Meet & Greet: Babe City Records

featured / Meet & Greet / News / Special Features / July 27, 2017

Welcome to Babe City: a former house venue turned record label whose ethos has remained murmuring under its long-vacant floorboards. As Jon Weiss can tell you, Babe City’s early hunger and motivation was homespun and well-honed. “Everyone at the house could help out with something. We didn’t think overnight that we’d be Merge or Kill Rock Stars.” Today, Babe City Records still serves as an extension of an eclectic metropolitan area and a release from the city’s stressful, if not vibrant, hustle. “D.C. isn’t New York or LA, yet there’s hundreds of bands making great music because they can’t find an outlet to create happiness better than making music,” Weiss says. (Check out the Babe City-curated playlist below for a quick dive into the band’s huge, localized flavors, including cuts from Weiss’ own band The Sea Life, as well as his former outfit Witch Coast.)

Babe City’s venue beginnings led Weiss to a short stint as talent buyer for Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe, a venue located in Adams Morgan, an upscale neighborhood of D.C. Half record shop and half modest-size venue, the space straddles its own timeline, one which Weiss learned to juggle with, no matter the feverish or unbalanced pacing. “I went to booking shows in a basement for booking shows in a venue with a salary and there was a lot of shock with it.” Weiss exited as soon as its inspiring moments transformed into paralysis. “It put me on a different track before I realized it wasn’t where I wanted to go.” And that’s where The Sea Life’s brooding, yet cavernous arrangements have soaked in most: the intersection between a passion and a paycheck — a major theme of this year’s self-titled LP, with cuts like “Red Eyes” and “Reaper” uncharacteristically liberated by a feeling of vicious panic. “A lot of these songs are about that or my friends and the issues they had. A large part, though, is about the battle between a job and doing the thing you love.”

Luckily for Weiss, this battle isn’t one fought alone, several friends and members of Babe City’s current roster enhancing his initial vision. Jules Hale, as a member of both The Sea Life and the nucleus of her Den-mate project, has allowed her fluid, evolving sound to permeate the structure of her musical home, as she serves both as label artist and an involved arm of A&R. “There’s definitely a bit of bleed between the departments, and it’s not like anyone’s restricted to their specific job title.” Den-mate also features label co-operator Peter Lillis and Weiss filling out the live lineup, expanding Hale’s crystalline, affected bedroom pop on the road. Weiss, she explains, still has to handle most of the “hard stuff,” but the result of all the work can be summed up as “fucking sick.”

As a small business run by musicians for musicians, Babe City’s mission lovingly and quickly spread from its namesake’s basement to genre tastemakers. Weiss names Illuminate Your Room, 2016’s dizzying release from Bueno, as a catalog standout — as Babe City co-released the record with Exploding in Sound. The 10″ EP from Really Big Pinecone, What I Said About the Pinecone, is another Weiss lists off with viral enthusiasm, as he rushes to recommend it over the phone: “I fucking love that fucking album so fucking much.” But as much as these high water marks set a new stage for the label, everyone involved carries a desire to keep their community close. “Deep down inside, maybe I just want to be a therapist that helps their friends, but really, I’ve learned from my mistakes and just want to help these bands,” Weiss recalls of Babe City’s transition into matrix numbers and spreadsheets. “When it comes to running a label, all you really need is the dedication and time to make it happen.”

Babe City might also be flourishing due to its status as a true geographer of D.C.’s musical history. Even beyond Den-Mate’s blissed-out hooks and The Sea Life’s millennial dirges exists NAPPYNAPPA, a hip-hop artist who issued the New Balance cassette with the label earlier this year. “Excluding like, Dischord hardcore punk scene, there was go-go and jazz — D.C. has a rich cultural identity as a primarily black community. There are people trying to make D.C. a higher destination on musicians’ profiles.”

By building its core around a close-knit set of musicians, as Hale coolly attests, “we all essentially want the same thing and all believe in it.”


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James Cassar
James Cassar is Modern Vinyl's Managing Editor and normally one-third of the Modern Vinyl Podcast. He is a co-founder and co-owner of the record label Near Mint, a Simpsons fanatic, and a very tired twenty-something. Follow him on Twitter.