MOODY DARKNESS Moshe, Milled Pavement’s curator.
"I do not release happy music," Moshe says flatly. "That's the one thing I won't do."
Thirty-three releases into his run as honcho of the Milled Pavement label, which travels almost exclusively in dark underground hip-hop, it's this guiding lack of light-heartedness that has likely kept the doors open while other underground hip-hop labels have slowly melted away.
"We do not release 'poppy.' That's a never. Never going to happen," he says. "It's mostly because I don't listen to happy, pretty music."
You might find some up-beat dance numbers on the brick.city.media label, founded by Jason Hjort, that merged with Milled Pavement a couple of years back. And you might find a few more rays of sunshine (or at least new-agey stuff) on the digital-only EmBen label Moshe launched last year. But Milled Pavement? You know it when you hear it.
As the music industry fractures, a wild, wild west of releases coming at you in waves, that consistency can be comforting. People are looking for filters, ways of narrowing down what can seem like an infinite firehose of new music, and Milled Pavement is a port in the storm for music fans who like their synths in minor keys and their lyrics ironic and brooding.
Thus, the Goose Bumps series that Milled Pavement releases, which collects like-minded artists from around the globe into massive grab-bags of downtempo beats and ironic observances in multiple languages. Version 4.0 is out this week, collecting 96 artists on 66 tracks over four discs (see our review here).
By Moshe's estimates at least 70 percent of those fans are overseas, as well. "We do lots of stuff in Russia," Moshe says. "I have a huge following in Russia." He speaks of his own work as a DJ/producer, and that fanbase did result in a deal with Russian label 2-99 Records, which has led to more notice for his own label.
"In those countries over there, like Germany, fans of my music have looked to the label because I run it," he says. "Not everything they like is dark and depressing, but most of it is."
Moshe's vision for the label can make him a polarizing figure in town. He has publicly declared he won't perform in Portland again because of what he sees as a lack of professionalism on the part of local clubs. And he expects the artists on his label to be professional in the way they promote their records, even if Milled Pavement isn't yet in the position to offer advances, or even sometimes to front all of the duplication costs.
"Everyone can do promotion," Moshe says. "A-Frame and Mike Clouds, they both have kids so they can't do a European tour like Brzowski and I did, but they'll do a New England tour. Do what you can do. Don't just put a record out and hope people buy it. Do interviews. Do social media. Do something. Don't just put a record out and walk away."
Because of this focus, he says, "I don't think any artist on the label has lost money since we've been really pushing the label . . . We're still an underground label. I kind of say I'm the curator. We're an artist-run label, but I'm the person that makes the decisions. The goal is to become big enough in the world to actually pay people to put out their records."