This Record Label Is Literally Creating Its Own Universe
We talk to IHC 1NFINITY founder Franki Chan about its surreal cinematic vision and the crazy year leading to the video premiere of Mark Redito's "So Many Things to Tell You."
A record label can mean a lot of different things in 2017—a collective, a marketing and promotion arm, an incubator for an artist, or something else completely. IHC 1NFINITY, the freshly relaunched label side of LA's music and geek culture tastemaker IHEARTCOMIX, decidedly belongs amongst the latter—it may have more in common with the shared world-building of Marvel and 80s horror and scifi franchises than the brick-and-mortar likes of Matador or Subpop.
IHC 1NFINITY returns as a singles label connected with a shared music video cinematic universe, collaborating with a broad range of artists like Chela, Pictureplane, Gavin Turek, and Mark Redito on music videos connected through an overarching plot line that also double as standalone works to highlight an artist's new release.
"There's the collaborative journey that we get to go on with each project that I think makes this label very unique," explains IHEARTCOMIX founder Franki Chan, who developed the new concept alongside collaborator Jesus Rivera. "We're flexible, in the sense that selling records is not our business model. While it's a nice benefit, we're not looking to get rich off of this one song. But we are looking to enrich and empower our artists to be as successful as possible because we see them essentially as being brand ambassadors for our label and being something that personifies our talents and brands as creatives."
The first in the new wave of the label's expanded universe is Mark Redito's "So Many Things to Tell You"–premiering on Noisey below—an eight-minute short directed by Chan and co-written with Rivera that picks up where Gavin Turek's "Don't Fight It" video left off a year ago. Fourth overall in the series, "So Many Things" sets the stage for the story to come, revisiting characters and plot lines from previous IHC 1NFINITY videos like "Don't Fight It," Chela's "Handful of Gold," and Pictureplane's "Hyper Real."
In it, we see an estranged couple pick up our protagonist, the hitchhiker Alex—whom we last saw cavorting with Turek in "Don't Fight It"—en route to a campground, where the couple, and soon the others, become obsessed with a mysterious new toy called Ziggurat!. Looming over this world is the ominous N.O.M.A.D.I.C. corporation, whose world you can take a glimpse into here . We'll let you see the rest for yourself.
The re-launch comes in the wake of a free-fall spurred by cash-strapped distributors and other backers, putting projects—like a video for Redito's then-just released single—on hold as the label sought new partners. The hiatus was a blessing in disguise:
"I think that one of the really good things about it is that it gave us this year to kind of re-sculpt and write and plan out this story that we're trying to tell, and really dial in the concept of the label and how we're going to work with artists and filmmakers moving forward," Chan says. "We kind of got pushed further and further, and what happened was a three minute video turned into an eight minute short film. All of a sudden, there's all this time and money and reasons to sculpt that to a place that was a way of bringing the world of infinity more to life as a short film, versus like just making another music video."
IHC 1NFINITY is back with a new distribution deal via Caroline Records and a new signing, Grammy-nominated Japanese Soulection disciple starRo. The next release, featuring Bosco, is due out in July, and comes on the heels of Redito's forthcoming August LP Neutropical.
"More than a year in the making, we're finally sharing this piece that is near and dear to our hearts," Redito says. "It was a lot of hard work and we poured our hearts and souls into this...I sincerely hope that both the music, video, and story resonates with you, and I hope it invites a spirit of wonder and inspiration."
We talked to Chan about the relaunch, Marvel, and crafting IHC 1NFINITY's strange new world. Read on and watch the premiere of Mark Redito's "So Many Things to Tell You" below.
Noisey: What drove the relaunch, and how that was different from what the label was like before?
Franki Chan: We always had the shared universe concept as part of the initial pitch, but when we started iwe weren't so much aiming towards telling a big story. Two or three videos in, we began to realize that oh, there's actually something a bit cooler here. You can actually develop a world and a story that we're trying to get to. And that might make it feel a bit more compelling for the audience. So having that year off was a really great thing for us, to think about it, dig in, write stories, design concepts, really flesh out the whole back end of this world so that we have a simple roadmap of where we're trying to go, and it's a little bit easier to translate that to both the audience and the artist when we're trying to pitch these.
So all of the artists that you're doing releases for are going to be participating in this universe and storyline?
Yes, but to be totally clear, it's not episodic. So, there is a certain level of flexibility that we need to have as a label in order to be able to service the artists, so some of it will depend on how into the idea the artist is, versus how much that is a direct continuation of the story. I've kind of been using the example of X-Files as a way of how it could work. So, if you watch a season of the X-Files, like six of them, the middle two and the last two are very tied into the overall narrative and the rest of them are more like anthologies that are connected, but are really their own self-contained stories.
What will this look like as you bring more artists on board?
