Better go grab yourself a burrito and Jarritos before you sit down to assess the money behind today’s electronic music. According to the Ibiza Music Summit’s last business report, the industry is valued at a staggering $7.2 billion.
In 1995 San Francisco’s Om Records, one of the first electronic music labels in the world, helped give birth to that financial prosperity right here on Haight Street in a space located directly above Tweekin’ Records (which is currently home to Vinyl Dreams.) In those salad days, the imprint was a direct reflection of what took place musically at DJ nights and band venues around the City. Whoever was selling out Elbo Room consistently, and whatever records got proper rewinds at The TOP, that was the particular sound that Norcal cool Om sold to the masses.
One of the label’s mainstays and first signings was Soulstice, a downtempo/trip-hop outfit, that seen in many ways as an extension of the multifaceted imprint. The band, founded by Gabriel Rene, Andy Caldwell, Gina Rene, and Mei-Lwun, fused equal parts of DJ culture and experimental beats to form their canvas. “Tenderly,” a ’98 hit that received a searing drum and bass remix in 2001, was an aggressive track that served as apt metaphor for the Bay during the first dot-com bust. Sun-kissed vocals by Rene push out effortlessly, sung with affecting geniality over hyperactive breakbeats that veer in and out of control.
The music was heard at numerous drum and bass nites throughout the week, and it spawned both normalcy and chaos in the same nanosecond. Those ambushing drums served up the economic dichotomy through the genre of the moment. They propelled the band and label’s rep around the globe like a Zoom call.
The 26-track compilation Om Records – 25 Years was released this month, packed with downtempo, house, and hip-hop arrangements. It documents how a billion-dollar industry jumped off. Scan the play list to see the names of Kaskade, Colossus, King Kooba, J Boogie’s Dubtronic Science—these are the sounds that were exported from Haight Street, Minna, DNA Lounge, and Wish around the world.
On the compilation, founder of the internationally known Mushroom Jazz Mark Farina and his partner in music Homero Espinosa deliver a full pocket groove with “The Story.” It’s a laid back dance floor mover, complete with all the right quotes from Gil Scott Heron; “the man who tried to steal America is not in jail.” Keep your head checked into the program as you shoulder shuffle. Call it acid-jazz, downtempo, laid back, it’s a cool building banger that never wears out.
Moving at the same tempo is the addictive SF anthem “Acid Raindrops” from the mighty People Under The Stairs. According to A&R and label manager Gunnar Hissam, the music editor of High Times passed on covering this song when it was first released. High Times passing on a stoner classic—brilliant.
These last two songs are conjoined. Yes, their subject matter differs, and lyrically, the tracks are night and midnight, but the vibe … It’s so rare to have hip-hop and a downtempo track emote the same type of steadiness. Linking sensibilities over various genres and musical ideas while presenting this interlocking webs that make a city, that’s what OM did.