the label? Todryk's two guidelines.
Guideline one: “The first and most important one is if I hear it and I just love it,” he says. “If seven out of 10 of the songs aren't 10 out of 10, I won't do it. I've had a lot of albums come at me and it was like, I really love 70 percent of this record, I love it, but the rest ... I can't do it. It has to be a 10 for me to put something out. So I say no a lot.”
Clearly this first guideline has a lot to do with personal opinion, so I asked Todryk what his general criteria is in rating the quality of music. “You hear a record and you love it,” he answered. “There's nothing really to explain.” Not the most helpful of explanations, but it does help to paint quite an accurate picture of his extremely personal discerning eye.
Guideline two: The season. This one is backed by more understandable reasoning. “In the winter I put out more dark techno and experimental stuff, and the summer is the only time I ever put out rock 'n' roll shit,” Todryk says.
Where do the cassettes come from? National Audio Company
All of the cassettes put out by MJ MJ are pro dubbed on chrome tape at National Audio Company, based in Springfield, MO. Until the recent tape bubble hit, “Most of their business was like, Mormon preachers doing books on tape, and they would want like 80,000 copies of their like, sermon put on tape, you know?,” Todryk laughs. Apparently the company recently launched a totally revamped website and was forced to upgrade its inner workings as DIY labels around the country turned to cassette for their main medium of music distribution.
“It used to just be like this old dude in a fucking warehouse dubbing tapes,” Todryk remembers. “Like two years ago I'd almost actually bankrupted my label because the guy broke his back — the only guy who knew how to use the machines.” MJ MJ's releases were backlogged for about six months, but now according to Todryk, “They've updated, and their business is growing every week. They're doing great.”
Future goals: All-inclusive, above-ground, DIY venue
We have a lot of underground venues here in Minneapolis, but there's the constant threat of things getting out of control, cops being called, and shows getting shut down. Also the whole secretive aspect of things can cause certain scenes to exude a feeling of exclusivity.
“I think what this city needs is an intentionally inclusive space,” Todryk says. He wants the venue to feel welcoming and warm to people from any community and all walks of life, and provide a space for cutting edge music to happen that is inviting and accessible to all. During his time spent living in L.A. he learned a lot about opening venues, and plans on his dream space here being “fully up-to-code and like, fully legal.” He hesitates slightly. “You don't want it to be too big,” he continues. “But yeah. That's the plan, at least.”
Recommended release for new listeners: Back in Business Vol. 3
This album is a free mixtape complete with unreleased exclusive tracks from every artist on the 2015 MJ catalog, available on the MJ MJ Bandcamp. All bands who have an album released or to be released this year by the label are featured on this mixtape, giving you a chance to sample every single slice of the pie.
Other labels MJ MJ has mad respect for: Moon Glyph, Night People, Not Not Fun
Aside from these, Todryk says, “Anyone who runs a DIY spot, a warehouse spot or a gallery ... they always have to work way harder than they're rewarded. Around here, I think Always Human Tapes is really good. I also have mad respect for Matt from Forged Artifacts. He's such a cool guy.”
Other exciting news: Sasha Conda release show this month at the Triple Rock
Todryk, formerly known as Vacation Dad, will be releasing his new album BRONCO under the name Sasha Conda on August 28. BRONCO is a concept album that Todryk says “deals with the destruction of ego within a hyper-capitalistic dystopian cyber mall.” Patrick Scott Walsh III of the Pen Test has written an accompanying seven chapter short story.
Sasha Conda will be joined by Choral Reefr (solo project of Jess Oleson from Shakin' Babies), Suzie, Tender Meat, and the debut of Christopher Farstad's new project: COPPER NOKOMIS SOUNDSYSTEM. Though the release party isn't exactly an official MJ MJ release event ... it's all in the family, right?