When we pitch this to an artist, the story component is meant very much to be a benefit. Part of the idea is that in trying to build this connected story, we're ideally making the music less disposable. With your modern album campaign, maybe you'll put out a song, maybe a remix and a music video and each of those will have their moment to shine, and then they're pretty much done. With this, ideally there is an audience that forms around the actual story. And then ideally an audience forms around the label. So with every release, in theory there should be a reason why you would want to go back and re-watch the rest. Especially if you're new to it—someone who is a Gavin Turek fan, they may know that there's elements of the story that maybe connect to other stuff made on the label, maybe they'll discover Chella or Pictureplane or Mark, you know? As we're growing out, more of these that will only compound against itself.
That being said, we definitely don't want to disservice the artist in any way. It's very important that the artist that we're pitching to and working with feel invested in the label and that we're here for their best interest. So when we're signing an artist, we're definitely starting with the artist first and figuring out where this works in their plan. Working with them to create the best possible music, album, product, and video. That's true with Chela, Plane, and Mark—all of them came up with the core of the videos themselves. Chela even directed her own. It's very much this collaborative effort of how do we get something that is both the music video and narrative. How much it connects really depends on how comfortable the artist is, but we definitely don't want to force our ideas.
It's more of a tool to create with that's beyond just like, "We're putting a song out."
Right, ideally it's like part of the fun. If someone really only wants a music video that's like, flowers and colors, we're probably not the best label for them. Our secret goal as a label is to make movies, to have these like, little films where they're kind of just budding out this universe, and ideally artists think that is fun and original and want to participate in it. Our deals are very simple: We're signing artists for like one or two songs, a one-off deal, 50-50 split. It's super simple and basic and supposed to be something fun that you can play in while you're building up to your next big album with some other bigger label that can do all those other bigger-label things. It's just like an artist might put out a single with Adult Swim or some other promo thing, but just with our feet a bit deeper in this one concept.
Was there anybody, label or otherwise that you kind of took inspiration from for this idea?Definitely the Marvel films. Music video-wise there have definitely been some artists out there that have created series of videos for themselves, with maybe the most famous being the Aerosmith Alicia Silverstone music videos. Even though they don't really tell a story, they're all kind of connected in the sense that they have a lot of the same characters in them, the same vibe. I thought those were fucking cool. They stuck, and it's definitely been attempted in the hip hop world a few times, and My Chemical Romance had a fairly successful campaign doing it on their one album cycle, they had a series of three videos that all starred Grant Morrison, who is a really famous comic book writer.
That was cool, but I think this is the first time that it's been cross-artist, which definitely comes with its own challenge and a continuing story, so it's not connected to one campaign. In terms of paying attention to people that have done it successfully, I'm definitely watching Marvel. Even in movies, a lot of people are attempting to build those kinds of worlds, but nobody has really done it like they have, and it's pretty hard to compete, but they're super smart in that you have the main hub who are overseeing all the projects and making sure that they connect. Each individual film has their own director and cast and their own A to B story that they're trying to tell, so we're very much trying to follow their lead in terms of how we can be a resource to the artist that we're working.
In 2017 what do you see as the role and purpose of a label compared to what it was like five, ten, 15 years ago?
It's a complicated question for a complicated time in the sense that I don't think when you're asking these kinds of questions now it's as simple as one size fits all. You know there's like there's different types of labels for different types of artists now and I thnk from my point of view from what I think our role is as a label is to give an artist, as a label, to give support and opportunities to the natural relationships that we've already built. I don't see us as being like Matador or Subpop who is a phenomenal label that understands all the brick and mortar of a manufacturing, distribution, sales and all of that. We come very much from a marketing and event background and the majority of our relationships not only exist in music but in other elements of upbeat culture and brands. So, you know that is something that we can offer that a lot of other labels can't in the sense that we're flexible, in the sense that selling records is not our business model. While it's a nice benefit, we're not looking to get rich off of this one song. But we are looking to enrich and empower our artists to be as successful as possible because we see them essentially as being brand ambassadors for our label and being something that personifies our talents and brands as creatives.
What's next for the label as far as the other artists? How does releasing as a singles label fit in with the universe concept? Is there a sort of roster or does not really like apply in this case?
It's somewhere in the middle of both. We're only signing people for a while, we're not really signing people for multiple singles. So in that sense, whoever we're working with at the moment is the person that's technically signed. We definitely take a family approach still. We used to have a proper label back in the mid-2000s. Even though we had a few records that actually did really well, I really didn't like it. The process of turning a creative collaboration into only a business transaction, it was just tough for me. Obviously it's important, and we always give our best, but it just was soulless to me. So with 1NFINITY the hope was to try and construct a version of doing a label that had the least amount of that as possible. I tried to get all the strings cut off so it could be purely about like, "I think you're awesome, maybe you think I'm awesome too, let's do something awesome."
Dig further into the world of IHC 1nfinity here.
Check out Mark Redito's upcoming tour dates here. Neutropical is out this August.
Andrea Domanick is Noisey's West Coast Editor. Follow her on Twitter.