Badmaster Blaster

The West Philly record label celebrates four years with an ear-splitting compilation and party.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Feb. 25, 2009

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Super Bad: Emory (left) and O’Connor champion West Philly.

Two years ago Badmaster proprietor John Emory told this paper he should’ve gotten his business degree instead of learning to paint. If he had, he might not be “losing money every day” on his label’s output. What Emory couldn’t have known then is that no business degree could save him or his label. The music biz is dying. Hell, seems like everything is. So it turns out he had the only sustainable business plan you can have in music: Make your work a labor of love.

That’s how Emory and Badmaster have reached their fourth year together, releasing small batches of highly collectable vinyl-only art objects that, until now, have focused primarily on West Philly, where Badmaster was founded, but is slowly branching out to national acts and national acclaim. (Badmaster’s Tickley Feather is now on Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label.)

Lately Emory’s begun to take more of a backseat with Badmaster, handing the art-damaged rock baton to his silent partner over the years Brendan O’Connor, who left a Penn grad program studying dead languages to engage in a more youthful, less profitable pursuit: music. PW caught up with Emory for what might be his last interview as the label’s chief talking head.

What made you decide to start a record label in 2005?

[Record labels] have always been a major thing in my life. I’ve always followed them. Basically, when I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere as a musician I wanted to find a way to still be able to participate, and looking through fan zines and stuff growing up I would always pick a label and buy everything that label put out without even questioning it. And I just fell in love with certain aesthetics certain labels had, and I wanted to build an aesthetic, basically. That’s one of the things I’m trying to do with Badmaster.

How would you describe that aesthetic?

Black and white, like an old-school flier sort of way. Punk rock meets comic books. There’s a humor to it, but there’s also a sense of underground urgency and a very basic no-frills sort of style that would just be burned into one’s memory hopefully.

What were some of the labels that made an impression on you when you were growing up?

Discord, Touch and Go, Vermiform—which was Sam McPheeter’s label. Great American Steak Religion out of Canada was a label I followed very closely. They had some great Canadian hardcore bands come out of that scene. The Canadian scene at that point was really, really great.

What bands will join the Badmaster family in year four?

One particular artist that is going to happen as soon as we can afford it are My Mind, which are a newer band out of West Philadelphia. They’ve got a punk rock sound that draws from an early-’60s into a late-’70s style. Their songs are like 30 seconds long each, but after you listen to one song it feels like it’s been two minutes ’cause they pack so much into such a short time.

Is it a priority to work with Philly bands?

Yeah. It always has been. It’s just kinda where my heart is. That’s what gets me excited—championing somebody and trying to break these guys is something that really speaks to me.

Is Badmaster primarily vinyl now?

At this point we are only vinyl. I’m never going back. With [the compilation], I wanted to do a quick, easy catch-all for Philly because I wasn’t releasing anything at the moment, so I came up with this idea to do this comp, and then I was like, ‘Well, screw it. We’re going to just digitally release this and make physical copies for people.’ Burn it right off, it’s free for everybody that comes to the show. It’s great. But as far as, like, putting out a record is concerned, we’re never going to do anything aside from vinyl. It’s so easy to put an mp3 code in the vinyl now, which we did with our last record and we plan to continue to do. There’s no reason to do [CDs]. That’s not why I started a record label. I’m into art objects. Anyone who is invested in this thing we call music as much as we are is in it for vinyl, I would hope. And if you’re not, you need to buy a turntable.

Which works, because it’s become its own niche market. While music sales and CDs go by the wayside, there’s still a cult of vinyl that’s always remained firm.

Yeah, exactly. And that’s what we really want to cater to. We want people who buy records to buy our records, I’m not really trying to reinvent the wheel on that one at all. It’s just cause its kind of why I got into it, and I don’t see it going away anytime soon. And I just like the idea of this object, you know. Except when I have to move. That’s a pain in the ass.

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