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Steven Heller Interviews Josh MacPhee

September 26, 2019

I was recently interviewed by design historian Steven Heller about my new book, An Encyclopedia of Political Record Labels. It’s been published on Design Observer, and is a quick and fun read! You can get the book HERE, or next week here on Justseeds.

An excerpt:

SH: What is the range of musical styles?

JMP: Very wide! If there is a style that existed between 1960 and 1995, there were likely political records of it. Beyond common and popular musical genres such as rock, reggae, jazz, classical, etc., while working on the book I realized I had create basic definitions of all the less common styles that were mentioned, which led to a glossary of 36 musical styles included in the back. This includes chaabi, corridos, highlife, rebetika, soca, and dozens more. Every region that has a traditional musical style used by poor and working people to convey the realities of life from their perspective has a unique political sonic heritage.

SH: How do many of these labels survive? Its hard enough for many mainstream musicians to make a living today from streaming.

JMP: Very few of the labels that I discuss in the book still exist. Hundreds were actually just one-off projects, citizens initiatives that created a record or two as agit prop. Other labels with more traditional structures either didn’t survive the transition to CD, and eventually MP3s, or couldn’t re-orient to 21st century political realities. I don’t think this means we should say they failed, but instead recognize them as products of their time, producing music on vinyl records during the period when vinyl was the dominant form of distribution of music in a physical form (as opposed to radio, etc.), and when the world was existing under a very specific set of political conditions, including the US-Soviet cold war, the throwing off of colonial chains by the global south, and the rise of new left formations, including student activists, guerrilla groups, and independent community organizations.

Read the entire interview on Design Observer.

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