100% Silk

Smooth as – the independent label that is reinvigorating house music

Text by Angus Finlayson

Photography by Aurora Halal

It won't have escaped anyone with their ear to the ground in recent years. House music, in all its myriad forms, is currently enjoying a full-blown renaissance. Established house labels that heralded the early beginnings have seen a massive resurgence in interest from a new audience. Artists from the genre's halcyon days are experiencing renewed demand for their music. And a younger generation of musicians, often in unanticipated parts of the world, are feverishly mining the sound for their own interpretation.

You couldn't call it a full-on revival, however. Threaded throughout three decades of dance music culture, drifting in and out of public perception, house never really went away. It is one of electronic music's hardiest genres, formed in Chicago in the early '80s when working-class black and Latino producers decided to emulate the lush arrangements of disco on the affordable drum machines and sequencers that were beginning to flood the market. Suddenly, you didn't need any formal music education to put together a track. From there it spread like a virus, establishing partner cities in Detroit and New York, simultaneously lighting the touch paper throughout Europe. A subcultural cottage industry inadvertently laid the blueprint for the global superclub circuit that emerged during the '90s. In 2012, the legacy of house is everywhere - and is now appreciated by a new generation of DJs, producers and club-goers.

Integral to this emergent generation is 100% Silk. The imprint was founded in 2011 by Amanda Brown, one of the duo behind LA-based music label Not Not Fun. NNF played its part in defining the global post-everything DIY movement of the noughties, releasing hazy, nostalgia-soaked records by the likes of Rangers, Sun Araw, Ducktails and Dolphins Into The Future. While this parent label specialises in music primed for headphones, home stereos and music venues, 100% Silk takes its cues from the functionalist conventions of the dancefloor.

The shift, from freaked-out bedroom jams towards precision-tooled club music, might seem incongruous, but it reflects a wider sea change in the recent post-noise underground. Since New Jersey label Italians Do It Better opened the floodgates in 2007 with Chromatics' synth-pop masterpiece Night Drive, the recognisable idioms of disco, house and techno can once again be heard resonating throughout the musical spectrum. It is increasingly evident in the discographies of labels like RVNG Intl, Mexican Summer and Ecstasy Records, and in the output of a new breed of musicians including Blondes, Teengirl Fantasy and The Miracles Club. Artists who take influence almost exclusively from club music, but whose audience is more likely to be drawn from the nebulous trans-genre underground. Drowned In Sound's John Calvert has termed this music "chill-rave". Others have opted for the culturally loaded "hipster house".

Brown puts the shift down to a sense that other musical avenues were starting to feel like cul-de-sacs. As she puts it: "If a style of music you've been playing begins to feel stale or at a dead-end, why would you not seek inspiration elsewhere?" For her, forming 100% Silk was a response to the "narrowing that inevitably happens" when you have run a record label for a few years. "Demos received and bands who reach out are mostly of like minds, from similar genres of music, with overlapping bands or projects... I love dance music, it's mainly what I listen to, and I wanted to create a label where incredible, diverse, electronic dance hybrid producers and groups could send their music and see it physically released."

The label has put out close to 30 releases in the past 18 months, ranging from frenetic, lo-fi disco edits (Malvoeaux's Broken Anthem EP) to the psychedelic hardware workouts of Cuticle and the glossy, R'n'B sampling house of Octo Octa. Brown eschews the genre-defining mentality that people inevitably attach when trying to identify a unified style to a label. Instead, she explains that "in a lot of ways, 'silkiness' is the essence of what I'm attracted to in the artists that I work with and the releases I put out. That specific, lush, textural quality can be conveyed hundreds of different ways - from playful acid house to melancholy piano house to jackin' power beats."

The wider dance music world hasn't always been welcoming to the label's efforts. As the term suggests, there is a view that "hipster house" is distinct from and, implicitly, inferior to the established scene. That its creators are genre tourists, employing strategies of pastiche and arch citation. Essentially, that it isn't "proper" dance music. Understandably, Brown resents the criticism. "What a ridiculous thing to be accused of. Who's authorised to determine what "proper" dance music is?" This brings up all sorts of questions about its validity, not least because most critics often possess their own hipster characteristics.

In his controversial 1957 essay "The White Negro", Norman Mailer saw the original hipster as a legitimate form of countercultural expression - an "American existentialist" shaped by the looming uncertainties of the Cold War era - the gestures of resistance acted out by the modern-day equivalent are seen as fundamentally hollow. As Dorian Lynskey puts it: "The new hipster is defined almost entirely by the goods he consumes." What were once strategies to evade dominant cultural forces are now neutralised, safely contained within a matrix of pre-defined consumer choices. The past decade has seen a torrent of writing criticising the hipster along these lines. "Under the guise of 'irony'," Christian Lorentzen writes, "hipsterism fetishises the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity". For Mark Greif, "hipsterdom... is something like bohemia without the revolutionary core". In short, the hipster is now the symbol of all that is wrong about counterculture in the 21st century. A cultural magpie hopping from trend to trend, delighting in a play of signifiers that is superficially dazzling but ultimately meaningless.

Is it relevant to direct this criticism towards 100% Silk? It is certainly true that the label occasionally lapses into brazen pastiche. Listen to "By Design" by Sir Stephen and you will hear echoes of Inner City's 1988 techno anthem "Good Life". And its primary reference points - '90s house and techno, disco at its most opulent - are rarely far from the surface. Speaking to Simon Reynolds for a profile of Not Not Fun in The Wire, Brown identified the label's aesthetic as "post-creation" - a curatorial approach to past genres in which newness comes through reconfiguration rather than invention. This is similarly evident in many 100% Silk releases, from the blissfully smooth deep house of Fort Romeau to the degraded hardware constructions of SVC Acid.

Ultimately, use of the "hipster" term reflects more on the wider dance music community than it does Brown and her stable of artists. At best, 100% Silk's oblique angle on the dancefloor produces music no less original, no less functional, than contemporary house music at its most innovative. Daniel Martin-McCormick is Silk's leading figure. A former member of post-hardcore band Black Eyes, he inspired Brown to start the label after handing her a tape of disco jams he had compiled in early 2010. Martin-McCormick's releases as Ital are among the label's finest moments. Check the sunny bounce of "Ital's Theme", or the Candi Staton-sampled, "Only For Tonight".

The "hipster" is never an objectively existent group so much as a notional "other". The scapegoat necessary to lend weight to increasingly redundant notions of authenticity. Perhaps the desire to cling to such notions is likely to be stronger in a culture that is currently struggling to find routes into new pastures. And as Brown points out, "one of the foundations of dance music to me is that it was birthed as a music for weirdos, minorities, sideways thinkers, non-musicians. It's always been one of the "no rules" genres, which is such a beautiful thing."

The 100% Silk roster tour Europe in June.

  • 100 Silk